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Introduction

Civic liberties and parliamentary institutions represent one of the major cultural legacies: England left to the civilization of the world. The first document protecting individual liberty and the prototype of modern Parliament appeared in England as early as the 13th century. But effective protection against arbitrary power and the first parliamentary regime emerged much later in the 17th. However the modern notion of democracy, which implies full political citizenship for everyone (no one deprived of the right to vote) took much longer time to take route in Britain than elsewhere in the world. The pioneer of Parliamentarism took the slow road to universal suffrage. As the American claim for independence and liberty showed in the late 19th century, English liberty celebrated by the most famous philosophers (Voltaire and Montesquieu) was more a myth than a reality.

I. Origins of Parliament and Civil liberties.

In Britain, there is no written constitution to protect civil liberties and define the rules of the political game. Yet, several traditions, constitutional agreements and political conventions exist and constitute the pillars of the regime. One of those document is the Magna Carta (Great Charter) granted by King John in 1215 under the pressure of his aristocracy and clergy. This document excluded very early in English history the practice of political absolutism and excessive use of the royal prerogative). Moreover, after Magna Carta, no excessive demand for money could be made by the King without the consent of the aristocracy and clergy. British and American tradition of vote on taxation finds its origin in this event. Finally, concerning individual freedom, after Magna Carta, no arrest in prison or punishment could be performed on aristocrats and clergymen without a trial by similar kinds of people, according to the law of the land. It is the starting point of the notion of trial by peers.

Later on, in 1265, Edward I was forced by his aristocracy to assemble (summon) the first Parliament in English history, which took the name of Model Parliament. The very notion of Parliament, from the French word "parler" implies a discussion on every legislative decision and therefore, the possibility for a diversity of opinions. English Parliament was the first to include representatives from outside the clergy and aristocracy. It was established in a very pragmatic way, simply for the King needed the support of the whole nation for his military campaigns against Wales, Scotland and France. Thus, it was necessary for him to raise money through taxation. So, before being a full legislative body where law is made, Parliament rests on the principle of no taxation without political representation.
From its origin, the Parliament started to meet in two separate chambers located in the Palace of Westminster:

  • The Upper House or House of Lords, organized according to the principle of heredity (by birth, not by elections).
  • The Lower House or House of Commons, organized by elections and receiving the representatives of taxpayers and landowners (= the rich).

The Parliamentary institutions founded in the Middle Ages have a paradoxical nature. The Model Parliament was the first representative political body in Europe, England was called the Mother of Parliament but the right to vote (= the Franchise) and the right to be elected (= Eligibility) were defined as a privilege either of birth or property and money, not as a universal right. It took several centuries for England to reform this initial trend.

II. The Glorious Revolution of 1688

In the first part of the 17th century, abuse of authority from the King led to a re-statement of rights whose origins could be found in English story. At the end of the 17th century, after a period of Civil War and a peaceful revolution, the tradition of parliamentary sovereignty became past of the legal framework of the English constitution. In 1628, the Parliament opposed a petition of rights to the King, claiming for political guarantees against money for Charles I’s European and colonial wars. The King’s refusal to renounce to this prerogative led to a civil war and to the King’s execution in 1649.

The principle of the petition re-emerged in the events of 1688, called the Glorious Revolution for it was bloodless. The current King James II was forced to leave the country and was replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband William on the condition that the two would accept a declaration of rights in exchange of the throne. The contract was instituted: political power against rights. After it was approved, the declaration was known as the Bill of Rights in 1689, which constituted the first constitutional monarchy in the world by stipulating once for all:

  1. The King can’t suspend a law voted in Parliament
  2. The King can’t raise taxes or maintain a permanent army in time of peace without a vote in Parliament.

The new institution created the notion of Government by the leaders of the country’s majority and led to the formation of two political parties alternating in power as the majority and the opposition. The name of the first party is the Whigs: they supported the new regime and represented the world of business and commerce. In the 19th century, the Whigs became the Liberal Party. The second party was the Tories, who supported a more authoritarian definition of the monarchy. They represented the class of agricultural landowners. In the 19th century, the Tories became the Conservative Party.

In the field of individual rights, before the Glorious Revolution, a piece of legislation passed in 1679 and called the Habeas Corpus aimed at protecting subjects against royal absolutism alongside the lines first defined by Magna Carta. The Habeas Corpus banned arrest and detention without trial but freedom from custody could only be obtained after came on an amount of money, given as a guarantee and called a bail. Therefore, by the end of the 17th century, England has become the first representative government in Europe. The King’s right to suspend legislation (= to refuse to give assent to a bill accepted by both Houses of Parliament) became purely theoretical: this right of veto was last exercised in 1707. Later on, the tradition of cabinet government and the position of Prime Minister progressively emerged and later became an unquestionable right of the British people. The P.M. was the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. He became the real head of Government: British Kings were said to reign but not to rule. Yet, this perfect picture of British liberties needs to be corrected by several remarks.

