William Wilberforce: Abolition Speech

By the late 1780’s the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade as well-established and had done much to publicise the cruelties involved in a business from which many had not only prospered but come to take for granted; but for the most part they were Quakers, Methodists, or members of other non-conformist sects who were not themselves entirely trusted. They required someone not only free of the criticism of non-conformity but could also represent them in and bring their case before Parliament. They alighted upon the Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, a 29 year old evangelical Christian of the Established Church respected for the humanitarian values he espoused and whose own objections to slavery were unequivocal and well-known.

A mild-mannered man with a trusting nature who disliked confrontation he took some persuading but the iniquities of the slave trade were to him undeniable. He agreed to bring a Bill before Parliament for its abolition, though some doubted that he was the man who could bring it to fruition. But as it transpired conviction and perseverance would prove worthy substitutes for any lack of aggression or sense of outrage on his part.

William Wilberforce delivered his speech to the House of Commons on 12 May, 1789. It was to prove the opening salvo in a long campaign to which he would devote the rest of his life, first in abolishing the slave trade which occurred in 1807 and then slavery itself which was abolished in 1833, just three days before his death.

His 1789 Abolition Speech was a landmark moment in parliamentary history and was widely reported in the national press. This is one of those reports:

 Mr. Wilberforce now rose and said:—

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;—when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;—when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade. I wish exceedingly, in the outset, to guard both myself and the House from entering into the subject with any sort of passion. It is not their passions I shall appeal to—I ask only for their cool and impartial reason; and I wish not to take them by surprise, but to deliberate, point by point, upon every part of this question. I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty—we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business.

Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasoning of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction. “Their apartments,” says Mr. Norris, “are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. The right ankle of one, indeed is connected with the left ankle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they are turbulent, by another on their wrists. They have several meals a day; some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery; and by way of variety, another meal of pulse, and. according to European taste. After breakfast they have water to wash themselves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime-juice. Before dinner, they are amused after the manner of their country. The song and dance are promoted,” and, as if the whole was really a scene of pleasure and dissipation it is added, that games of chance are furnished. “The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, which they are plentifully supplied with.” Such is the sort of strain in which the Liverpool delegates, and particularly Mr. Norris, gave evidence before the privy council. What will the House think when, by the concurring testimony of other witnesses, the true history is laid open. The slaves who are sometimes described as rejoicing at their captivity, are so wrung with misery at leaving their country, that it is the constant practice to set sail at night, lest they should be sensible of their departure. The pulse which Mr. Norris talks of are horse beans; and the scantiness, both of water and provision, was suggested by the very legislature of Jamaica in the report of their committee, to be a subject that called for the interference of parliament. Mr. Norris talks of frankincense and lime juice; when surgeons tell you the slaves are stowed so close, that there is not room to tread among them: and when you have it in evidence from Sir George Young, that even in a ship which wanted 200 of her complement, the stench was intolerable. The song and the dance, says Mr. Norris, are promoted. It had been more fair, perhaps, if he had explained that word promoted. The truth is, that for the sake of exercise, these miserable wretches, loaded with chains, oppressed with disease and wretchedness, are forced to dance by the terror of the lash, and sometimes by the actual use of it. “I,” says one of the other evidences, “was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women.” Such, then is the meaning of the word promoted; and it may be observed too, with respect to food, that an instrument is sometimes carried out, in order to force them to eat which is the same sort of proof how much they enjoy themselves in that instance also. As to their singing, what shall we say when we are told that their songs are songs of lamentation upon their departure which, while they sing, are always in tears, insomuch that one captain (more humane as I should conceive him, therefore, than the rest) threatened one of the women with a flogging, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful for his feelings. In order, however, not to trust too much to any sort of description, I will call the attention of the House to one species of evidence which is absolutely infallible. Death, at least, is a sure ground of evidence, and the proportion of deaths will not only confirm, but if possible will even aggravate our suspicion of their misery in the transit. It will be found, upon an average of all the ships of which evidence has been given at the Privy Council, that exclusive of those who perish before they sail, not less than 12½ per cent perish in the passage. Besides these, the Jamaica report tells you, that not less than 4½ per cent. die on shore before the day of sale, which is only a week or two from the time of landing. One third more die in the seasoning, and this in a country exactly like their own, where they are healthy and happy as some of the evidences would pretend. The diseases, however, which they contract on shipboard, the astringent washes which are to hide their wounds, and the mischievous tricks used to make them up for sale, are, as the Jamaica report says, (a most precious and valuable report, which I shall often have to advert to) one principle cause of this mortality. Upon the whole, however, here is a mortality of about 50 per cent. and this among negroes who are not bought unless (as the phrase is with cattle) they are sound in wind and limb. How then can the House refuse its belief to the multiplied testimonies before the Privy Council, of the savage treatment of the negroes in the middle passage? Nay, indeed, what need is there of any evidence? The number of deaths speaks for itself, and makes all such enquiry superfluous. As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.

 

 

 

 

 

Robespierre’s Speech at the Festival of the Supreme Being

Maximilien Robespierre was not a Godless man most atheists aren’t rather driven by an incoherence of thought regarding a Divine unable it seems to compensate them for their own inadequacies and a fear of the unknown without one they clamour for alternatives.

In his pursuit of virtu and a revolution uncorrupted by the humanity in whose name it had been made Robespierre had become a peddler of death; the Church had been broken on the anvil of his revolution and reconstituted to be part of it and thousands of priests had been sent to their deaths as a result. But it was not enough, it did not provide solace, it had not been made in his image – the Revolution could not survive without the stamp of Divine approval!

On 8June 1794, before a man-made mountain in the Champ de Mar in Paris he addressed the crowd that had gathered to watch the inaugural Festival of the Supreme Being. His self-righteous manner and the soaring nature of his rhetoric led many present to believe that the Supreme Being he was referring to was himself. It was to prove a turning point for the once all-powerful Robespierre as criticism of him began to grow and just six weeks after he had appeared to invoke the Almighty as justification for the Terror he had unleashed he was arrested and guillotined by those once his supporters who no longer shared his vision for France and had begun to fear for their own lives:

The day forever fortunate has arrived, which the French people have consecrated to the Supreme Being. Never has the world which He created offered to Him a spectacle so worthy of His notice. He has seen reigning on the earth tyranny, crime, and imposture. He sees at this moment a whole nation, grappling with all the oppressions of the human race, suspend the course of its heroic labours to elevate its thoughts and vows toward the great Being who has given it the mission it has undertaken and the strength to accomplish it.

Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice?

He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.

It is He who implanted in the breast of the triumphant oppressor remorse and terror, and in the heart of the oppressed and innocent calmness and fortitude. It is He who impels the just man to hate the evil one, and the evil man to respect the just one. It is He who adorns with modesty the brow of beauty, to make it yet more beautiful. It is He who makes the mother’s heart beat with tenderness and joy. It is He who bathes with delicious tears the eyes of the son pressed to the bosom of his mother. It is He who silences the most imperious and tender passions before the sublime love of the fatherland. It is He who has covered nature with charms, riches, and majesty. All that is good is His work, or is Himself. Evil belongs to the depraved man who oppresses his fellow man or suffers him to be oppressed.

The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness. Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!

Republican Frenchmen, it is yours to purify the earth which they have soiled, and to recall to it the justice that they have banished! Liberty and virtue together came from the breast of Divinity. Neither can abide with mankind without the other.

