US President Monroe & his Doctrine

/ biography.com

/ biography.com

James Monroe was born in Virginia in 1758, and became the 5th President of the United States. He did not shine as a diplomat but he did manage to orchestrate the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), one of the most important facets of US history. He became Madison’s Secrretary of State in 1811, and was active in the Anglo-American War of 1812-14.

In 1817 he became President, worried by the question of slavery, because though he was not officially an abolutionist he knew that this canker on the American soul was evil. When black people were occasionally freed he encouraged sending them to Liberia, and got that country’s capital Monrovia named after him. Continue reading

The wit of two conductors

Sir Thomas Beecham / dailymail.co.uk

Sir Thomas Beecham / dailymail.co.uk

It is possible that many players in orchestras have heard very funny comments made to them during rehearsal, or even during the actual performance of an orchestral piece. But someone needed to be quick enough to scribble what was said, and this has not always happened. The following remarks were noted at the time, though critics simply attribute them to the speaker. Continue reading

The demise of the Church of England

Dr. Michael Ramsey

Dr. Michael Ramsey

A distinguished elderly gentleman on a professional foreign tour, lay on his hotel bed waiting for news of a cancelled flight. His press secretary found him there, hands clasped behind his white head. He was repeating the words, “I hate the Church of England.” The secretary commented, “ It’s a good thing nobody’s here but me to hear you say that!” Dr. Ramsey, for it was he, said again, “Oh, but it’s true. I do hate the Church of England. Indeed I do.”

Ramsey was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time. At the time of his enthronement at Canterbury, he said, “Here in England, the Church and State are linked together . . . We ask for a greater freedom in the ordering and in the urgent revising of our forms of worship . . . If the link of Church and State were broken, it would not be we who ask for this freedom who broke it, but those – if there be such – who denied that freedom to us.”

The Reformation that took place in sixteenth century England was the process by which an English Church rejected the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church’s established doctrine and liturgy. At the same time it was the means by which Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, urged on by Henry VIII, sequestered Church lands and property ready for ‘redistribution’ to the Crown and those at Court who wished to buy it cheaply. Henry became Head of the Church of England (though he never stopped being a Catholic) and the ancient authority at Canterbury continued under the same name.

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey Ramsey had been beside her when she was annointed by the Archbishop, Ramsey’s former headmaster Dr. Fisher. One should not be surprised to learn that Fisher had told the Prime Minister when the time came for his retiremen that he could not recommend his former pupil for the job. Harold Macmillan replied, “Well, Archbishop, you may have been Michael Ramsey’s headmaster, but you are not mine (Fisher had been Head Man at Repton; Macmillan a boy at Eton) and I intend to appoint Dr. Ramsey. Good afternoon.”

Dr. J.A. Robinson

Dr. J.A. Robinson

In the early 1960s the Bishop of Woolwich, Dr. J.A. Robinson, was apparently a real Church of England man, son of a famous theologian, married with three daughters and a son. He was not the ‘fashionable and photographed’ bishop, a trendy who might advocate practices and doctrines which would offend the sensibilities of any narrow-minded or puritanical church-goer. He was not a ‘Red Dean’ of Westminster, who believed that Stalin has established an Earthly Paradise. Nor was he Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham who once described himself as ‘a troubled theist’ – a difficult phrase which an unconcentrating news sub-editor rendered next day as ‘a troubled atheist’.

But it was this Bishop of Woolwich who wrote a very short paperback and offered it to a small Christian publishing company. When it was ready for what promised to be a tiny sale, the good Bishop wrote an ad. for his own book in The Observer with the hardly subtle headline ‘Our Image of God must Go’. Not even the mild Dr Robinson could have predicted the result; His tiny paperback opus Honest to God sold 300,000 copies in the three months after publication and was translated into other languages many times. Though hard to believe, it might well be that this little book was the beginning of the not so gradual collapse of the Church of England, and a great wave of disbelief in the Christian Church generally. Many previously practising Christians felt that what Robinson wrote was simply heresy, questioning the very basis of what they thought was Christianity itself. The Archbishop (Ramsey) wrote a short essay denouncing Honest to God, insisting on a more orthodox theology, but Macmillan wrote to him, ‘I think it is a mistake to bewilder people.’

