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FROM THE EARLY AGES TO THE MODERN TIME
“Insularity” is a key word to British culture and civilization, not only when reference is made to the country’s geographical outline, but to its historical background as well; insularity and the ocean’s proximity made Britain develop in its unique way, made it accept and dismiss influences, mingling and melting races and differences in its own peace and harmony; made its people become explorers, traders and colonists to the shores of the two hemispheres, transforming Britain from a world margin into a centre of civilization. The island offered shelter to its inhabitants, saving them from many dangers, and, not incidentally, it is said that “Britain’s history and its strong national scene have been shaped by sea” [25; p. 3]. The beginning of the history of man’s existence on the British Isles is very old, lost, somewhere, in the darkness of time. However, here and there, that being’s old traces come out, to arise the curiosity of the modern people and to make them discover, with wonder, their old forgotten ancestors.
2.1 Britain in Pre-Historic Time; the Vanished Cultures
Britain’s territory was part of the continental landmass till late, in the Mesolithic period, and, at that time, the human migratory population could reach it with relative easiness. Recent archaeological discoveries (Boxgrave, Sussex) brought to light the first evidence on the existence of human beings in Britain, some 50,000 years ago; the remains are of Homo heidelbergensis, some of the oldest hominid in the world, much older than Homo sapiens sapiens, there were also discovered hand-axes and other flint implements used by those ice age hunters, for killing and butchering animals.
It was the time of the “Ice Age”, a long period consisting of a series of glaciations, in fact, an alternation of colder and warmer periods, with the ice cap covering or retreating from the land’s surface which offered the different groups of migrating hunters, fishers and gatherers the possibility to inhabit or not the different land areas. The first human beings seemed to have reached Britain during the Pleistocene period (the last Ice Age), the earliest human cultures identified being characterized by the hand-axe, a multi-purpose tool; it is a typical object of the Lower Palaeolithic period (earliest old Stone Age), indicating many thousand-years of evolutionary process, prior to human presence in Britain; the archaeological deposits were found in East Anglia, southern England, at sites as Hoxne (Suffolk) and Swanscombe (Kent). The archaeological discoveries and research determined two types of such stone tools, indicating two different types of inhabitants coming to the island from different directions of the landmass, at different times: an earlier, already mentioned type of tool made from a central core of flint tool, which is spread everywhere in the rest of Europe and Africa, and a second, much more sophisticated type made from flakes of flint, similar to those discovered anywhere else in the north of Europe, as far as Russia. It was around 11000-10000 B.C. that the Ice Age (the beginning of the Mesolithic period or Middle Stone Age) came to an end, with the ice sheets finally retreating and with a gradual change of the climate conditions; the flora and the fauna changed as well, the land being, at that time, covered by a dense, mixed woodland, populated with herds of wild cattle, horses and deer. The human communities, dependent on the new environment continued to develop and adept, a new range of smaller and more diversified tools (microliths) being imagined. The excavations of a human settlement at Starr Carr (Yorkshire) offer an image of those hunter-gatherers’ lifestyle, in the Early Mesolithic period. The site represents a camp built on an artificial platform of timber and brushwood in the reed swamp of a lake edge; it is believed that the group of people living there comprised several families, seasonal hunters of red deer who used to process the animal meat and bones, developing ritual ceremonies. By about 6000-5000 B.C. the cutting of the North Sea land bridge took place; it was flooded by the high waters, and Britain finally became a cluster of island, with real important consequences for its inhabitants and the future settlers; the process of development and adaptation to climate
and environment continued for the small groups of hunter-gatherers, and the new Late Mesolithic tools appeared, more complex and specially designed for hunting different animals; however, their life was still one of constant movement, in search of the food which was, only locally and seasonally, to be found. For a long period of time the island was covered by thick dark forests sheltering big or small game, but there were also shallow mares filled with fowl and fishes. People from the landmass continued to be attracted by the hunting possibilities existing on the islands, but not only by them; in time, a significant change had taken place in the development of ancient Britain due to the adoption of agriculture, which had determined the hunter-gatherers to permanently settle on some areas. Attracted by the fertile soil in the downs, and the woodland clearances practised by the natives, small groups of immigrants started to cross the narrow continental stream in their small, round skin boats. It was in the period around 4000-3000 B.C., at the beginning of the Neolithic period (New Stone Age). According to most historians, these people came from the Iberian Peninsula, or even the North African coast (Near East), being pastoralists and soil tillers. In the regions they came from, farming had begun around 8000 B.C., and they brought to Britain the seeds of new plants (wheat and barley) and breeding stock of domesticated animals (pigs and sheep). For their settlement, they preferred the western part of Britain, from Cornwall to the far north, and even Ireland. Their life style seemed to have been rapidly adopted by the populations already existing on the island. They are commonly known as “the Iberians”. It is considered that these first waves of immigrants, small, dark and longheaded would be the forefathers of the dark-haired inhabitants of today’s Cornwall and Wales, and even of Scotland and Ireland. There are plenty of archaeological discoveries all over Britain, from the north coast of Scotland to the Southern regions, showing New Stone Age sites out of which a lot can be learned about the culture of those people. By about 3500 B.C., there were already well established communities on Britain’s territory, that had begun the building of major constructions, using earth, timber and stone, with some differences between the northern and southern regions.
There are numerous evidences about the existence, at that time, of a stable and well organized society in the area, able to develop communal activities, and to share common rituals and ceremonies. The most important monuments of Early Neolithic are the burial places which served the whole community. (There were up to 50 individuals buried in one place, as discovered at Fussells’s Lodge, Wiltshire). In the Western part, the tombs were built of stone and concealed under mounds of rubbles, while in the eastern areas, poorer in stone, the dead were buried under mounds of earth (barrows) with a timber structure. There was much ritual in connection with the burial places in this early culture indicating, perhaps, the ancestors’ veneration, and the emergence of some ideas connected with social continuity and the links of these people with the newly occupied territories. The same ritualised attitude could be noticed in the rare flint mines of the time, for example, those discovered at Grime’s Graves (Norfolk), laboriously dug by using picks and crowbars. The tools or weapons manufactured, made of flint and suitable volcanic rocks, were polished almost to perfection, and included the beautiful and efficient stone axes, flint knives, scrapers and other implements as well; they were largely produced in some areas, as in Langdale, Cumbria, but, it seems that there was much exchange practised at the time over long distances, because a similar type of tools was discovered in the East part of Yorkshire. As regards pottery, it existed, and a certain evolution can be noticed over time; the discoveries show the first plain, round-bottomed vessels evolving to highly decorated ones, produced in the late Neolithic period. This population is also known for the building of the famous “henges”, in the later Neolithic period, around 2500 B.C. These monuments were great circles of earth banks and ditches with wooden buildings and stone circles inside, constructed, probably, for religious ceremonial purposes but also representing political and economic power centres for the widely scattered groups of people. There were discovered almost 100 such sites clustered together to form groups of henges, in Norfolk, on the Vale of York and in Cumbria, in the Eden Valley; the best known ones are in Wessex, and include the Avebury Circle, Durrington Walls, and the famous Stonehenge, in its early period.
As regards the Neolithic people dwellings, they were less strong, and, probably, made of timber, which has since rotted, a fact which explains the relative scarcity of their identification. The only exception so far, is the village of Skara Brae, Orkney, situated off the north coast of Scotland; the huts are all stone, including the furniture, and they offer an image of what the Neolithic man living conditions might have been. In conclusion, it is interesting to note that certain individuality started to develop, and it can be identified in the Neolithic culture, determined, of course, by natural opportunities. [53; p. 21] Starting with the 2nd millennium, from 2300 B.C. on, or even earlier, new waves of immigrants are likely to have made their appearance on the island’s territory, coming from mainland Europe; although their number could not be large, they brought with them a new tradition, which quickly spread all over Britain and highly influenced the native population, marking new developments in the area. They are supposed to have come from the Low Countries and the middle Rhine areas, where similar material traces were found; their physical aspect was different from the old inhabitants: they were round-headed, strongly built and taller than the Neolithic Britons. The first groups to come still used flint, but those who followed brought good knowledge in the field of metalworking, and with it, the end of the Stone Age society, and the opening of the Bronze Age culture. The arrival of these immigrants could be marked and identified due to new burial sites, that meant the appearance of the individual tomb of a single crouched skeleton, alongside the already existing collective communal graves. Besides, different material objects were discovered in these tombs including flintmade weapons, but also gold jewellery, or copper daggers. The drinking vessels, finely decorated pottery beakers, found in their gravesgave the name to a new culture: the Beaker Culture. It was more than a new material approach; this culture meant a new attitude to the individual, more concern about him, and the appearance of an elite group; maybe, they valued the warlike virtues, since many weapons and something that might be called “military equipment” were found accompanying them in the graves. These people had the skill of making bronze tools which started to replace the stone ones, being responsible for the first exploitation of the long-exhausted gold, copper and tin deposits in Britain.
It is considered that they spoke an Indo-European language which was introduced on the island for the first time. Towards the later Bronze Age, around 1600 B.C., a new culture emerged, as a distinct regional tradition; it is known as the Wessex Culture, and it is considered different from the old Beaker one due to the rich artefacts discovered in the tombs at Bush Barrow, Wiltshire, and others. These artefacts represent an abundance of gold jewellery, personal adornments, and new types of bronze daggers, as well as other weapons. The flourishing of the Wessex Culture is hard to be explained. One supposition refers to the area’s control of the trade in metals, which was highly developed at the respective time; the various old centres of civilization were closely linked by trading relations, not only on the island itself or Ireland, but with the continent as well. Central Europe and even the Baltic, from where amber, for instance, was brought, participated in trade activities with Britain’s territory. Agriculture can also be considered as a source for the economic basis of society during the Bronze Age. From about 1300-1200 B.C., in the late Bronze Age, new improvements became obvious in agriculture, especially in the south region, where large areas of landscape came under intensive agricultural use; the late immigrants had brought with them from the continent a new, resistant cereal, barley, which could be cultivated almost everywhere; the growing of cattle and sheep was also common at that time. With the development of agriculture new forms of settlement sites appeared, specific to the consolidation of the settled farming class; the groups of farms representing houses and storage buildings were fortified, being provided with timber palisades of massive ramparts of timber and stone, and were usually situated on a hill. Such sites were discovered in places as Ram’s Hill, Berkshire or Mane Tor, Derbyshire. There were new forms of metal work as well, and weaponry became increasingly common; new styles of swords, spearheads or shields were produced under the permanent influence of the Continent, suggesting, at the same time, a period of conflicts between the different groups; inevitably, the period knew the emergency of an aristocracy represented by the warriors elite, supported by peasantry. It is the period which meant the final break with the preceding Neolithic cultures, and which
announced the beginning of the Iron Age in Britain. However, the ancient centres of civilization continued to draw the attention of the generations to come, who, in their turn, and, for a long period of time, continued to bring their contribution to the further development of these monuments. It is the case of Stonehenge, Avebury, and other centres which are worth speaking about. Stonehenge It has often been said that Stonehenge can be considered Britain’s greatest national icon, symbolizing “mystery, power and endurance”. This megalithic ruin is situated on the open downland of Salisbury Plain, 137 kilometres south west of London, in Wiltshire county, southern England. Stonehenge is dating from the late Stone and early Bronze ages (about 3000-1000 B.C.), being the most celebrated of the megalithic monuments of England, and one of the best-known ancient monuments in the world. The monument consists of what has been four concentric ranges of stones: the outermost range is a circle, 30 m in diameter formed of sand stone blocks, called sarsen stones; within this circle there is a second one, consisting of smaller blue stones, which encloses a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of five pairs of large sarsen stones; in its turn, it contains a smaller similar arrangement of blue stones which enclose a slab known as the Altar Stone; there is one more stone, which may originally have stood upright, placed near the entrance to the avenue and which is known as the Slaughter Stone. This monument is made of more than just rocks: a bank-and-ditch, the henge of the monument, surrounds the stone circles having about 91 metres in diameter. On the inside boundary of the henge there are 56 pits, known as “Aubrey Holes”∗, and closer to the stone circles there are other two sets of pits (called “Z” and “Y” holes), these ones being the last additions to the monument. Anyway, the Stonehenge that we can see today is mainly its ruin, as many of its stones were pilfered along the centuries by generations of builders who used them as building material, no natural stone existing
„Aubrey Holes”; they are named after the person who first discovered them, the antiquarian John Aubrey, in the 17th century.
within 21 km of the place the monument is situated. Besides, it has been subjected to centuries of weathering depreciation. Stonehenge was built over a long period of time, in several phases, being revised and re-modelled for a period of more than 1400 years. Following the archaeological excavations since 1950, the existence of three main phases of building was suggested∗: Stonehenge I, II and III with subphases (III a; III b; III c).
Stonehenge I dates to the period between 2950-2900 B.C. It was the period of Middle Neolithic, and it is supposed that the people, using red deer antlers for picks, excavated the first circular ditch (198 m in diameter), and used the resulting chalky rubble to build the high bank within the ditch. Inside the earth bank is the circle of the 56 Aubrey holes, and they are supposed to have held wooden posts, later falling out of disuse. On the northest of the circle, two paralleled entry stones (one of them being the Slaughter Stone) are supposed to have been also erected at this stage. Stonehenge II (2900-2400 B.C.) meant the radical remodelling of the complex. Thus, in the centre, and at the north-eastern entrance post holes were discovered indicating some timber settings, while the Aubrey Holes no longer held posts, being partially filled with cremation deposits. As wood did not preserve well over the centuries the image of this phase is rather unclear.
R. J. C. Atkinson, archaeologist from University College, Cardiff.
Stonehenge III (2500-1600 B.C.). During the three subphases of this period new stones started to arrive; the setting comprised the Bluestone∗coming from Wales, (Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire) placed in what are known as the “Q” and “R” holes; the tall Altar Stone and the Sarsen ring also appeared during this period. The sarsen stones (whose remains can still be seen today) were transported from the Marlborough Down, 30 km north, and were placed in a circle of 30 uprights, originally supporting stone lintels which formed a continuous circle around their top. Within this ring, a horseshoe formation of five free standing pans of trilithons was erected, each with a single horizontal lintel; the trilithons were arranged symmetrically and grading in height, with the tallest in the central position. As regards the Bluestone Oval, it was added within the Trilithon Horseshoe, while a Bluestone Circle was added outside the Trilithon Horseshoe, but inside the Sarsen Circle. There were also four Station Stones places inside the Bank, and the Slaughter Stone, located on the north-east side, in a place regarded as the main entrance of the monument; the Heel Stone is located further along the Avenue, and it is believed that it may have been paired with another stone, now missing. There are two important questions we are not able to fully answer even today: who were the builders of this monument, and what its purpose was? The answers are mere suppositions coming from archaeologists, historians, astronomers or from a new science, archaeoastronomy. The most appropriate supposition refers to the people of the late Neolithic period as being the first builders of the monument, their work being carried forward by other generations of people coming from the new cultures which arose at the respective time; reference is also made to the Beaker Folk, or to some other immigrants from the continent, but the latter opinion is not supported by archaeological evidence. The attribution of the monument construction to the Druids, the Celtic priests, although the most captivating supposition, and which was made by John Aubrey three centuries ago, proved to be erroneous. Excepting the fact that the Druids worshipped in forest temples, Stonehenge had already been built at the Celts’ arrival in Britain, and after many
”Bluestone” – various types of mostly igneous rocks including dolerites, clyolites and volcanic ash; it also includes some sandstones.
centuries of existence it should have been in a ruined condition at that moment. It goes without saying that much human effort should have been spent for erecting this construction. There are modern theories trying to imagine the long way the stones covered from their mountains of origin to Salisbury plain: thus, the theories say that the stones were dragged by rollers and sledges from the mountains to Milford Heaven where they were loaded on rafts and boats and sailed along the coast of Wales, then up the rivers Avon and Frome to a point from where they were hauled over land again, for some miles; and, again, they had a float down the river Wylye and up the river Salisbury Avon to a place (West Amesbury) from where a short drag to the Stonehenge site was left. Stonehenge is, and, perhaps, will remain a mystery, especially as regards its purpose. Although a lot has been found out about the various parts of the construction, and even about the way in which it was, probably, built, very little can be said about the purpose of this construction. Most of the historians and archaeologists agree that Stonehenge was a temple, without issuing a precise opinion about the Gods worshipped by its builders; some suggested that it was a temple for sun worship, as the entrance points down the middle of the Avenue towards the sunrise on Midsummer Day; but this idea remains only a supposition. A more recent theory suggests that Stonehenge could have been a sort of “astronomical calendar” marking lunar and solar alignments and other celestial events. Using computer calculations, and based on maps and charts, the modern researchers consider that there is a clear evidence of “heavenly purpose” in this monument, although some other experts believe that only the first phase of building holds such astronomical value. Anyway, the second phase of the monument construction, when the huge bluestones were carried to the site from south Wales, remained an important event, and its story passed from one generation to another, to be recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of Britain” (1136). Stonehenge is considered to have been a sort of capital of the time, with the area surrounding it recognized as a political authority, maybe, over the whole of the British Isles. There are plenty of legends linked with the story of Stonehenge, trying to explain its meaning, but also its dangers; one of the most beautiful is the story written by Geoffrey of Monmouth,
who made the magician Merlin responsible for the reconstruction of the Giants’ Dance (a circle of massive stones believed to have stood on a mountain in Ireland) on Salisbury Plain. Over the years, the mystery of this ancient stone monument inspired not only the creators of legends but also the artists all over the world, leading to the creation of some wonderful and unique masterpieces. One of them was Thomas Hardy, who in his novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” drew near to one of the possible true meanings of the monument: the spiritual force, a symbol of ancient philosophy and civilization. Among the poets, a special mention should be made of Barbara Cope Findley, John Dryden, Emily Mace, Thomas Stokes Salmon, I. R. R. Tolkien and last but not least, William Wordsworth with his “Guilt and Sorrow”, or “Incidents upon Salisbury Plain”: “Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep Thy secrets, thou that lov’st to stand and hear The Plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep, Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year; Even if thou saw’st the giant wicker rear For sacrifice its throngs of living men, Before thy face did ever wretch appear, Who is his heart had groaned with deadlier pain Than he who, tempest-driven, thy shelter now would gain”. Other megaliths of prehistoric Britain. Stonehenge does not represent the only strange and remote monument in Britain to evoke a past beyond the reach of the modern man’s understanding. They are quite numerous, and one of them which is worth mentioning, and which is considered by many to surpass even Stonehenge in grandeur, is represented by the stone circles at Avebury; what strikes the modern visitor here is not so much the stones, less impressive and numerous than those at Stonehenge, but the surrounding bank, standing 18 feet high, and the ditch, reaching a depth of 30 feet. There are three circles at Avebury, laid out in an unusual manner: while at Stonehenge the elements are laid concentrically, at Avebury there are two smaller, nearly perfect circles arranged side by side with a third one, much larger but less perfect.
Unfortunately, the stones at Avebury were much more and even deliberately destroyed until recently, in the medieval period; the church in its effort to suppress the persistence of pre-Christian traditions considered that everything that seemed to have been a pagan temple had to be systematically vanished. Averbury does not lie alone in the area; it belongs to some related monuments including Silbury Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow and two “avenues” lined with standing stones, maybe a processional way between Avebury and the neighbouring circles.
Some other recent discoveries include the Seahenge, a remarkable ring of oak timber with a massive central oak stump up-turned burried, found at Holme-next-the-sea, Norfolk. The modern tests carried out placed the felling of the trees in the years 2050-2049 B.C., roughly contemporary with the Stonehenge. The archaeologists believe that those timber circles built by the prehistoric people of the Bronze Age represented important ceremonial practices, or rituals connected with the dead. Prehistoric monuments can be found in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well; the monuments in Wales impress because of their megalithic proportions, some of them being really famous, as Parc Cwne, Capel Garmon, Ty Isaf, etc while others are less known as Garn Goch. All these monuments were excavated and studied along the years, but, in spite of all efforts, their real purpose is still a mystery, with a lot of supposition about it; thus, they continue to be a subject of permanent interest to researchers and a place to see for the visitors.
2.2 The Celts, Living Traces of an Old Culture
The beginning of the 7th century B.C. meant the arrival of new migratory waves in Britain. They were the Celts, tall and strong, fair haired and blue-eyed people, coming from central Europe, or farther east, from southern Russia. Celtic place-names, names of Celtic tribes, of individuals and gods, together with archaeological discoveries enabled the scientists to consider their presence on the British Isles. From their early days on, in a slow movement, they succeeded to occupy almost the entire territory of Europe, moving in all directions: westward, to France where they became an important element in the formation of the Gaulish nation, southwards to Spain, where they are still to be found, or eastwards, along the Danube valley to Balkans, expanding from there into Asia Minor. One of their wings settled in Italy where they put an end to the Etruscan civilization; in the 3rd century (387 B.C.) they were about to conquer Rome, but the legend says that the geese saved the Capitol and the city. During this long period of time (about seven hundred years) successive waves of migratory Celts from the wing which had moved northwards, to North Germany and Netherlands invaded Britain, imposing Celtic language and lifestyle on the inhabitants. The tribes crossing the sea from Europe were kindred, but mutually hostile, each of them speaking their own dialect. (Erse, Gaelic, Welsh are considered as variants of their tongues).∗
The historians describe two main waves of Celtic in Britain migration: the first was represented by the Gaels who gave their language – Gaelic – to the Isle of Man, Ireland and Northern Scotland. Linguistically, they represent the Q-Celts. The second wave was represented by the Belgaes or the Britons/Pretani, and their language is still spoken in western France, in Brittane. They form the group of P-Celts. The Celts’ dialects disappeared in England because of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, with few words being kept, expressing objects or place names: cradle, avon (river), ox (water); London (latin: Lundinium) is considered of Celtic origin, as well. Celtic words as clan, plaid, kilt, shamrock, log, gag, or even the word “slogan” meaning “war cry” entered the English language later, from Scottish or Irish sources. Therefore, the Pretani (together with the Iceni and other tribes) may be considered as being the Celtic ancestors of the English, after being first Romanised as a consequence of Roman conquest, and then Anglicised during the Anglo-Saxon invasion.
Technically, they were more advanced in comparison with the Iberians; they knew iron and how to work with it, making better weapons and tools. (There were discovered daggers of the Hallstatt∗ type, but of a specific British form) Thus, the 7th century B.C. is considered as the beginning of the Iron Age on the British Isles, the Celts being generally associated with the development of the Iron Age in Europe.
PICTS ABERLEMNO STONE
The Celts were good warriors, always ready to fight, the waves of new comers pushing, each time, farther to Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and Wales not only the old inhabitants of the island, but even the Celts who had come before; thus they obliged the population to live together and mingle, the Iberians taking on the new more advanced Celtic culture. The Celtic element is important in British history and culture, the people living in the outer region of England being considered descendents of the Celts who came there either as invaders or traders. Anyway, it is clear that Britain absorbed the new comers, and, as David McDowall says, ”although the British today are often described as Anglo-Saxons, it would be better to call them Anglo-Celts” [25; p. 7]. Unfortunately, very little is known about the first Celts coming to Britain at the beginning of their migration. What is known comes, besides the archaeological discoveries, from Roman sources at the moment of their impact with the Celts in Britain.
The early Iron Age is associated with Hallstatt culture (8th–6th B.C.) named after an archaeological site in Upper Austria.
First of all, the Celts were tribesmen (clansmen) bound together by very strong legal and sentimental ties of kinship, with the family as the unit of social life. The smallest unit in Celtic society was the Fine, a close, extended family kinship group, in which the individual did not, legally, exist. He was considered only as a member of the Fine, being responsible for his share of the Fine’s property and obligations. More often than not, these tribes were at war with one another, a fact which made them lose the power which they could have had if they had been united and organized in a state form. This type of society was one of the Celts’ characteristics, and as G. M. G. Trevelyan says “a thousand years after England had been subjected to Saxon conquest, Wales, Ireland and Scottish Highland were, in different degrees, still governed by the tribal rules of life” [45; p.26]. Therefore, one of the main features of the Celtic society was its fragmentation until quite late in history; there were a lot of local chiefs with a sense of power which made them be considered kings; although there was some hierarchy among them, only very seldom it could have happened that one of them became a real king for all the Celts in a region. Besides, kingship was not hereditary, and it could be easily lost. This situation led to much political anarchy, and even more, to an uninterrupted state of war, because of the incompatibility existing between the groups. As Ioana Zirra comments “here are to be found the roots of regionalism as a privileged theme of British cultural studies, where the historical regions are contrasted, and with the Celts remained unassimilated” [46; p. 18]. Socially, the Celts were divided into three classes: the Nobility, the Aes Dana and the Commoners (Churls). The Nobility was represented by the warriors who were also landowners and in control of herds and other forms of wealth. The Aes Dana included the artists the men of learning, and even the skilled craftsman who were highly regarded. They owed no military service, were free of other tribal obligations and were allowed to travel between the lands controlled by different tribes. The Druids were included in this class. The Commoners were free people, but without any possessions.
All of them constituted a group, called the Tuath (which could be considered equivalent to the modern clan), ruled by a leader called Ri (the King). Eligibility for leadership was based on blood relationship but it was not inherited, the new Ri being selected from among the eligible candidates by the members of the tribe. Justice was that of the clan, protecting and punishing its members, but also getting vengeance or payment for injuries done from other clans. Anyway, the Celtic warriors, always ready to fight, dominated the society, enjoying a high prestige; they were well equipped, having scabbards, shields, helmets and harnesses, beautifully decorated in the La Tène∗ style. Their long oval shields covered most of their body and the Celts also used to carry spears made of wood. They had developed the long, double edged “Cut-Thrust” sword made of bronze and, later on, the double-edged broad sword made of iron, the heaviest one ever imagined. The chariots which they had invented were a very important, always effective warfare in battle, the driver and the warrior forming a strong team.∗∗ The Celts had few tactics in battle, but they were generally successful; they used psychological techniques against their enemies, as painting their faces to look like demonic creatures, or would scream fearcefully while attacking to scarce the enemies; another psychological technique was to attack naked and painted, which made their enemies, taken by surprise, hesitate, so the Celts could have a first hit against them. Being a very creative people, a fact noticed even in battle, the Celts were the first in the world to imagine the guerrilla warfare; this technique enabled them to ambush the enemy giving them an advantage over the latter, when outnumbered. As regards the Celts’ occupations, their main activities were besides fighting, hunting, fishing, herding, weaving, bee-keeping, mining, metalworking and carpentry; agriculture progressed slowly, the wheat being grown in the south, and oats in the north, very similar to the location of
La Tène culture; it refers to the later Iron Age, and it is called after a site in Switzerland. The chariot was driven by the driver to the point of battle where the warrior lept from it to fight, while the driver wheeled the chariot off to one side, ready to come and retrieve the warrior when in need.
these crops nowadays; they also cultivated barley, rye and leguminous vegetables like peas and beans. They were aware with the benefits of crop rotation, letting land lie fallow for some season; they also used manure as fertilizer. They enjoyed preparing mead, a beverage made of grain fermented with honey, which they drank at their feasts. Animals’ breeding was also one of their occupations, cattle being the most important livestock, but sheep, goats, pigs and poultry were also kept.