O generous People, would you triumph over all your enemies? Practice justice, and render the Divinity the only worship worthy of Him. O People, let us deliver ourselves today, under His auspices, to the just transports of a pure festivity. Tomorrow we shall return to the combat with vice and tyrants. We shall give to the world the example of republican virtues. And that will be to honour Him still.

The monster which the genius of kings had vomited over France has gone back into nothingness. May all the crimes and all the misfortunes of the world disappear with it! Armed in turn with the daggers of fanaticism and the poisons of atheism, kings have always conspired to assassinate humanity. If they are able no longer to disfigure Divinity by superstition, to associate it with their crimes, they try to banish it from the earth, so that they may reign there alone with crime.

O People, fear no more their sacrilegious plots! They can no more snatch the world from the breast of its Author than remorse from their own hearts. Unfortunate ones, uplift your eyes toward heaven! Heroes of the fatherland, your generous devotion is not a brilliant madness. If the satellites of tyranny can assassinate you, it is not in their power entirely to destroy you. Man, whoever thou mayest be, thou canst still conceive high thoughts for thyself. Thou canst bind thy fleeting life to God, and to immortality. Let nature seize again all her splendour, and wisdom all her empire! The Supreme Being has not been annihilated.

It is wisdom above all that our guilty enemies would drive from the republic. To wisdom alone it is given to strengthen the prosperity of empires. It is for her to guarantee to us the rewards of our courage. Let us associate wisdom, then, with all our enterprises. Let us be grave and discreet in all our deliberations, as men who are providing for the interests of the world. Let us be ardent and obstinate in our anger against conspiring tyrants, imperturbable in dangers, patient in labours, terrible in striking back, modest and vigilant in successes. Let us be generous toward the good, compassionate with the unfortunate, inexorable with the evil, just toward every one. Let us not count on an unmixed prosperity, and on triumphs without attacks, nor on all that depends on fortune or the perversity of others. Sole, but infallible guarantors of our independence, let us crush the impious league of kings by the grandeur of our character, even more than by the strength of our arms.

Frenchmen, you war against kings; you are therefore worthy to honor Divinity. Being of Beings, Author of Nature, the brutalized slave, the vile instrument of despotism, the perfidious and cruel aristocrat, outrages Thee by his very invocation of Thy name. But the defenders of liberty can give themselves up to Thee, and rest with confidence upon Thy paternal bosom. Being of Beings, we need not offer to Thee unjust prayers. Thou knowest Thy creatures, proceeding from Thy hands. Their needs do not escape Thy notice, more than their secret thoughts. Hatred of bad faith and tyranny burns in our hearts, with love of justice and the fatherland. Our blood flows for the cause of humanity. Behold our prayer. Behold our sacrifices. Behold the worship we offer Thee.

 

Robespierre Justifies the Terror

In a speech to the National Convention in Paris on 5 February 1794, Maximilien Robespierre, leading member of the Jacobin Club and de facto First Citizen on the Committee of Public Safety, explained the political philosophy that lay behind his use of Terror to defeat the enemies of the Revolution:

Citizen-representatives of the people, some time ago we set forth the principles of our foreign policy; today we come to expound the principles of our internal policy.

After having proceeded haphazardly for a long time, swept along by the movement of opposing factions, the representatives of the French people have finally demonstrated a character and a government. A sudden change in the nation’s fortune announced to Europe the regeneration that had been effected in the national representation. But up to the very moment when I am speaking, it must be agreed that we have been guided, amid such stormy circumstances, by the love of good and by the awareness of our country’s needs rather than by an exact theory and by precise rules of conduct, which we did not have even leisure enough to lay out

It is time to mark clearly the goal of the revolution, and the end we want to reach; it is time for us to take account both of the obstacles that still keep us from it, and of the means we ought to adopt to attain it: a simple and important idea which seems never to have been noticed. . . .

For ourselves, we come today to make the world privy to your political secrets, so that all our country’s friends can rally to the voice of reason and the public interest; so that the French nation and its representatives will be respected in all the countries of the world where the knowledge of their real principles can penetrate; so that the intriguers who seek always to replace other intriguers will be judged by sure and easy rules.

We must take far-sighted precautions to return the destiny of liberty into the hands of the truth, which is eternal, rather than into those of men, who are transitory, so that if the government forgets the interests of the people, or if it lapses into the hands of the corrupt individuals, according to the natural course of things, the light of recognized principles will illuminate their treachery, and so that every new faction will discover death in the mere thought of crime. . . .

What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them.

We seek an order of things in which all the base and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions are awakened by the laws; where ambition becomes the desire to merit glory and to serve our country; where distinctions are born only of equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where our country assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual proudly enjoys our country’s prosperity and glory; where every soul grows greater through the continual flow of republican sentiments, and by the need of deserving the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the adornments of the liberty which ennobles them and commerce the source of public wealth rather than solely the monstrous opulence of a few families.

In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honour, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice of scorn of the unlucky, self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul over vanity, love of glory for the love of money, good people in place of good society. We wish to substitute merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glamour, the charm of happiness for sensuous boredom, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a people who are magnanimous, powerful, and happy, in place of a kindly, frivolous, and miserable people – which is to say all the virtues and all the miracles of the republic in place of all the vices and all the absurdities of the monarchy.

We want, in a word, to fulfil natures desires, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny. Let France, formerly illustrious among the enslaved lands, eclipsing the glory of all the free peoples who have existed, become the model for the nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed the ornament of the world – and let us, in sealing our work with our blood, see at least the early dawn of the universal bliss -that is our ambition, that is our goal.

What kind of government can realize these wonders? Only a democratic or republican government – these two words are synonyms, despite the abuses in common speech, because an aristocracy is no closer than a monarchy to being a republic. . . .

Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can do well, and by their delegates do all that they cannot do for themselves. . . .

Now, what is the fundamental principle of popular or democratic government, that is to say, the essential mainspring which sustains it and makes it move? It is virtue. I speak of the public virtue which worked so many wonders in Greece and Rome and which ought to produce even more astonishing things in republican France – that virtue which is nothing other than the love of the nation and its law.

But as the essence of the republic or of democracy is equality, it follows that love of country necessarily embraces the love of equality. . . .

But the French are the first people of the world who have established real democracy, by calling all men to equality and full rights of citizenship; and there, in my judgment, is the true reason why all the tyrants in league against the Republic will be vanquished.

There are important consequences to be drawn immediately from the principles we have just explained.

Since the soul of the Republic is virtue, equality, and since your goal is to found, to consolidate the Republic, it follows that the first rule of your political conduct ought to be to relate all your efforts to maintaining equality and developing virtue; because the first care of the legislator ought to be to fortify the principle of the government. This everything that tends to excite love of country, to purify morals, to elevate souls, to direct the passions of the human heart toward the public interest, ought to be adopted or established by you. Everything which tends to concentrate them in the abjection of selfishness, to awaken enjoyment for petty things and scorn for great ones, ought to be rejected or curbed by you. Within the scheme of the French revolution, that which is immoral is impolitic, that which is corrupting is counter-revolutionary. We deduce from all this, a great truth – that the characteristic of popular government is to be trustful towards the people and severe towards itself.

Here the development of our theory would reach its limit, if you had only to steer the ship of the Republic through calm waters. But the tempest rages, and the state of the revolution in which you find yourselves imposes upon you another task.

We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now, in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.

If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, amid revolution it is at the same time both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue. It is less a special principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most pressing needs.