III. Myth of English liberty

In the 18th century, apart from the Bill of Rights and the Habeas Corpus, no constitution really protected British subjects from political abuses. The King had the full power of creating Lords (= Peers). He therefore had an influence over legislation.

In terms of elections, out of 8 million inhabitants, only 160 000 were voters. Until the middle of this century, parliamentary debates were secret but before 1872, ballot was not secret. Thus, the King could use corruption and intimidation to buy votes. Radical agitators criticized the fact that the British were subjects instead of being full citizens: parliamentary reforms became more and more advocated both inside and outside Britain:

  • The major group of protesters were the American colonists who were not represented in Parliament for they lived outside Britain but who had to pay taxes to the British government.
  • The second major group of protesters was the middle-class dissenters who were refused access public jobs for religious reasons.

British people had to wait until 1832, i.e. several decades after the American and French revolutions to witness some partial changes in their system of representation. Under popular pressure, the 1832′ Reform Act abolished unrepresentative seats in Parliament in order to increase representation. For instance, the mediaeval village of Dunwich, which had totally disappeared from the map still returned an MP to Parliament and the village of Old Sarum had 7 voters who elected 2 MPs!

At the same time, the Act distributed new seats to represent the population of recent industrial centers like Birmingham or Manchester but even after 1832, the numbers of voters represented no more than one fifth of the adult male population. It is only in the second part of the 19th century that the progressive extension of the franchise opened Parliament to the working class. Full universal suffrage for men over 21 was finally reached in 1918 but paradoxically, this very late measure was at the same time an early victory for the cause of women’s rights. British women received the right to vote in 1918, i.e. some 38 years before French women. Voting parity for all citizens, male or female, was finally decided in 1928.

From the experience of the middle ages and thanks to the institutional changes triggered off by the Glorious Revolution, British political culture inspired most modern parliamentary regime. However, the long absence of truly democratic representation was one of the origins of the American Revolution and led to the definition of new political modals.

Sommaire de la série From the Reformation to the birth of the American nation (1534-1776)

  1. The Reformation in the British Isles
  2. English Expansionism
  3. The Glorious Revolution of 1688
  4. The American colonies : Religion and Politics
  5. Birth of a Nation

Introduction

The Anglo-American World is but colonial. Its present extension is the result of England’s self-affirmation and ambition to become a major world power. Therefore, the words "empire" and "imperialism" describe England’s struggle for national and international sovereignty.

The first consequence of English expansionism was the west ward impulse of the Anglo-Saxon element, first into the Celtic periphery of the British Isles, then across the Atlantic and finally into Africa and Australasia.

The second more recent consequence is the emergence in the 20th century of multi-cultural societies both in Britain and in America but also across the British Commonwealth, which is constituted of the former British colonies.

I. Early English expansionism in the British Isles

The origin of British colonial adventures lies in the early step taken by English Kings towards the political, economic and religious integration of the British Isles.

A. The Anglo-Norman enterprise

In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, became the master in England. His successors, the Anglo-Norman Kings, tried to increase their authority and international prestige (especially in front of France) by controlling the British Isles (first Ireland and then Wales).

In 1171, the English King Henry II landed in Ireland and was accepted by the Irish Kings as their overlord (=master). During the 13th century, many Anglo-Norman barons settled in Ireland where they were given land by the King. They introduced the French system of feudalism and forced the native Irish to become serfs.

In 1366, the English Parliament prohibited mixed marriages between Irish and Anglo-Norman and Irish laws and customs were abolished in English controlled areas. The colonization of Ireland had started.

In 1277, Edward I of England invaded Wales after the last Prince of Wales refused to acknowledge his authority. The country soon became part of the English Royal Estate and was re-organized into 5 countries, after the English model. In 1301, the English King became Prince of Wales.

The Anglo-Norman never managed to conquer Scotland. After a series of unsuccessful invasions, the English were finally forced out in 1314. Scottish independence was secured for 4 centuries.

B. Post-Reformation settlements

By consolidating royal power, the reformation indirectly encouraged England to extend her control over the British Isles.

In 1541, King Henry VIII, who has become head of the English church as wall as of the State, was proclaimed King of Ireland. The actual colonization of Ireland started in 1586 with the creation of the Munster Plantation in the South of Ireland. Later on, in 1608, Scottish and English settlers were encouraged by the Government to cross the Irish Sea and to create farms in Ulster. This new settlement was the origin of contemporary Protestant Northern Ireland. In 1652, 2/3 of Irish land was given to Protestants.

Between 1536 and 1543, a series of administrative measures put Wales under the situation of total dependence on English legislation. The situation of Scotland was different: between 1603 and 1707, Scotland remained a separate independent Kingdom but under the same King as England.