COTTAGE AT BUCKLAND-IN-THE-MOOR
Horses had been domesticated by the Celts and used in battles for the first time in the history of mankind. The Celtic typical rural settlement was the single farmstead, often enclosed by banks and ditches, to keep stock in at night. Some recent excavations (Gussage All Saints, Dorset, for example) provided a detailed picture of the Celtic settlements: their houses were round, in many cases with a small rectangular porch, and with the door generally opening to the east, maybe, for religious reasons. The houses were made of stone, or, more commonly, of wood, and were roofed with thach or perhaps shingles. The houses were simply furnished, with beds, low tables and no chairs, as the Celts sat on cushions or furs placed on the floor. Their pottery was generally richly decorated. Any house possessed a rotary hand mill and a loom for the weaving of cloth. The Celts were skilled craftsmen, as, for example, metalworkers in all kinds of metals: iron, bronze, and occasionally enamelled precious metals, which were mined where the locations were suitable, or traded from elsewhere. They were also woodworkers, and were skilled in building boats or even big ships of oak with iron fittings and anchor chains; the sails were of hides and soft leather. They were able to produce the famous chariots and wagons, or other high quality wooden goods.
The Celts were neat and clean, and it is considered that they were among the cultures which invented soap. They were highly preoccupied with their physical appearance, and sleek bodies were admired. They were fond of bright colours, wearing colourful striped plaids frequently edged with fringes; they were also fond of personal decorations and both men and women wore a lot of jewellery made of gold: the torc or neck ring, arm, ankle and finger rings, bracelets and brooches to fasten their cloaks and tunics. The noblemen wore a sword or a belt dagger for both ornamentation and protection. Rank, position and status within the Celtic society were well determined, and had to be supported by certain values; individual strength and skill were important, the Celts using to boast themselves of their own achievements and victories in battle, as well as of their ancestors’ achievements and victories. On the other hand, the display of physical wealth was important, such as the abundance of gold and jewellery. Land and cattle also contributed to a Celt’s status in his society. All these aspects constituted methods by which they could build up and maintained the desired image in the eyes of the others. As regards women, the Celtic civilization was highly advanced, some reference to equality between sexes being possible. At least two queens were mentioned by the Romans at the moment of their invasion in Britain; they were described as fighting from their chariots with courage and bravery against the invaders. One of them was Cartimandua, leading the powerful and numerous Brigantes of the north, and the other one was the highly celebrated Boadicea (Boudicca). At the death of her husband Boadicea became the queen of her tribe. That tall, red haired woman with a frightening appearance led a rebellion against the Romans (61 A.D.), destroyed the Roman capital, London, and almost had driven them out of Britain, before she was defeated and killed. (A wonderful monument in her memory can be admired in London). The Roman historians also mention the strength and courage of the Celtic women warriors, their appearance often shocking them; the women’s long loose hair seem to have been really impressive in battle. The Celtic society inhabiting Britain in the Iron Age was constantly developing, determining the building and improvement of many large
hill-forts as centres for local groups; in this way they created a network of strongholds that controlled large areas. Such constructions, as Maiden Castle (Dorset), were provided with multiple ditches and sophisticated sloping ramparts of chalk and earth. Inside these hill-forts there were houses forming settlements which represented the first “towns”, and which started to function as hubs of political, religious and commercial centres. They can be considered as representing the development of the first towns on the British Isles, some of them continuing to exist even today, as, for example, Verulamium (St. Albans, Hertfordshire) or Camulodomum (Colchester, Essex). However, many of these hill forts are, nowadays, only empty places, although some of them had, for long, remained local economic centres at the respective time. As David McDowell says, “within living memory certain annual fairs were associated with hill forts, as for example an annual September fair on the site of a Dorset Hill fort; it inspired Thomas Hardy in his novel “Far From the Madding Crowd” (1874) [25; p. 8]. Towards its end, before the Roman conquest, the continuously developing Celtic civilization gave way to kingdoms ruled by powerful dynasties who even minted their own coinage by copying the Greek and the Roman ones; they were, often, of a remarkable beauty (The first coin minted in Britain shows Appolo’s image). The Celts were also good businessmen and traders, developing trade relations, not only across tribal borders, but with the continent as well (Normandy and Mediterranean cultures); much trade was conducted by river and sea. Trade with Ireland went through the island of Mona (Anglesey), while the two main trade outlets to Europe were the settlements along the Thames in the south, and those on the Firth of Forth in the north. Pytheas of Massalia, a Greek explorer (3rd century B.C.), revealed a lot about the Celtic culture, including their trade with the continent; animal skins and furs, raw metals, salt, amber, and, probably, finished metal goods and grains were traded for luxury goods: glass, coral, precious metal goods and wine. The principle merchandise among the Celtic tribes was the cattle.
A presentation of the Celtic culture and civilization on the British Isles territory, even as short as this one, has to pay a special attention to the Celts’ religion and beliefs; the extent to which some remote religious rituals can be still detected in the British tradition is also worth mentioning. It is considered that the Celts had numerous religious beliefs, being very superstitious. Most of the knowledge about their religious practices comes from the Greek and Latin writers, including Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Securedus), Tacitus and Julius Caesar, who, in their works, described the Celtic world∗. The Celts had a lot of gods and goddesses, each “tuath” having its own god. A list of these gods/goddesses, identified as having an important significance to the Celts, includes Lugh, a warrior god believed to be skilled in arts and horsemanship, patron of travellers and commerce, Cernunnos, the ruler and protector of animals, Goibhnui, the blacksmith god, patron of art and the god of healing, Ogmios, the patron of eloquence, Don the god of the dead and ruler of the other world, Brigid, a mother goddess, patroness of arts and crafts, of healing, poetry, traditional learning, livestock and produce, and of the rites of spring, Epona or the Horse Goddess, and others. Another distinguishing characteristic of the Celts’ religious believes is represented by the significance held by birds and animals. Thus, the birds were considered the gods’ messengers: swans could be the gods themselves in bird form, ravens and wrens were thought to carry prophetic massages, while geese were associated with gods as well. Animals like boar, pig, stag, bull, horse and others, as well as fishes (salmon, trout) were either associated with gods, or appeared in rituals as holding an important significance, or representing different symbols. As regards the Celts’ calendar practice, the opinions differ, and there are, at least, three schools of thought in this respect. Most archaeologists and historians accept the opinion that the Celts divided the year into four major cycles, each season being separated and identified by four important religious festivals. They were Imbolc in February, a pastoral
As the Celts did not develop a writing system and all their knowledge was transmitted by word of mouth, there is no direct source regarding their culture and civilization.
festival of fertility and growth, Beltaine (in May) related to the fertility of cattle and crops, and commonly associated with fire rites, Lughnasadh (from mid July to mid August) which was the harvest festival celebrating the richness of the harvest and honouring the gods, and, finally, Samhain (in October, 31) heralding the start of the new year, and commemorating the creation of order out of chaos, and the beginning of the world. These festivals included multiple day activities like market fairs, athletic competitions, councils and feasts, besides the observance of the religious rituals. Some of the old Celtic rites are still to be discovered nowadays, either celebrated by small communities, as is the case of Beltaine, or known over large territories as Samhain. Today, Beltain is well known and practised in Scotland as a fire rite; it consists in driving the herds between bonfires and their smoke, for purification and protection against evil spirits.
THE PICTISH AND EARLY SCOTTISH ART
Samhain has become our modern Halloween, a descendant of the Celtic festival; it was the moment when, as believed in the old times, the division between this world and the other world dissolved, and the spirits roamed the earth; it was a dangerous time when humanity was vulnerable and exposed to the supernatural world∗. The Celtic religion is connected with the name of the Druids. They were organized in three distinctive groups, each of them having specific functions and performing well-established tasks. All of them had to cover long years of intensive training at special universities, where both men and women were taught in large communities. As the Celts had no
Continuing the Celtic tradition, especially in Scottish Highland, people would run, after sunsets, the boundaries of their farms with blazing torches in order to protect their families from the malevolent forces, freely walking the land at the moment and causing mischief.
writing everything had to be learned by heart. These three groups were the Bards, the Ovates and the proper Druids. The Bards, whose training could last for 12 years until getting the status of “Doctor of Poetry”, were the keepers of oral tradition regarding the history of the tribe. They had to memorize hundreds of poems, stories, and philosophies, being held in high esteem and becoming members of the king’s court. The Ovates/the Filids were the shamans and philosophers who were responsible for understanding the mysteries of death and rebirth; they could divine the future, having knowledge in herbalism and healing arts as well. The Druids∗ were trained for the longest period of time (Caesar stated it for 20 years) covering the levels of both Bards, Ovates and something more. They were philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians and, generally, the depositors of the society entire knowledge. They could be considered as representing the “supreme priests”, their responsibilities and privilege being that of serving as kings’ advisors, but also as judges, lawyers, teachers, ritual leaders, the ultimate authority in matters of worship and ceremony. They were, really, extremely powerful; thus, they were those who ruled on matters of property and inheritance, marriage and settlement of claims, their decisions in different matters being based on generations of precedent and tradition which they had learned during their long years of training. Somehow, their way of making law decision might be considered similar to the present British law, also based on precedent and tradition. The Druidic religion was brought into England by the Gomeridae, from the Mountains of Noah (the Caucasus), with the Celts first emigration under Hu Gadarn. According to this religion, the universe is matter ordered and systematized by the intelligence of God, the name of God being in itself a creative power. Three pencils of light represent the
The word „Druidae” is considered of Celtic origin. Pliny the Elder (23/24-79 C.E.) believed it to come from the Greek word „drus” meaning „oak”, combined with the word „wid” meaning „to know”/”to see” in the Sanscrit. To the Druids, the oak was an important, sacred tree, as well the mistletoe growing on it. Thus, Druid was a title given to men/women who possessed „oak knowledge/oak wisdom”.
Druidic symbol of God. According to their conception, knowledge and religion could not be separated. They also believed in the soul immortality, “the Druidic nation having no fear of death”, as Lucan stated. For many centuries the Celtic culture and Druidic religion were forgotten, as a result of the Roman and, then, Christian suppression. Only during the Renaissance, due to the revival of interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture, the Celtic world was discovered thanks to the works of Pliny, Tacitus and Julius Caesar. By the 17th century, a new romantic image of Druids had begun to emerge first, in French, and later, in English literature. In 1717, the first “Order of Druids” seems to have been initiated on Primrose Hill, London, although the earliest revival of Druidic order is accepted to be the “Ancient Order of Freemasonry”. As a consequence of the conflicts between its members, a breakaway movement took place in 1839, and “the United Order of Druids” was established, with lodges in the U.S. and Australia. The United Order of Druids is still flourishing today, acting as an international charitable organization. At the same time, the “Ancient Order of Druids”, with a more mystical character, continued to exist along the 19th and 20th centuries; it claims among its many members illustrious names, as Winston Churchill who was initiated into the Albion Lodge at Oxford. There were many Druidic sects emerging and disappearing in the 20th century, and by 1955 only one of them had survived, called “the British Circle of the Universal Bonds”; it claims to be not only the true descendent of Henry Hurl’s original Ancient Order of Druids but also, of the Order of Druids founded in 1717. More recently, new “New Age” oriented orders were initiated, such as the neo-pagan “Secular Order of Druids”; the annual festivals, organized at Stonehenge and other places attract huge crowds of people. As one can see, the Celtic culture was able to dominate almost all of Europe for a long period of time, covering the centuries from the Bronze Age well into the early Christian period.
The Celts, a very creative people, were excellent artisans and warriors, inventive story tellers and poets, combining the religious beliefs with almost everything they did. This attitude gave them the courage, perseverance and strength to overcome difficulties and defeat their enemies. Beginning with the 1st century (A.D.) most of the Celts on the Continent were assimilated into the Roman Empire, and they lost their identity and independent culture. Fortunately, the Celtic languages survived better in some territories, as in Western France (Brittany), and, on larger areas which remained Celtic, in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall or the Isle of Man. Thus, in our modern times the Celtic languages and traditions can be still discovered in Wales, Ireland and Scottish Highlands, besides Brittany (France). Thanks to their wisdom and understanding, the culture, which the Celts developed, is considered by many scholars as being beyond other cultures.
2.3 Roman Britain: the Memory of a Civilization
In his “History of England” G. M. Trevelyan mentions three things of value which Romans left behind after their four centuries of stay on the British Isles: the first was the Welsh Christianity, the second the Roman roads, and the third, a by-product of the second, was the traditional importance of certain new city sites, especially that of London (Its name is of Celtic origin). But, the fact which remains is that the Romans failed in really and permanently latinizing Britain, as they did with many other territories of the empire. Julius Caesar invaded Britain∗ in 55 and 54 B.C. after the conquest of Gaul, as a necessity required by his need of showy exploits exports, tribute, grains, slaves and money to fill his war-chest. The first expedition was a failure, and the second, no great success. However, the
In Latin ”the country of Pretani”; ”Pretani” is the Greeko-Roman word for the inhabitants of Britani (Mispronounced by the Romans the country became Britania).
moment was important, as it offered us Caesar’s description of Britain at the time of his invasions, as the first existent and coherent account.
ROMAN FORT AND BATH BEARDEN SCOTLAND
The actual conquest of the island took place a century after Caesar’s expedition, under Emperor Claudius, who decided to conquer the island partly from his own ambition, and partly because of the Celts’ aggression and the help given by them to the Celts on the continent. As a result, in 43 A.D., Claudius sent an army across the channel formed of four legions (August II, Valeria Victrix XX, Gemina Martia Victoria XIV, and the famous Hispana IX) together with a number of auxiliary regiments consisting of cavalry and infantry raised from among warlike tribes subject to the empire, under the command of Aulus Plautius. Taken by surprise, the Celts led by Togodumnus and Caratacus were defeated. The Emperor himself arrived, and took the personal command of the campaign closing stages. Most of the tribes submitted to the Roman legions, and the rest of them who continued to resist, were left for being subdued in the next years. Later, the Romans formed small expeditionary forces consisting of simple legions or parts of legions supported by subsidiary allied troops, which gradually advanced into the island. By the year 47, when Ostorius Scapula succeeded to Plautius as commanding officer, a frontier had been established from Exeter to the Humber, showing the Romans’ intention to limit their invasion to the southeast area of the island. However, in the coming years, they had to advance and occupy other territories, up to the river Severn and even farther, because of the attacks coming from the Celtic tribes which had remained
free. An important event recorded by historians, and which meant a serious setback in the Roman progress on the island’s territory was the rebellion of Boudicea, queen of the Iceni (year 61 A. D.). The respective tribe had enjoyed a status of alliance and independence in their relations with the Romans, but on their king’s death (Prasutagus), the Romans broke the agreements and annexed their territory, outraging the population. Under these circumstances, the queen Boudicea, relying on the assistance of other Celtic tribes dissatisfied with the Romans and the new settlers’ attitude, rebelled against the conquerors, sacked some important Romanised centres and got some other victories before being defeated and taken captive. Boudicea can be considered the first important Celtic hero, who courageously fought against the invaders for the freedom of her people. The Romans continued their advance on the island, Wales being occupied by Julius Frontinus (74-78 A.D.), and attempts being made by Gracus Julius Agricola (78-84 A.D.) of defeating the tribes of “Caledonia” (as they called Scotland). However, the Romans could never conquer Scotland and, finally, a strong wall was built along the northern border (Solway-Tyne isthmus) with the declared intention of keeping out the raiders from the north. The wall was planned by Emperor Hadrian and named after him (122-130 A. D.), constituting the permanent frontier of Roman Britani. For many centuries, the wall remained to symbolically mark the border between the two later communities, England and Scotland. Thus, the area occupied by the Romans was confined to modern England and Wales, the island being divided in its turn into two contrasting regions: the Latinised South and East, and the barbarian North and West. From the first years of Roman occupation, the progress towards spreading Roman civilization on the newly conquered territories was obvious: towns started to be founded, the cult of the emperor was established, and the Roman way of life was introduced, being appreciated by the inhabitants. Britain became an imperial province, the emperor being represented by the governor who exercised the supreme military authority and civil jurisdiction. Later on, in the early 3rd century, Britain was divided into two provinces: Britannia Superior, with its capital at London, and Britannia Inferior having its capital at York. The reason was the intention of reducing the governor’s power and his possible attempt to rebel against Rome.
As regards society, new categories of people rose to power; social advancement was secured by Roman citizenship which could be obtained after 25 years of service in the auxiliary forces; the population got a cosmopolitan character due to the large number of soldiers and traders coming from other parts of the empire and being already Roman citizens. It is estimated that, at its peak, the population of Roman Britain would have been of about two million. The four centuries’ period of Roman administration witnessed an impetuous economic development of Britain; it was mostly determined by the presence and requirements of the army, which highly stimulated production in many fields of human activity. The basis of economy was and remained agriculture, and according to Tacitus, grain to feed the troops was levied as a tax. During the period, villa estates were established on large areas of rich soil mainly provided by forest clearance which had resulted from the heavy demand for building timber and fuel for the domestic heating of the newly built towns. At the same time, the pastoralists in Wales and northern regions had to supply the army the leather required in large quantities for tents, shields or boots (a military tannery is known at Catterick), as well as wool for clothing (Archaeological discoveries in Cotswold indicate the place as one of the main cloth production centre). Britain was also known for its subsoil resources (gold, silver, iron, copper and especially lead), which determined not only the development of mining (a Roman gold mine is known in Wales, lead fields in Derbyshire or at Mendip, a.s.o.) but of other processing industries as well; the pottery industry was also well organized and developed. Trade also increased, especially as regards the import of luxury goods for the new and prosperous categories of people. The goods ranged from wine, to tableware and bronze articles, also including high-class pottery, glass vessels and metal ware. The principal exports of Roman Britain included tin, pearls, slaves and grains. A large market existed among the military, while the Britons themselves provided a second one. All these economic developments determined large profits that were made both by continental and local businessmen and producers. One of the Romans’ main achievements, already mentioned, refers to the urbanization of the territory, as basis of Roman administration and civilization. Besides the old Celtic settlements or market centres, most of the towns seem to have developed from the old garrison forts. There were three different kinds of
towns: colonial, inhabited by Roman settlers, municipia, large cities with a population to whom Roman citizenship had been given and civitas, representing the old Celtic centres. The administrative capitals were well designed with regular street grids, a forum with basilica, temples, public baths, some of them being provided with theatres and amphitheatres. In time, and especially towards the end of the 3rd century almost every town had thick stonewalls to protect the population during the crisis moments. The towns left by the Romans (in a number of about twenty) varied in size, some of them with a population of about 5,000, or even more. The fact that many of these towns had been, at first, garrison-forts or army camps, called in Latin “castra” is provided by the existence of this word as part of many town names to this day, easily recognized in the English ending “chester”, “cester”, “caster”. (e.g.: Winchester, Leicester, Chester, Gloucester, Lancaster, Doncaster, etc). A special attention has to be paid to the development of the place which was to become London, the city “that was to play so great a part first in English and then in world history, and that attained its original importance under the Roman rule” (45, p. 31). Due to a geographic coincidence which made a bridge and a port be in close proximity, the place became the best landing-place for continental commerce, where six roads met, and from where the locally produced grains were loaded to be sent out of the Island, or where other goods arrived and were unloaded for local use. It is estimated that, at the respective time, London had a population of about 20,000 people, being, probably, the most important trading centre of northern Europe; thus, it seems that for the Romans, London was less an administrative centre than an economic one. In the countryside, close to towns, prosperous owners could afford the construction of villas; in the beginning, they were only of a provincial type, few of them being provided with mosaics, but, later on, and, especially in the 4th century, they grew to impressive sizes, being built of stone in the Italian style. They belonged to the richer Britons, very much Romanised in their manners. There was a clear difference between the rich people of Roman Britain and those who worked on the land, or had other activities: the latter continued to live in the same type of villages formed of round huts in which they had been living in for centuries.
The roads, so well built that they survived to the Romans’ withdrawal continuing to be used for centuries and becoming the main roads of modern Britain, represented another important achievement of the Romans. Britain’s romanisation also meant the introduction of Christianity in the country; how and when it happened, it has been difficult to established, but the frescoes at Lullingstone (Kent) and the mosaics at Hinton St. Mary (Dorset) attest its acceptance among villa owners. It is certain that in the last hundred years of Roman administration, Christianity had become firmly established across Britain, both in Roman controlled areas and beyond them [25, p. 13]. It is known that at the beginning of the 4th century there was a bishop in London, Restitutus, who participated in the Council of Arelatum (Arles) together with other Britain bishops (314 A.D.). As regards the cultural level of Britons during that period, the frescos and mosaics discovered provide an evidence of the people’s classical education, their knowledge of Roman mythology, and even of Aeneid. In the beginning, the exquisite statues in marble or bronze which decorated their villas were imported as luxury artefacts from the workshops on the Continent, but, later on, indigenous sculptors learned the art, and started to produce their own works. Many people were bilingual; Romans had brought with them the written communication in Latin, as the language of the elites of foreign administrators, but which became, in time, the language of artisans and common workers, as it is known from the graffiti on the tiles dug out and interpreted by the modern archaeologists. In the countryside, Celtic continued to be spoken, but not written. Thus, Roman civilization took root in Britain, but it was more an urban civilization similar to the situation in the whole empire, which had grown out of a city-state. “Beyond the city walls, Roman civilization petered away by degrees, through regions of Romano-British villadom, into regions of mere Celtic tribalism” [45, p. 35]. Starting with the 3rd century the Roman Empire was faced with serious economic, religious and military problems (the wealth of the provinces had been exhausted, the conflict between Christianity and paganism
separated the emperor from his people, and Rome’s military power had collapsed). It was only for a while that Diocletian’s reforms put an end to the chaos, ushering in the late imperial period. Being still far from “barbarian” invasions, Britain, in spite of some rebellions, enjoyed Pax Romana for a longer period of time than the continental provinces, and the 4th century was a period of prosperity in towns and countryside alike, representing the climax of Roman culture on the island. However, its weak point was the defensive system controlled by distant rulers, and with the garrisons diminished because of the withdrawal of troop called to defend Rome (Only the garrisons defending the northern wall were kept for a longer time, as for example Cohorts 7 Aelia Dacorum). The main and permanent threat for the Roman Celt population was represented by the plunder attacks coming from the Brigantes or the Picts of Scotland, and the Celts of Ireland attracted by the wealth of the region; besides, some other dissident tribes in the area had never been really defeated by the Roman legions. But, towards the end of the 3rd century a new danger appeared: the invasion of the coasts from the barbarian German tribes coming from the continent. The Roman fleet charged with the defence of the coast was not very strong. Anyway, as the withdrawal of the troops called to defend the empire continued, the security of the island weakened, with insufficient forces left to provide protection against increasing both Pictish and Saxon raids. Honorius, the legitimate emperor, asked by the Roman Celts to offer them protection was unable to send assistance, but authorized the cities to organize their own defence. This happened in 410 A.D. and the moment marked the end of the Roman Britain. Gradually, the power fell into the hands of the local tyrants. One of them was Vortigern (c. 425 A. D.); unable to face the diverging interests of some local parties, and, in an attempt to stop the Picts’ raids which, at the time, had become troublesome, he seems to have made a gross mistake; he invited the Saxons Hengest and Horsa to come with their men in order to settle and garrison strategic areas along the east coast. The event and what followed is largely described and explained by the Anglo-Saxon
Benedictine scholar Bede, three hundred years later, in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English people”. After a short period of peace, the number of the Saxons coming to Britain increased, and they rose against those who had called them as friends, plundering, killing and settling on the new territories (446-454 A. D.). A long period of warfare and chaos started, meaning the disintegration of the villa estates, the breakdown of markets and the trade decline, the escape of slaves, and a general economic disaster in which, practically, the Celto-Roman civilization disappeared for ever. The formerly Romanised Celts courageously fought against the ever more numerous German raiders and settlers, but, during the coming years, they were slowly pushed westwards, finally into the mountains, in the far west, where they started to be called “Welsh” by the Saxons, meaning in German “foreigner” (Welshe), and their country became “Wallas” or “Wales”. Besides the Roman monuments, which certify the Roman presence on the island, few Latin words were preserved in the people’s language to speak about the period of the Celto-Roman culture: “street” from “strata via”, recognized in Stratford, “mile” which is the Roman “mila”, “wall” from “vallum”, and the ending “chester”/”cester”/ ”caster” to be found in some names. However, an important inheritance coming from the Romans remained in the people’s memory: it meant Christianity and the idea of state, of institutions and of “Pax Romana”; the monks who got the refuge in Wales or Ireland, saved the idea of Christianity and Roman culture and, not accidentally, the chronicler Gildas (aprox. y. 540) quotes Vergil and calls Latin, “nostra lingua”. All these elements paved the way for an easy integration of Britannia into the civilization of the early Middle Ages in Europe. In his “Histoire d’Angleterre”, André Maurois maintains that although many of the Celts were killed or turned into slaves, others continued to live in Britain and “if the modern British is so deeply different from the
German, the situation is explained partly by the fact that the Norman conquest was for him a second Latin conquest, and partly because the blood of the German invaders was mixed, to a large extent, with the blood of the races before them” (23. p. 52-53). 2.4 Anglo-Saxon England. The Emergence of a New Culture
The settlement in Britain of the Germanic tribes coming from the North of the continent can be considered a major event in the island’s history. This invasion was more important than “the Roman interlude” or even the Norman conquest, as it had permanent results, larger than the other two; it meant the displacement of the former population from the richest agricultural areas, and the setting up of a new type of culture and civilization in the respective region. “The distinctive character of the modern English is Nordic tempered by Welsh” [45, p. 37] and not viceversa; even if in Scotland the Celtic element is stronger, the Germanic language and character is prevailing even here. According to historical sources, the first Germanic tribes settled in Britain around the year 430 A.D., coming as mercenaries, and including different tribal elements. The most important ones were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes∗. (Recent archaeological discoveries also mention the Franks and Frisians). They came from the coast of modern Denmark and Germany, from both sides of the mouth of the Elbe, or from the lower Rhine. The differences in the language and customs of these tribes were really very slight, all of them being kindred. In Britain, the Jutes settled mainly in Kent, along the south coast, and, or the Isle of Wight, the Angles in the east and in north Midland, while the Saxons settled between the Jutes and the Angles on a strip of land lying from the Thames Estuary westward. This migration gave to the largest part of the island, the name of its people, namely Engeland or England (“the land of the Angles”). The British Celts opposed to their invasion, “which represented a slow and painful process”, until they were driven west to Cornwall, Devon and
The Jutes of Kent, popular in the older accounts are today reckoned disputable.