It has been said that terror is the mainspring of despotic government – does your government then resemble a despotism? Yes, as the sword which glitters in the hands of liberty’s heroes also resembles the one with which the lackeys of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern his brutalized subjects by terror; he is right to do this, as a despot. Subdue liberty’s enemies by terror, and you will be right, as founders of the Republic. The government of the revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny. Is force made only to protect crime? And is it not to strike the heads of the proud that lightning is destined? . . .

To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity. The rigor of tyrants has only rigor for a principle; the rigor of the republican government comes from charity.

Therefore, woe to those who would dare to turn against the people the terror which ought to be felt only by its enemies! Woe to those who, confusing the inevitable errors of civic conduct with the calculated errors of perfidy, or with the conspirators’ criminal attempt leave the dangerous schemer to pursue the peaceful citizen! Perish the scoundrel who ventures to abuse the sacred name of liberty, or the redoubtable arms which liberty has entrusted to him, in order to bring mourning or death into patriots’ hearts! This abuse has existed, one cannot doubt it. It has been exaggerated, no doubt, by the aristocracy. But if in all the Republic there existed only one virtuous man persecuted by the enemies of liberty, the government’s duty would be to seek him out vigorously and give him a dazzling revenge. . . .

How frivolous it would be to regard a few victories achieved by patriotism as the end of all our dangers. Glance over our true situation. You will become aware that vigilance and energy are more necessary for you than ever. An un-responding ill-will everywhere opposes the operations of the government. The inevitable influence of foreign courts is no less active for being more hidden, and no less baneful. One senses that crime, frightened, has only covered its tracks with greater skill.

You could never have imagined some of the excesses committed by hypocritical counter-revolutionaries in order to blight the cause of the revolution. Would you believe that in the regions where superstition has held the greatest sway, the counter-revolutionaries are not content with burdening religious observances under all the forms that could render them odious, but have spread terror among the people by sowing the rumour that all children under ten and all old men over seventy are going to be killed? This rumour was spread particularly through the former province of Brittany and in the departements of the Rhine and the Moselle. It is one of the crimes imputed to Schneider the former public prosecutor of the criminal court of Strasbourg. That man’s tyrannical follies make everything that has been said of Caligula and Elagabalus credible; one can scarcely believe it, despite the evidence. He pushed his delirium to the point of commandeering women for his own use – we are told that he even employed that method in selecting a wife. Whence came this sudden swarm of foreigners, priests, noble, intriguer of all kinds, which at the same instant spread over the length and breadth of the Republic, seeking to execute, in the name of philosophy, a plan of counter-revolution which has only been stopped by the force of public reason? Execrable conception, worthy of the genius of foreign courts leagued against liberty, and of the corruption of all the internal enemies of the Republic!

In deceitful hands all the remedies for our ills turn into poisons. Everything you can do, everything you can say, they will turn against you, even the truths which we come here to present this very day. . . .

Such an internal situation ought to seem to you worthy of all your attention, above all if you reflect that at the same time you have the tyrants of Europe to combat, a million and two hundred thousand men under arms to maintain, and that the government is obliged continually to repair, with energy and vigilance, all the injuries which the innumerable multitude of our enemies has prepared for us during the course of five years.

What is the remedy for all these evils? We know no other than the development of that general motive force of the Republic – virtue.

Democracy perishes by two kinds of excess: either the aristocracy of those who govern, or else the popular scorn for the authorities whom the people themselves have established, scorn which makes each clique, each individual take unto himself the public power and bring the people through excessive disorders, to annihilation or to the power of one man.

The double task of the moderates and the false revolutionaries is to toss us back and forth perpetually between these two perils.

But the people’s representatives can avoid them both, because government is always the master at being just and wise; and, when it has that character, it is sure of the confidence of the people.

It is indeed true that the goal of all our enemies is to dissolve the Convention. It is true that the tyrant of Great Britain and his allies promise their parliament and subjects that they will deprive you of your energy and of the public confidence which you have merited; that is the first instruction for all their agents.

We are beginning a solemn debate upon all the objects of the Convention’s anxiety, and everything that can influence the progress of the revolution. We adjure it not to permit any particular hidden interest to usurp ascendancy here over the general will of the assembly and the indestructible power of reason.

               

Danton Rallies the People

Other than his one time friend and colleague Maximilien Robespierre no one did more to shape and guide the French Revolution than Georges-Jacques Danton; a towering figure shabbily attired, passionate in his appetites and who required no acoustic accompaniment to make his voice heard he did not prepare his speeches in advance and with no eye on posterity seek their publication in the press and elsewhere. Instead he intervened when he felt the situation required it often to devastating effect as with the attack on the Tuilleries Palace and the Prison Massacres.

Delivered to the National Assembly on 2 September 1792, at a time when the advancing Austrian and Prussian Armies threatened the very survival of the revolution itself Danton’s speech was typically sharp and to the point – the French people had to be rallied, they needed to fight as never before:

It is gratifying to the Ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved. All are stirred, all are excited, and all burn to fight. You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.

One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities. Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and, march to the defence of the country. At such a moment you can proclaim that the capital deserves well of all France. 

At such a moment this National Assembly becomes a veritable committee of war. We ask that you concur with us in directing this sublime movement of the people, by naming commissioners who will second us in these measures. We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms will be punished with death. We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here. The tocsin that we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country. To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!

The same day as Danton delivered his fiery oration the fortress town of Verdun surrendered, but the revolutionary spirit would revive and a little over two weeks later the Prussians would be checked at Valmy and the tide of the war begin to turn.

 

The King’s (Charles I) Speech from the Scaffold

Just after ten in the morning on 30 January 1649, after walking his dog in St James’s Park and having consumed a glass of claret and some bread for breakfast Charles I was led from his place of incarceration at the Palace of St James to the Banqueting House in Whitehall and his place of execution. There he waited patiently while the Parliament that had passed sentence of death upon their King finalised the legislation that made it legal. In the meantime, the King requested an extra shirt should any shivering on such a cold day be mistaken for fear on his part.

As the clock struck twelve with flags fluttering in the breeze and the drum roll sounding a heavy beat he was escorted by armed guards to the scaffold. There he looked out upon a vast but subdued crowd mournful as if they could not quite believe their eyes and did not like what they saw.

Before meeting his fate the King would speak but he would address his words to Dr William Juxon, his former High Lord Treasurer who at his request had accompanied him to the scaffold rather than the people confident then that his words, and indeed the defence that had been denied him at his trial would be heard and faithfully recorded:

I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here.

Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good King, and a good Christian. I shall begin first with my innocence. In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this for, all the world knows that I never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the Militia they began upon, they confess that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if anybody will look to the dates of Commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the Declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me I hope in God that God will clear me of it, I will not, I am in charity. God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament; there is no necessity of either, I hope that they are free of this guilt; for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed; so that by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope (and pray God) that they may too; yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that Gods Judgments are just upon me. Many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary; I will only say this, That an unjust sentence (Strafford) that I suffered for to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me; that is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian; I hope there is a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causes of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavour to the last gasp the Peace of the Kingdom. So, Sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here that will carry it further, that they may endeavour the peace of the Kingdom. Now, (Sirs) I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way; first, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is by way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for Conquest, (Sir) in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just Cause, either for matter of wrong or just Title, and then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first: But if it be only matter of conquest, there is a great robbery; as a Pirate said to Alexander, that He was the great robber, he was but a petty robber: and so, Sir, I do think the way that you are in, is much out of the way. Now Sir, for to put you in the way, believe it you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the King his due (that is, my Successors) and the People their due; I am as much for them as any of you: You must give God his due by regulating rightly His Church (according to the Scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly now I cannot, but only this, a national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.