II. Formation of the old colonial empire

A. From trading posts to early settlements

A trading post is a place to carry on commercial business; it may be temporary and doesn’t imply settlement.

Right after the discovery of the New World in 1492, England’s self-affirmation as an independent and dominant European power led her to compete against Spanish and Portuguese colonial monopolies.

In 1494, by the treaty of Tordesillas, Spain and Portugal had divided the Western Hemisphere between Spanish and Portuguese possessions. In answer, England decided to send explorers to the New World.

In 1497, the Italian Sea Captain John Cabot explored the northern coast of America on behalf of the English King. He called the land he had recognized "Newfoundland".

Later on, in 1577, an English Captain explored the West Coast of America: Francis Drake called the American Pacific sea coast "California", legendary name of a mythical Eden.

Finally, in 1584, another sea captain, Sir Walter Raleigh, explored the Atlantic American coast for the Queen of England and called the place "Virginia" to celebrate his queen as the Virgin Queen.

In 1588, England took the status of a major sea power after defeating the Spanish fleet, the "Invincible Armada". This early colonial experience had secured English mastery of the sea. It was the starting point of the Spanish decline. In economic terms, several colonial joint-stock companies, in which several people invested money to found the colonial empire, were created in England. In 1600, the East India Company was created in order to favor trade with the East. In 1606, 2 companies were created to encourage trade with America:

  • Plymouth Company for the Northern part of the coast
  • London and South Virginia Company for the Southern coast.

In 1672, the Royal African Company was given the monopoly of trade with Africa (and slavery). Therefore, the rise of Capitalism corresponds to that of colonial. In human terms, the first successful and permanent English settlement in America was established in May 1607 with the creation of Jamestown in Virginia by adventurers and merchants in search of fortune. A totally different experience took place in September 1620, when an English ship called the Mayflower reached the place later called Plymouth Rock with a small group of English dissidents on board, the famous Pilgrim Fathers.

This first successful puritan colony in America was motivated by religious reasons. From 1620 to 1640, some 25000 English independents took refuge in New England. The 3rd category of people who reached America was African slaves. In 1619, the first shipload of slaves was brought in America on a Dutch ship. Finally, the last category of people in America is Native Americans. They proved to be essential to the survival of settlers in America. The beginning of the European settlement gave the illusion of a peaceful coexistence between European settlers and Native Americans. In 1640, a rich colonist called John Rolfe married the daughter of a local chief, Pocahontas. Another Indian tribe helped the Pilgrim Fathers to avoid starvation by teaching them how to plant corns.

But the respected interest of both communities soon became opposed. The increase in the European population resulted in several problems over land ownership and the American settlers soon started to displace Indian population and sometimes used military action. The original dream of peace turned into a bloody nightmare. Americans, however, were relieved to think their treatment of the Natives had never reached the savagery that was typical of Spanish colonization.

B. Mercantilism or the establishment of the colonial system

Apart from international prestige, the colonists constituted a vast and permanent captive market for English goods. It was also a source of raw materials and finally, it represented a convenient exile for embarrassing subjects. The colonists played a major role in the definition of the new international economic system called mercantilism.

It was based on strict regulations protecting the home market and establishing monopolies on all exchanges with the colonies. Between 1651 and 1662, a series of Navigation Acts gave English ships the exclusive control of all trade to and from the colonies. This excluded all foreign nations and all colonial organizations from trading across the Atlantic: in order to secure new markets and new sources of raw materials, the system demanded a continual expansion through wars and invasions. The struggle for empire had started a long time before the late 19th century, called the Scramble for Africa.

The essential part of trade consisted in the famous "triangular trade" with the New World. Three geographical regions were involved in the triangle:

  • Western Europe
  • Africa
  • North America and the West Indies

Because of mercantilist regulations, most goods including African slaves had to transit either through England or through the West Indies. This economic situation was considered as unfair by a majority of colonists. It was one of the origins of the American Revolution.

C. The first British colonial empire

Lasted until the American independence, which took place between 1776 and 1783. This empire had two major poses: India and North America. The stream of emigrants was directed namely towards America but in both cases, England and then Britain became involved in colonial wars against Holland, Spain and France in order to protect and to extend her trading interests.

England had started trading with India in the late 18th century. The East Indian Company (EIC) was founded in 1600. The 18th century saw the decline of the Indian Empire (Mogul) and military agreements with local leaders. After 1757, the EIC controlled all trade with the West Coast of India, Bengal and with Ceylan (Sri Lanka today). In 1760, the French were defeated and driven out of India, except for a couple of trading posts that she kept on the coast such as Pondichery. In 1773, Britain started to control India through a governor based in the town of Bombay.