Welsh Marches. Their resistance was associated with legends and traditions, and with the names of some famous heroes such as Ambrosius Aurelianus or King Arthur. The legend of King Arthur∗ is worth mentioning as it represents an evidence of the Britons’ resistance over the years. It consists of a group of tales concerning the heroic deeds of king Arthur, his realm, and the knights of his inner circle, being one of the most enduring stories in recorded history. Arthur is presented as a leader in ancient times who defeated the Saxons, fighting also against many other enemies, and uniting the people of Britain in peace and harmony. Thus, he was seen as a war hero, fighting everywhere and winning great victories. (It is certain that the Battle of Badon Hill set the Saxon occupation back for many years, but it is not still proved whether Arthur fought at it or not, although it is, generally, positively believed). Eventually, Arthur’s kingdom weakens from within – partly because of him and his queen’s mistakes and sins – and Arthur himself died or was mortally wounded. The end of the legend is magnificent: a boat carrying a group of warriors among whom his sisters comes, Arthur is taken and
(Very briefly) The legend tells about Arthur as being the son of king Uther Pendragon and of Ygraine. As a child, Arthur is taken by the wizard Merlin and raised to become a squire; at Uther’s death, Arthur becomes the king after passing the test of drawing a magic sword, Excalibur, from a stone, at Merlin’s suggestion. Merlin becomes Arthur’s advisor, and the young king is always victorious in the fights against Britain’s enemies, including the Saxons, Picts, Scots, and even the Romans, and overrunning Ireland and Iceland. The sword ”Excalibur” has an important part to play in these victories. Arthur rules from his favourite and famous castle Camelot, where he marries a beautiful young lady Guinevere; a period of peace follows, during which he founds a fellowship of knights, as the society of the Round Table; unfortunately, one of his favourites, Lancelot, falls in love with Queen Guinevere, their sinful love being one of the major causes of the destruction of Arthur’s Kingdom; but Arthur himself has his own flaws, in spite of his valour and wisdom: he fathers a son, Mordred, with his half sister Morganse; some versions present Mordred as Arthur’s nephew. Arthur has not only foreign enemies, but he has to restore justice in his kingdom as well, causing more animosities among his barons. During one of his absences, being at war, Mordred attempts to seize his throne. A battle for reclaiming his rights take place on Salisbury Plain, Arthur kills Mordred, but he himself is deadly wounded by the young dying man. His body was buried or taken away never to be seen again.
they sail away to the island of Avalon for his wounds to be healed; from there he will return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need. Thus, Arthur’s fate remains uncertain; although some stories say that he died and was buried somewhere, most of them preserve the idea of Arthur’s immortality. Thus, besides being the story of a leader, either imaginary or not and wanted by his people in need, the legend is the tale of fight and passion, of victory and defeat, and of ceaseless hope.
There are – in these tales – some aspects, which are worth being commented; one of them is the fellowship of knights, known as The Round Table which included 150 knights. The shape of the table serving as the group’s meeting place, has represented the idea of equality in status of those sitting around it. The story says about the knights, coming from every land, who arrived at Camelot to seek fame as members of the Round Table fellowship; they were accepted only after the favorable appreciations of their deeds The Round Table at war, which they had to present in front of the other knights. The principle of “The Round Table” has lived over the centuries and continues to be, even today, a phrase used by the people everywhere when equality in status of the persons present at a meeting is credited.
Another interesting aspect is the “quest for the Holy Grail” in which Arthur’s knights are involved.
THE HOLY GRAIL
ARTHUR RECEIVING EXCALIBUR
(The Holy Grail is understood to have been the chalice Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper). Adventures and quests are known as important elements of chivalry, but Arthur’s knights embarkment on the greatest of all quests could be considered as one more evidence of the greatness and absolutely special character assigned to these heroes. Eventually, Galahad, Lancelot’s son, finds the Holy Grail, as a person entirely free of sin and weakness, and, consequently, the one qualified to complete the quest.
In spite of the old and contemporary assiduous research, there is no real evidence that a historical king Arthur really existed. But, between the 6th and the 12th centuries, an abundance of documents were produced that
mentioned Arthur, or alluded to events that were, later, associated with him. Thus, gradually, a legend shaped around the idea of a great king fighting against the Britons’ enemies. Among these texts are included: the poem Y Gododdin, by the Welsh bard Aneirin (6th century), Historia Britonum by the Welsh historian Nennius (mid 9th century), Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh tales (11th century) and the most important of them, Historia Regum Britanniae, by the Welsh writer Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) – a combination of history, legend and imagination. From the 12th century on, up to our present days, king Arthur’s unique and fascinating image inspired the artists worldwide, as a symbol of human mind high aspirations and lofty ideals. In 1155, Wace, an Anglo-Norman chronicler translated Geoffrey’s work into French as the Roman de Brut (Story of Brutus), mentioning The Round Table for the first time. Some years later, Chrétien de Troyes, a French writer, created a new fictional form known as “Arthurian Romance”, which became the main subject of inspiration for, practically, all Arthurian texts composed in every European language∗. It also inspired a cycle of five romances – including the love between Lancelot and Guinevere, and the quest for the Grail – known as the “Vulgate Cycle”, and which became the core of a massive 13th century work, running to thousands of pages. Thus, Arthur crossed the border of Britain, becoming a hero of continental Europe. The Vulgate Cycle was translated and adapted even more widely than Chrétien’s romances; it inspired Sir Thomas Mallory who, in the 15th century (1459-1470) used it as a major source for Le morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur); Malory’s work, whose tales begin before Arthur’s conception, extending past his departure to Avalon, traces - in fact – the full rise and fall of the Arthurian world, as well as of the ideals of medieval chivalry. For the following about two hundred years (16th-18th century), the popularity of the Arthurian legends diminished, but, in the 19th century the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson reintroduced them in the literary world. From that moment on an explosion of artistic works of Arthurian inspiration burst forth, and it has continued to contemporary times. Lord Tennyson wrote a series of poems called “Idylls of the King” (1859-1885) using the past as a model opposed to the ugliness of his
Wolfram von Eschenbach, Germany wrote the epic poem „Parzival” (1210).
present world, but, however, without idealizing the Arthurian age; there is even some pessimism in Tennyson’s poems, the poet emphasizing the transient character of glory and suggesting that sin carried about the ruin of the Arthurian world. Mallory’s and Tennyson’s works fired the imagination of hundreds of poets, dramatists and novelists; many of them saw Arthur’s legends as depicting a heroic and glorious past, when courage and lofty ideals flourished and prevailed, while a few others, among whom the American writer Mark Twain, used the legends as an opportunity for humor and satire. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1889) offers Mark Twain the chance to introduce the medieval customs against the modern ones. None of the two societies is spared; while Arthur is seen as a goodhearted man, but simple and rather buffoonish, and Merlin is shown as a foolish fraud, the contemporary world is not embellished, but on the contrary; with his specific insight Mark Twain suggests that modern technology has not made people better or more civilized, they are only more efficient. The 20th century was equally rich in literary productions having Arthur as their protagonist. Out of the long list some examples can be selected, as representing the most popular names of writers: T. H. White wrote four novels: “The Sword in the Stone” (1938), “The Witch in the Wood” (1939), “The III-Made Knight” (1940) and “The Candle in the Wind” (1958) with a fifth “The Book of Merlin” (1977), published after his death. Mary Stewart wrote several Arthurian novels forming a trilogy: “The Crystal Cave” (1970, “The Hollow Hills” (1973) and “The Last Enchantment” (1979). The American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley in her “The Mists of Avalon” (1982) tackled the traditional subject from a different perspective: that of the female characters, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, the lady Viviane and others, who are seen as stronger and more independent than the writer’s predecessors had considered them in the earlier accounts.
The Arthurian legends are a source of inspiration not only for the literary world but for other arts as well. Thus, the medieval artists illustrated the legends through drawings, sculptures and mural paintings. In the 19th century, with the rebirth of the interest in the legends, the group of artists known as Pre-Raphaelites, organized by the English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and joined by other artists such as Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones or William Morris, used Arthurian themes in their paintings, murals, tapestries, stained glass and other media. Music has known interpretations of the Arthurian legends since the old times of medieval troubadours. Among the best known musical works is the composition of Henry Purcell written to accompany a text of the English poet John Dryden: “King Arthur” or “The British Worthy” (1691). Since the 19th century, the composers have created lots of instrumental pieces, ballets, oratories and about 50 operas inspired by these legends. Thus, Richard Wagner composed two famous operas “Tristan and Isolde” (1865) and “Parsifal” (1882) whose characters originate in the Arthurian story. In the 20th century, Arthur’s legend represented a source of inspiration for “the seventh art”. The filmmakers and directors were attracted by the stories in different ways; in 1904 the American director Edwin Porter produced “Parsifal”, while “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court” has been repeatedly filmed along the century. In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) the adventures are treated comically, the story being a mixture of idealism and absurdity. “Excalibur” (1981) directed by John Brosman is a serious picture, telling the whole story of Arthur, from his birth to the final grievous wound. There are also animated pictures, such as “The Sword in the Stone” (1963), or musicals as “Camelot” (1967).
A recent picture is “The Fisher King” (1991), where the Arthurian motifs are recast in a modern form: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) introduced the Grail as a reason for adventures. The French director, Robert Bresson, produced “Lancelot of the Lake” (1974), an outstanding film, telling the story of Lancelot’s adventures, while in Germany, Eric Rohmec produced a no less outstanding picture “Percival the Welshman” (1978) in which he used Chrétien de Troyes’ medieval Grail story as a source of inspiration. Very recently, in 1995, the story inspired a new wonderful romantic drama “The Knights of the Round Table”, directed by Jerry Zucker, with Sean Connery as Arthur and Richard Gere, interpreting the role of Lancelot. Thus, for about out thousand and five hundred years, by using some legends, the art, in all its forms, contributed to the creation of a king and a kingdom with the whole suite of knights, with castles and fortresses, with heroic deeds and endless fights. The ideals of these heroes, their strength and weakness are the ideals ,strength and weakness of our contemporaries, because they represent perennial ideals of the human civilization, and permanent traits of the human beings’ character. England’s emergence. Coming back to the moment of the island’s invasion, the historians agree that the German raiders were mostly a collection of various tribes and non-tribal bodies, and not at all a coherent people. As mentioned above, they settled separately, in convenient farming regions. It also seems “pretty certain that the Germanic invaders did not mix significantly with the Celts, whom in two generations of conflict, they pushed back into the western and northern uplands” [12; p. 2] and with them, their type of culture. It is hard to find something of Celtic language or culture left in England, except for the names of some rivers – the Thames, the Mersey, the Severn, the Avon – and of two large cities: London and Leeds. Besides, the institutions of the Romanized Britons had been disintegrated with the Roman withdrawal, and, in time, a new type of society emerged to represent the newly settled population.
Thus, by the end of the 6th century, the settlers had started to regard themselves as belonging to “the nation of the English”, though divided into a number of small “kingdoms”, some of which are still existing, nowadays, in county or regional names: Kent, Essex (East Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), Middlessex (Middle Saxons), East Anglia (East Angles). The boundaries of these “kingdoms” were still fluid, the relations were governed by rivalry for the farm land and, to a great extent, by the ambitions of their chiefs or princes, who were generally called “kings”, but, in many cases, they were commanders of war-bands. However, a certain “sense of unity” started to become manifest, and the kingdoms south of the Humber would acknowledge the overlordship of a single ruler (known, as “bretwalda”) for a longer period of time. These units of so-called “heptarchy” seem to have constituted a reality, in spite of the existing rivalry and dispute among them, and of their constant appearance and disappearance. Among the first kingdoms to grow in importance was Kent, its early supremacy being due to the initial cultural superiority of the invaders (the Frankish tribes), to their contacts with Europe, and to the capacity of one of its kings, Aethelberht (Ethelbert)∗. Kent was the first English kingdom converted to Christianity. However, after a period of time, it declined, partly because of its comparatively reduced area, and its failure to secure control over other territories. By the middle of the 7th century other three kingdoms – Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex – became, in turn, the most powerful ones. The first to get supremacy, at the respective moment, was Northumbria; it had a period of greatness, which coincided with the influence of the advanced culture introduced by the Celtic Church (Christian), but which was mostly due to the warlike character of the people. However, it declined after a while, as a result of the ambitions attempts of its rulers to
Aethelberht set down in writing a code of laws reflecting some Christian influences, but the system was still old, brought over from the continent.
extend simultaneously northwards, to Scotland, and southwards, to Mercia; the internal feuds had also an important negative impact, besides the imperfect union of Bernicia and Deira, two kingdoms dominated by Aethelfrith. The most remarkable personalities who contributed to the growth of this kingdom were Edwin (616-632), Oswald (633-641) and Oswin (654-657). The reasons that determined Mercia’s rise are considered obscure, but it knew a period of “great age”. Its greatness might be due, on the one hand, to the fact that the kingdom had a large and prosperous population, well settled in the rich Midland plains, and, on the other hand, to the fact that this population had got an extensive war experience during the battles against the Welsh. Unfortunately, the absence of good natural boundaries laid its territory open to the combined attacks coming from all sides, the fact representing a real weakness for the kingdom, and, finally, causing its failure towards the beginning of the 9th century. The most important chieftains or leaders recorded by history were Penda (beginning of the 7th century), Aethebald (716-757), “king not only of the Mercians but also of all provinces … of the south English”, who succeeded in maintaining good order in the kingdom, and especially Offa (757-796). Offa was the most remarkable king of his time claiming the kinship of the English, although he did not have authority on the whole territory beyond the Humber. Not easily, he succeeded in attaining a powerful position that made Charles the Great (Charlemagne) treat with him on equal terms, as if he had been the only ruler of England. (A marriage was arranged between Charles’s daughter and Offa’s son). During his time, there was an important trade developed across the Channel and a reform of coinage took place for which Offa took his own responsibility. The king’s name and effigy appeared on coins and they were of an excellent quality in design and workmanship. It is considered that “these coins had an important propaganda value, showing the importance of the Mercian king not only to the English subjects but also to the people on the Continent” (53, p. 28)∗.
A golden coin of King Offa shows a direct copy of an Arab dinar (774 A.D.); it is mostly in Arabic, but the inscription „OFFA REX” can be read on one side. “It tells us that the
Offa was able to draw on immense resources, which made him able to employ large numbers of people for building an earthen wall along the Welsh border in an attempt to keep out the Celtic raiders. Due to the greatness of conception and the skill of its construction the huge dyke may be considered a memorial to Offa. He gave a code of laws, but, unfortunately, it was lost; as a consequence, not much is known about his internal governing, but the chronicler of the time (Alcuin) spoke highly of it. After Offa’s death, in spite of his successors’ attempts to restore the subjects’ personal feelings of loyalty to the leader, the power of Mercia did no longer entirely survive. The next powerful kingdom became Wessex. It was provided with good frontiers, a considerable area of fertile land and it started to establish important contacts with the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne. A name, important to be mentioned for the respective period, was Egbert (802-839). He conquered Cornwall, and, for a short time, ruled over Mercia, Kent, and all regions south of the Humber, getting from the EGBERT chronicler Bede the recognition of a “bretwalda”. He, as well as his son, Aethelwulf, who succeeded to the throne after his death, tried to draw away from ancient rivalries, and look for friendly relations with the neighbouring kingdoms in face of a new serious menace: the Danish Vikings. The Anglo-Saxon Institutions. The institutions created by the AngloSaxons were so solidly conceived, that they succeeded in making the state strong for the next 500 years, lying the foundation of an
Anglo-Saxons of Britain were well aware of a more advanced economic system in the distant Arab empire, and also that even as far away as Britain and northern Europe, Arabtype gold coins were more trusted than any others. It shows how great were the distances covered by international trade at that time” (25; p. 12).
administrative organization which can be discovered in the British administrative system even in our days. In the Anglo-Saxon society the king∗ was the political authority and he represented “the corner-stone” of the state, having some special rights in the newly established English kingdoms. Among others, they could ask compensations for offences (committed against those under his protection, in his presence or in his home), rights to hospitality (later on developed into a food rent charged on all land), the right to grant land to his followers (since the latter part of the 7th century that was done by issuing a charter), the right to different services rendered to him. In case of important matters the king had normally to consult “the Witan”, (in full, Witengemot the council of “wise men”) acting as a sort of “king council” and consisting of seniors warriors and churchmen. In its turn, the Witan was responsible for the king’s election∗∗ and advised the king on difficult matters of government. In time, (the 10th century) the Witan became a formal body, who was entitled to issue laws and charters. Of course, this council had nothing to do with what we could consider to be o form of democratic institution, and the king, once elected, could decide to ignore its advice; however, such an attitude might be dangerous, because without the Witan’s support, the king’s authority was jeopardized. Anyway, the system of governing established by the Witan remained over the years an important aspect of the kings’ method of ruling the state affairs. Thus, even today, the British kings and queens have the “Privy Council”, a group of advisers on the matters of the state, influential enough, and whose origin can be found in the old Witan. As regards the legal system, the Anglo-Saxons’ peace and order was guarded by very precise and strict codes of laws, specifying the names, circumstances and penalties for any crime, from the petty ones – trespassing, poaching, fighting – to the severe cases, such as thieving or killing. On the other hand, the maintenance of laws issued and of order was in the hands of the people themselves, and the way in which it
At the moment of the invasion, the chieftains were not mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as kings, but the title was to be used soon. With Christianity the sacral character of kingship increased, and changed in meaning. ∗∗ The candidates for kingship had to be members of the royal family, but the Witan’s role was to select from within the most suitable successors, who could be another person than the previous king’s son.
worked proves the genius for cooperation the Saxons possessed, in spite of the lack of real organization in this respect. When something considered an offense or crime was committed, all freemen were called out to pursue and catch the offender or the criminal who was brought to trial in front of the popular assembly∗. Of course, nothing of the court procedures today bears any resemble with the trials in those remote times. (Perhaps, something similar can be seen in the Western films today). For minor offences or injuries, the Saxon law stipulated “the wergild”, a sort of fine or compensation paid to the injured party. Witchcraft, arson, treachery and, of course, crime were beyond any compensation, and the punishment was hanging. During the trial, the accused had to get through different stages which consisted, firstly, in swearing an oath assisted by other “oath-helpers”; in case of failure, the trial by ordeal followed, which could be an ordeal by fire or by water, according to the crime; the idea was, that heaven might intervene and pass a correct judgement by healing, in a very short time, the wounds got by the accused in order to prove his innocence. There were local differences regarding the way in which law was put into operation, and, in time, the system developed to meet the changing circumstances. Thus, as kingdoms grew larger, there were created royal representatives to administer local justice, and, generally, a certain part of an area. In the beginning, these representatives were the ealdermen, who attended and supervised the local courts, being simple local officials. The “aldermen”∗∗ (elected officers in local governments) existing in the present day local politics can find their roots traced back, in those remote times. But, during a long and slow process, the handling of regional affairs passed from the freemen to the king, enabling the establishment of a firm feudal superstructure on society. All main activities – sharing of land, of a firm feudal administration of justice, tax payment, the people’s joining the army - took place at the “manor” (large house) existing in every district and representing the beginning of the manorial system in England.
There were meetings of groups of a hundred families – “the hundred”; above it was the “shire-moot” and the “folk-moot”. ∗∗ Later on, they were also called with the Danish name “earl”, representing today high ranking nobles.
The administrative organization. Towards the end of the 10th century, the land was divided into new administrative areas, “the shires” (counties). Over each shire a “shire-reeve” was appointed, who was the king’s local administrator; he usually was an important figure, personifying the royal authority to both lords and peasants in each shire. (The origin of the present-day “sheriff” can be found in the word “shirereeve” as a shortened form of the old name). It is interesting to point out that the shires, (the Norman name for “shire” was “county”, both of them being still in use) as administrative units, remained almost unchanged for a thousand years. The administrative reorganization, which took place in Great Britain in 1974, did not change the situation too much in comparison with the old one. However, at that time, the old existing popular assemblies continued to be the general rule, but they were under the control of the king. A good example is offered by London, towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon period: there was a complex, local government permanently active, but public authority remained the rule, with the “folk moot” as its highest form. In theory, at least, every citizen of the town attended it, when they met three times a year, in the open air, on the highest ground beside St. Paul’s Cathedral. The social system and labour organization. Aelthelberht’s code settled a social system, which, although under Christian’s influence, was an old one, brought from the continent; the kingship was still considered the strongest bond, the protection of the individual coming from his kindred. The social differences between classes were established according to their “wergild”. It represented the amount which could be accepted by the kindred in case a man was killed in order to give up vengeance for his death. The classes included “the freemen” (ceorls) who were independent peasants owing some land, “the freedman” (Kent) or members of a subject population (Wessex) whose wergild was lower, and “the nobles”, either by birth or by service as king’s companions, and whose wergild was three to six times higher than that of a freeman. There were also slaves, possessed either by nobles or freemen, and who were regarded as chattels without any wergild.
The Anglo-Saxons were mainly farmers, and the technology they had brought with them from the continent determined changes in the old Celtic land ownership and organization. Their type of plough was a heavy one, suited for ploughing the land in long straight lines, as it was hard to be turned; besides, six to eight oxen were necessary to pull it. As a consequence, a village land was divided into several large plots of land (fields), divided again into long thin strips, each family possessing a number of them in each field. The teams of oxen were shared on a cooperative basis. Their plough was also suited to heavier soils, especially the unfarmed ones, which they got by cutting down many forested areas in the valleys. The Anglo-Saxons developed a new specific agricultural pattern, with alternating crops on different fields, and a common land for animals to feed on. This system became the common one in England, being preserved almost unchanged, and representing the basis of English agriculture for about one thousand years. Anyway, the 11th century witnessed the peak of agricultural development of the region, and almost all villages which can be identified on the 18th century maps, already existed by that time. The Anglo-Saxons’ conversion to Christianity; the role of the church. At the moment of the island’s invasion by the German heathen tribes, the Celtic inhabitants were already practising a species of the Christian religion; when and how Christianity first reached Britain is hard to know. The Christianizing mission carried out by St. Patrick in Ireland had been a success, but the Irish missionaries were less successful in converting the barbarians on the main island. That was, partly, because of the resolute refusal of the old inhabitants and the new comers to mix together, but, to a large extent, because of the heathenism vitality with the Anglo-Saxons. (Place-names containing the names of heathen gods, and other elements can prove it). As a consequence, the invaders’ conversion to Christianity was a slow process, which developed by stages, and later than it took place on the continent∗. The first important moments of this process was the foundation of a missionary monastery on Iona, (563 A. D.) off the west coast of Scotland, by the Irishman Columba, and the successful mission,
Theodoric the Ostrogoth (474-526) was a Christian when he arrived in Italy, and Clovis the Frank (464-511) tuned Christian when he established the rule over Gaul.
in Kent, of St. Augustin “the Apostle of the English” (597 A. D.), sent there by Pope Gregory I; Kent was the first kingdom to accept Christianity. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 601. But, although he had brought the rulers to the new faith, the progress with the ordinary people was rather slow. Meanwhile, the Christian monks from the Celtic territories left their places (Ireland, Scotland, Wales) and walking from village to village, taught Christianity to the people. Thus, Northumbria became the first real Christian kingdom, and, during Bishop Wilfrid’s time, the tendency was towards the Christianity derived from the Celtic monasteries. For a rather short period of time, there were two Christian churches active in the region, and very different in character: the Celtic Christian Church, impressive by “its ascetism, fervour and simplicity”, interested to reach the hearts of the ordinary people, and the Roman Christian Church, more interested in authority and organization. Although, in the beginning, there was some cooperation between the two churches, in time, differences in their usages determined the appearance of some frictions; finally, the controversy in the calculation of the date of Easter was settled in favour of the Roman party (the Synod of Whitby, 664) and, with it, the pressure from the Celtic Church was put an end. The Anglo-Saxon church turned to Rome, which, gradually, extended its authority over all Christians, even in the Celtic parts of the island. Theodore of Tarsus was the first Roman archbishop acknowledged all over England. He arrived in 669, and although at the age of sixty-seven, he was extremely active in establishing a proper diocesan system; thanks to him “the English Church and clergy remained in close contact with the centres of Western Christianity, while the Celtic fringe and Ireland retreated into a form of stagnant isolation” [12; p. 16]. The role of the church in the growth of the English state and nation was important. The Christian church was consolidated and developed due to the Saxon kings, but, in its turn, it supported and increased the power of kings. At a time when the king was elected from among any members of
a royal family, to have the church on his side, was very important for a king, consolidating his position. An example is offered by Offa who arranged his son’s coronation as a Christian ceremony led by a bishop; thus, the king was chosen by his people, but with the “God’s approval”. Another way by which the church increased the power of the kings and of the state was by establishing monasteries (minsters), as places of learning and education, which enlarged the intellectual horizon of the new converts. The men studying there and getting the skills of reading and writing, largely contributed to the growth of royal and church authority. Thus, king Alfred (871-899) used the scholars of the Church to help him establish a system of law, educate people, and write the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; together with Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, they represent the most important sources for understanding the period; even more than that, England’s scholars played the role of civilizing other places: Alcuin (755-804) contributed to the raise of Charlemagne’s court and his Vulgate Bible became the standard text in the Middle Ages. During that period England had become a source of intellectual inspiration for the continental monarchies. On the other hand, the Church contributed to the economic growth of the state: the newly set up monasteries determined the development of towns and villages which grew around them, and increased local trade; large numbers of monks, emissaries, or even aspiring kings were invited to or from England, the contacts with the continent being encouraged, and with them trade∗ between Europe and the island. Thus, the decision to turn to Rome for Christianity offered England the possibility of ready-made contacts beyond the limits of the island, as well as the remarkable opportunity to grow, to become well known, and to develop intellectually.
Anglo-Saxon England was well known in Europe as an exporter of metal goods, pottery, woolen goods, cheese and hunting dogs; in its turn, England imported wine, fish, pepper, jewellery and wheel-made pottery.
Unfortunately, the Church failed in unifying the island politically, and the 9th century still found England separated in several kingdoms, coexisting, sometimes at peace but, fighting, other times, for ascendancy. Anglo-Saxon life-style: architecture, art and literature. The life style in Anglo-Saxon England was a simple one, but, needless to say, with differences existing between the rich and the poor. As Anglo-Saxon were mostly peasants, most of the people were country dwellers living in settlements that could be called villages; they were inhabited by groups of families, and the places were named after the family∗. The word “ham” (home) represented a smaller settlement while “ton” (town) designated a larger one. The present day place names ending in these words, as well as those containing ending as “wick”, “ley”, “den”, “hurst”, “fold”, “field” are considered to indicate initial Anglo-Saxon settlements: Durham, Burmley, Gatwick, Tannton, Bradford, Sheffield a. s. o.). As regards the domestic structures, most of them were built in wood, rarely had more than one floor and one room. Even the halls of the rich ones were simple, maybe a bit larger, with a central fire and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. There was no privacy secured in these houses, the room being shared by the whole family and even by the animals, separated with only a low wall. Most of the dwellings were square or rectangular in shape, although some round houses have been found. They used different roofing materials, thatch being the most common, besides turf and wooden shingles, sometimes. Unfortunately, the number of surviving Anglo-Saxon buildings is limited, on the one hand, because of the perishable building materials used and, on the other, because of the period, beset by frequent warfare and violent invasions – particularly by the Vikings – which meant the destruction of the settlements. The buildings, sometimes, better preserved are the churches and monasteries built in stone, and which can be seen today in the southeast, around the county of Kent, and in Northumbria (St. Peter and St. Paul, Canterbury – 600 A.D.; St. Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell – 660 A.D.; the
Paddington is supposed to have been the dwelling place of the Paddings.