The Most Reverend Arthur Michael Richard Ramsey was the hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury, and was surely one of the strangest occupants of that office, though historically one of the most significant. The old Great Britain was breaking up by the Sixties, in every sense, and Ramsey deliberately and systematically set in motion the machinery and the means required to dismantle the Church of England. He and others of course, but he was one of the key players.Part of the ‘dismantling’ which began in the middle Sixties of the last century was the Church of England’s stunning policy of selling off its parsonages, rectories and vicarages, as well as empty churches and accompanying land. The descending trend of church attendance was alarming and relentless. In 1968 only 5% of Anglicans went to Communion Service. Hardly anyone used churches for weddings, baptisms or funerals. Within ten years of the publication of Honest to God churches in England were getting together in desperation, calliong it ‘ecunemism’. In the future years,the Church would make the effort to delude itself that the sudden secularization of the West was not terminal. They tried popular music to attract believers, but the dwindling congregations were nothing to the millions who had firmly decided not to attend church. Britain after the 1960s became a purely secular state.

(I am indebted to Andrew Wilson and his book Our Times, the age of Elizabeth II; Hutchinson, 2008)

Four Sforzas

Carlo Sforza / en.wikipedia.org

Carlo Sforza / en.wikipedia.org

It would be hard to think what the history of Italy would have been without the Sforza family. We have already studied the Visconti, the Medici, the Este and other great dynastic families; our first subject from this one is Francesco, born 1401 the illegitimate son of one Muzio Attendolo Sforza. Being born a bastard was a commonplace festivity in medieval Europe – as long as the child was recognised by his natural father. History is strewn with such cases. The Beaufort line of dukes in Britain started with an illegitimate child of Edward III’s (q.v.). Many more ducal lineages commenced with recognised bastards of Charles II (q.v.); one exception was the unrecognised bastard of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Leandro Alfonso, fruit of the king’s relation with the actress Carmen Moragas.

Francesco Sforza was a soldier and swordsman who worked violently and bloodily for money. At one time or another he fought against the Pope, Venice, Florence and finally Milan, but he became Duke of Milan in 1450 and stayed duke for sixteen years. This apparently clever upward mobility was a result of the usual method – he married the previous Duke of Milan’s daughter. Naturally he ascended to the dukedom when the lass’s father died. Continue reading

The Girondins

Jacques Brissot / en.wikipedia.org

Jacques Brissot / en.wikipedia.org

In the General History blogsite many posts have appeared dealing with different aspects of the French Revolution; there will have been many references to Jacobins and Girondins, both being a kind of politically-motivated club or political party with a multitude of members, who either smiling or snarling at each other helped to cause the Revolution. We have dealt extensively with the Jacobins, and now it is the turn of the Girondins.

The majority of these deputies came from the department of Gironde in south-west France – whence the name. They were occasionally called ‘Brissotins’ after their leader Jacques Brissot: it was he who played a significant part in persuading the Assembly to declare war on Austria in 1792. Brissot thought such a conflict would arouse enthusiasm for the Revolution, which had begun in July 1789 with the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris. Continue reading

An error in author names

Our editor has noticed that on Wikipedia, one of the pieces on Winston Churchill originally appeared, with a new link, under the author name of JAMES DEAN instead of DEAN SWIFT. In case this error appears again, we must remember that Dean Swift is a pen name used by a living author, and that James Dean was the name of a celebrated American film actor who sadly died in a traffic accident in 1955. James Dean starred in only three movies, each of them exceptionally good – East of Eden (1955), Rebel without a cause (1955), and Giant, released the year after Dean’s death.

Jeremy Taylor, editor of General-History.com and three volumes of collected history articles by Dean Swift.

Este and Esterházy

The Villa d'Este at Tivoli / en.wikipedia.org

The Villa d’Este at Tivoli / en.wikipedia.org

These are two more of those family names that ring down the centuries, the Este since about the year one thousand, and the Esterházy since the sixteenth century. We have emphasised the importance of dynastic, powerful families and individuals in General-History.com on purpose, because history is made or mangled by humans, in association with, or struggling with Nature. Many of our subjects have been weak or bad or a combination of the two; many have been strong and good, but even more have been that strangely human breed, the weak who appear strong (and vice-versa), with good and bad elements showing up equally.

The family Este seem to have surfaced in Italy around 1000 A.D., and were absolute rulers of Ferrara by the end of the 12th century. They remained in charge of this region until 1598, when their powers were incorporated into the Papal States. Azzo d’Este was the first Marchese (marquis). He lived from 1205 until 1264, and had completely established his authority by the time he died. He was Signore of Ferrara, and his son Obizzo made the position hereditary, annexing Modena and Reggio at the same time.