In 1640, sugar cane agriculture was introduced in Barbados. In 1655, the English took Jamaica from Spain: it marked the beginning of the Spanish decline in the Caribbean’s.

On the American continent, the 18th century saw a total domination of Britain on colonial land. In 1667, England invaded New Amsterdam, which later became New York. After the 7-years’old war with France in 1763, England took control of the French West Indies, of all French Canada and of the whole French territory between the East Coast of America (New England) and Mississippi. Finally, England took Florida from Spain. In 1763, the British King George III issued a royal proclamation leaving the rich Ohio valley to the Native American tribes that had helped the British against France. This political measure disappointed the settlers who feared overpopulation in New England. This was the second origin of the American Revolution.

In the 1760’s, the population of New England which was divided into 30 colonies had already reached 2.5 million inhabitants and 275 000 slaves were transported to America during the 18th century. 90 % were to be found in the South. The loss of the American colonies in 1783 marked the end of the first colonial empire, yet, a second one was already forming in other parts of the world.

III. The second colonial empire

Australasia. In 1768, the British captain James Cook had already explored the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. After the discovery of Botany Bay that later became Sydney, a penal colony was established in Australia in 1788. Prisoners and convicts were transported to Australia for hard labor. Settlement started much later in New Zealand, with a treaty with local Maori chiefs in 1840.

Africa. Before the 1880’s, i.e. the Scramble for Africa, Britain showed little interest for the African continent. The government’s major occupation, apart from the slave market, was to secure the sea route to India. Therefore, Britain took the Dutch colony at the cape (South Africa) in 1806. Then, Britain insisted on receiving Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Later, Britain secured other places on the sea route to Suez (e.g.: island of Malta). However, Britain accepted to take the responsibility of protecting a colony of liberated slaves in Sierra Leone founded in 1788.

Asia. The expansion started much later when Britain took Singapore in 1824. Later, in 1841, Britain established a trading post in Hong Kong she kept until July 1997.

Sommaire de la série From the Reformation to the birth of the American nation (1534-1776)

  1. The Reformation in the British Isles
  2. English Expansionism
  3. The Glorious Revolution of 1688
  4. The American colonies : Religion and Politics
  5. Birth of a Nation

Political questions are typical of the Renaissance: it is due to the inheritance of rulers by divine right. Malcolm, the oldest of Duncan”s sons, is declared heir to the throne and Prince of Cumberland. Like Richard, Macbeth wants to disrupt the natural order of things. At the end of Macbeth, just like in Richard III, the natural order is restored (“Hail, King of Scotland”) and the divine right is respected. The feudal social organization is based on duty, loyalty and allegiance to the King. All these virtues are violated by Macbeth.

Like disorder, treason in unnatural. A traitor is an unnatural subject. In II, 2 Macduff discovers the dead King and describes the deed as the “most sacrilegious murder” and the murderer as “a new Gorgon“. Killing a rightful monarch is an offense to order. In II, 4, 5 we see that what happens on earth is closely linked to what happens in the “skies“. The events on earth (“sublunary”) are so horrible that an eclipse occurs, meaning that the sun dares not happen. The murder of a King is unnatural, horrible and impossible to name.

The whole play is based on the contrast between true royalty and tyranny. Duncan is the good King and Macbeth is the Tyrant. The subjects love the good King but fear the tyrant like in V, 2, 19: “Nothing in love” . In V, 3, Macbeth boasts himself to have a spy in each of his subjects” house. The tyrant used to have spies. Macbeth is unfair (like Richard) and Justice is the main quality of a good ruler. The abuse of power is shown in Act V, sc3, v11. Macbeth is gradually more and more lonely and less and less communicative. He fears himself, perhaps because if he has killed the King, he can be killed too.

What is a good ruler ?

This question is set everywhere in Shakespeare”s works (see The Tempest). A good ruler has to be the natural heir of the throne and needs culture, knowledge and prudentia. In Act IV, sc3, Malcolm is precocious and aware that “a good man can turn evil / A bad man can turn good”. Malcolm is not as naive as his father. He will test Macduff, whom he thinks he is one of Macbeth”s spies, by pretending to be totally awful. Malcolm recounts Cawdor”s death in I, 4. He is aware of Man”s nature and tells how Cawdor, a bad man, turned repentant.

Macbeth is compared to Satan because he is so valorous and close to the king that he thinks he can take his place. The central moral debate is how could Satan, so close to perfection, rebel against God. The answer is plain: because of jealousy. Macbeth was Duncan”s favourite knight just like Satan was God”s favourite angel.

Malcolm has prudentia and has learnt to be aware of traitors. Macbeth is tempted and falls. Malcolm is even aware that fall is part of Human Nature. It was the post-lapsarian period: everybody can fall and no one is innocent. The link between Macbeth and Satan resides in the name of Macbeth”s servant, Seyton.

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