Celtic churches at Escoumb, County Durham – 690 A.D.; Monkwearmouth and Jarrow – 675 A.D.). Saxon churches were generally small in scale, doors and windows openings were simple, very often only narrow slits, with few decorative elements; however, a lot of energy was put into tower building which began as a defensive structure, and which represented the earliest surviving parts of the English churches. Towards the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th, kings as Alfred the Great or his son Edward the Elder, aware of the growing threat coming from the Danes, encouraged the building of fortified towns (burhs) which could offer protection to the population. They were primarily located along the coast and the border of Alfred’s land. In time, the burhs became centres of commerce and local government. They were remarkable as regards the project of urbanization, providing a regular grid pattern of streets. In the beginning, the former Roman sites were re-used for this purpose, as they were placed on the old Roman network of roads, and communication was important in the new project. Besides, the Roman towns already had a basic fortification and with the growth of Christianity under Rome’s influence, the town areas were preferred for their better organization. However, Saxon burhs were also set up on entirely new sites (Wallingford, Wareham, Wilton, Lewes, Lyng, Lydford, among others.). Unfortunately, little survived to be seen in the modern towns of what the Anglo-Saxon burhs were ten centuries ago! At Winchester, Cricklade, Chichester or Wallingford, the modern streets pattern still follow the Saxon plan, and remnants of the defensive ditch and bank can be seen at Wallingford or Wareham, at Maaldon or Cricklade. As regards the domestic life, furnishing was as simple as possible; they had wooden tables and benches used for both sitting and sleeping. However, the table glass was beautifully decorated and they also had
hand made pottery, wooden plates and horns for drinking. Food in villages was probably unsophisticated, with the same menu of poorly cooked cereals. It seems that in the larger market towns, and especially in London, there were many cook shops and inns for the itinerant population, with a better fare to offer. Clothing was not sophisticated in Anglo-Saxon world: a woolen shirt and trousers for men, with thick stockings, and the same woolen long and loose tunic for women, worn over linen undergarments; for work, they wore skin or leather clothes, and in cold seasons, fur coats, caps and gloves. The Anglo-Saxons were very fond of ornaments such as bracelets, brooches, rings and necklaces of bronze, gold or amber, which were equally worn by men an women; their made was of an exquisite beauty, showing an astonishing craftsmanship in comparison with the simplicity of other achievements. The pieces of jewellery can be considered real works of art of the respective period∗. In spite of the relative simplicity of the material life, Anglo-Saxon England knew a remarkable spiritual development within a century of Augustine’s landing; its high standards derived from a combination of influences coming, on the one hand, from Ireland, and on the other, from the Mediterranean regions, due to Archbishop Theodore and his companion, abbot Adrian. A famous school was established at Canterbury, training people like Aldhelm, known for his works in Latin verse and prose. The finest centre of scholarship was Northumbria, (the monasteries at Warmouth and Iarrow) where Celtic and classical influences met, and which was famous for its fine libraries. The most important name of the period worth to be mentioned is that of Bede (672-735), a great historian, and theologian, whose work never lost its value.
Examples of such jewellery can be admired in the Guildhall or London Museums, the largest collection being exhibited in the British Museum.
Other centres of scholarship were at Lindisfarne, Whitby and Ripon, places where many learned men produced different literary and religious works∗. Art flourished, the churches being the depositors of precious objects, either brought from abroad, or natively manufactured. The greatest old English epic poem “Beowulf” (the manuscript contains some 3,200 lines), is considered to have been produced during this period; it is, perhaps, the oldest considerable poem in any modern language, a colourful and detailed source out of which a lot can be learned about the way people used to live and think at that time.
2.5 The Scandinavian Invasions; The Anglo-Saxon Civilization at Stake
In spite of the relative statal organization already existing, the 9th century found the island without a strong English kingdom, with no well-defined English identity, and with no real English people, but with some hopes for a certain stabilization of people’s life and institutions. That was the moment when a new wave of Germanic invaders struck the island, convinced that the disunited Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could not keep them out. They were the Vikings∗∗, coming from Norway and Denmark, tempted not only by the wealth accumulated in monasteries, but also attracted by the Anglo-Saxon farmland, and being decided to settle there. Thus, the reasons that could explain the outpouring of this population include their lack of land, overpopulation of their native places, and political grievances. Even from the end of the 8th century, the first Viking raids began to trouble the life on the eastern coast of the island (the monastery of Lindisfarne was plundered in 793). The first raiders were the Norwegians who also attacked Ireland (795-799), followed by the Danes whose raids began in the 9th century with the attack on Dorestad, 834.
A great example is “Lindisfarne Gospel” showing obvious classical influences. The term “Viking” meant in the period “a pirate, a robber who came by sea”.
After these events, the raids became about annual, and the raiders even started to overwinter in England. It was obvious that the quarrelling Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were not able to keep them out. The first raids were for the plunder of the treasures hoarded in the Christian holy places and for which the Vikings had no respect, being pagan. Undefended, spread on lonely islands or near the coast, the monasteries were an easy prey for the early raiders; unable to put up a successful resistance, the Christians offered the alternative of paying tribute, with which they would divert, for a time, the invaders’ attention elsewhere. However, not all the raids were for plunder; some of these raiders wanted a patch of land to settle. Thus, in 850 the first Danish army overwintered in England, and, some years later, (865) the Vikings started a determined conquest of the island. They were not always victorious, but, anyway, they succeeded in absorbing Mercia taking possessions of East Anglia, and in KING ALFRED capturing York, Wessex. There were many battles in Wessex, and finally, in 878, the Vikings’ attempt to conquer it failed; the Saxon’s victory was due to King Alfred, to his tenacity, his courage and wisdom. King Alfred came to terms with the Danish king, Guthrum who accepted Christianity, and settled with his forces in East Anglia. King Alfred’s victory was important as it prevented the Vikings from becoming masters of the whole England. Alfred reorganized his army, built fortresses and ships, and, being a diplomat as well, made the Welsh kings his friends and allies. In 886 he captured London, and prepared for the further reconquest of the territories. At that moment, he was strong enough to make a treaty with the Danes, practically dividing England into two areas: an English territory south and west and a Danish one, north and east, known as Danelaw. The situation, at that moment, was greatly different from the one existing in the old Anglo-Saxon days; the Danish invaders, who had come as pirates and plunderers had left much destruction, wiping out the monastic and royal civilization, especially in the northern region, “where the condition of backwardness and wilderness noticeably contrasted with the
great days of Oswy and the Venerable Bede” (12; p. 18). Under the circumstances, King Alfred’s role and achievements were of an outstanding significance. It is considered that during his reign, King Alfred, called the Great∗, (849-899, c. 871) succeeded in three main directions: first of all, he proved to be a real leader, reorganizing his army, and becoming victorious at a moment when his kingdom, and with it the Anglo-Saxon civilization, was at stake. Secondly, he had an efficient government, he reorganized finances and services, and gave a code of laws which he carefully supervised; he knew how to attract and use the great men of his kingdom in the government activities, consulting them during the meetings of his council (Witenagemot), Thirdly, a scholar himself, he worked to restore and revive the old spiritual life in his kingdom, as it had been set up by Bede two centuries ago. He himself translated some books from Latin into Anglo-Saxon, (in an attempt to bring his people back to European civilization) as Boethius’ “De Consolatione Philosophiae” and the works of Bede, Orosius, Gregory and Augustine; he also introduced some educational reforms, whose effects were beneficial over generations. More or less totally successful in his multiple attempts, King Alfred represented a model for the future kings of England: “determined, highly competent, unshaken by adversity and passionately devoted to learning” (12, p. 25). The later developments in England were made possible due to his special personality and exceptional example. The real achievement of political unity, and the setting up of the Kingdom of England was the work of his successors, Edward (c. 899-924) and Athelstan (c. 924-939). As regards the Danes, they had ceased their raids and settled, accepting Christianity; some prosperity was restored in East Anglia and York, the Danes becoming a component part of the English people. The Danish invasion meant cruel destruction and the return to a dark age of brutality which jeopardized, for a time, the level of culture and civilization reached by the Anglo-Saxons∗∗. However, it had as a lasting effect the
A highly admired King, he is the only one in 1000 years of British monarchic history to be called “the Great”. All we know about him comes from Asser, his contemporary biographer, and from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written under his guidance. ∗∗ By the end of the 9th century no centre of culture represented by Christian churches or monasteries situated in the central part of England, and, especially in the north, remained standing. At the same time, the simultaneous attacks coming from the Norseman in
political consolidation of England as a well-defined state, besides the ethnical complications determined by the settlement of a new population. After a first victory over the Danes in 910, and the completion of a plan regarding the building of a ring of fortresses around Wessex, Edward began, in 912, a series of campaigns for regaining the old Saxon territories from the Danes, which he succeeded. His sister, Aethelflaed, and after his death, his son, Aethelstan continued to advance in the Danish territories. Gradually, Aethelstan took possession of many parts of Danelaw, becoming the first king ruling over the whole England; he AETHELSTAN also received the submission of the kings of Wales, Scotland and Northumbria. Proud of his position, Aethelstan called himself “king of all Britain” on the coins he minted, and, in his charters, he would express the same message. There were many specific aspects in the different regions of the newly established state that were determined by ethnic differences and cultural peculiarities. The kings who came to reign after Aethelstane did not interfere with these aspects too much, and they did not try to eradicate the local peculiarities. The only requirements referred to the existence of only one coinage for all the king’s dominion, to the uniformity in administrative division of the country (shires / hundred), and to the way in which legal matters were settled∗. The period is also remarkable for the monastic revival, which brought about not only the foundation of new religious places, but a revival of vernacular and Latin texts writing, manuscript production, and of other forms of art. The Danish Revival. The period of the Wessex kings did not last too long. Towards the end of the 10th century (980) the Vikings who had settled in Ireland started raiding again westward, and those raids steadily increased in intensity, being led by “formidable” leaders. (Olaf Tryggvason, later king of Norway, Sweyn, king of Denmark, or Thorkell the Tall). The Saxon king, Ethelred (beginning of the 11th century) tried
Ireland, Isle of Man, or western Scotland prevented the possibility of regeneration from the old Celtic church. There was an ordinance in the mid 10th century requiring the courts in each hundred to meet every four weeks; later on, the shire courts had to meet twice a year and the borough courts, three times.
to make the Viking stay away, by paying them a tribute; he did it by setting a taxation on all his people, (“Dane geld” or “Danish money”) whose effects were heavily felt especially by the villagers. After a difficult period of continuous warfare, renewed invasions from the Vikings, and Anglo-Saxon resistance, Canute or Cnut (Sweyn’s son), who already had the control over most of England, became the king of the Anglo-Danish state; the fact happened simply, because the Witan, fearing disorder, preferred a Danish king at the moment of their king’s death (Edmond, 1016). Canute’s reign was not recorded as a tyrannical one, but on the contrary: he rewarded his followers with English land, but the English element was the strong one in his entourage. In spite of the wars carried abroad, there was peace at home, and he became a stout supporter of the church. Canute even went to a pilgrimage to Rome (1027), and he used the event for getting some advantage for the English pilgrims and traders there. His laws were based on the old Anglo-Saxon ones, and the country’s government remained, generally, the same. After Canute’s death, his sons Harold and Hardecanute, who succeeded to the Crown, and who were known for their rather unpopular reigns, died without leaving a precise successor. However, Hardecanute had made an agreement with Magnes, Norway’s king, according to which, in case of their death without a direct successor, the survivor was entitled to both kingdoms. But when Hardecanute died in 1042, leaving no son, the Witan elected Edward, Ethelred’s son as the king of England. Magnes, too busy with some troubles with Denmark, did not claim his right to England’s throne; this will be done by Harold Hardraada, only in 1066. Edward’s reign, the prelude to the Norman conquest. Edward, known under the name of “the Confessor” because of his chastity and religious spirit, had been raised in Normandy, where he had spent almost all his life, his mother being a daughter of the duke of Normandy. His reign had some positive and negative aspects, with important consequences for England’s future. The period of Edward’s reign can be considered a peaceful one, the king usually maintaining friendly relations with his neighbours. Under such conditions trade was prosperous, and the normal course of administration was kept in the usual patterns with an efficient minting, a traditional taxation system, and courts of justice. There was a
strong support for church building in Edward’s time, a church being recorded in almost every village; the king initiated the building of an imposing church at Westminster (outside the City of London) to fit him, but, as architecture, it was more a Norman building than a Saxon one. Scholarship grew, a great number of EDWARD CONFESSOR manuscripts being produced at that time, while art and English illumination were admired abroad. But, in spite of all these positive achievements, England continued to be a Saxon state bearing many characteristics of the old Germanic kingship. The earls were as powerful as the king himself, and there were some internal frictions causing a negative impact on the course of the events. Thus, on the one hand, there were some powerful noble Saxon families who were in a state of rivalry with one another and, on the other hand, Edward tried to avoid them to become too strong, by introducing in the country and supporting some Norman friends whom he trusted. It seems that, being childless, Edward, eventually, designated William, duke of Normandy, as his heir. The fact deeply disappointed the Saxon barons, who considered that one of them would have been the natural choice. In their turn, the Danes had claims to England’s throne. Thus, the succession issue was a serious one, and by 1060s, Edward the Confessor was faced with claims to the throne, coming from three directions: the first were the Saxons, who claimed it by right of tradition and nationality; their candidate was Harold Godwinson, the most powerful lord in England, and the leader of anti-Norman party. The second were the Normans, who claimed the throne by right of bequest, in the person of William, duke of Normandy; the third, who had a legal claim, were the Danes whose candidate was Harold Hardraada, a famous warrior, related to king Canute. Having in view the age, it was clear that the future successor and the fate of England, as well as the fate of the other candidates was to be decided on the battlefield! Aware of the danger and in an attempt to avoid confrontations, Edward ordered Harold Godwinson to pay a visit to William and, personally, to confirm the
Duke’s right to succession; Harold accepted and did it∗, maybe against his will, and probably with a hidden intention to recant the promise. It is sure that Harold was decided to become the king of England, as the next day of Edward’s death (January 5th, 1066), he crowned king, in London. He produced a document, genuine or a forgery, claiming that on his deathbed Edward had designated him as his successor. William protested, but it was clear that England’s crown could not be obtained but by war. At once, William started his preparations for England’s conquest. But, he was not the only one to prepare for war. Harold Hardraada was also preparing, and in September the same year, he landed with a large army on the Humber River. Harold Godwinson, now king of England, marched to meet the invaders; two decisive battles took place, one at Stamford Bridge, and, another, the following day, at Fulford. The Vikings were definitely defeated, Hardraada himself being killed in the battle. That was the last major Viking invasion of England. Meanwhile, William had prepared the attack, but landing was not possible because of contrary winds, making him and his army wait for weeks. Finally, on September 27, the wind turned, and William sailed; the next day he landed near the town of Hastings, where he took the control of the area and built some defensive work. King Harold was faced with his old enemy, and his army had to give the final battle. It took place at Hastings on October 14th, 1066.
There is an interesting story about the way in which the things happened; it reveals the character and the personality of the two heroes, telling us a lot about the mentality and attitude of the people at that time. Going to Normandy, Harold had some bad luck; while crossing the Channel he was caught by a storm and cast ashore at Ponthieu, where he was captured by the local lord, Count Guy. He asked a ransom for Harold, but William, Guy’s lord, din not allow it. More than that, he sent a guard to escort Harold at Caen. Harold’s arrival, as a prisoner, should have been a sad and inappropriate one for a powerful lord! Under the circumstances, he was obliged to swear an oath of fealty to William, even promising William to advocate his cause in England. The story goes further, telling that Harold had to swear his oaths placing his hand on a table; when the table covering was whipped off it was proved that he had sworn on some sacred relics placed under it. That was a serious oath, and William had used the trick, suspecting Harold of duplicity in his attitude.
2.6 The Norman Conquest and its Effects
Who were the Normans? Who were these new, and, in fact, last invaders of Britain? The Normans were coming from Normandy, a region lying on the northern coast of France, originally a part of Charlemagne’s empire, a wealthy and well-developed area, with lots of small towns and rich monasteries. Beginning with the 9th century it had become the Vikings’ favourite target, with permanent plunders and important losses. At a given moment, (911 A. D.) a Norwegian called Rolf offered to defend the coast against other Vikings, and to convert to Christianity in turn for a title and his people’s settlement in the region. His offer was accepted by the king of west Franks, and Rolf became Duke of Normandy; from that moment on, his people were referred to as the North men (Norsmen), and their land was called Normandy; in time, the Vikings who settled there were called Normans. By the middle of the 10th century, the settlers had adopted the Christian religion, the language of the “Frenchmen” and Latin culture∗. Normandy became ever stronger, gathered territories, being in the 10th-11th century one of the powerful duchies in France. With William, Normandy started to develop as a feudal state. At that time, the duke was at the top, with barons under him; under each baron were the knights, while the peasants, in fact serfs bound to the soil and to their lords as owners of the soil, were under all. William succeeded to hold the barons under a much closer control, as well as the Church. An instinct for political unity and administrative consolidation had started to develop. Towards the middle of the 11th century, when Edward became the king of England (1042), the relations between Normandy and England were very close, and the Normans were Edward’s best friends. Thus, the Normans’ attention was directed toward England, as an easy territory to be conquered. As Trevelyan says [45, p. 99] “Edward’s role in English history was to prepare the way for the Norman conquest, both by the little that he did and by the much that he left undone”.
The majority population in Normandy was represented by French peasants, whose main occupation was the tillage of the soil; the Vikings, as a coming minority included fishermen and merchants people with an ancestral love for roving and adventure. In spite of this spirit and mind, they adopted the feudal culture of the French.
The battle at Hastings was hardly fought; it lasted the entire day, with neither side able to get the better of the other in the beginning. Toward evening Harold was killed by an arrow, but, at that moment, the superiority of Norman discipline had already become obvious. The fight continued at moonlight, with the Normans pursuing the Saxons in all directions. The next day there was no resistance against the invaders. The battle of Hastings was remarkably told in the Bayeux Tapestry. On Christmas Day, 1066, William of Normandy was crowned king of England. In the long period of history up to the Norman Conquest, Britain’s territory had been crossed by waves of newcomers. Each of them had left their cultural imprint on the peoples’ life, influencing the general development of the area. Thus, the Celts brought the (gold) smiths’ skill, and the tradition of Celtic Christianity with its learning and monastic discipline. The Roman brought the imperial administration, the roads and the advances in rural and urban civilization. The Anglo-Saxon factor was overwhelming, contributing to the coagulation of English identity with the language testifying it. Even the Vikings’ invasion had their consequences, strengthening the Germanic element of the English people, developing the local trade institution, making the people better organize for facing their attacks and getting more experienced in the act of war. As regards the Norman Conquest, the historians agree that it was an accident, but one with drastic consequences for the further course, not only of that area’s history, but of Europe in general. These consequences were immediate, changing the life of the people contemporary to the event, but, also having effects obvious in the long run∗. One of the most dramatic consequences was the abrupt and total transfer of power from the Saxon aristocracy to the Norman lords. (By
There are interesting debates regarding the impact of the conquest on the further development of England, dividing the historians into two groups: F. W. Maitland, H. G. Richardson, G. O. Sayles, Lewis Warren and others underline the continuity of the Saxon element, considering the Conquest a minor event, while J. H. Round, R. Allen Brown or Sir Frank Stanton a. s. o. demonstrate the overwhelming changes determined by the Conquest. The truth is hard “to be so definitely on one side or another” [12, p. 31].
1086, 80% of the fiefs were in Norman hands, belonging to the king, his lords and the Church which was Norman as well). It was a period of important changes; one of them had in view some military innovations, which meant the building of stone castles, all of them given to Norman lords and meant to protect them against possible rebellions (By 1100, 84 castles had been built, changing the general aspect of the landscape). The church was a different one as well, William bringing with him the Norman church, its Romanesque architecture and a reforming spirit. Besides, the church was based now on the town cathedrals, and less on the old monasteries. These new cathedrals were built everywhere on the British Isles, being, together with castle, visible even today, some of them preserved in a perfect state. Profound changes took place in politics. Thus, the Saxon freeholders (people who held title to their own land) were put an end to, the formula “nullus terre sans seigneur” meaning “no land without a lord” and showing that the land was granted by the king in exchange for services. Heavy demands were imposed on vassals, requiring the service of a large number of knights. William introduced the “King’s Council” whose task was to give advice to the king and take part in the judgment of the nobles accused of serious matters. A consequence, which deserves a special attention, is the making of the English language. After Hastings, Anglo-Saxon ceased to be used officially, being replaced by French as the language of the court, government and nobility, and by Latin, spoken by the clergy; AngloSaxon was considered a peasants’ jargon, the talk of ignorant serfs and it almost ceased to be a written language. Under these circumstances, for about three hundred years, English was used as a dialect, being spoken by common folk and without the control of the learned people. It underwent important changes in grammar, losing “its clumsy inflexions and elaborate genders, and acquired the grace, suppleness and adaptability which are among its chief merits” [45, p. 117]. At the same time, the language vocabulary was enriched with many French words related to politics, war, justice, religion, hunting, cooking and art. In the 15th century it emerged renewed and enriched as the language of the learned society. But, for a long period, the language had been ROBIN HOOD a barrier between the rich Norman lords and the poor
Saxon peasants. This period and its antagonism reflecting the above consequences of Norman Conquest are well depicted in Robin Hood’s legends, with all the anachronisms specific to any legend. Later on, Walter Scott used the same period as a source of inspiration for his historical novels. In short, all these changes meant a new social and economic order, which announced the introduction of a new system, feudalism. However, in spite of these changes, there were some institutions which remained Anglo-Saxon: the local government, the shires and their reeves, the Shire court, the Danegeld, the national militia. Thus, at the local level, among the peasantry who represented the bulk of the population, the Anglo-Saxon tradition survived as a parallel life, and maintained, for a long time, the division between the conquerors and the conquered. As regards the relation with the neighbouring countries, the changes were also obvious. Until the Norman Conquest the relations and interests of the Saxon society were turned towards the Scandinavians. With the Norman Conquest that direction was put a definite end, being replaced with the relations with Normandy, and generally, with the continent. It is true that, in this way, England joined the Continent culture and civilization of the Middle Ages, but, for about 200 years, as long as the kings were men whose chief interests lay outside England, the country remained, somehow, a marginal territory, an outlying part of a “continental empire”. Thus, the existing complex situation determined a certain slowness in the self-awareness of the people of England as the English people.
2.7 The Middle Ages on the British Isles; the Birth of a People, of a State and of a Culture
2.7.1 England after the Conquest. The Early Middle Ages: the Dawn of Feudalism.
William did not succeed in his undertaking of conquering England at one stroke. The victory at Hastings had brought him the crown, but not his recognition as king on the whole territory of the country. For many years he was faced with rebellions coming from the Saxon English resistance, and, in truth, Norman authority was established only through force∗. Unfortunately for the conquered, these rebellions offered William the possibility to do away with his opponents; many of the Saxon best leaders died or were exiled, and their wealth was confiscated, and given to Norman nobles. Thus, by 1086, twenty years after the Conquest, over 4,000 Saxon landlords had been replaced by 200 Norman barons, England being politically and economically subordinated to the Norman aristocracy. William began to organize the country according to the feudal system brought from Normandy. Most historians consider that the Conquest meant the introduction of feudalism∗∗ in England, although, to a certain extent, it had started to develop there even before the Normans’ arrival. In the early Middle Ages, the basis of feudal society was represented by land holding. In fact, the king was the sole owner of the land and he gave it to his “vassals” to hold, in return for services, goods or for their promise to be on his side at war. The nobles with a higher statute would give part of their land to the nobles of a lower rank, knights or other “freemen”. Land was also distributed as rewards to the followers, who, in
Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe is centred on these conflicts. The word “feudalism” comes from the French word “feu” used by the Normans with reference to the land in possession in return for duty or service to a lord.
their turn, rewarded their retainers. A hierarchy of land possession was, thus, created. The men to whom the king directly granted land were “the tenants in chief” and they owed “homage”∗ and fealty to the king; the same homage had to be promised to the chief tenants, when, in their turn, they distributed land to the others who had followed them, and so on. Thus, according to the principle that “every man had a lord, and every lord had land”, and to the fact” that the homage had to be promised in order to be granted land, the king became connected through this “chain” of people to the lowest man in the country” [25, p. 24]. In this way, the system worked relying on two principles: (1) the principle of feudal tenure – deciding on the granting of land in return for goods, services or military obligations, and operating from the top to the bottom of society; it provided an economic and political system of grants and obligations which created clear social and economic relations, and which determined political stability. (2) the manor, as the basic economic unit of feudalism – representing the surface of land worked by peasant farmers who also cultivated their own plots of land rented from the lord in return for both their labour on the latter’s land and other services/goods/money payment. It continued to exist until late in the 18th century. Being the only owner of land and wealth William decided , in 1086, on a very ambitions undertaking: a general inventory of his new realm, as he wanted to precisely know what land each man owned, how much it was worth and produced, and what legal obligations exactly derived from this wealth. Teams of people were sent all through the country in order to visit every fief and village and record everything (land, animals, farm tool, etc.) in detail. Such a survey was unique in the Europe of that time, and it was not at all popular with the people, reminding them of the “Day of Judgement” painted on the walls of churches. Hence, this collection of records was called “The Doomsday Book”. It still exists, representing an extremely
“Homage” was the promise of loyalty as service of a man to his lord; while the lord was sitting on his chair, the vassal was kneeling before him, with his hands placed between those of his lord. (The practice remained part of the coronation ceremony of British kings/queens till now).
valuable source of information for historians; it helps them understand the social and economic structure of 11th century England, as well as William’s political attitude. It proves the great authority that William enjoyed as well as his keen mind and powerful will. William’s authority and his unique decisions are also notable, in what is known as “the Salisbury Oath”. In 1086, after the suppression of a serious rebellion, William ordered all his vassals to come to Salisbury plain, and forced them to swear service directly to him, defying, in this way, the usual “chain” mentioned above. William proved, once again, to be a clear-minded and pragmatic king, making remarkable and authoritative decisions, chiefly because he was the king of a conquered people, a “conqueror” who wanted to keep his fame untouched. In order to maintain his military strength, William decided the building of castles which had been, practically, unknown in the Anglo-Saxon period; however, that was possible only with his permission. These castles represented centres of military defense, and provided the further bases for administrative organization. In the beginning he did not change too much of the Anglo-Saxon administration; as regards the royal household, it was only by the end of his reigns that the important administrative officials had become Norman, with corresponding Norman titles (steward, buttler, chamberlain, constable, marchal, chancellor etc.). The local government preserved the old Anglo-Saxon institutions, the “shire” and “hundred courts” continuing to exist as units of justice and administration; of course, some changes took place, as, for example, the replacement of the native sheriffs with Norman nobles, similar to “vicompte” in Normandy. They had the entire control over the territory, and were responsible for collecting royal revenues. As regards the king’s court, the Anglo-Saxon “Witan” was changed into the king’s “curia regis”, consisting of the royal tenants in chief, (lay and ecclesiastical) and whose meetings took place three times a year (Christians, Easter, Whitsuntide). William did much in order to strengthen the administration of justice in England, and even introduced the jurors; they were summoned to give a collective verdict under oath. He also developed the financial system which he had inherited, getting profits from different taxes, ample royal estates, royal mints and towns. The church-state relations were excellent
during William’s reign, the upper ranks of the clergy being Normanized and feudalized; the king had the right to invest the ecclesiasts with the symbol of their spiritual office, and he also granted them the land, and, in this way, the church was under the king’s control; at the same time, Pope’s supremacy on many matters was denied. It is clear that William, Duke of Normandy and King of England was a courageous political innovator and a gifted administrator of the conquered land, although, he was presented in some chronicles as a ruthless tyrant. Besides, he had the merit of linking England to France and the continent, both economically and culturally, thus, making the country a real and important European territory.