For the people, and truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as anybody whomsoever. But I must tell you, that their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their Gods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an Arbitrary way, for to have all Laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore, I tell you, (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) That I Am the Martyr of the People.

In truth, Sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse me.

I have delivered my Conscience. I pray God, that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the Kingdom and your own Salvations.

I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.

 

 

Nestor Makhno: The Forgotten Revolutionary

He is barely remembered now even in radical circles and perhaps only mentioned in passing but Nestor Ivanovich Makhno, the poor peasant from Ukraine, established one of the few anarchist entities in history, maybe it’s only state. It was forged in war, had little formal structure as one might expect, was recognised by no one, flickered only briefly, and much like the anarchist collectives formed in Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Civil War it had little time in which to succeed or fail before it succumbed to the weight of its enemies and was crushed by force.

He was born on 28 October 1888 the youngest of five children in the south-eastern Ukrainian village of Hulyai Pole to parents who like most in that region of the Russian Empire struggled to make ends meet. Indeed, it was a life of poverty, of often grinding poverty, and the young Nestor was forced to work from the age of seven often as a shepherd boy on one or other of the large estates that dotted the landscape.

Toiling long days in the fields left him little time for play or to attend school making him resentful of those he blamed for his own and his family’s plight, the Kulaks, or wealthy landowners who he believed leeched off the poor and treated them cruelly. He knew this because he had witnessed it for himself, he had seen peasants arbitrarily beaten and being badly injured at work for which they were fired and received no compensation. He had seen how their land was stolen from them and how they were paid a pittance for their many hours of hard and relentless toil. It was something he simply could not forgive and so he became involved in radical politics though it was more as an angry young man than it was a committed revolutionary. Nonetheless he attended meetings and carried out robberies on behalf of various groups even if he was to prove more adept at escaping justice than he was the scene of his crimes being both twice arrested and twice acquitted in Court.

His luck ran out however when in the summer of 1910, arrested once more he was at last convicted and sentenced to hang. The fact that no one had been killed in the robbery would see his sentence commuted to life imprisonment though he did not again expect to see the light of day; but like many so confined his prison was to be his university and under the influence of the anarchist intellectual Piotr Arshinov he learned the wherewithal of grievance, its causes, and who was responsible – if he wasn’t overtly political when he entered prison he soon would be.

He was released from his incarceration in the amnesty for prisoners that followed the revolution of February 1917, and returning to the Ukraine helped form the Peasant’s Party. Its influence was soon felt and their policy of taking land from the wealthy Kulaks and redistributing it among the poor saw its popularity grow rapidly and none was more popular than the charismatic Nestor Makhno, who was soon being hailed as the Ukrainian Robin Hood.

In March 1918, after almost four years of disastrous war that had witnessed the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, Russia’s now Bolshevik Government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany. It had followed torturous negotiations prolonged by subterfuge and delay yet despite Leon Trotsky’s best efforts  it was in the end nothing short of an abject surrender and vast areas of Russian territory were ceded to the Germans including the Ukraine.

Ukrainian grain made it the bread basket not only of Russia but also much of Europe and its possession would, it was hoped, enable the Germans to circumvent the British blockade of its ports that was slowly starving its people to death.

It was vital then that the harvest be gathered and transported to Germany and its Austrian ally as quickly as possible. As such, a puppet Government was hastily installed in Kiev under a former Tsarist General Pavlo Skoropadsky known as the Hetmanate, but unwilling to support a former agent of imperialism backed by a foreign occupying army the people rebelled and his weak, ineffective and irredeemably corrupt regime soon lost control of the province of Yekatorinislav.

As the rebellion spread so the Hetmanate began to disintegrate. It also became clear that it was anarchist inspired and that its leader was the bold, audacious peasant from Hulyai Pole, Nestor Makhno.

Riding at the head of his Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army, the so-called Makhnovistas, beneath the large black flag of anarchy emblazoned with the skull and crossbones and embroidered with the words “Liberty or Death” and “All Land to the Peasants” his irregular cavalry swift and elusive raided deep behind enemy lines preferring ambush to pitched battle; they attacked at night, cut lines of communication, seized supplies and in the towns they occupied the landlords were dispossessed, the land redistributed, the factories collectivised, and self-governing communities known as Mir established.

Greeted for the most part as heroes any resistance was nevertheless brutally suppressed and dissent not tolerated.

The Hetman Skoropadsky had lost control and driven from Kiev the Central Powers ceased to support him. They would now seek to regain control by military force but they would not be the only ones. Nestor Makhno would resist them all, and he would defeat them all, for a time at least.

Victor Serge, the Bolshevik revolutionary who would later flee Stalin’s purges, wrote of him:

“Nestor Makhno, boozing, swashbuckling, disorderly and idealistic proved himself a born strategist of unsurpassed ability. The soldiers under his command sometimes numbered in the hundreds at other times in the tens of thousands would steal their arms and supplies from the enemy.”

By late 1918, Makhno’s Black Army had won victories over Austro-Hungarian and Ukrainian Nationalist forces leaving him in control of vast swathes of territory. His insurrection was also entirely Ukrainian in origin and he was soon being referred to as Batko or Father of his People. In those areas he controlled he set about establishing a State founded on anarchist principles and centred on local community control backed by military force.

At its First Congress known as the Nabat, or Bell, his Anarchist State, the Makovschina, declared itself against the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia before adopting five guiding principles:

1/ All forms of Dictatorship are rejected including the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

2/ There is to be no transition period as exists in Marxist ideology.

3/ Free communities of peasants and workers are the highest form of social justice.

4/ Education is to be founded upon the principles espoused by the anarchist intellectual Francisco        Ferrer.

5/ The economy is to be based upon the free exchange of goods between rural and urban communities.

It wouldn’t last. The forces reined against them would prove too great.

On 11th November 1918, the Great War ended in Germany’s defeat long before they had the opportunity to fully exploit the gains secured in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk but no sooner had their forces withdrawn from Ukraine those of the Tsarist General Anton Denikin moved in. They would soon be joined by the White Russian Army of General Piotr Wrangel. Both were already locked in mortal combat with Leon Trotsky’s Red Army – the Russian Civil War had reached Ukrainian soil.

Formed with the intention of restoring the Romanov Dynasty to power they were riven from the outset by division, personal ambition and factional in-fighting that prevented any strategic cooperation or effective command structure from emerging. Even so, led by experienced Tsarist commanders and supported by the Western Powers (even if more in word than deed) they remained a threat, and the one thing they could unify over was their deep hatred of, and absolute opposition to, the Bolshevik Government in Moscow and their supposed allies – those cackling bloodthirsty beasts determined to sacrifice Mother Russia on the altar of their Godless Marxist ideology. As indicated in the poster below:

Out of necessity Makhno would ally with Trotsky to defeat the White Russian forces. It wasn’t the first time the two men had cooperated but Makhno’s earlier meeting with Lenin when the Bolshevik leader expressed little opposition to the establishment of an independent anarchist Ukraine was not repeated in his negotiations with the Red Army commander. He would not countenance an Anarchist State on the border of Bolshevik Russia and their relationship was one of mutual mistrust. Makhno had already captured and executed 2 Cheka (Bolshevik Secret Police) operatives sent to assassinate him. Even so, the two men would work together to defeat a common foe.

In a series of engagements Nestor Makhno would outmanoeuvre and defeat much larger and better equipped White Russian Armies and by November 1920 he had forced General Wrangel to abandon the Crimea Peninsula thereby liberating all of Southern Ukraine and though the Red Army had provided logistical support it was the Makhnovistas who had borne the brunt of the fighting.