Niccolo III (born 1383, died 1441) was a good man who brought prosperity and comparative peace to the territory during his long princely reign. His sons and successors, Leonello (born 1407), Borso (born 1413) and Ercole (1431) were scholars who encouraged learning. They were also notable patrons of the arts. Isabella (1474) and Beatrice (1475, both daughters of Ercole) continued the traditions set by their family and ancestors. Isabella married Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua, and Beatrice married Ludovico Sforza of Milan, thus joining together three significant and powerful Italian families.

Alfonso I got into trouble with Popes, not at all a difficult thing to do in and around the Renaissance (q.v.), or at any other time for that matter, and Julius II and Leo X removed the Este’s papal fiefs in 1527, but meanwhile Ippolito was building the magnificent Villa d’Este at Tivoli. The family lost their power in Ferrara in 1598 but retained the duchy of Modena until 1859, when Francis (1819 – 1875) gave up all his territories to King Victor Emmanuel II.

Prince Pál Antal (Paul Anton) Esterházy / en.wikipedia.org

Prince Pál Antal (Paul Anton) Esterházy / en.wikipedia.org

The Esterházy flourished in several branches in Hungary from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It is still an aristocratic name to be reckoned with in Europe, because Esterházys married into most noble European families, with notable breeding success.

Count Pál (Paul) Esterházy (1665 – 1713) was a field-marshal for the Habsburgs, becoming a Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (q.v.) in 1687, mostly because of his successful campaigns against the Turks. Prince Miklós IV (born 1765) fought against Bonaparte, but was such a spendthrift he lost most of the family’s enormous estates. Prince Pál Antal (born 1786) was Austria’s ambassador in London until 1842, and in 1848 took up the reins of the Foreign Ministry in Vienna. After the end of the Great War, the defeat of Germany/Austria, the splitting of Austro-Hungary etc., great families like the Esterhazy have maintained a low, well-bred profile, but aristocratic circles from Vienna to New York would not be the same without the occasional Esterházy to liven things up.

Errata in the printed version of General History

After the successful publication of three edited volumes of General History, we have discovered to our astonishment that errors abound! Prepositions and full stops have vanished. There are unwanted spaces between words. In Volume Three the German word Ruhr has become a much-repeated Rhur. The editing and correcting was carried out with the utmost care, but errata occur and I must take the blame, for the printer can only print what he receives. Should a second edition be printed, it is to be hoped that these irritating mistakes will have been found and erradicated. We have also noted that both Volume II and Volume III carry the same article on Shakespearean vocabulary in the chapter on the English Language.

This is a message to faithful followers of www.general-history.com, from Jeremy Taylor, who writes the articles under the pen name of Dean Swift.

Fascism – a dreaded word

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci or Fasces / britannica.com

Fasci, literally meaning ‘bundles’, and perhaps descending from the fasci of thin staves of wood carried by Roman officials as symbol of authority, were established in Sicilian towns and villages in the late nineteenth century. They were mutually – supporting societies of peasants and workers; the basic trade union in fact. Their leaders varied in type and political opinion, but were usually anarchists, though many were teachers, local landowners and gentry, members of ancient and respected families. Not a few among them were local mafiosi. Continue reading

William the ‘Sailor King’

/ paranormalx.yolasite.com

/ paranormalx.yolasite.com

William IV King of Great Britain and Ireland was born in the eighteenth century (1765) and died seventy-two years later. He was also King of Hanover from 1830 to 1837, because he was the third son of George III. He was called ‘the Sailor King’ because he joined the Navy at fourteen, serving around the coasts of the United States and in the West Indies. He was promoted admiral in 1811 at forty-six – not bad for the crusty British Navy – and then rose to be Lord High Admiral in 1827.

George IV (who had been the infamous Prince Regent) died in 1830, and William ascended the throne because his older brother had died. He was to be the penultimate British monarch of the House of Hanover. The country believed he had Whiggish (liberal) sentiments, and this might have beeen true, but he soon abandoned them, developing serious Conservative sympathies, obstructing the passing of the first Reform Bill in 1832.

William IV was the last British monarch to use prerogatory powers to dismiss a ministry which had won by a majority vote. He achieved this by firing Lord Melbourne in 1834 and inviting the Tories to form a government. He died in 1837 and was succeeded in that year by his niece Victoria at the age of eighteen. Queen Victoria did not fire Lord Melbourne; she learnt about politics and power from him. Ascending the throne as a Hanoverian, she changed the name to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when she married a German prince.