2.7.2 England after William
The kings who followed William the Conqueror after his death were his sons, William II Rufus (1087-1100) and, then, Henry I (1100-1135). While William II was an unworthy king, greedy, ambitious and totally unpopular, his brother, Henry I, was his contrary: effective, energetic, educated and tactful. Becoming king, Henry I issued a Charter by which he gave up many oppressive practices of the past. One of his important priorities was the conquest of Normandy, which he succeeded, taking it form his brother Robert. Anyway, that meant frequent absences from the country; however, he managed to develop a system that operated effectively, even under these circumstances. His government was efficient, although it was rather harsh and demanding. Henry I’s most important desire was to pass on both Normandy and England to his successor. In absence of a son, his daughter Matilda∗ was to become queen. That did not happen, as, at Henry I’s death, one of his nephews, Stephen of Blois, (1135-1154) took the crown, and opened a period of civil wars and anarchy in the country. Stephen’s government lost control on many parts of England, the king’s power being fragmented and decentralized. The disorder was much spread, with many
Matilda was married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, heir to Anjou, a large and important area southwest of Normandy.
castles built without royal permission, and with many lords wishing to control and profit from the government weakness. The experience of that period was shocking for the people of England, as they had been used to the rule of law and order. When Stephen died, the legal successor became Henry II Plantagenet∗ (1159-1189), Matilda’s son; he is considered the greatest of the three Angevin kings of England. Known for his restless energy and decisive action, Henry II was determined to re-establish the centralized power of his grandfather, Henry I. Similar to his predecessors, he was involved in continental affairs, but he also paid attention to the situation at home, especially in the second part of his reign; he improved the judicial administration, introducing new forms of legal action, many cases being under his personal control. Important changes were introduced in the military system; Henry II preferred the use of mercenaries instead of feudal contingents, replacing military service with “scutage” (money payment in lieu of it); at the same time, he encouraged the revival of the principle of Anglo-Saxon “fyrd”, supporting the local militia which could be useful for peacekeeping and, as a military force, in case of invasions or rebellions. But, Henry II is recorded by history mostly for his quarrel with Thomas Becket∗∗, and the latter’s subsequent murder. A former lay lord and knight, Becket was the king’s close friend, whom Henry II made Archbishop of Canterbury (1162), assuming that Becket would support him in his policy towards the church. It did not happen like that, and Becket became a militant defender of the church against the royal authority; he even became a champion of Pope’s ideology, claiming ecclesiastical supremacy over the lay world. After a couple of years of disputes and reconciliations, Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral (December 29, 1170) by four knights, incited by the king’s fateful words. Over night, the martyred Thomas Becket became a saint in the people’s eyes. Henry did penance at Canterbury, being scourged by the monks, and Thomas was canonized. Annual pilgrimage to Thomas’
Henry II, son of Geoffrey of Anjou, became king as the result of Stephen’s recognition as his heir. He inherited a vast territory holding England and Normandy (as heir to his mother and Stephen), Anjou (hence Angevin), Maine and Touraine (as heir to his father), Brittany (as heir to his brother, Geoffrey) and Acquitaine (as husband of Eleanor). His holdings in France were larger than those of the French king. ∗∗ Thomas Becket’s life and death represented the source of inspiration for a wonderful film with Richard Burton as Becket, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II.
tomb turned into a typical English custom; it was used as framework by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) for his masterpiece “The Canterbury Tales”. The establishment of the Oxford University is also connected to this unhappy event: the Pope did not longer accept the English students at the Sorbonne University, in Paris, while, Henry II banned the students’ attendance at the University; consequently, a separate English seat of learning was set up at Oxford. The next Angevin king was Henry’s son, Richard, called the Lion-Harted (1189-1199). A brave, good soldier, Richard was famous especially for his participation in the Crusade to recover Jerusalem from the Muslims, and for his struggle against Philip Augustus, in order to maintain his holdings in France. It is interesting to note that he has always been considered one of the most popular kings of England, in spite of the fact that out of the ten years of reign, he spent only six months in the country. But, maybe, his popularity is due to his image of perfect feudal king, a skilled warrior, fighting with courage and honour. As he needed money for his wars, his reign was also notable for some important innovations in taxation (scutage, tax on plow lands, etc.). Richard died in France, after he had lost some French lands, and leaving as successor his brother John, to reign over a land weakened by too many demands. King John (1199-1216) was an unpopular king, and a real failure in all his undertakings, his reign ending in disaster. He lost his wars in France and with them the French possessions, including Normandy (1204). By 1206, only the Channel Island was left of the inheritance from the Norman kings. Besides, he was considered a greedy person, a trait of character which determined deep dissatisfaction with his barons. The heavy taxations, which the king had imposed on them, were mainly required because he needed funds to support new wars, by which he hoped to recapture Normandy. When in 1215, king John called his lords to fight for him, many joined to protest against his abuse and disregard of law and customs. Thus, at Runnymede, a few miles up the river Thames, the king was forced to
sign an agreement known as “Magna Carta” (the Great Charter), an important document, a real symbol of political freedom. This document is, nowadays, considered a sort of forerunner of the “Declaration of Independence” and of the “Rights of Man and of the citizen”, as it provided protection for all the freemen against the abuse of the king’s officers, and their right to a fair and legal trial. The text spoke about the rights of Englishmen at large, their right to justice, to security of person and property, to good government. A memorable article of the Charter includes the followings: “No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way brought to ruin: we will not go against any man nor send against him, save by legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”. Another article says: “To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice”. Note that these words were committed to paper in the year 1215. “By this document the barons tried to ensure that the king was beneath rather than above the law” [53, p. 35]. The document continued to remain valid during John’s successors, and for the next three hundred years every king had to recognize and to comply with Magna Carta, till the end of the Middle Ages, when a new type of monarchy came into being. Thus, the document became a part of the permanent law of the land, a foundation charter of liberties and rights, available to an ever-larger part of the people. It lies at the base of the British judicial system. Magna Carta is important because it meant the beginning of the collapse of the feudal system in England. As David McDowall says [25; p. 28]. “The feudal society was based on links between lord and vassal, while, in this case, the nobles were not acting as vassals but as a class; they even established a committee of lords to make sure that John would keep his promises, an attitude which was not “feudal” at all”. The document put an end to the despotism of the Anglo-Norman kings, introduced the new principle of co-operation, as well as new relations between the king and nobility, with a far-reaching perspective for other layers of society. Therefor, the early stage of the Middle Ages was characterized by a system of royal government mainly connected with continental affairs and the possession outside the island, while the affairs of the people of England were guided from above. With the lost of possessions in Normandy and France, the king and nobility turned their interest to England and the developments within the country; Magna Carta was a
document emerging from the feudal lords’ desire to stop the king’s power in England and the possibility of his going beyond his rights. Thus, it proved the barons’ growing interest for what was going on in England, and the strengthening of their position and possessions there.
2.7.3 Life in Norman England
In the years that followed the Conquest, there was much fear and hatred between Saxons and Normans. It is said that “if a dead body was found, the Saxon had to prove that it was not of a murdered Norman’s, because eitherwise the nearest village would have been burnt” [25, p. 37]. The period is well depicted in Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe”. It took a long time to the conquerors to consider themselves “English”, and that happened only after king John had lost the French territories, including Normandy. Besides, there was a clear-cut social distinction between the Normans and Saxons, the former representing the oppressive nobility, while the latter, the repressed peasantry. That was perfectly mirrored by the legendary figure of Robin Hood and his merry men. According to the story, Robin lived in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham as an outlaw, stealing from the rich, to give to the poor, and protecting the latter against the powerful ones; his weapon was the longbow, specific to the common man. The legend was very popular over the centuries, and Robin Hood was much loved by the common people. Anyway, in many respects, the living conditions in the early Middle Ages knew some improvements in comparison with the prior period. As regards dwellings, and, here, we have in view the way in which the aristocracy used to live, the improvements were considerable, as the century after the Norman Conquest meant a real outburst of building activity, especially of castles and baronial halls. They were large, with many rooms, and built of stone; there was more privacy provided, in comparison with the Anglo-Saxon houses, as there were some smaller rooms for use as bedchambers, besides the large hall for use by the whole family during the day. As these castles were mainly built in the interest of defence, there was not too much home conform considered, and with unglazed windows, they should have been draughty and cold enough.
Later on, with the nobility building manor houses, more consideration started to be given to comfort. But, as there were no glazed windows, wooden shutters were used to close the windows, a fact which made the houses very dark, especially in cold weather. As regards the houses of the common people, they were smaller and generally built of wood and with thatched roofs; there was some stone building, but rather limited; anyway, at least a stone wall between the houses (“party-wall”) was a requirement, against the danger of fire. These houses had no more than two rooms, being cold and rather unhealthy. Furniture was better and more diversified; besides tables and chairs there were richly ornamented beds, as well as other objects like chests and coffers, also finely decorated. Of course, there were tapestries and fabric wall hangings, and rugs on the floor. These objects could be found only in the rich houses. Food did not differ too much in variety, cooking and consumption being much the same in comparison with the Anglo-Saxon period. It consisted of meat, as an important part of the diet, including beef, poultry, sometimes game, and much fish; it was seldom eaten fresh, because it was difficult to preserve it in good conditions, and, in most cases, it was salted or smoked. The people ate the common vegetables, and the strongflavoured ones (onion, garlic, leek, etc.) seemed to have been preferred. Perhaps, the wealthy ones could afford some spices which were imported from the Orient. Fruits eaten were the home-grown ones, but some varieties, such as quince or mulberry, less common nowadays, were included on the list. Dairy produce was important as part of the diet, cheese and butter made on the farm supplementing milk. Bread did not exist in the form which we know it today; at that time, it was made from rye, with no yeats added, and, in many cases, it was used as a plate for the rest of the food, being eaten in the end. Bread was less home made, a fact which is known from the abundant references to professional bakers, maybe, because of the lack of ovens in the small houses. As regards drinks, ale was mostly drunk, but also cider and perry. Although there was some wine imported from France, it was less drunk, even in the wealthy families. Cooking represented, in general, a difficulty because of the oven which was necessary. For the rich ones there was no problem, because they
were endowed with all the required facilities for cooking. On the other hand, for the common people living in towns there was one more possibility: the “the take away” cookshops and ale shops, most of them in London, providing 24 hours service to their clients. Their way of dressing differed with the social classes; for the lower ones the changes were limited throughout the years, the people continuing to wear the same simple tunic. But, with a gradual increase of property some categories of people could afford luxury in their clothes: robes of Flander cloth or furs from Scandinavia. As regards the nobles, their clothes were more complicated and we can try to imagine them: a long sleeveless tunic of linen or wool, worn over a sleeved linen under-tunic; on their top they wore a cloak, fastened at the shoulder by a knot decorated with a ring brooch; the ladies wore a longsleeved under-tunic, with a full-length tunic over it, wide-flowing from the hip. The cloak was semi-circular and tied at the front by a cord. They also wore a jewelled belt encircling their body twice. Their hair was long, and the head was covered with a veil, held by a metal circle. The men were, generally, clean-shaven and their hair was short. As the period was one of permanent wars, there were important improvements in weapons and armour which had to give an over-all protection to the warriors. In battle, the knight wore a conical iron helmet, a long leather or metal coat of mail, and his metal shield was shaped like a kite, being devised for horseback fighting. The infantrymen wore a similar but simpler armours, while the bowmen needed no armour, wearing only a thick cloth tunic fastened with a belt. In time, the knights’ armour, especially if they were wealthy enough, took a more glamorous appearance, and that became obvious on the occasion of tournaments; the banners, other devices, and the silk coats worn over the armour introduced the first team colours. Tournaments were important activities in the Middle Ages, characterizing, in a way, the respective period. In the beginning, tournaments were some free fights without fixed rules, arising, probably, from the nobles’ boredom in time of peace, but, having also the value of keeping them well trained for the circumstances of a war. But, in time, more training-grounds were laid out, and rules were laid down, the joust becoming a source of revenue for the knights. They were allowed to
participate in the tournament only after having sworn a vow that the life of the opponent would be spared in case of victory; it was clear that the object of the tournament was not the death of any knight, although accidents would happen. Finally, tournaments were considered legal activities (1154, Richard I) but, only when the king licensed them; a fee had to be paid for the participation, and the number of jousting grounds was limited to five. It is clear that the tournaments had been turned into an affair, but they were, not less, an important and colourful event in the life of the society.
2.7.4 England’s Later Development. “The Community of the Realm”. The Emergence of New Institutions. The New Industry and Economic Growth, Cultural Life and Territorial Expansion
The decline of feudalism and the establishment of new institution came as a direct outcome of Magna Carta. The setting up of Parliament. After king John’s death, who had rather unwillingly signed Magna Carta, his successor, Henry III (1216-1272) continued to be tied to by the document as long as he was too young to rule for himself∗. Later on, surrounded by foreign advisers, involved in expensive wars outside England, and imposing heavy taxation, Henry III upset everybody and, once again, the nobles took a decided action against the king. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort they elected a “council of nobles” called Parliament∗∗ which took control of the treasury and obliged Henry to act according to their desire (1265). Although the king finally succeeded to defeat and kill Montfort (1295), the Parliament had been set up and Henry had to consider it as a body able to make written laws and political decisions. However, at that time, it consisted of only nobles; it was during Edward I’ s (Henry’s son’s reign 1272-1307) that a real Parliament came into being, with the setting up of what was to become the House of Commons (1275). It was
He became king at the age of nine, and for the next sixteen years, he was under the control of the powerful nobles. ∗∗ Parliament, from the French word “parlement” meaning a ”discussion meeting”.
created because of the need for money and taxation requirements which was both a permanent demand and a problem caused by the continuous wars within and outside the realm. As by 1272, the royal income got from the land represented less than 40% of the necessity, the rest of the money could not come, but from taxation; according to the rules of feudalism taxes could be raised only with the consent of the donors. Therefore, Edward I created the institution able to provide him the money needed, by fostering “the concept of the community of the realm”. He developed the practice of calling to Parliament the representative knights and other wealthy freemen of the shires, the burgesses as well as merchants from the towns (two representatives for each shire/town) to give consent to taxation and to enhance communication between the king and his subjects. Representatives of the lower clergy were also summoned∗. In this way, these “commoners” became the representatives of their local community. It seem that “this, rather than Magna Carta, was the beginning of the idea that there should be ”no taxation without representation”, later claimed by the American colonists of the 18th century” [25; p. 31]. Law and justice; common Law. After the Norman Conquest justice had ceased to be a family matter, and the nobles were those who had to administer it among the people on their lands, very often mixing the old Saxon laws with the Norman ones. With Henry I the situation changed; he wanted that a similar kind of justice be used everywhere in his realm, and, consequently, appointed his judges, whose duty was to travel from place to place, and administer justice∗∗. Thus, the king’s decision meant and it really was the administration of justice take over from the nobles, and its transfer to the king’s supervision. Who were these new judges? Many of them were nobles or bishops with no special knowledge or training in the legal matters, but trusted to use common sense, and, in many cases, directly, following the king’s orders.
There is much debate among the historians about Edward’s Parliament. Besides the interpretation of Parliament development as a practical solution for the financial and political problems, there are points of view considering either the dispensation of justice as central element, or the complex character of a growing institution as being of an increasing importance; there are some historians who “see Edward as responding to the dictates of Roman “law” [53; p. 37]. ∗∗ These ”circuit judges“ still exist today.
It is clear that, under these circumstances, the quality of judgement depended on the king’s choice. Anyway, in time, the persons acting as judges became men with real knowledge and experience of the juridical matters. As the law which these travelling judges administered was similar everywhere they went, it became known under the name of “common law”∗. The system, a mixture of experience and custom, continues to exist even today representing the basis of law in England; in this way, England was and continues to be unlike the rest of Europe∗∗ in legal matters, the English lawyers creating an entirely different juridical system based on custom, comparisons, previous cases and decisions. By the 13th century the old Anglo-Saxon trial by ordeal had been replaces with the trial by jury, which was meant to provide evidence in defense of the accused. In the beginning, it was not the type of jury known today; slowly, over centuries, the obligation of the jury changed; from giving evidence, it became a body entitled to judge the evidence provided by others. As the members of the jury were common people with no special training using in their decisions common sense, the necessity appeared for some guidance in the legal matters. The result was the emergence of law schools, which produced the lawyers necessary for advising the jury on the law-hidden points. In the 13th century, law development represented a permanent concern and a treatise “On the Laws and Customs of England” was issued, followed by the “First Statute of Westminster” (1275). In the next years other statutes were issued as a kind of supplement to “Common Law”. The growth of Government. The government grew gradually, out of necessity, at the same time with the ever more complex requirements of the realm administration. Important changes took place in the period between William’s the Conqueror simple government and the situation existing at the end of the 13th century. William and the kings who followed him ruled the kingdom “from the saddle”; they were permanently on the move, travelling from one place to another in order to be sure that their authority was accepted, and to
England’s common law system was used, centuries later, in the North American colonies, and other British colonial possessions as well; in many cases, the system was accepted and continued to be used even when these colonies became nations in their own rights. ∗∗ In other parts of Europe legal practice was developed being based on the Civil Law of the Roman Empire, and the Canon Law of the Church.
raise the necessary money; there was no capital in the sense in which we understand it today. Crowned at Westminster, with their treasury kept at Winchester, the kings and the large number of followers accompanying them, stopped, for a while, to stay in a town or a castle, while the population had the obligation to feed them. Thus, the king’s “household” was “the government”, but that was possible as long as the kingdom was a small one. When the kingdom became too large to be visited in this way, persons from the royal household were sent to different places to act as sheriffs. Later, more people were necessary for administering taxation, justice, or for carrying out the king’s orders. Thus, the “administration”, or a sort of government began to take shape; at the end of the 13th century its place was established at Westminster; today, we can still find it there. All the records were kept at Westminster (Doomsday Book, for instance), from where the towns and ports were checked for making sure the payment of taxes, and from where the country’s economy was carefully watched. Thus, with the state development the administration grew as well, and, with it, the number of clerks involved in the “business management”. Church and state. Religious life. The relation between Church and state could be characterized as a long struggle which began in 1066, when William refused to accept the pope’s claim of being considered the king’s feudal lord; in time, both Church and the kings wanted to DURHAM CASTLE increase their authority and, AND CATHEDRAL consequently, all kinds of troubles arose. (e.g.: the quarrel between William Rufus and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, or Henry II and Thomas Becket). Anyway, there were periods when Church benefited from the close connections with the Continent; thus, in the end of the 11th century, and the first part of the 12th century new continental orders were founded: Cluniac Cistercians and Augustinian houses. That meant the construction of imposing buildings such as Durham Cathedral and the Tower of London, or the production of writings such as Winchester Bible and Psalter, which bear the witness of the artistic craftsmanship of the age.
The ecclesiastical architecture continued to flourish over the 12th-13th century, showing a strong French influence (the New Westminster Abbey is a remarkable example). In contrast with Church as a politically powerful organization stood the church at the local village level. In the beginning, the priests were from among the peasant community people, who could hardly read or write; the local church belonged to the local lord, being under his authority. The Church was eager to put an end to this situation, but with more or less success. There were also local monasteries or nunneries which had highly grown in number between the 11th and 13th century∗. The fact could be explained by the increasing economic difficulties of the age, which determined people to prefer the food and shelter of a religious house to the poor life of a farmer house. Something new was represented by “the brotherhood of friars”, or wandering preachers; living in conditions similar to those of the poor, their aim was to bring the comfort of Christianity in the soul of ordinary people. It is obvious that these categories of numerous religious people were representative for the social classes of the respective age, as Chaucer introduced the monk, the nun, the priest, the prior, the parson, the friar, the pardon-seller, among his characters in “The Canterbury Tales”, all of them masterly depicted in the Prologue. A lot of things, sometimes humorously presented, can be learned about these categories from Chaucer’s work; here is an example, the lines introducing the village priest: “And there was a god man, a religious. He was the needy priest of a village. But rich enough in saintly thought and work, And educated too, for he could read; Would truly preach the word of Jesus Christ, Devoutly teach the folk of his parish. Kind was he, wonderfully diligent; And in adversity most patient, As many a time had been put to the test.”
There are records indicating fifty religious houses in 1066 with about 1,000 members, while, at the end of the 13th century, their number had increased to 900, with about 17,500 monks and nuns.
Economic growth. The people. The countryside and the town development. Economically, the period of the early Middle Ages was essentially agrarian. In this respect, the Doomsday Book is an unvaluable source of information. It is known that England’s population was between 1.5 and 2 million inhabitants, most of the land used for farming today, being already ploughed at that time (80 p.c.). Life in the countryside was hard, and the people had to work day in day out, everyday of the year, till they were too old to work. Their houses were simple, with the walls made of wooden beams and sticks filled with mud, and with the roofs made of thatch combined with reeds and corn stalks; their food consisted mainly of vegetables and cereals, while pork was only for special occasions. The land belonged to the lord, the main unit was the manor, and the unfree peasants who worked the land held it in return for performing labour service. In other words, the “manorial system” meant the exchange of land for labour; generally, the peasants were obliged to work for a fixed number of days on the lord’s land, the “home farm”, while the rest of the time was used to work on the small strips of land which represented “common land” of the village, and which provided them the necessary food. Sometimes the landlords let out some of, or all their land for a rent which could be either in crops or money instead of labour∗. Towards the end of the 12th century, the situation began to change, with a shift to “high farming”. That meant the replacement of the “manorial system” with a direct management of the estates, the landlords taking manors into their own hands and obtaining profits from direct sales of produce. At the same time, a new class appeared: estate managers or stewards.
The word „farm” comes from that period: the arrangement/agreement made between the landlord and the villages for letting the latter some land was called “firma”.
In the next century, high farming meant prosperity for great landlords, but the average size of small peasant holdings seemed to have fallen; there were both gainers and loosers in this evolutionary process. As regards the recruitment of labour, that was achieved “by using contracts where service was provided either for life or for a short term in exchange for fees, robes or wages. Thus, the ties between the landlords and their tenants slackened, as the relationship became increasingly a legal, rather than a personal one” [53, p. 38]. Meanwhile, the population had grown to over four million, and more food was required; more land was necessary to provide it, and the peasants tried hard to get it from draining marshland, or clearing some areas. Anyway, in the 12th-13th century there was not enough land and food for the growing number of people, and poverty, hunger, starvation and death became something quite frequent. The need made people give up farming and get involved in different trades, becoming smiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, etc. A sharp rise in food prices was another consequence of the food shortage, and the inflation was another cause that weakened the feudal ties. Although, generally, the landlords got more money from their land due to the new system (paying farm labourers and receiving money rents) many of them, especially those possessing small estates, became indebted, and, finally, lost their land. Some of them went to towns, which offered them the hope for a better future. Thus, although England continued to be mainly an agricultural society, some other activities began to develop, as trade and small manufacturing industries, while towns, notably London, started to flourish. A lot is known about England’s trade with the continent at that period, a strict record of the customs dues was kept because of the king who asked it, as he obtained an important income from trade activities overseas. Trade was carried out especially with France, where exchanges were of wine for cloth and cereal, and with the Low Countries, where the trade basis was raw wool. Anyway, wool export could be considered England’s most profitable business at that time, as its quality was not be matched anywhere, and high prices, much higher than the production cost, were charged and brought profits. As a symbol of wool being a source of England’s wealth, a wool sack has been kept in the House of
Lords (Parliament) for the chancellor to sit on it, over since that time. Besides being exported, wool was also used in the domestic industry, which had started to develop, especially under the direct influence of the Flemish weavers who had been encouraged to settle in England, and who had established new towns such as Newcastle, Hull, Boston, Lynne. Gradually, trade and industry made the towns flourish; they were given charters of freedom, and their inhabitants were freed from feudal duties to local lords; the people could have their own courts and they were able to develop their own social and economic organizations. The future middle class came into existence, as a result of the first signs of a capitalist economy. These organizations, which controlled the economy of the 13th century, were the “guilds”∗, different merchants or skilled workers brotherhoods, and which announced, in a way, the modern trade unions. Entry into a guild was not easy, sometimes it was open only to the sons of its members, or, in other cases, important fees had to be paid for training in a special field. Later on, “craft” guilds were set up, as those of the weavers in London or Oxford. The purpose of the guilds was to keep a high standard of the respective craft or trade, and to protect the interests of their members as well as their right to produce, to buy or to sell the products without paying other taxes; at the same time, the members of the guild had to keep the agreed prices, and to see to the high quality of the goods produced. In London the so called “livery companies” were developed; they controlled most of the city business, and, over the centuries, they turned into large financial institutions playing an important role in the administration of the City of London, and in the choice of the Lord Major. The medieval man’s growth in mind and spirit. The cosmopolitan movement known under the name of the “12th century Renaissance”∗ included England as well, being manifest towards the end of the century, and connected with the name of Henry II. Its most important accomplishment was in the field of education. Schools attached to monasteries existed in England from an early date, but their main purpose had been to train the children for priesthood. With the new movement, schools started to be established in many towns and cities, some of them still attached to a cathedral, but many others, the so called
From the Saxon word „gildan”, meaning “to pay”; the members had to pay towards the cost of the brotherhood.