But no sooner had one enemy been vanquished than another emerged.

 

Trotsky saw anarchism as a dangerous counter-revolutionary force which if left alone would like a cancer spread across the whole of Russia. He would eradicate it in Ukraine as he would later at the Naval Base of Kronstadt and an attack by the Red Army upon Makhno’s Headquarters at Hulyai Pole saw most of his senior commanders seized and executed.

Makhno himself had evaded capture much to Trotsky’s frustration who now in a fit of pique ordered that he be shot on sight. He would later justify his actions:

“Nestor Makhno was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He created a cavalry of peasants who provided their own horses. They were not the downtrodden village poor that the October Revolution had first reawakened. They were the strong, well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno corresponded with and appealed to the spirit and desires of the Kulak like nothing else could.”   

Makhno fought on for almost a year often with success but with scant resources and no allies to call upon the end was inevitable. In August 1921 he fled Ukraine and with the help of the anarchist underground finally, if not without mishap, made it safely to Paris.

Missing the open spaces of the Ukraine he did not take kindly to city life believing it poisonous to both mind and body but there would be no way back. At least he remained prominent in anarchist circles, the hero of the hour so to speak, becoming a regular contributor to the journal Diela Truda (The Cause of Labour) but when in partnership with his old mentor Piotr Arshinov he published the controversial Organisational Platform calling upon anarchists the world over to unite in one body with a strict hierarchy and centralised command structure the other leading anarchists broke with him – his time had passed.

Ignored by those who had once praised him, Nestor Makhno, Liberator of Ukraine and the Father of his People was reduced to working as a handyman at the Paris Opera and later on the production line at Renault – he had become the forgotten revolutionary.

Suffering from a tubercular condition made worse by an excess of alcohol and tobacco Nestor Makhno died on 6 June 1935 aged just 46.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Peter Lely: A Court Painter

He was born  Pieter van der Faes on 14 September 1618 in Soest, Germany, but his parents were Dutch and he was raised in Haarlem where he studied art at the Guild of St Luke becoming both a master painter and teacher; but Haarlem offered scant opportunity for an artist of ambition so in 1643, despite it being convulsed by Civil War he travelled to England and the Court of Charles I thereby following in the footsteps of his more illustrious compatriots Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens both of whom had found fame and fortune there – they were big shoes to fill.

Adopting the more English sounding name of Lely the new ‘Dutch Master’ was well received by those at Court earning him a great many commissions and the attention of the King who chose him as his preferred portrait artist replacing Van Dyck who had died two years earlier. Indeed, such was his popularity that he was able to continue work virtually uninterrupted even after the trial and execution of his former employer, the fall of the Stuart Monarchy, and its replacement by the Commonwealth.

Following the Restoration in 1660, King Charles II appointed him ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary,’ or official Court Painter. One of the more prolific in the role one of his most famous projects was the so-called Windsor Beauties, or Ladies of the Royal Court (both Duchess and Courtesan) that are currently housed at Hampton Court Palace in London.

But there were few people of note either at the Royal Court or beyond who did not come under the enhancing influence of Sir Peter’s brush. His willingness to portray his subjects as they wished to be seen, most famously in his ‘warts and all’ portrait of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, ensured his popularity remained high.

He was no Goya it is true, and the limitations he placed upon his own art can make it appear a little regimented at times yet the beauty and majesty of his brush remains and there few complaints.

Sir Peter Lely died at his home in Covent Garden, a little more than a year after he was knighted and granted a pension for life, on 7 December 1680. He was 62 years of age.

He was replaced as Court Painter by another German born Dutch artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller.

King Charles II

King James II

James Duke of York and his wife Anne Hyde

James Duke of York, Anne Hyde, and their children

Catherine of Braganza, Queen to Charles II

Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, long-time mistress of  King Charles II described by the diarist John Evelyn as the ‘Curse of the Nation.’

Queen Mary II

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, Warts and All

Sir William Ashburnham

Sir Philip Sydney

Lady Diana Kirke, Countess of Oxford

The Earl and Countess of Oxford

Sir John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Lady Mary Fane

Margaret Hughes first actress to appear on an English stage.

Lady Diana Strickland

Nell Gwynne without her oranges

Sir Robert Worsley

Madonna and Child

A Boy

Unknown

 

Sir Thomas Allin

Sir Jeremiah Smith

Sir William Berkeley

Admiral Thomas Teddiman

 

 

Queen Henrietta Maria

Charles I married Princess Henrietta Maria of France by proxy on 1 May, 1625, just weeks after he ascended to the throne of England. He was 25 years old, she just 15 and a Catholic. In staunchly Protestant England this posed a problem but it could have been worse, for she was not his first choice. He had originally intended to woo the Spanish Infanta but his somewhat ham-fisted attempts at courtship among which included dressing up in disguise, scaling walls in the dead of night, and trying to break into the Royal Apartments came to nothing when the Spanish demanded he convert to Catholicism before any betrothal could even be contemplated. This he would never do and so he would remain the frustrated bachelor for a little longer (though in hindsight it could perhaps be seen as politically wise not to have seduced a royal scion of his country’s arch-enemy). So, Henrietta Maria, whom he had met briefly before, was very much acquired on the rebound. Even so, their union would barely be less controversial or any more popular for that.

Young though she was Henrietta Maria was no wall flower who would allow herself to be bullied or coerced into remaining silent or concealing her Catholicism. Rather she would flaunt it, and not long after their formal marriage ceremony in July 1626, she and her entourage very publicly visited Tyburn to pray for the souls of the many Catholic martyrs who had been executed there. She also brought with her a 40 strong retinue of priests, ladies-in-waiting and sundry court officials all of whom were French and Catholic. None of this was lost on the largely Puritan populace of London who would regularly subject her processions through the city to jeers and cat-calls something she actually seemed to enjoy and would respond to accordingly. Charles was less amused, he did not like doubt being cast upon his own faith, he was a devout Anglican, or upon his role as Head of the Church of England. He was also aware that French influence was causing resentment at Court. Eventually, while the Queen would remain her retinue would be sent back to France.

Charles taking a firm hand with his wife did not make the newly-weds any more compatible, however. He was a reserved man, courteous and polite who kept his own council and chose his words carefully. Henrietta Maria by contrast was loud, outspoken, and flirtatious – it was not a match made in heaven.

She had after all been raised in the French Court, always less formal than it English counterpart, and a certain latitude in behaviour was often granted to those who had been exposed to it. Even so, the wife’s role, whether a Queen or not, was to be the devoted and compliant help-mate of her husband and to venture far beyond this was unacceptable. A woman was not expected to speak out of turn and certainly not on matters that did not concern her such as politics and the affairs of state. Henrietta Maria did both and often.

 

For much of the early years of their marriage Charles and Henrietta Maria were barely on speaking terms. Indeed, he spent more time in the company of his father’s former lover George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham than he did his wife prompting rumours that a similar relationship had developed between them; rumours that Henrietta Maria, who loathed Buckingham, was not shy of repeating. In his turn, Charles let it be known that he could not bear to be in his wife’s presence but all this was to change, when on 23 August, 1628, Buckingham was assassinated. He had long been a divisive figure, the cause of friction not only at the Royal Court but also between the King and his Parliament.  Now without Buckingham to advise him Charles took the momentous decision to dissolve Parliament and govern without it.

As a man who demanded loyalty from his subjects Charles now found that in troubled times there were few people he could rely upon. It resulted in a closeness developing between him and his Queen that had previously been absent. When it came to loyalty she would not disappoint.