“grammar” schools, were independent of the Church. It is also during this period that two important centres of higher learning were established in England: Oxford∗∗ (1167) and later on Cambridge (1209). Scholars were highly esteemed and were invited to frequent the court, their ideas being applied to the act of government. “Dialogue of the Exchequer” and the law book attributed to Ranulf de Glanville, show modern ideas, used by the king in the administration of his realm. Other two important intellectual figures were Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon, one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages, the one who, firstly, suggested experimental science. In schools, the language of the time was Latin, used by the educated people of almost all Europe for communicating, and expressing their ideas and learning in writing. It goes without saying that the number of people attending universities, and schools in general, was limited. Most of the people had no knowledge of either Latin or even French, which was the language of law and Norma rules. A long time had to pass until English became the language of the entire people. As regards literature, it was mainly limited to religious writings, poems, and didactic works with an obvious moralizing character. (“Poema morale”, “Handling Synne”, “The Prick of Conscience” and others). There was also some chivalry poetry, consisting of poems written and interpreted by minstrels at the nobles’ courts, according to the French model. In the beginning, they were in French. Most of the poems told about the knights’ heroic deeds, and their love for beautiful ladies whom they faithfully served.
It is a cultural movement, which started in Italy, its influence moving northwards along the trade routes; it meant a revolution in ideas and learning, its main characteristic being the desire to test religious faith to reason. ∗∗ It is considered the oldest English-speaking University in the world. At the end of the 11th century, teaching already existed there in some form, but it knew a rapid development after 1167, when the English students were banned from attending the University of Paris.
In the field of architecture, important progress took place: in ecclesiastical architecture new methods of vaulting offered the architects greater freedom in building (the construction of the choir at Canterbury), but its flourishing was obviously under the strong French influence. (The New Westminster Abbey, built under Henry III’ s patronage). Anyway, the period knew an outburst of building activity, nowhere equalled in Europe. Some of these buildings are really outstanding, as Durham Cathedral, which surpassed by its scale, impressiveness and unique character any achievement of the time. The first prevailing style in England was the English Romanesque, or the Norman one, followed, towards the end of the 12th century, by the Gothic style. The most typical example of this style is Salisbury Cathedral, which has remained, even today, almost exactly as it was planned. As regards the military architecture, obvious in the building of fortresses and castles, it showed to be self-confident, innovative and assertive. The first square tower-keep, characteristic to Norman architecture (Tower of London, the fortress at Dover, Bamborough, Newcastle-on-Tyne, etc.) evolved, later on, to the round or cylindrical tower keep, this shape being less vulnerable to attacks. By 1200 about 350 stone castles had been built in England and Wales; two of the finest castles in Europe are Conway and Caernarvon (the end of the 12th century), combining all that could be considered most efficient in the military architecture of the Middle Ages. Towards the end of the14th century, the military importance of the castles declined, with the change of the military tactics in battle. It was also the period when the wealth of the country was transferred to the commercial middle-classes living in towns; there was a period of growing internal peace. Even in the case of some castles still being built, there was a change in attitude, and an increasing concern with their comfort became obvious. Thus, Bodiam, Sussex (late, 14th century) combined defence with the time standard of domestic comfort. England insular policy; and its relations with the neighbouring regions. Territorial expansion. The Middle Ages was, pre-eminently, an age characterized by “war as a mode of life”; in the beginning, all social classes were involved in these endless wars. Gradually, wars started to determine economic and political changes within the feudal hierarchy, with the replacement, for example, of the feudal obligation of actual military service, by the levying of taxes; hence, the king’s
dependence on Parliament. Besides, military constructions changed because of new war techniques, and, finally, the buildings turned from fortified castles into more or less comfortable palaces; later, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the fortified manor-houses were enough for defence, in a society which had become more peaceful and stable. On the other hand, the wars changed their objectives and character; with the exception of “the Hundred Years War” with France (1337-1453), they ceased to be “Continental wars”, (i.e.: participation of the Plantagenet kings in the various feudal expansion/defence wars on the continent, or in the Crusades, religious wars against the heathen occupation of the Holy City and Tomb of Jerusalem) tending to become more “insular”. The situation was determined by the Norman barons having possessions in England’s neighbouring regions, in feudal tenure; being powerful, they had the possibility to influence the local parliaments, representing a permanent threat to the crown’s stability. Thus, the English kings’ attention started to be directed towards these small neighbouring kingdoms, with the obvious intention to subdue them, and to limit, in this way, the power of the Anglo-Norman lords. A fact which happened. Anyway, the history of these kingdoms situated in Wales, Ireland or Scotland was different – up to a certain point – from that of England, although most attention was usually paid to the latter as being the largest, geographically better suited to human settlement, and more influential. But what happened outside England, the culture and civilization which developed outside it, is equally important, because the people living there “still feel different from the Anglo-Saxon English” and their “experience helps to explain the feeling they have today” [25; p. 18]. England and Wales. Until the Norman Conquest, Wales had been a territory inhabited by the Celts∗ driven into the peninsula by the AngloSaxon invasion. Living in a mountainous rocky area, life was hard and
The Celts in this region were called by the Anglo-Saxons “Welsh” (foreigners), while they called themselves „cymry” (fellow men).
dangerous, society was based on family grouping, settled in one or more villages placed along the crowded valleys. In the beginning, tribal chiefs led them, but, in time, some of them conquered the others and became a sort of kings∗. They were itinerant king, traveling from one place to another around their kingdoms, being accompanied by their followers and soldiers. Life was not only hard but also treacherous and bloody. The first and only king who succeeded to rule over all Wales was Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, (c. 1039) but not for long, because he was killed by a cymry while fighting against the Saxons. When William I conquered England, he allowed his lords to fight against the Welsh kings and win land in Wales. In this way, the Normans extended their control over the new territories in the region. In time, until the 13th century, the Normans built castles, mixed with the inhabitants, and became a new category of rulers, a mixture of French and Welsh, speaking both languages, but not English. They remained Celtic and free. A certain national revival, in the end of the 13th century, created the principality of the north under Llewellyn the Great, prince of Gwynedd. He was determined to become independent of the Norman English. At that moment, England had already lost its territories in France (it still held Gascony) and its attention was fully concentrated on the island, over whose whole territory its rulers were decided to have a firm and unchallenged hold. In his turn, Edward I, like Llewellyn, was equally determined but, his determination was to bring Wales under his control: in 1282, he managed to conquer Wales, after capturing and killing Llewellyn. In 1284, west Wales was united with England and organized by royal decree (the Statute of Rhuddlan) in a way similar to that existing in the English counties. An ambitious program of building strong castles was put into practice. Although there was some unrest and warfare for a time, by the end of the century the region could effectively be considered a part belonging to England, while its people had become ever more anglicized. Thus,
History mentions six kingdoms at that time: Anglesey, Gwynedd, Powys, Cardigion, Dyfed and Glamorgan.
Wales∗ was quite easily subdued; in order to show it, Edward decided to make his infant son (Edward II) Prince of Wales. Since that time up to now, the tradition has been preserved, and the eldest son of the ruling monarch and heir to the throne, has been given the title of Prince of Wales. England and Ireland. Ireland was not faced with Roman or AngloSaxon invasions, developing a Celtic culture which flourished till late, in the 9th century. The Irish continued to have, for a longer time, a tribal society, the people living in family grouping, and the king being elected from the strongest representatives of the group. There were five kingdoms known in Ireland∗∗, often at war in an attempt to take control one over the other. The Irish became Christians in 430 A.D., when a slave called Patrick brought them the message of the new religion; he was to become their “patron saint”. For a couple of centuries culture flourished in Ireland, many Christian monasteries grew up as centres of learning, famous for their schools and writings. (Numerous Christian scholars got their refuge in Ireland, after the Anglo-Saxon invasion). This period is often called Ireland’s “golden age”, but, unfortunately, it came to an end because of the savage Viking raids which destroyed the monastic centres of culture out of which nothing was left, but the stone memorials. However, the positive results of the Viking presence consisted in a certain refreshment of the Irish economic and political life; Viking trade determined the development of the first towns and ports, Dublin being one of them. Besides, the Irish thought, for the first time in their history, to unite against the invaders. The name of a king who succeeded to rule successfully for a short period of time, Brian Born (1002-1014), is recorded by history. A century later, the Norman lords conquered Ireland with not much difficulty (1169). Once again, as it happened in Wales, the king (Henry II) was concerned with the growth of his lords’ power, and forced both
In fact, Wales consisted of two different areas: the northern part which was conquered by Edward and became a royal Principality, being entirely in the power of the English king, and the Welsh Marches, a baronial fief and whose states remained untouched for a longer period of time. It was Henry VIII who signed, in 1536, the Act of Union of Wales to England. ∗∗ The five kingdoms were: Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connaught, Tara.
them and the Irish chiefs to accept his authority. In fact, only the eastern part of Ireland was governed by the Norman lords, while the western part remained under the Irish chiefs. Anyway, both of them tried to avoid English authority. During Edward I’s reign, only Dublin, made capital of the new colony, and an area around it, known as “the Pale” was under the king’s control. The Irish chiefs continued their old way of life, while the Normans built castles, trying to keep their independence from the English crown. England and Scotland. As regards Scotland, it represents one more example of how geography influenced the life of the people settled there, shaping their history and culture. Thus, the northern mountainous areas and the neighbouring islands with their severe climate and unfriendly relief, made people stay tied to their own family group and preserve a tribal society for a longer period of time. The east southern region, where the relief is gentler and offers better conditions for farming, land was held and worked individually, a non-tribal social system being developed. Scotland was populated by three different Celtic groups: the Picts∗ living in the north and northeast, the Scots, coming from Ireland, and settling in the western Highlands (4th century), the Britons∗∗, inhabiting the Lowlands; the Angles from Northumbria lived also there, pushed into the Scottish Lowlands. There was a marked difference between the first three groups and the Angles. While the former shared the same Celtic type of culture, language and background (they had a strong idea of common landholding, and they preserved the “clan” organization till late, in the 18th century), the latter developed much similar to the English, individually working their land and growing crops, with an increased feeling of being different from the Highlanders. The people living in Scotland became Christian in the 6th century thanks to the activity of a missionary monk called Columba, known as the “Dove of the Church”.
The Picts were the first inhabitants of the region, different from the other Celts not only as regards the language, but also the way in which they inherited their rights, name and property, namely from their mothers. ∗∗ They were part of the Romano-British world. The name of their kingdom was Strathclyde, and this name was used in the country reorganization, in 1974 [25; p. 20].
The Viking raids influenced the political life of the Celts living especially in the northeastern region and northern islands, and made the Picts and Scots unite against the common enemy. Later on, the English became their stronger enemy and the Scots had sometimes to accept, even reluctantly, an English king as their “overlord”. In comparison with Wales or Ireland, Scotland was not a kingdom to be defeated by the Norman lords, and only a large army could do it. That happened in 1290, when Edward I, taking the chance of a crisis over the succession to the Scottish throne, invaded Scotland and put one of the possible thirteen heirs, John de Balliol, on it, obliging him to pay homage to the English king. What followed in the years to come was much demand, in money and troops, from the English, Scottish nobles’ rebellions, popular resistance movements, and further English invasions∗. A name deserving special mention is that of Wallace, a Norman Scottish knight, who succeeded to gather the people of Scotland around him, becoming its leader. Finally, he was captured and killed (1297) but his struggle against the English meant the birth of the Scottish nationalism, which lasted over the centuries. Wallance’s fight was continued by Robert Bruce, who defeated his country’s enemies and became the king of Scotland. He gained a decisive victory against the English (1314) at Bannockburn, near Stirling, a place ever remembered and praised by the Scots. Determined and proud, the Scots expressed their point of view in a letter written by the Scots’ clergy to the Pope (1320) “ … as long as even one hundred of us (the Scots) remain alive, we will never consent to subject ourselves to the dominion of the English”.
On the occasion of such an invasion the sacred Stone of Destiny was stolen from the Scone Abbey. The legend said that the Scottish king had to sit on it at coronation; by stealing it Edward hoped to make the Scottish king be considered illegal, and he, its possessor, the lawful king of the Scots. A couple of years ago, after centuries of its holding by the English, the stone was sent back to Scotland in sign of respect for the Scottish history; the event was highly celebrated.
2.7.5 The Late Middle Ages; Destructive Events; a Painful Changing Process
The period which covered the next two centuries (the 14th and the 15th) was a difficult one, with many disasters caused by plague, revolts and wars, with the disappearance of some classes, and the establishment of a new society; death and birth, two painful processes! The Plague and its economic consequences. The 14th century meant the eruption of the terrible plague, which caused the death of one third of Europe’s population. Britain was not spared (1348-1349), and whole villages disappeared, while many towns were left almost without inhabitants. After that, “the Black Death” became endemic, killing many people, especially the young and healthy ones. The fall of the population was dramatic. Paradoxically, the consequences were not entirely negative for those remaining alive; the beginning of the century had witnessed an agricultural crisis, determined by the population growth, and the impossibility of the farming land to feed everybody; there were sharp price rises, followed by the landlords cessation of the labourers’ payment, and a return to serf labour. After the Black Death, with the decrease in number of people working the land, the remaining ones asked for ever higher wages; in order to avoid losses the landlords preferred the old, 12th century practice of letting their farms out to energetic freeman farmers, and signed “firma” for a whole life span. Gradually, these small farmers turned into a new class, known under the name of “yeomen”, whose life was much better in comparison with their forefathers. The 14th century meant change not only as regards agriculture, but in the field of trade and industry as well. Thus, the export of raw wool was replaced by finished cloth, which brought high profits to merchants. Skilled Flemish workers were encouraged to come to England and settle there, especially after the collapse of the cloth industry in Flanders. There are records which mention the quantity of exported raw wool and cloth at different moments of the 14th century, and which show a clear-cut difference in favour of cloth exports towards the end of the century.
All the regions were involved in the process, but London grew significantly, as well as some other ports supported by trade overseas. The wars of the age. The late Middle Ages can be considered, in many respects, a bleak age, with misery, permanent domestic turmoil, the ravages of devastating diseases, everything aggravated by the demands of inner and foreign wars. However, the age had inherited from the previous century an important advantage: the people’s different perspective on themselves; they had got national identity, they already thought of themselves as English. The reign of Edward I had opened a new stage in England’s history: that of establishing a determined hold over the British Isles, in fact, the deliberate building of an empire. Undoubtedly, success was not always and everywhere certain, but, on the long run, consequences were constantly favourable to England. Thus, the English had been successful in Wales and Ireland, where, by the end of the 13th century, their territories had been effectively attached to England. However, the English failed when they tried to make the Scottish king a vassal of England. Besides, the newly attached territories constituted permanent sources of rebellion and warfare, and a perfect internal peace was difficult to attain. At the same time, England’s interests abroad could not be neglected, and, from this point of view, France represented an important rival. Anyway, the relations with that country could not have been but tensed, especially after the Treaty of Paris (1259) which had established that the English kings owed homage to the French ones for the possession of Gascony, the only territory left to England after the dramatic losses during king John’s reign. The building of fortified towns by each side did not improve the relations. But, besides the political ambitions, there were equally important economic interests; they referred to the trade with wine, corn, wool or wool cloth, which was worth a lot of money to the English crown. The trade was carried out with Gascony and Flanders, a Burgundy’s province. In 1324, France seized part of Gascony, and, then, tried to impose its authority to the Duke of Burgundy. Any French control over these two areas was a direct threat to England’s wealth, a fact which could not be tolerated.
The rich merchants were easily persuaded to support a war with France, as their own interests were at stake. In 1337, Edward III declared war to France, claiming his right to the French throne∗, a good reason for starting a war. The war, which was to be called the Hundred Year War, ended only in 1453, and its result was the loss of all English possessions in France, except for Calais. As André Maurois says [23; p. 216] the war announced one of “the typical later directions that England, then Britain would follow in its military and political actions; it made manifest the pragmatic force of England’s decisions, influenced by economic, rather than purely military ambitions.” As regards the war, initially, it started inconclusively, with a first naval English victory at Sheys (1340); new important victories followed later, when the English defeated the French at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), and when the French king himself was taken prisoner; a heavy ransom was charged for him. The English victories were possible as they were better prepared and trained, having a long experience through the wars in Wales and Scotland. Another important English military acquisition was the archers’ technique, which they had taken from the Welsh. The use of the longbow was decisive in those battles making the English army imbattable (23; p. 216). However, Edward I was less successful in the next battles, and Rheims did not open the gates to him. In 1360, the treaty of Bretigny was signed, by which Edward I agreed to drop his claim to the French throne in return to the English possessions in France held in full sovereignty (all Acquitane, including Gascony, parts of Normandy and Brittany, and the newly captured port of Calais). The treaty was not willingly accepted by the French, and in the period that followed the war began again, the French recovered, while the English failed to maintain their military superiority, losing much of the French territories.
Through his mother, Isabella of France, Edward was a closer relative to the last king of the Capetian dynasty than Valois Philip VI; he appeared more as a legal heir than a rebellious vassal.
The war continued in the 15th century, after a period of relative peace, with Henry V’ s campaigns in France; it started in 1415. Claiming the French throne once again, Henry invaded France with a small army of only 9,000 men; after the siege of Harfleur, on the route to Calais, the English won an astonishing victory at Agincourt. The English army proved once again that it was better prepared than the French one which was three times its size; at Agincourt it had better weapons and better skilled men. By 1420, when the Treaty of Troyes was signed, Henry V had already conquered Normandy and the nearby areas. He was recognized as the French king’s heir, and married his daughter Katherine of Valois; but, two years later (1422) Henry V died at the siege of Meaux, leaving as his heir an infant son of only nine months old. The army came under the command of John, Duke of Bedford, Henry’s brother, who continued to enlarge the territory under the English control. But, at a given moment, the situation reversed; the English invasion and territorial losses started to create, for the first time, a strong national feeling among the French. Rallying the French resistance, Joan of Arc∗ stepped forth (1422), inspiring the army and lifting the siege of Orleans. The English were defeated in the battles which followed, and with, the death of Bedford in 1435, the English period of glory and success started to fade. By 1453, the English had lost all their overseas conquests, save Calais, while France was to become the most powerful kingdom in Western Europe. The Hundred Years War was over. Wars with Scotland. The Scots as a nation. During the long period of war with France, the situation was not entirely peaceful on the island. England’s relation with Scotland continued to be tense, this time because of its war with France, as England had given up its claim to overlordship the Scottish after the defeat at Bannockburn (1314). However, the permanent threat represented by England had obliged the Scots to look for allies, and nobody could be a better one than England’s main rival, France. Thus, an alliance was concluded between the two countries (Auld Alliance), of which France benefited more. (The treaty stipulated
A peasant girl, claiming to hear heavenly voices, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians, allies of the English, and given to the latter, who, in their turn, gave her to the Church in Rouen; she was burnt as a witch in 1431.
that in case of one of the countries being attacked by England, the other one would attack England, in its turn). Thus, when the war with France outbroke in 1337, England’s dissatisfaction with the French support of David II of the Scots could be included among the political grounds. True to their alliance, the Scots fought alongside the French in war, but they were defeated at Neville’s Cross (1346), where their king, David II, was taken prisoner, being ransomed by the French. The English raided as far as Edinburgh, destroying and looting, but after this episode, they gave up their control on the Scots, and peace was established for a while, but not for long, because in the 15th century, Henry IV claimed to overlordship Scotland once again, and in 1482 his army occupied Edinburgh. Meanwhile, the English often raided the Scottish Lowlands, destroying the farms, killing and bringing misfortune to the Scots. The only benefit that Scotland could have had from its alliance with France, consisted, probably, in the Scots finding work as soldiers in France, at a time when their households at home were permanently destroyed by English armies. Thus, Scotland experienced the war’s disasters in a way similar to England. The way in which Scotland developed in the late Middle Ages resembled England in many respects: there were long struggles between the kings and nobles, who were strong enough to keep private armies; there were also powerful “clans”, perfectly fitted with the Celts tribal loyalties specific to the Highlands. However, by the end of the Middle Ages, Scotland had become a nation: they had a parliament which met once a year, and the king would invite the leading citizens for discussing government matters. The towns developed, and they had a growing trade in wool, leather and fish. The Scots were not below the English as regards learning and education; taking the French model they founded universities at Edinburgh (1582), St. Andrews (1412), Glasgow (1451) and Aberdeen (1495). Scotland had obviously become a country, and the Scots a well-defined nation; no overlordship from England could be possible or thought of.
England’s troubles in Wales. After its conquest in the 13th century, Wales had been systematically colonized by the English: people from England were brought to populate the small Welsh towns, land was given to the English people, while the natives were either driven into the hills or, losing their land, were obliged to become soldiers in the English army. Their weapon, the longbow became the “surprise” weapon of the English, and helped them win important battles in France. Thus, as André Maurois says “the Hundred Years War that was fought in France proved the importance of submerging Wales at home”. In the 14th century, the Welsh rebelled, under the leadership of Owain Glyn Dwr, whom the they followed in a general popular support. In time (1399-1417), this rebellion turned into a real national war. In 1400, Glyn Dwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales by his supporters. He managed to conclude different alliances and coalitions, and continued his fight against the English, mostly as a successful guerrilla war; the situation was difficult for the English as, under such circumstances, their control of Wales had become very costly. However, in spite of the Welsh people’s resistance, the English, finally, put an end to their fight, but Glyn Dwr was never captured. He remained an important hero of his people, and his name was connected with a dignified enterprise: for the first time, he created among the Welsh the feeling of national identity. The Wars of the Roses. Only two years had passed since the end of the war with France, and new troubles began to agitate the life of the English society: the struggle between the noblemen’s factions attached to two important aristocratic families, the Lancastrian House and the Yorkist Clan, a struggle which was to last for the next 30 years (1455-1485), and which is known in history under the name of the Wars of the Roses∗. The events represented the first civil war in England, being a typical feudal anarchy war, caused by the conflict between the noblemen’s groups interested to support one or another of the two families entitled to rule England; thus, it can be considered a monarchical civil war. Anyway, the situation had resulted from the crises of kingship – a direct
In the 19th century, Walter Scott named these wars of “the two roses” because York’s badge was a white rose, and Lancaster’s, a red one.
consequence of the weakness of the legitimate kings who ruled England in the 14th century and of the nobles’ increasing power; thus, Edward II was deposed and cruelly murdered by his nobles in 1327, an event which meant the first break of the principle that king could be neither deposed nor killed; the second king to be deposed was Richard II∗, who, mysteriously, died soon after that (1389). As Richard had no direct heirs, the possible successors were either Henry of Lancaster, or the earl of March (grandson of Edward III’s second son), both of them with almost equal rights to claim the throne. Finally, the duke of Lancaster was stronger and he took the crown, more or less by force, becoming the king Henry IV; during the years of his reign, he firmly acted to strengthen his royal authority, and succeeded to peacefully pass the crown to his son, Henry V. However, his taking of the crown represented the seed of the future civil war, half a century later; during the fifty years that passed, the division between the interests of those who supported his family, the “Lancastrians” and those who supported the family of the heir of earl of March, the duke of York, the “Yorkists”, had deepened and aggravated, especially with the loss of the war in France. The nobles had become extremely rich and powerful, some of them continuing to keep their own private armies after their return from France (The duke of Burgundy had 2,000 men in his private army), with which they kept under control whole regions of England. At that time, the king of England was Henry VI, a gentle and book-loving person, adequate for a calm and civilized society but not suited for such a tough and aggressive one; besides, he had temporary periods of mental illness (1450-1461). During the respective periods, the kingdom was ruled by Richard, duke of York, as protector. Thus, there were in the country such circumstances, which could represent the premises of a civil war: a weak and insane king, an opposition coming from the dynastic rival Richard, feudal disputes between powerful lords, with the crown’s failing to control them; besides, the loss of the war with France had made Henry VI’s government suffer serious loss of prestige and authority.
Richard II, proud and unpopular because of the choice of his advisers, quarrelled with the nobles and imprisoned John of Gaunt, the most powerful and wealthy person of the time. John of Gaunt died in prison and his son, Henry duke of Lancaster succeeded to rally the discontented nobles around him, and, rising an army, deposed the king; he was entitled to revenge his father’s death.
The Duke of York claimed the throne based on a better hereditary right than anybody in the Lancaster family. There were some hostilities between the parties in the period 1455-1459, and, finally, the duke was defeated and killed. The Yorkists gathered to support his son, Edward, Earl of March, who, more successful on the battlefield, was crowned king in 1461, but only for nine years. Meanwhile, the former king, Henry VI, had been sent to the Tower of London, but the Lancastrians rescued him, chasing Edward out of the country. Next year, Edward returned with his army, and, as he had got the support of the merchants of London due to his policy of encouraging profitable trade, he succeeded in regaining his throne, which he kept safely, until his death, in 1483. As regards Henry VI, not after a long time, he died in the Tower, where he had been imprisoned once again. Edward had been a pragmatic king whose main concern and RICHARD III achievement was to restore the prestige of monarchy. At Edward’s death his ambitious brother became protector and defender of the kingdom, but, after a short time, (in 1483) he took the crown, becoming the king Richard III. Edward’s two young sons, aged twelve and ten, were imprisoned in the tower, where they died, most probably, murdered by their uncle. The events which took place during the respective period, were, masterly presented in Shakespeare’s historical play “Richard III”. Although readily accepted, maybe, because of the people’s fear of insecurity, Richard III was not a popular king, and both Lancastrians and Yorkists disliked him. In 1485, when the Lancastrians rebelled one again, supporting their sole male claimant to the throne, Henry Tudor, duke of Richmond, the Yorkists deserted Richard and joined their rivals. A battle took place at Bosworth, where Richard III was defeated and killed; Henry was crowned king just on the battlefield. For more than one hundred years the Tudor family were to rule England, a new dynastic line being, thus, inaugurated. The Wars of the Roses had come to an end, and with it, the Middle Ages in England. What the Wars of the Roses had achieved, was to destroy the idea of kingship in its old meaning, the only respect being preserved for the power of getting and keeping the crown. The wars also had brought about the physical
destruction of nobility; the truth is that not the entire people was involved in the struggles and battles of this civil war, but only the nobles and their private armies; almost half the lords of the sixty noble families controlling England at the beginning of the period were killed in the wars. The outcome of the disaster was the possibility that a new type of dynasty, an absolute one, be set up, guarding against civil wars and regicides, and able to build a new nation state.
2.7.6 The Economic, Social and Political Life in the Late Middle Ages; the Cultural Progress
The period of the late Middle Ages was dominated by a continuous state of war, within and outside the realm. The permanent need of the country was to finance these wars, which meant money and soldiers. There were moments when the rulers were faced with real crises, as for example Edward III, in 1340-1341; those crises determined the kings’ dependence on Parliament, more exactly on Commons, for the necessary money supply. The heavy taxations imposed to people, added to the general feeling of discontent caused by the changes in economy as well as by political developments, were the causes of a popular rebellion – the Peasants’ Revolt – in 1381; slogans such as “when Adam delved and Eve span / who was then the gentlemen?” spread by popular poor preachers inflamed the people’s mind. The revolt began in Essex and Kent, continued in southeast of England, taking the form of assaults on tax collectors, attacks on landlords, lawyers, manors and religious houses, and causing the destruction of the documents. The attacks continued against London, where the rebels’ fury was directed against the King’s councilors, some of the officials being killed. The king (Richard II) met them and their leader, Wat Tyler, who had to present the rebels’ demands, but during the negotiation Tyler was attacked and slained by the mayor of London. Finally, an end was put to the rebellion. The king took back his promises, the only gain of the events being the abolition of one of the numerous taxes imposed to the people. Anyway, the Peasants’ Revolt was the result of the social tensions determined by the economic adjustments necessary for levelling the imbalances caused by the great
epidemic of the Black Death∗, and whose consequences have already been discussed. Anyway, it is important to remember that “the revolt was the most violent manifestation of a potential for unrest which simmered throughout the realm and throughout the age” [12; p. 84]. In the 15th century the wages for farm workers continued to rise, even faster than the price of goods, with plenty of meat and cereals available in the market, a real golden age for the English labourers. Important economic changes took place during this century; thus, the copy hold tenure∗∗ replaced villain labour, which had largely disappeared. Some of the peasants managed to rise above others belonging to the same class, constituting a new class, “the yeomen”. Meanwhile, the rich landlords gave up the direct management of their estates, a method which had been the characteristic of the previous century, preferring the leasehold system. However, sometimes, it was difficult for them to keep high their income level because of the growing arrears of rent. In many cases, the solution to the problem of labour shortage, high wages and diminishing income, was to convert the good farm land into sheep pasture land. The 15th century was the period when much land enclosure took place, as the powerful sheep farmers started to fence in the land which, previously, had been used to produce food crops. The consequence was that many peasants were obliged to leave their places, the villages being abandoned by their inhabitants. The effects of such a decision were felt in the next century which was faced with a serious social and economic crisis. However, in the 15th century, England remained a predominantly agrarian country, although important changes took place in the town developments. The town population started to grow, especially because of the movement of the former peasants to the new places which could offer them the chance of a new life and even the possibility to become rich through crafts or trade, a fact which often happened, with good examples∗∗∗ in this respect.
The great landlords’ revenues had fallen (although, probably, only by 10 p.c.) while the real wages of the lower strata of society had risen sharply, because of low prices of grain, and high payment of labour. ∗∗ Tenure by copy of the record of the manorial court.. ∗∗∗ A famous name is that of Dick Whittington, a poor boy from the countryside who, coming to London, became a rich merchant, and, for three times, Lord Mayor of London.
In towns, the merchants as well as craftsmen continued to organize in different types of associations in order to protect their interests. The first organizations were the guilds, which, in the beginning, were set up to protect the production or trade of a town, but, later on, started to protect their members; at that moment membership was expensive to buy, as long as it was not a family inheritance. Under such circumstances, the skilled workers who could not afford to become guilds members began to think about different forms of protecting their interests, by setting up some other forms of organization. In time, a new force emerged in the national economy, and guilds started to decline in importance. Thus, in the 14th century, some trading stations, the so called “factories”, had already been established by groups of merchants, the purpose of which was similar to the town guilds: on the one hand, to make sure that the whole export of a certain category of goods was carried out through these factories, and, on the other hand, that the goods prices and quality were maintained. Among those factories, “Company of the Staple”∗ in Calais, and the “Merchant Adventures”∗∗ in different towns became famous in the 14th century. As regards the towns, London continued to grow, dominating the southeastern part of the country, while the development of the woolen industry determined the growth of new towns such as Halifax or Leeds. Suffolk and the Cotswold region became important in the national economy. As regards the social organization, England continued to be based on ranks: the nobles (dukes, earls, other lords) were at the top; but their number had decreased in the 14th and 15th century because a lot of them had died on the battlefields. The next in the rank were the knights who no longer had the image of the armoured fighter, but that of a landlord or “landed gentry” who had succeeded to increase their land possessions.
„Staple”, term internationally used, meaning that certain goods could only be sold in specific places; the arrangement suited both the merchants, as it prevented competition, and the Crown, as it could tax exports more easily. ∗∗ Merchant organizations developed with the cloth trade. The one in Antwerp was the most successful.
There was a significant increase in the number of knights during that period, as a consequence of Edward I’s order that all land owners possessing an income of £20 a year be made knights. Thus, many yeomen or esquires∗ got the title. With the growth of towns new social categories emerged and became more and more important in the English society. They were the freemen∗∗of the town, having its life and development under their control. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the people living in towns started to form what was to become the English middle class. They were educated people, represented, mainly, by merchants, cloth manufacturers, exporters; in the town society, they were as important as the gentlemen living in the countryside, being considered equal to the latter. During that period a new phenomenon took place: many of this category, people living in towns, became possessors of farmland in the countryside, while the landed gentry used to send their younger sons to town to join merchant or craft guilds, as well as the lawyer profession. Thus, these well-off social categories, living both in towns and in the countryside started to form a single class with common interests manifest in the two environments. A similar phenomenon took place in Wales and Scotland. The growth of the middle class, which was an educated one, and, besides, skilled in law, administration, or trade determined the existence of a new atmosphere in England. This class was, directly interested and involved in the way in which the state or Church were organized and developed, mainly for practical purposes. Thus, its members understood that serfdom and the feudal system, in general, was not economically favourable to the growth of society, and did not offer the conditions required to create wealth.
The word „esquire” (esq.) was used for a long time as a common title in written addresses; it is less in use nowadays. ∗∗ In the period of the late Middle Age, the serfs form the countryside who worked for seven years in a town craft guild could become freemen of the respective town.
In the late Middle Ages, they started to have a word to say and that happened with the development of Parliament, most exactly, with the moment when Parliament included the Commons∗, and when new relations became manifest between the middle class and the king (Edward III). In the beginning, Parliament was intermittent and summoned only on special situations, its main purpose being the effective contact between the ruler and the ruled, and between the centre and the different regions of the realm; but, in time, the intermittent character got elements of continuity. Parliament also acquired special functions connected with the financial matters. Thus, Edward III was compelled because of the financial pressure caused by the French wars, to seek taxation by consent, from a body that represented “the political and tax-paying nation”; as taxes were agreed to especially by the Commons, they, surprisingly, asked to see the royal accounts. It was for the first time in history when a king allowed himself to become “accountable”, and the fact represented a major development. The merchants and the landed gentry were always ready to protect their own interests by influencing or accepting the king’s policy, and their attitude became obvious when they supported Edward III in his war, as France had threatened their wool trade with Flanders. The king had been aware of the situation when he asked their acceptance. Another important change which took place in the country in the respective period referred to the legal system; the century witnessed an unprecedented growth in the legal profession which produced progressive thinking and intelligent reflection (The work of John Fortescue, 1394-1476). The common custom of England continued to be the common law, relying on precedent and decisions, but put into practice by highly trained professionals. However, the main change took place in the countryside, where law-making and law-enforcement shifted from sheriffs and coroners to a new institution, “the justices of the peace” [J. Ps] empowered by the royal commission to investigate and deal with different crimes and offences.
The Commons represented the middle class, but only those who had an income of, at least, £40 a year could be qualified as M.P’s. The situation lasted for a long time and the poor citizens had no chance that their demands be heard in the Parliament, until late, in the middle of the 19th century.
They were appointed by the king (Edward III, 1361) and “were qualified to superintend the scene not by training and not for pay, but as a function of their social standing controlled by dependence on and obedience to the king’s central administration”. [12, p. 101]. They belonged to the landed gentry, and were selected especially for their honesty and fairness; the J.Ps position was established by statute, marking a success for the Commoners. The new system represented one more step directed towards the taking of local authority from the nobility, correlated with the strengthening of the middle class position. It is clear that there were periods, especially during the War of the Roses, when the nobles used their private armies to force the J.P’s and judges to act according to their wish; however, the J.P’s remained the only form of local government till late, in the 19th century (1888). They continued to exist even today, but are called to deal with only small offences. Culturally, the country continued to develop in the 14th century, the striking change being the increased use of the English language. Starting with the 13th century, French had been less used even by the rulers, and, towards the end of the Middle Ages, English became predominant. Thus, Henry of Lancaster used English when he claimed the throne in 1399, and Edward III even forbade the use of French in his army, in an attempt to make it aware of its Englishness. As regards the old Anglo-Saxon language, it had continued to be spoken after the conquest, but only by the common people, and it had no longer been used in writing. In the 14th century, the ruling class started, again, to use English in its written form, but that language, “Middle English”, was no longer similar to the old Anglo-Saxon; on the one hand, a lot of borrowings had been taken from Norman French, which had enriched it, and, on the other hand, the fact that it had not been written for three hundred years, had made it lose most of its inflectionary character. Beyond question, the use of English as a written language was indirectly indebted to Wycliffe∗, whose followers translated the Bible into English.
Wycliffe, priest and Oxford scholar, known as a religious reformer. In his two treaties (1374-76), he argued that the exercise of lordship depended on the grace of God, and,
A close connection can be noticed between the use of English and the rise of the new middle class; the members of this class, who considered that it was their right to read the Bible in the English language, supported Wycliffe’s doctrine. The late Middle Ages also meant the rebirth of English literature due to the name of some important poets: William Langland, John Gower, and especially Geoffrey Chaucer. William Langland (1330?-1400?) was probably a country priest and his poem “The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman” presented, in an allegorical form, an interesting description of the times in which he lived, considered from the point of view of the peasants’ feelings and thoughts. On the other hand, John Gower (1330?-1408?), the son of a rich landlord in Kent, who had enjoyed an adequate aristocratic education, wrote his poems for the representatives of the higher classes, adopting a moralizing attitude. Out of his three poems, only the last one “Cofessio Amantis”, (1390-1393) was written in English, while the first “Mirour de l’Omme”, (1376-1379) was written in French, and the second “Vox Clamantis”, (1382-?) in Latin. The most famous of the three poets is, undoubtedly, Geoffrey Chaucer; son of a London vintner, he had different official jobs, participated in an expedition to France (1359) and, for several times, travelled abroad on royal service. His work is “The Canterbury Tales”, written in 1387, before he himself went on pilgrimage to the well-known place. The Canterbury Tales introduce a group of pilgrims travelling from London to the tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, a common place for pilgrimage in
consequently, the sinful men had no right to authority. His ideas were considered anticlerical, and Wycliffe went into a direct conflict with the church hierarchy; in other treaties he attacked the papacy, an attitude which brought him before a church court, (1378) and, later on, a commission of theologians at Oxford (1380) forced him to leave the university. Retired at Lutterworth he continued to write intensively, until his death (1384). Supported by many followers, his doctrine became debased and popularised by preacher priests expanding largely in the country in spite of the government’s attempts to stop it; the doctrine inspired the peasants’ revolt by its subversive ideas.
England, in the Middle Ages. The tales were those told by the pilgrims to while away the journey to Canterbury; many of their themes are not original, being common in Europe of that time, and it seems probable that Chaucer picked them during his travels abroad; anyway, he rewrote them in an interesting and humorous way. A really valuable work is the Prologue, in which Chaucer described his characters, an entirely original text where Chaucer proved his gift as a poet; besides, he showed a deep understanding of human nature, the Prologue remaining incredibly fresh and interesting even GEOFFREY CHAUCER for the modern reader, after six hundred years. At the same time, the Prologue can be considered a unique description of a nation, as representatives of the whole people irrespective of age, sex or social class, old or young, man or woman, priest or merchant, knight or peasant, townsman or countryman, all are present in his lines. The 15th century was, in comparison with the 14th, a period of sterility and no noteworthy name succeeded Chaucer, although poets like John Lydgate produced a large quantity of verses. Even monastic chronicles had come to an end, and the writing of distinguished works of history had declined. The same could be said about philosophy or theology works. However, the end of the Middle Ages recorded a major technical event in the field of culture: the printing press, set up in 1476 at Westminster. It was due to the first English printer William Caxton (1422-1491). Born in Kent, he spent some years in Bruges and Germany, after which he came back to England enjoying the patronage of some kings. The setting up of the printing press was as revolutionary for the age, as radio, TV or Internet are for the modern people. Books increased in number and became cheaper, more people getting access to them. At the same time, printing determined the standardization of grammar, and the educated people of the time started to use the written word as “a weapon to change the world in which they lived”
[25; p. 65]. Caxton avoided printing any literature which could be considered dangerous; between 1477 and 1491 he issued over eighty books, including Chaucer’s work, Sir Thomas Mallory’s collection of French stories about King Arthur (Le Mort d’Arthur) as well as an impressive number of translations from French, made by himself. The 15th century meant an important progress in the field of education. Grammar schools already existed in England, for the education of boys who were not destined to church; till the introduction of printing, teaching was achieved by word of mouth, with the pupils learning their lessons by heart. Most of those schools were “private”, the parents having to pay for the education of their sons. With the rise of the new middle class eager to become literate and encouraged by the cheaper printed books, the foundation of new schools and colleges was something normal and necessary; they were set up by public-spirited citizens (by donation or legacy), guilds or corporations, or by collegiate churches. A well-known institution was founded in this period: Eton College (1440) by Henry VI, who also founded King’s College, Cambridge (1441); other colleges were founded at Oxford and Cambridge as well, by influential persons, as for example William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England (He founded Winchester School, 1382, and New College, Oxford). Law was taught at the so called “Inns of Court” which expanded their membership and improved the teaching methods; they were attended by many gentlemen’s sons, who did not necessarily wanted to become lawyers, but needed the knowledge on the subject in order to better run their estates. The foundation of these schools represented a necessity for the respective time, because the need for educated people, able to administer the government, Church, law, and trade was continuously growing. The college system of the universities, where students could both learn and live, was built up during that period, and it remained the basis of their organization for a long period of time, being quite singular even today.
The late Middle Ages was spectacular as regards architecture and sculpture, which showed great originality; the new style in building became remarkable especially in regions made rich by woolen industry development, and it was mainly obvious, in the case of churches or chapels. England at the end of an age. The historians agree that the year 1485, when Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond took the crown, leaving Richard III dead on the battlefield, represented the moment when England left the Middle Ages, entering a new epoch. It is beyond doubt that the English had emerged from the Middle Ages as a nation, perfectly aware of their identity, and always ready to assert it. Important differences can be noticed between England and its neighbours on the continent: thus, the English were relatively prosperous, and free from the famine danger; as regards the social system, there was a recognized understanding of the existing gradation ranging from the nobility, through the independent yeomen to the Commons, farming their land. The kings of England commanded a range of power and control over all their subjects, and the country could be simply ruled because the specific law of England, the common law, was both its offspring and guide. Besides, there were no provincial powers needed to be overcome by force or diplomacy. These were some of the essential aspects which emphasized the national identity of the realm. However, the English nation-state had not been yet safely built up, and the wars in the ending age had shown that the recently formed identity could be easily jeopardized. The next years and the generations of rulers to come were to continue and strengthen the nation-station construction, and its modernization.
2.8 The Renaissance∗ in England. the Reformation and the Consolidation of the Nation-State; Culture and Civilization in Tudor Period
Henry VII, the supporter of change. When the civil war (The Wars of the Roses) came to an end, and Henry Tudor∗∗ became the king of England (1485-1509), the first thing he had to do was to put the system he had inherited into operation, and direct it on the right way. Although Henry VII is less known than his successors (Henry VIII, Elisabeth I), his reign was, by far, one of the most important for England’s development at the respective time. HENRY VII He was the man who understood his age, shared the ideas and opinions of the new growing class of merchants and gentlemen farmers, basing his power on pragmatic common sense. It was a period of unprecedented economic growth and social change, and Henry VII understood that the time of wars and military glory had passed, and business support was the best thing for the state.
The concept of “Renaissance” is considered highly controversial; its usual meaning is that of “rebirth” of the ancient Greek and Roman culture in Italy, (13th century) and its spreading in Europe, at moments varying from country to country. It was accompanied by significant socio-economic and political changes. Different opinions were expressed in connection with this concept (28; p. 346-348). ∗∗ Henry’s claim to the throne was not based on the quality of Plantagenet blood; his title was won on the battlefield; therefore, the new king consolidated his position, first, by parliamentary acceptance, and second, by royal marriage. He married Elizabeth of York (Edward IV’s daughter) uniting the two roses, and launching England upon one century of peace, by Tudor dynasty and rule (1485-1603).
2.8.1 England’s Economy and Society at the End of the 15th Century and the Beginning of the 16th Century. The Main Institutions in Henry VII’s Time. Government, Financial Policy, Justice and Foreign Affairs
The long period of wars had seriously damaged England’s trading position, especially with France, Germany and Italy; the only open markets, which represented a way for the English trade in Europe, had remained the Low Countries. The opportunity was correctly used by Henry VII, who, soon after his coming to the throne, made a successful trade agreement with these countries, which allowed the English trade to grow again. Immediately, the merchants adapted to the new possibilities, and the export of raw wool was replaces with the export of woolen cloth manufactured at home. Thus, the exports grew at high levels and the demand for wool, as well. That made the landlords increase the number of flocks, converting the meadows into sheep runs; in time, the sheep came to outnumber the human beings 3 to 1. The result was that the common land of the manor was divided up and fenced in, while the peasant farmers was no longer necessary. The medieval system of land tenure and communal farming had become obsolete. The need for labour force declined, as “one shepherd and his dogs” were enough to do the required work. A large surface of land was enclosed, and, according to statistics, up to the end of the 16th century, some 50,000 persons were forced to leave the land, a fact which emerged a large vagrant and unemployed labour force. The society felt no responsibility for these people, and the impact was dramatic; it meant the pauperization of a large part of the society placed at one end of the social scale, while at the other one, profits were soaring. Those who benefited from that revolutionary change in the land usage were the landed country gentlemen, the merchants and lawyers. Thus, at the beginning of the 15th century a new economic and social trend was constituted: “the knight of the shire had changed into a respectable landlord desiring strong, practical government and the rule of law. … they were willing to serve the prince (king Henry VII) in parliament, in council, in commission and other offices of the common wealth” [53, p. 45].
In order to consolidate his position, Henry had to be financially independent, and, from this point of view, he was fortunate; a lot of the old noblemen had been decimated in the endless wars, or their land had been confiscated as defeated opponents; all their estates had gone to the king. Besides, he was ruthless in demanding the money owed to him from different taxes, fees, rents or other sources, as for example the fining of the rebels. By this policy he could have become unpopular, but Henry was, on the one hand, extremely temperate in his own spendings, and, on the other hand, he knew who his supporters were: the merchants and the representatives of lesser gentry classes who - like him – wanted peace and prosperity in the country. He rose new noblemen and statesmen from among them, and he expected them to be loyal to him. Thus, he governed with the help of the Privy Council mainly made up of the devoted so-called “new men”. Having money and being financially independent, Henry had more power; thus, he was able to establish his authority in the realm, first, by forbidding the noblemen to maintain private army. In this way, without destroying nobility, he could keep the lords under his control, and prevent them from intimidating justice or threatening the throne any longer. Second, he won respect by enforcing the law, seriously damaged by the nobles’ and their armed men’s behaviour in the previous period. Using the old system of government, Henry succeeded to develop administration bodies placed directly under his control. Thus, preserving his position as the centre of the Council “the fountain of justice”, Henry used the “Court of Star Chamber”∗ to deal with lawless nobles and other criminal cases. Anyway, during this reign the royal council continued to diversify, its members becoming specialized in different matters. (“The Court of Chancery” in civil offences, “The Court of Requests” in the suites of poor persons, “The Court of Admiralty” in piracy a.s.o.). Similarly, due to the king’s initiative and under his direct control, the matters of finance became more efficient and flexible: he replaced the
The name is derived from the star-painted ceiling of the room where the councillors used to meet.
traditional exchequer (fiscal agency of the crown) with the treasurer of the chamber, (department of his personal household) as a central segment of the government for tax-raising, rent-collection and money-disbursing. His decisions worked, so that, at his death, he had left behind the huge amount of £2 million. One of Henry VII’s important aims was to enforce king’s law all over the country, an enterprise in which he succeeded to a large extent, even in the northern counties and Wales. (He created “The Council of the North” and “The Council of the Welsh Marches”). Considered by many as being a “robber”, in fact a thrifty man who never spent money unless he had to, Henry understood the changes of his time, and correctly assessed England’s future wealth as depending on international trade; the accepted the free spending of money for building ships for merchant fleet. New sea routes were opened, among which the first was the expedition to America of John and Sebastian Cabot, and the subsequent discovery of New-found land or Terra Nova, and Labrador. As regards the policy abroad, Henry VII was at peace with France, now a powerful country and in alliance with Spain. Wales was almost integrated (the event took place in 1543), and peace had been established with Scotland and Ireland. Henry VII’s achievements were important, and he can be called the first “absolutist Renaissance monarch” who succeeded to restore order in the country and kept peace by consolidating royal power. His decisions had, as a direct effect, a real revolution in the social system: all the citizens, noblemen or commoners, members of the clergy or laymen, were considered equal before the law of the land. Trade was supported and developed, while the strength and competence of the State increased, embodied in the person of the king. [37; p. 7]. After 24 years of reign, Henry left to his successor a new type of state: “a safe throne, a solvent government, a prosperous land, and a reasonably united kingdom” [53; p. 46].
2.8.2 Henry VIII and the Reformation
The new king, who was the second son of Henry VII, was to rule England for the next 36 years. He is well known as a historical figure because of his six marriages, two of his wives being sentenced to death by him, and for the reformation of the church which he decided from purely political reasons. With a complex personality, Henry VIII was just the opposite of his father: although intelligent, he was unscrupulous, cruel and interested in pleasing himself; besides, he enjoyed having a showy HENRY VIII life, by maintaining a magnificent court, and being wasteful with money. Tall and handsome, a perfect athlete and a cultivated person, musician and lover of gorgeous feasts, he was known as “arbiter elegantiarum” and an art patron; in a word he was a real Renaissance prince [28; p. 357]. The first part of his reign was dominated by the figure of Cardinal Wolsey who carried on, in fact, the country’s administrative policy and its international relations for twenty years. Although of low social extraction (the son of a butcher), Wolsey accumulated different titles, becoming a specific representative of the new age social order; he got the highest positions possible in the state, being, at the same time, lord chancellor and cardinal legate for life, exercising a degree of power never imagined before; by these two positions he succeeded to unite in his person both the authority of the state, and that of the church. As regards his advisers, Henry VIII had followed his father policy, selecting men of great intellectual capacity even if they were of humble origin. However, he did not hesitate to eliminate them when his decisions or interests were contrary; the same happened to Wolsey. One of Henry VIII’s greatest ambitions was to become an important character of Europe’s political life, and, supported by Wolsey, he
launched himself into the international arena, in an attempt to turn England into a strong “centre of Renaissance learning and brilliance”. However, at that moment, there were two other important centres of power in Europe, which the monarch and the cardinal seamed to have underestimated: France and Spain united with the Holy Roman Empire. Henry’s intention was that, by using diplomacy, and swinging the balance of power on one side or another to keep peace between the two powerful countries and, therefore, of Europe, making England important in keeping stability; unfortunately, he failed in his attempts∗, which meant a great disappointment for the king, while England became only a second-rate power in Europe. Henry VIII had got enough power from his father, the preceding king, Henry VII, with only one exception: the independent Roman Catholic church had remained unchanged, much outside the king’s control. At the same time, the Church was an extremely wealthy institution, as the lands it owned as well as the land of monasteries had been untouched by the royal power; the monks had ceased to have a truly religious life living in wealth and comfort, the fact making them less popular with the people. On the other hand, the land administration no longer coped with the new economic conditions. Henry VIII could not have been but interested in finding a way to take over all that land as a source of new money, much the same his father had done with the nobles’ land. The premises of the Reformation: the major event of Henry VIII’s reign. In the 16th century reality, witnessing changing economic practices, new social values and a new governmental structure, the old medieval church could have been considered an anachronism. The church was historically “a state within a state”, an independent clerical body, possessing special rights and privileges; its duties should have been mainly of a spiritual nature but, unfortunately, in many respects, it
In 1525, a war took place, and the emperor Charles V defeated and captured Francis I of France at the battle of Pavia; the whole Europe bowed before the conqueror, the pope himself being at the emperor’s disposal. In 1529, the emperor and Francis I concluded the Treaty of Cambray; it meant the total failure of Wolsey’s diplomatic activity; he was dismissed from his office, and fortunately for him, died in time to escape prison and trial.
had become more interested in worldly matters; its representatives, not only priests, but high ecclesiasts∗ as well, were mainly preoccupied with worldly affairs. Although the people continued to go to church, from which, in many cases, the priests were absent, their respect for the institution had seriously diminished. Under such circumstances, a movement of new ideas started to be spread out in England coming from the universities in Northern Europe, as a response to the Christians’ need for inner contentment. New names became famous, as that of Martin Luther, a German monk in Saxony, or of Thomas Bilney, a Cambridge scholar person, who had turned to the Bible in their search for true, spiritual meanings, far ERASMUS OF from ritualism, worldliness and general religious ROTTERDAM apathy. In England the new reforming ideas were also propagated by Erasmus of Rotterdam, a great mind of the Renaissance, and by his followers, among whom Dean John Colet and the new learning men. The new religious ideas found in England a receptive audience: on the one hand, the representatives of the upper and middle classes discontented with the old religious formulas in which they could no longer find the expected spiritual satisfaction, but, which was offered by Lutheran doctrine, and, on the other hand, the religious subculture known as Lollardy∗∗, officially denied, but, finally, becoming respectable with the spreading of Luther’s new religious doctrine. Henry VIII was never a Protestant, being, in his first twenty years of reign, even a persecutor of those who voiced religious nonconformism. In 1521 he had written a pro-Catholic text directed against Luther’s doctrine. The fact determined the Pope (Clement VII) to give him the title of “defender of faith” (Fidei Defensor), born, from that moment on, by all the Kings of England∗∗∗.
Wolsely himself, the richest and the most famous clerical statesman, seemed to have represented a wrong example of corruption and worldliness. ∗∗ Lollardy – it started from John Wycliffe’s ideas. ∗∗∗ In 1544 the title became hereditary by Parliament law. The letters “F.D.” are still to be found on every British coin.