On 29 May, 1630, she gave birth to a son and heir and their relationship began to blossom. Five further children would follow. In love with his Queen at last Charles would now seek to sell her to his people who were not.

Charles I, like his father before him was in no doubt that all earthly power emanated from a heavenly source and that he as the King was the recipient of it. It was important that his subjects were aware of this too and at a time when art was propaganda where the Church preached obedience it was intended to inspire awe; but whereas Catholic Europe used art to empathise the Greater Glory of God in Protestant England it raised up his Divinely Appointed Representative on Earth.

Similar to the future Queen Victoria who guided by her husband Prince Albert would use the new technology of photography to create the image of the Royal Family as respectable and bourgeois, Charles I would use art, or more specifically portraiture to enhance the awe of His Majesty and glamorise the person of his Queen.

The materials the artist had to work with were not promising, the King barely 5’4” tall was thin, drawn, had a softness of skin and a delicacy of appearance that it was difficult to hide. But if Charles was no Warrior King then his Queen was even less a Helen of Troy. Her niece Sophia of Hanover seeing her aunt for the first time described how: “the beautiful portraits of Van Dyck had given me such a fine idea of all the ladies of England I was surprised to see that the Queen, who I had seen as beautiful and lean, was a woman well past her prime. Her arms were long and thin, her shoulders uneven, and some of her teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks. She did, however, have pretty eyes, nose, and a good complexion.”

Any difficulties however, would be overcome.

It appeared to any outside observer during the period of the King’s personal rule that all was set fair; the country was at peace, it was prosperous and the opposition had been silenced but rarely are old disputes so easily put to bed and when the King required money he needed Parliament to provide it and they in their turn would demand their outstanding concerns were addressed.

In the meantime, the glorification of the Stuart Dynasty continued apace but while the image of them as God’s representatives on earth so unwaveringly depicted in the work of Van Dyck, Rubens, and others may have remained untarnished the reality was very different. Charles was in a fight with his own Parliament over who governed and with the many among its ranks, who while believing he should reign demanded that he should not rule. His attempt to quash the opposition by arresting its leading members (a policy strongly advocated for by the Queen) ended in farce when they escaped the House of Commons by boat while he sat disconsolately in the Speaker’s Chair impotent and humiliated, and it was likely Henrietta Maria was responsible.

Her isolation from much of the Royal Court had seen her develop a close relationship with Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, and that unaware of her sympathy for the Puritan cause or that she was a former lover of John Pym the primary target of the King’s arrest warrant had spoken openly of the King’s plan with her. It was she who revealed the intended assault upon Parliament to her cousin the Earl of Essex, future Commander of the Parliamentary Army. Forewarned, Pym and the others had fled by boat down the Thames. Now with London in tumult and his authority much diminished Charles chose to abandon the capital for the sake of his family – conflict seemed inevitable.

In August 1642, as the King raised his Standard in Nottingham thereby declaring war upon a Parliament he was ill-equipped to fight Henrietta Maria was already in the Netherlands using the Crown Jewels as collateral to raise money and purchase arms. She did so to great effect but the materiel she acquired was only job half done, the return journey would be fraught with danger.

Her first attempt was abandoned when caught in a fierce storm her ship was almost shipwrecked and all aboard drowned. Undeterred she would try again this with greater success although her tiny armada was pursued all the way to the port of Bridlington by enemy warships which then proceeded to bombard the harbour while her ships were being unloaded. Indeed, so severe was the bombardment they were forced to flee to nearby woods, though she would return briefly to retrieve her pet dog which they had left behind in their haste.

It was typical Henrietta Maria who appeared at all times to be more excited by than fearful of war, a war in which she would stand alongside her husband and not flinch. Indeed, she never ceased to display the loyalty the King demanded but so often didn’t receive. There were others of course, but it was a conflict where changing sides, often more than once, was commonplace and none more so than among the nobility.

Travelling in convoy across hostile territory the Queen safely delivered her cargo of arms, supplies, and a number of volunteer soldiers recruited in the Low Countries to the King’s capital at Oxford entering the city to much fanfare and celebratory cannon fire.  Here she would remain for most of the next two years making life in the over-crowded and disease ridden city more tolerable for the King by overseeing the resumption of Court life and ensuring that the niceties of Monarchy were maintained.

By the spring of 1644 the tide of the war had turned against the Royalists and it was decided that Henrietta Maria should leave Oxford with the younger children (the Princes would remain with the King) for her own and their safety. Charles accompanied her as far as Abingdon before a tearful farewell saw her depart under armed escort for the West Country and a ship to the Continent. It was the last time they would ever see each other.

Whether in France or the Netherlands Henrietta Maria continued to work assiduously on the King’s behalf using all her powers of persuasion, and making promises she could not hope to keep, to purchase weapons and supplies for a cause she must have known was doomed with most of the war materiel procured either captured at sea or intercepted and seized on the overland journey to Oxford. At the same time the volunteer troops promised by the many Princes and Dukes who fell at her feet and graced her presence with fine words and brave intentions never materialised.

On 14 June 1645, the main Royalist Field Army was to all-intents-and-purposes destroyed at the Battle of Naseby and in the ensuing rout the King’s Baggage Train overrun and his court papers and private correspondence captured. While the former revealed a duplicitous nature and attempts to persuade the Irish Catholic Confederation to send troops in his support the latter expressed a slavish devotion to his Queen, both sentimental and mawkish, that only confirmed a view widely held that she was a familiar of the devil who had cast her evil eye upon and bewitched him. The letters when published were to prove a great propaganda coup for the King’s enemies.

The Civil War was as good as lost to the King in the aftermath of Naseby but it would take time to seal the victory, there were still pockets of resistance and stoutly defended Royalist strongholds to overcome. One of these of course was the King’s capital at Oxford which had already been under siege for some time. Charles had intended to break the siege with the help of an army recruited in Ireland but his negotiations, with the Catholic Church in particular, had broken down – it left him bereft of options.

With all hope of relief gone in the early hours of the 27 April 1646 with nothing to guide them but a solitary lantern and the camp fires of the enemy King Charles I of England dressed in the clothes of a common servant and with his hair cut short, accompanied by his priest and a faithful retainer, fled the city. His hope was to find a ship that would take him to France but when this proved impossible rather than prostrate himself before his own Parliament he surrendered to the Scottish Covenanter Army.

If Charles had a notion he would find solace among those from the country of his birth he was soon disabused of it as after lengthy negotiations they handed him over to the English Parliament upon payment of £100,000 prompting the King to remark sardonically that he had been bartered rather cheaply.

Henrietta Maria did not take kindly to the endless barrage of bad news from England, she did not possess the quiet stoicism of her husband, and instead displayed an anger bordering on the hysterical denouncing all those who had ever opposed the King as traitors while being unsparing with those who put their own welfare before that of their Monarch. It made no difference of course it is what it is, but she had not given up hope.

Now a supplicant in the hands of a Parliament he had once sought to confront Charles discussed with its leading members, Oliver Cromwell prominent among them, the terms whereby he could be restored to the throne. This he did this with scant sincerity however, for he was already in secret negotiations with his former Scottish adversaries to resume the war in return for the establishment of Presbyterian Church governance the length and breadth of the British Isles. In this he was encouraged by Henrietta Maria who had by now established a Court-in-Exile just outside Paris where joined by the heir to the throne she remained a powerful figure.

With little enthusiasm for a renewal of hostilities in the country beyond the more fanatical elements any hope of success lay with the Scots Army and so when it fell to defeat at the Battle of Preston in August 1648 resistance elsewhere quickly crumbled. The King’s gamble had failed and no longer the reluctant guest of his Parliament but a prisoner of the New Model Army he was in the hands of powerful men who were quite literally willing to wield the axe.

King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649, in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall that had earlier been decorated by the artist Rubens to the greater glory of his reign and that of the Stuart Monarchy he represented.  That he died well believing to the end in the Divine Providence of his rule while bequeathing the Crown to his son did little to alleviate Henrietta Maria’s grief as she succumbed to depression and a long period of deep mourning.

With the King’s demise Henrietta Maria’s influence began to wane and she was no longer able to control a fractious Court whose members increasingly sought to cast blame for their predicament upon each other; that responsibility now fell to her eldest son Charles who could unite them in his desire to reverse the decision of earlier wars and reclaim the throne that left vacant saw England without a Monarch and therefore naked before God.

 

Henrietta Maria supported her son’s attempts to regain the throne while fretting continuously over his safety particularly during the disastrous campaign of 1651 that saw him put to flight and reduced to hiding in the hollowed out trunk of the Boscobel Oak to evade capture before finding a ship that would take him to safety.

Marginalised and no longer listened to at the Court she had created Henrietta Maria turned her attention to raising her younger children paying particular attention to their religious education.

Everything changed when on 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. As Lord Protector he had been King in all but name, now with his passing England underwent a crisis of identity – did it wish to be a Republic or not?

Before his death Cromwell had nominated his son Richard to succeed him but with little support in the country ‘Tumbledown Dick’ as he was derisively known was forced to stand down after just 256 days at the helm. A power vacuum now existed at the heart of government but it was one that General George Monck for one, was willing to fill. A former Royalist who had changed sides during the Civil War and become one of Cromwell’s most loyal supporters Monck had no desire to seize power for himself but with Parliament having proven itself unfit to rule without instruction on more than one occasion he was not willing to see it plunge the country once more into chaos and bloodshed.  On behalf of Parliament, with or without their permission, his representatives opened negotiations with those of Charles II for the terms by which the Stuart’s could be restored to the throne. Concessions made by both parties saw Charles depart the Netherlands for England arriving in London on 29 May 1660, to a rapturous reception. After eleven years in exile he had been restored to the throne that had been so brutally torn from his father’s grasp.

Henrietta Maria was delighted by the Restoration but disappointed her son had signed the Declaration of Breda that had accompanied it. He had pledged in the Declaration not to seek vengeance upon those who had deposed his father and with the exception of the Regicides, those who had signed the King’s Death Warrant, he would be as good as his word; but with so many of them already dead or having fled the country she saw the persecution of the remaining Regicides alone as scant justice.

She nonetheless returned to England in October 1660, to very little fanfare with far fewer following her procession through the streets of London than would once have been the case. Indeed, so dismissive was the diarist Samuel Pepys of her return he remarked upon how few bonfires had been lit in her honour and described her as: “a very plain little old woman, and nothing more in her presence or in any respect or garb than any ordinary woman.”

She had intended to remain in England both to support her son and in honour of her husband but England was a country that had brought her only pain and one which she had long ago fallen out of love with; a truth there seemed no reason to doubt when her son Henry, Duke of Gloucester died of smallpox to be followed only a few months later by her youngest daughter, Mary.

In declining health and suffering a melancholia brought on by the isolation she felt at Court in 1665 Henrietta Maria returned to France where she could be comforted by friends and commit more time to her religious devotions. Her mental health improved and fleeting glimpses of her old ebullience remained but her physical condition continued to decline.

On 10 September 1669 suffering from a bronchial condition she simply couldn’t shake off she died, aged 59.

During her years as Queen she had never secured the affection of her people or even the respect of her peers but she had won the love of a King, a King who she served faithfully until the end and at great personal risk to herself. It was something for which she received little credit but over time some vindication, perhaps.

Her later years were consumed by the desire to see her eldest sons convert to the Catholic faith: James did so publicly just prior to her death, Charles as King was more circumspect and only converted on his deathbed. Yet even this victory for Henrietta Maria would prove a pyrrhic one for when James succeeded his brother as King it was his Catholicism that would prove his downfall and herald the end of the Stuart Dynasty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beau Brummell: Dandy

He was a fashion icon, the first of his kind, a man known for little more than the clothes he wore and the manner of his being – fragrant, polished, charming and stylish but with a rapier wit and a sharp tongue. He was Beau Brummell, man about town and dandy. Famous in his own lifetime he would become even more so after his death, though it would take time.

He was born George Bryan Brummell on 7 July, 1778, in Downing Street, London, where his father was employed as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Lord North. His family then, were wealthy and respected but they were not of noble blood.  Even so, William Brummell was determined that his son’s would be raised as if they were – they would be gentlemen.

In the case of his younger son George he needn’t have worried for if he had anything at all it was a high self-regard and the air of superiority that comes from being raised within the corridors of power. He also had an overwhelming desire not to go unnoticed and both the poise and self-confidence to ensure that he wasn’t.  Aware that few can know you but all can see you image was important and his time at Eton Public School, which he attended as a fee paying student, was a great success. There were few who met him even as a child who forgot the experience but his was not merely the triumph of style over substance, he was also an intelligent young man who early on had perceived a clear path to success.

After Eton he briefly attended Oxford University where he likely met George, Prince of Wales for the first time. The future Prince Regent and King George IV was impressed by this young man with such style, wit and self-regard, enamoured even – the young George Brummell had hooked a big fish.

When his father died in June 1794, leaving him £20,000 in his Will he abandoned his studies at Oxford in favour of purchasing a commission in the Royal Hussars, the Prince’s Own Regiment, so he could remain close to the man who would provide his meal ticket to fame and fortune; but to do so wasn’t cheap and he could only afford the rank of Cornet not nearly exalted enough to gain him access to the Prince but at a time when such things were not earned but lay in the gift of family and friends Brummell was promoted first to Lieutenant and then to Captain. His access to the Prince was assured but when the Regiment was transferred to Manchester he resigned his commission so he could remain in London declaring that he could not bear to dwell among the destitute and unwashed in a place of, “undistinguished ambience with such a want of civility and culture.”

He also begged the Executors of his father’s Will (he had still not yet come of age) to buy for him a house in Mayfair which they did but at great cost- Brummell cared little, it was money well spent.

Prince George who cared more for his image than he did his crown and craved the admiration of his peers more than he did the love of his people was both vain and easily flattered.  His critics might paint him as a lazy, gluttonous dolt rightly lampooned in the press and jeered at on the streets but he saw himself very differently. He was the most handsome man in Europe, the best dressed man, and the epitome of good taste. He knew this because the by now ‘Beau’ Brummell told him so.

 

By the early 1800’s Brummell’s Mayfair home at 4 Chesterfield Street had become the point of contact for the wealthy and the fashionable. His immaculate but understated style of dress at a time when the gaudy and the garish was de rigueur caused quite a stir. One did not need to be vulgar to be noticed it seemed, and Brummell’s dark blue jackets, silk and linen shirts, spotless white breeches, elaborately knotted neck cloths and knee high leather boots it was said he had polished in champagne became a familiar sight at Rotten Row and in the salons and ballrooms of Old London Town.

Never less than immaculately dressed his personal regimen was no less exacting and he bathed daily at a time when such was rare, gargled and brushed his teeth regularly in champagne and perfumed his hair. It was rumoured it took him five hours to dress and that the Prince would often be present when he did so.

But being a Dandy and the most fashionable man in England was an expensive business made more so perhaps by his association with the Prince, as also was the need to be seen and  Brummell was a regular attendee of the racecourse and at the gaming tables while no elegant salon or grand ball was complete without his presence. Once when asked how much it cost to keep a gentleman in clothes he responded “Why with tolerable economy, I think it might b done with £800 more or less.” This was at a time when the average wage for a skilled craftsman was only around £50 a year.

Brummell was perhaps being flippant but then he was almost as famous for the sharpness of his wit as he was the elegance of his apparel. When a woman shouted down to him from a balcony he was passing beneath whether he would take tea with her he replied:

“Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.”

Lady Hester Stanhope recalled in her memoirs how on another occasion he told her:

“My Lady Hester, it is my folly that is the making of me. If I did not impertinently stare Duchesses out of countenance, and nod over my shoulder to a Prince, I should be forgotten in a week.”

In this latter remark at least he was being prescient.

He also flirted outrageously with just about any attractive woman of substance who crossed his path. His most significant relationship was with Frederica, Duchess of York, and he kept a painted miniature of her left eye on his person indicating a high degree of intimacy and he once presented her with a pet dog he named Fidelity as a gift  but for the most part his courtships were short and inconsequential . He was known to frequent the bedchambers of prostitutes the most famous of whom was Miss Julia Storer, a high-class courtesan who did not sell herself cheaply.

With a fortune long spent and no discernible income to speak of Brummell nonetheless absented himself from few events on the social calendar aware that if one cannot be seen one may as well be naked. Heavily in debt and with an expensive lifestyle to maintain Brummell’s credit remained good as long as his friendship with the Prince continued but their relationship came under strain when in 1811 due to his father’s mental incapacity he was elevated to Prince Regent or King in all but name.

Both Brummell and the Prince mixed in fashionable Whig circles, the former because he believed in the free trade policies they advocated and the Republican sentiments they often expressed; the latter as a deliberate snub to his father. Now that George was Prince Regent his allegiance switched to the pro-Monarchy Tory Party, an unforgiveable betrayal as far as Brummell was concerned and he told him so.

The Prince who was used to the flattery and sycophancy of the Royal Court did not take kindly to home truths and so it proved with Beau Brummell and no longer would he seek his advice on where to be seen and how to dress. Their worsening relationship came to a head in July 1813, at the Masquerade Ball at Watiers Private Club (also known as the Dandy Club) in Mayfair organised by Brummell’s close friends Lord Alvanley and Sir Henry Mildmay. The Prince Regent was honoured guest but upon his arrival and after warmly greeting both Alvanley and Mildmay he deliberately ignored Brummell but in a manner that made it plain to all those present that he had done so. The affronted Brummell, never shy to turn to his friend and say in a loud voice, “So Alvanley, who is your fat friend?” The room fell silent and the Prince left soon after -the two men would never speak again.

At first it seemed that Brummell might be able to weather the storm of royal disfavour but without the Prince’s patronage the credit dried up and his friends began to abandon him. No longer welcome in the homes of the great and the good and pursued by his creditors one of whom, Richard Meyler, demanded satisfaction in the form of a duel, in May 1816 believing discretion to be the better part of valour he departed from Dover for the Continent.

Once in France those influential friends who had remained loyal secured for him a post at the British Consulate in Calais. It was rumoured that the Prince Regent had intervened on his behalf but as they never publicly reconciled this seems unlikely though it appears clear he did not stand in the way of his appointment.

It would be wrong to suggest that the once infamous Beau Brummell settled easily into a life of relative obscurity. He missed the limelight and was resentful towards those who had deprived him of it and had abandoned him in such haste. It was a resentment that would only increase as the years passed and he was already showing signs of the syphilis that would take a toll on both his body and his mind. With his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic visits from friends became less frequent. Indeed, so insufferable did he become he even managed to talk himself out of his job at the Consulate by arguing his post be abolished.

Despite his increasingly dire circumstances he refused repeated requests to return to England afraid more of the mockery and ridicule he might receive than he was his creditors. Neither would he write his memoirs as a means of relieving his financial difficulties.

By 1835, he was in Debtors Prison and reliant once more upon friends to liberate him, which they did paying for his release, renting for him a house and even providing him with a modest income of sorts; but by this time his health was in sharp decline and he was a shadow of the man he once was. Shabbily dressed and unkempt there was the merest glimmer of the old Beau Brummell in his air of grandeur and the cast of his eye but shuffling and bowed with his speech rambling and incoherent it was a glimmer only. Confined to an Insane Asylum in Caen he refused any further help and so there he remained his fast diminishing grip on reality subsumed in the bitter imaginings of better times and the mischaracterisation of other inmates as the Lords and Ladies he once knew.

Beau Brummell, once the most talked about man in England died on 30 March 1840, aged 61, his passing barely remarked upon in the society pages of a press he once dominated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beware the Ides of March

By 47 BC, Julius Caesar had defeated his opponents in Rome. Those who had posed a threat to him were dead, either killed in battle, executed, or made to commit suicide. He still had enemies he knew, but those to whom he had displayed leniency were both beaten and subjugated. He was the power now in Rome not the Senate and in February, 44 BC, he declared himself Dictator for Life.

There were many however, who had pledged their allegiance with scant sincerity. Two men in particular, Brutus and Cassius, believed it was their responsibility to act and the course of action they decided to take – assassination.

With as many as 60 Senators involved in the plot it was difficult to keep their plans secret but Caesar dismissed the rumours  and ignored the warning he received to ‘Beware the Ides of March.’

Nicolaus of Damascus, a close friend of King Herod, was not present in Rome at the time of Caesar’s murder but he knew many of those who were involved. This is his account of events as they were told him:

“The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others’ homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt as he was going along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favourite walks. Another idea was for it to be done at the elections during which he bad to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius; they should draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and for others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that would be that, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen prepared for the attempt. But the majority opinion favoured killing him while he sat in the Senate, where he would be by himself since non-Senators would not be admitted, and where the many conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.”

“His friends were alarmed at certain rumours and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, ‘What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honoured you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.’ This swayed Caesar and he left.”

“Before he entered the chamber, the priests brought up the victims for him to make what was to be his last sacrifice. The omens were clearly unfavourable. After this unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests made repeated other ones, to see if anything more propitious might appear than what had already been revealed to them. In the end they said that they could not clearly see the divine intent, for there was some transparent, malignant spirit hidden in the victims. Caesar was annoyed and abandoned divination till sunset, though the priests continued all the more with their efforts.

Those of the murderers present were delighted at all this, though Caesar’s friends asked him to put off the meeting of the Senate for that day because of what the priests had said, and he agreed to do this. But some attendants came up, calling him and saying that the Senate was full. He glanced at his friends, but Brutus approached him again and said, ‘Come, good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men, and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty power has seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favorable omen.’ He convinced Caesar with these words, took him by the right hand, and led him to the Senate which was quite near. Caesar followed in silence.”

“The Senate rose in respect for his position when they saw him entering. Those who were to have part in the plot stood near him. Right next to him went Tillius Cimber, whose brother had been exiled by Caesar. Under pretext of a humble request on behalf of this brother, Cimber approached and grasped the mantle of his toga, seeming to want to make a more positive move with his hands upon Caesar. Caesar wanted to get up and use his hands, but was prevented by Cimber and became exceedingly annoyed.

That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him. First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.

Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey’s statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded thirty-five times, he breathed his last. ”