However, when the moment came, the general anticlerical atmosphere and the apathy existing within the church combined with momentary demands and concurrent circumstances made him decide the break with Rome. The decision was a pure political one. One of Henry’s major internal objectives was to secure a legitimate male successor to the throne of England. Unfortunately, his wife, Catherine of Aragon had not been able to offer him the desired son, and Henry tried to persuade the pope to allow him to divorce her, in favour of marriage to Anne Boleyn. Cardinal Wolsey was sent to make the necessary arrangements with the pope; he, normally, should have succeeded; but the pope was under the control of emperor Charles V who was Catherine’s nephew and protector. From both political and family reasons, Charles was against Henry’s divorce, the pope was not able to oppose him and, thus, he refused Wolsey, and forbade Henry’s divorce. Henry was furious at the news, and took a decisive step: he turned to the authority of the state in order to obtain the annulment of his marriage, and used Parliament in order to make the break with Rome a legal decission. It took some years until Henry Tudor was given the title of the “Supreme Head of the Church of England” by the Parliament’s “Act of Supremacy”. The so-called “Reformation Parliament” (first met in 1529) was unprecedented in England’s history, its activity lasting for seven years, during which time it enacted 137 statutes, out of which 32 were of vital importance for the further development of the political, social and economic life of the realm. Even in 1531 the church had been obliged to acknowledge the king’s supremacy as the head of the church. The next important step which Henry took was to cut the constitutional connections holding England to papacy. An Act∗ in 1533 declared England an empire; it was an important statute, (it destroyed the queen’s right of appeal from the archbishop’s court to Rome, regarding the expertise annulment of her marriage to Henry), and due to it, Henry’s marriage to Catherine was adjudged null and void by an obliging archbishop. A couple of months later, Anne Boleyn was crowned rightful queen of England, after her secret marriage to Henry, and on September 7, 1533 a royal child was born. To Henry’s despair it was not the much expected male heir, but a girl; in history, she will be known as the famous, unequalled queen Elisabeth I, Tudor.
Reference to the Act of Restraint of Appeals.
As regards the break with Rome which had been started, it had to be continued, and the Church of England to be rebuilt. A year later (1534) by “the Act of Succession”, the king’s marriage to Anne was accepted by Parliament, while the “Annate’s Statute” cut most of England’s financial ties with Rome. The break became legal and final in the same year, (1534) when a real constitutional revolution took place, with the “Act of Supremacy” being solemnized by Parliament. The Church became a national one, subordinated to the Crown. At that moment, the decisions had been taken, the things had been done and England had become a Protestant country; however, in spite of all these “Acts” and “Statutes” the popular religious continued to be Catholic. Henry had to carry the Reformation further; Church and State were no longer two separate entities, with the former above, as representing the divine law. The new English church had become a sort of department of Tudor state, while the power of the old church had collapsed in front of the new royal authority. Anyway, Henry had always disliked the power of the old church in England because he had not been able to have it under his control, the Church being an international organization. Henry VIII’s next step was to decide the dissolution of monasteries and monastic orders, an action by which he could make good money. In his decissions the king was assisted by Thomas Cromwell who had taken Wolsey’s place as his chief minister after the latter’s fall and death. A very careful survey of Church property followed (perhaps the best organized tax survey since the Doomsday Book), and, in the name of efficiency and fiscal reform, all small monasteries and other religious houses whose endowments were under £200 a year were closed and their land confiscated∗. The monks and nuns were simply thrown out. Left without a possibility of subsistence or work, most of them became wandering beggars. Unfortunately, the dissolution of monasteries culturally meant, a violent act of official destruction; unless the old monastery buildings were practically knocked down for their stone to be used in new buildings, they were just left to fall down, becoming ruins. The religious images, paintings, sculptures and stained glass were either destroyed or removed, as a consequence of the Protestant attitude.
In the period 1536-1539, about 800 such religious places were dissolved.
By nationalizing the land of the monasteries, and including it into the Crown property, Henry made money, as the land was gradually sold to the new rising classes, landed gentry and merchants on whose support the king based his policy. In time, as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries estates, the new gentry surpassed in number and wealth the nobility and ecclesiasts of the previous age. In spite of the fact that, generally, there was little opposition∗ to the king’s decision to break with Rome and close the monasteries, some people raised their voice against the events. One of them was the famous humanist and lord chancellor Sir Thomas More, who was sent to the scaffold for his refusal to repudiate the Papal authority. Bishop John Fisher and some others were sentenced to death for not accepting the national church; all those who refused to support the king were eliminated in one way or another, in accordance with the “Act of Treason”. In his achievements, Henry VIII was directly assisted and much influenced by the political vision of Cardinal Thomas Cromwell, during his short but explosive political career (1532-1540); Thomas Cromwell thought about “a strictly independent, unitary realm, organized entirely within its own borders and dedicated to reform in both the spiritual and the secular sphere” [12; p. 116]. It is possible that “the will of doing that was Henry’s, while the parliamentary means belonged to Cromwell” [53; p. 49]. In his long reign, covering a period of 38 years, Henry VIII tried to put into practice four major objectives: [28; pp. 359-362]: 1. to secure a legitimate male successor to the throne of England; (the experience the country had with queen Matilda 400 hundred years before had been disastrous). After six marriages, and the Reformation, Henry succeeded to leave his only son, Edward, a fragile boy, legitimate heir to the Crown of England.
“Pilgrimage of Grace” (1536-1537) was a short-lived eruption; the uprisings in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were religiously motivated, but they had other causes as well.
2. to consolidate England’s power on the island, both by the force of weapons and of law. Scotland and Ireland were military defeated, while Wales was peacefully made a part of England by an “Act of Parliament” (1536, 1543). 3. to consolidate England’s independence against the dangers represented by the two powerful European states of the time, France and Spain; with this aim in view, Henry continued his father’s work (Henry VII) of building a strong fleet. 4. to strengthen the central power of the state, emblematically represented by the absolute monarch; he achieved his objectives with the support of Parliament which voted a number of laws in this respect, out of which the Act of Supremacy (1534) was the most important. Henry VIII’ s reign was a period of important changes, continuing the kingdom’s transformation which had started with Henry VII. With Henry VIII medievalism nearly vanished, and a new type of culture and civilization announced its dawn with the dramatic events which took place during his reign. In fact, the conditions were prepared for what was going to happen and it is known in history as the glorious Elizabethan age. When Henry VIII died in 1547, the crown had assumed the authority as the head of the church, but, without fundamentally changing the old religious forms; but, undoubtedly, the fundamentals of the Catholic church had been severely shaken, never to be restored in spite of some feeble attempts. 2.8.3 England after Henry VIII. The Religious Struggle Henry VIII left the historical arena in 1547, an old sick man, and, unfortunately for his kingdom, a clear-cut attitude towards the religious creed had not been decided by the monarch; in fact, he had never worked out a consistent policy in religious matters, the “Books” issued in his time being either Lutheran in tone, (1536) or mildly Roman Catholic (1539) in opinion.
Thus, for the period to come, the struggle between Catholics and Protestants remained opened and it would come for Parliament to decide what the “true” faith of the English people was to be. Edward VI (1547-1553), the legitimate heir of the Crown∗ was only a nine-year-old boy when he became king, so the power passed to a Council under the control of his uncle, Edward Seymore, Earl of Hertford, who, soon, became lord protector. The members of the Council were selected from the new nobility who had highly benefited from the sale of the land from the confiscated monasteries, and, consequently, they were Protestant reformers. As regards Seymore, he was a man “more merciful than tactful, more idealistic than practical”, and, undoubtedly, highly tolerant. This attitude was a dangerous one and, at the respective time, the Tudor state found itself close to destruction; there was much social and religious discontent (most people still believed in the old Catholic religion, and they EDWARD VI did not want to change it; they had been dissatisfied with only the bad practices of the Church when they had accepted Reformation) and, in order to put an end to the lack of uniformity in the ritual of the new Church, the lord protector introduced the Prayer Book (1549), written by Thomas Cranmer. The result was not the expected one, and the book increased the opposition between Catholics and Protestants. Economically, the lord protector was not a better manager of the state matters: the period knew rising prices, debasement of the national currency and an inflationary crisis, all of them having as a result some social movements, which also took the form of religious discontent: the revolts of peasantry in Cornwall and Devonshire (1549). Internationally, lord Seymore was faced with a war with Scotland which, inevitably, involved France; the war ended inconclusively.
His mother was Jane Seymore, Henry VIII’ s third wife.
All these unfortunate events proved the inability of the lord protector to rule the country, and in 1549, the members of the council, dissatisfied with his activity, decided to deprive him of his office and, subsequently, he was arrested; charged of treason, Seymore was executed two years later. The council came under the control of John Duddley, a totally different personality in comparison with the previous lord protector: active and resolute, he was the specific representative of the new landed nobility, and closely connected with the radical elements of the Protestant reformers. In a couple of years, he succeeded to reestablish social order, while the Catholic tendencies were resolutely repressed, and the still existing wealth of the church, practically, looted. Due to his decisions, the kingdom was clearly directed towards Protestantism; important changes in the religious rituals were established, the priests became governmental appointee, and the new Prayer Book (1552) was a step to religious uniformity. But, in 1553, John Dudly, Earl of Warwick and, meanwhile, duke of Northumberland was stopped in his decisions by an event which turned the page of history once again: the young king Edward VI died of consumption, and the succession to thrown of the next legal heir, the Catholic Mary, the first daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, became inevitable. In a desperate attempt, Dudley and some Protestant nobles tried their fortune at kingmaking. Dudley had discovered the young and innocent Lady Jane Grey∗, who had become his daughter-in-law, and thought about her making queen. The plot had no popular support, and it failed in a couple of days. Mary was preferred as queen because she was a Tudor and a legal heir. The unfortunate Dudley, Jane Grey and her husband were imprisoned, and later on, sentenced to death and beheaded.
Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, Duchess of Suffolk.
Queen Mary∗ (1553-1558) was a woman admired by some of her contemporaries for “her heart and courage”, but, as regards her policy, she was unwise and outdated. She was a Roman Catholic, and she thought that England’s return to the Catholic church could be possible. She took it as a sacred obligation, as she also took her marriage to Philip of Spain.∗∗ Both decisions proved to be gross mistakes as the English disliked them, and, especially, her marriage to a Spanish prince; very soon, the queen was faced with a popular rebellion, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Wyat (1554). The rebellion was cruelly crushed, but it revealed the real feelings of the people who had placed Protestantism and nationalism above the loyalty to the Crown. Queen Mary’s next step was to start burning Protestants, among whom many of their leaders (Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper); during the last three years of her reign, three hundred people were considered heretics and put to death by fire. Such cruel events had a strong emotional impact on the people’s mind, and the queen’s death in 1558 was received with a feeling of relief.
2.8.4 Elizabethan Age Elisabeth became queen at her half-sister’s death in 1558, and, at that moment, nobody could have thought that the twenty-five-year old lady would give her name to a long period of England’s history; Elisabeth reigned for about half a century and her unmatched personality∗∗∗ decisively influenced the country’s further development.
Daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. Philip of Spain was her cousin, son of Charles V, her mother’s protector. ∗∗∗ Elisabeth was Anne Bouleyn’s daughter, Henry VIII’s second wife, and she was only three years old when her mother was executed; it is supposed that, being a precocious child, she found out even at an early age some details about her mother’s cruel end; the tragic event should have had a profound effect on her emotional development. Educated in the Renaissance spirit by the best tutors of the realm, both celebrated scholars and declared Protestants, the young princess was imbued with their ideals, becoming, in her turn, a genuine Renaissance representative. Endowed with a brilliant intelligence and a remarkable good memory, she was encouraged to become the equal of men in learning, by absorbing humanistic knowledge; she had a special gift for languages, being fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian and Welsh, and a special interest in philosophy and
The personal cult growing around the queen, gloriously called “Gloriana”, became the very emblem of the wonderful English Renaissance “which borrowed and centralized as much refinement from all the neighbouring countries as it had plundered their riches or simply competed with them on the market and, military too, at sea”. [40; p. 32]. The first problem, Elisabeth had to face when she came to England’s throne, was QUEEN ELISABETH the religious one, and she had to find a peaceful answer for it. Elisabeth had learned from her predecessor’s mistakes, and she had understood the necessity for the realm’s secular leadership, devoid of any religious bigotry. The queen’s new title of “supreme governor” of the church (instead of “head of the church”) offered her the possibility to take those steps which could bring together those parts of the society which were in disagreement because of religious matters. Thus, she developed a kind of Protestantism which was much closer to the Roman-Catholic religion than to the different Protestant forms existing in Europe, and which were politically dangerous for the state stability; in such circumstances, she
history, reading a lot from the classics. She had great passion for music, singing and writing it, and she was excellent in activities specific to the Renaissance ladies, as needle work or embroiding. She was similarly good in horse riding, and she enjoyed walking outdoors, or shooting with a crossbow; besides, she passionately loved dancing. As regards her character, it was as complex as her education and skills; she was able to control her emotions, and to behave circumspectly in public, being dignified and stately in her attitude. However, under some circumstances, she could also be dictatorial and temperamental. Endowed with a keen sense of humour, sometimes malicious, the queen was able of cutting remarks, although her warm and compassionate nature became obvious particularly towards the old, the sick or the misfortunate ones. But, above all, Elisabeth was a courageous woman, both when she expressed her points of view and when she was confronted with dangers and enemies. She also knew how to use her feminity to advantage, pointing out her womanly weaknesses and shortcomings, although it was clear that she possessed many qualities most admired in men. Full of energy, Elisabeth had also a robust health and an acknowledged charisma: with expressive eyes, lively conversation, wit and vivacity, she was considered attractive and charming. However, she was inclined towards a single existence, and, in a determined way, she preserved her independence and autonomy for all her life [Allison Weir, “Elisabeth the Queen”, adapted].
decided that Edward’s Prayer Book (1552) be amended in a way that made it be better accepted by Catholics. Another decision was to make “the parish”, whose size was generally equal to that of a village, the unit of the state administration, while the “parson” or “vicar” became a very powerful local person. Besides, people were obliged by law to go to church on Sundays, and those who did not do it were fined. By all these decisions, Elisabeth succeeded to make the Church part of the state machanism. Although by her aptitudes, and with the help of her advisors, Elisabeth was successful in maintaining inner peace, her country’s position was often endangered with threats coming from outside, mainly from the two powerful Catholic countries, France and Spain. Especially after the first decade of her reign (1568), considered as relatively quiet, a coincidence of events determined a state of political crisis of major importance for the country’s future; the queen’s permanent refusal to marry, in spite of her being courted by many kings and princes of Europe, was combined with different plots of those nobles who wanted to replace her with the Catholic Mary of Scotland∗, while the country found itself in a dangerous economic and religious clash with Spain. Anyway, the presence of Mary, the former queen of the Scots, held captive in England, represented a permanent source of discomfort for the queen, and a potential threat for the crown of England. On the one hand, there were still many Roman
Mary, Queen of Scots was Elisabeth’s closest living relative (Henry VIII’s grandniece, and her heir to the throne of England, as Elisabeth had no children). Mary was Catholic, and she had spent many years in France as the French dauphin’s wife where she had absorbed a solid French culture; when she returned to rule Scotland as queen. The country was already officially Protestant, which had made it closer to England, but the Scottish monarch did not have over the Protestant Scottish Kirk (church) the authority which the English king had. Besides, the “Kirk” was a more democratic organization, as it was governed by a General Assembly without any bishops to influence the decisions. Protestantism had been largely adopted in Scotland, and the Roman Catholic Mary was not highly liked by the kirk, although the queen had clearly showed that she had no intention of bringing the Catholic religion back in the country. Unfortunately for her, Mary did no prove to have a right judgment, so necessary for a ruler at moments of crisis, and shocked the Scottish and English society by her wrong decisions; thus, soon after becoming queen, she married Lord Darnley, but, getting tired of him allowed his being murdered and married Bothwell, the murderer,. Discontented with her attitude, the Scottish nobles rebelled against her and she was captured and imprisoned. In 1568 she escaped to England, but being considered an unwanted visitor, she was held by Elisabeth in captivity for 19 years till her execution in 1587.
Catholics in the country who considered Mary of Scotland the rightful monarch, and, on the other hand, France or Spain could be interested in Mary’s reign as a way of bringing England under their control. For a time, the different plots organized in Mary’s support, and in which she herself was involved in an attempt to unset Elisabeth, were discovered and annihilated, without any decision coming form Elisabeth as regards her cousin’s fate; that happened as long as a balance between the possible support offered to Mary by either France or Spain was maintained: France did not look interested to attack England in support of Mary, but Spain had the reason to do it; however, Mary’s attachment to France made Spain hesitate in taking a step which could have finally meant England’s closer relations with that country, in other words, England being offered as gift to France. Mary’s wrong decision of naming Philip II of Spain her heir to the throne of England, at a moment when a war with Spain already seemed inevitable, precipitated her end by obliging Elisabeth to take the difficult step of accusing her of high treason. The plot organized by Babington in 1586, and whose consequence was Mary’s trial and sentence to death had not been but a carefully arranged trap, in order to gain enough evidence against the former queen. After long hesitations, Elisabeth agreed to Mary’s execution in February 1587. It is interesting to point out that, at the respective moment, after different Catholic plots, and with the threat of a Spanish invasion coming closer, the anti-Catholic feelings were very strong in England, while a general belief that to be Catholic was similar to the idea of being an enemy of the country was largely spread. Such an attitude could not be but an important political force at the moment when England was faced with the dangerous threat of a war with Spain∗.
Spain was at the time the most powerful country on the continent, its troops being the best in Europe. Much of its well being came from the New World, which “poured its wealth into the treasury in Madrid” [53; p. 52].
As regards foreign policy, England had put an end to the century old enmity with France∗ by the Treaty of Blois (1572), and, at the respective time, the only real danger came from the powerful and arrogant Spain. In fact, the clash between the two countries was caused by interests coming from the trade∗∗ overseas. Elisabeth considered trade a matter of highest importance for her kingdom, but in this direction England had a rival and an enemy: Spain. In order to strengthen its trade position, England had acted against Spain’s interests in Netherlands∗∗∗, helping the Dutch Protestants in their fight of independence against the Spanish rulers; not only that Elisabeth had allowed their ships to use English harbours for attacks against the Spanish ships, but also she had directly helped them with money and soldiers. Besides, since 1570, when Spain refused England’s free trade with Spanish-American colonies, the English ships had often attacked the Spanish ones while they were coming back from America loaded with riches. It was known that the “sea dogs”, who, besides traders, were pirates and adventurers, were encouraged in their actions by the queen, with whom they shared the prey. The most famous of them were John Hawkins, Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher. As the Spanish world domination started to be endangered by the English increasing boldness at sea, doubled by the attitude it had in Netherlands, Philip II was obliged to seriously consider the matter, and to act accordingly. In its turn, England could not forget and forgive the Spanish treacherous behaviour in 1568, when a small English fleet was attacked and destroyed at the Battle of San Juan de Uluá. Maybe, that unexpected event had made the English start building the revolutionary fleet which was going to destroy the old-fashioned Spanish ships in the battles to come. In this turn, Spain did not remain impassively. Philips also decided the building of a large fleet, but in 1587, at Cadiz, Drake unexpectedly attacked and destroyed part of it, delaying, in this way, the sailing date of the “Armada”. However, the Spanish “Invincible Armada” was finally built, and in the summer of 1588, the largest fleet that had ever gone to
It was a period of weakness for France, especially after the accidental death of Henry II (1559); its political life was characterized by factional strife, religious and civil wars. ∗∗ Henry VII was the first to recognize the importance of trade and started to build a large fleet of merchant ships. Henry VIII continued his policy and spent money to make the warship and guns the best in Europe. ∗∗∗ Spain ruled the Netherlands; most of the people were Protestants and they were against the Catholic Spanish dominance.
sea (130 vessels, 31,000 men and 2,430 cannons), reached England∗, prepared to attack and invade it. What followed proved the superiority of the English fleet in technology∗∗ and strategy, but bad weather conditions also contributed to Armada’s disaster. Dashed to pieces, what had remained out of the Spanish fleet tried to escape home on a northern route around Scotland and Ireland. Although a glorious moment for England, the victory did not put an end to the rivalry between the two countries, and other battles took place till the end of Elisabeth’s reign. In 1596, a second descent on Cadiz, when the city was seized and the entire West Indies fleet was burnt meant another English victory. Thus, the Royal Navy which had been “Henry VIII’ s creation saved both himself and his daughter when they adopted an island policy and defied the Catholic powers of Europe [45; p. 199]. Besides, the encouragement that the queen gave to the buccaneers to attack the Spanish ships, with all the consequences resulting from such actions, and which represented one direction of her foreign policy, Elisabeth also encouraged English traders to settle abroad and set up English colonies. Thus, it was during her reign that the first English colonists sailed to America (Virginia, 1587), a political direction which will lead to Britain’s future colonial empire in the next centuries. At the same time, England was interested in continuing the development of its trade abroad; in this respect, new Merchant Companies were established on the basis of a “charter” giving them the right to all the business in a certain trade or region, some of their profits being given to the Crown. Such companies were, for example, the Eastland Co. (1579) trading with Scandinavia and the Baltic, the Levant Co. (1581) trading with the Roman Ottoman, the Africa Co. (1588) trading in slaves, or the East India Co. (1600) trading with India.
At that moment, Elisabeth addressed to the soldiers ready to go to battle with some memorable words: “I am come … to live or die amongs you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too”. ∗∗ Being longer and narrower the English fighting ships were faster; the guns could shoot further than the Spanish ones. Most of the Spanish ships constituting the Armada were barges designed to carry soldiers. The Spaniards also had great old-fashioned galleons.
A strong impulse was given to trade by some important voyages: Forbisher’ s in search of the North West Passage, Drake’s around the world, and John Davis’s past Greenland to Baffin Bay. Thus, the period can be considered an important one, as it laid the foundations of a new trading empire. As regards England’s closer neighbours (Wales, Scotland and Ireland), Elisabeth’s policy was of bringing them under better control, continuing his father’s efforts in this respect. Thus, Wales had become part of England in the period between 1536 and 1543, due to Henry VIII authoritative policy and his desire to make the Welsh become English. The Welsh had representatives in the English Parliament, while local Welshmen were appointed J.Ps, becoming, in this way, part of the ruling English class. English became the official language in Wales, and its introduction in schools discouraged the use of Welsh, which, in time, was almost forgotten.∗ Henry had tried to carry the same type of policy in Ireland as well, and to bring that country under his control, but, there, the situation was different. Although he succeeded to persuade the Irish Parliament to recognize him as king of Ireland, he was not successful in making them accept the Church Reformation. The Irish nobles were against the idea of confiscating the monastic land, and, when they rebelled against the English crown, they did it as Catholics. Later on, during Elisabeth’s reign, there were more rebellions and wars, but, finally, the Irish were defeated, and obliged to accept the English authority and religion. The greatest effect of the English rule was felt in the northern part of Ireland, in Ulster, where, after the conquest, the best Irish land was sold to the English, while the native population was forced either to leave their territory, or to work for the new settlers. Thus, during Elisabeth’s reign Ireland became England’s first important colony. From the very beginning the people’s nationalism in Ireland went hand in hand with Catholicism, clearly oriented against the English Protestantism. The
At the end of the 18th century, only a few people could still speak Welsh.
foundations of the war between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster, which brought so much misfortune to the people in the second half of the 20th century, were laid at that time. As regards Scotland, it succeeded to preserve its independence, in spite of Henry VIII’s desire to have it under his authoritative rule. Scotland was weak in comparison with England, both economically and legally, and the Scottish kings avoided an open confrontation with their strong neighbour. In 1513, the Scots had been severely defeated at Floddon by Henry VIII’ s army, an event which they could not forget, being aware that a balance had to be kept between peace with England and the old alliance with France. When Henry VIII showed his authoritative intentions by using his army and badly defeated the Scots, they had nothing to do but to accept the arrangement of a marriage between their infant queen, Mary and Edward, Henry VIII’ s son (1558). However, after a couple of years a new parliament turned down the agreement, as the Scots disliked the idea of having an English king; Mary was sent to France to marry the French king’s son (1558). After her return to Scotland, as a widow queen, Mary caused a lot of trouble to her country, but her son, James VI, who had started to rule Scotland at the age of twelve (1578), succeeded to rebuilt the authority of the crown. At Elisabeth’s death, James VI succeeded to England’s throne as James I, although, perhaps, “few in England could have liked the idea of a new king coming from Scotland, their wild northern neighbour” [25; p. 78]. Elisabeth’s reign represented “an age”, during which England was turned into a political force, materially cumulative in territorial expansion, but also highly qualitative culturally and scientifically. A strong and complex, even heroic personality, Elisabeth was highly popular at Court and in the country, being recognized abroad as one of the important monarchs of the time. “Lonely on her throne”, she perfectly embodied the Renaissance personality, equally “cool-minded as politician and passionate in reactions as real woman, a learned scholar, both skeptical and tolerant in an age of growing fanaticism” [37; p. 10].
2.8.5 The Political, Social and Cultural Life in Tudor Period In Tudor period the political life was based on the principle of coexistence of the monarch and Parliament, in fact, the latter being called to debate and enshrine in its acts the monarch’s decisions. The Privy Council was also an institution with an important role to play: it acted as a sort of “spokesman of royalty”, the legislation which was to be turned into law by Parliament being initiated by this body. In fact, although the Tudor kings, as absolute monarchs, did not highly enjoy the idea of governing through Parliament, they were obliged by the events to frequently use it, and, consequently, the political power of this institution grew over the 16th century; in spite of the kings’ intention, Parliament got a high level of authority in the state. The Tudors considered Parliament as an instrument for strengthening their political decisions by law making, and, by no means an institution whose functions could be to command or initiate∗. However, the reality forced the movement of the king’s concept regarding Parliament into a different direction, and determined the strengthening of Parliament position. That happened because both the monarchs and their governments were dependent on Parliament for raising the money necessary for military adventures, or court expenditures; at the same time, dramatic events required the frequent summoning of Parliament∗∗ asked to legislate on crucial matters of church and state, as breaking with Rome, proclaiming the monarch as supreme headship (governor), establishing royal succession, legitimizing or bastardizing the heirs to the Crown and so on; besides, the monarchs needed the support of the new class of merchants and landowners whose political conscience had considerably grown. The response to their interests, and compliance with their requirements represented the general background of the kings’ political attitude in order to get the desired, mutually advantageous and balanced decisions.
The Parliament was supposed to do three things: to agree to the taxes required; to make the laws suggested by the Crown; to give advice when the Crown needed it. ∗∗ Today Parliament meets every year and remains in session for about three quarters of it; in the 16th century Parliament met only when summoned by the king. During Elisabeth’s reign of forty-four years, Parliament met thirteen times.
Thus, because of the social changes in the 16th century, the centre of political power moved from the House of Lords to the House of Commons. Consequently, the House of Commons increased not only in importance, but also in size, the number of MPs being practically doubled during the respective period. (The increase in number of MPs also resulted from the inclusion of the Welsh boroughs and counties, and of more English boroughs among the electing areas). During Elisabeth’s reign, the MPs were given important rights: “freedom of speech, from fear of arrest, and freedom to meet and speak to the monarch”. [25, p. 80]. On the other hand, the monarch had to be careful in order to have the right control over the MPs’ attitude, and be sure that most of them would support his policy. That is why Parliament was not always “democratic” in the proper meaning of the word, the MPs acting, in many cases, according to the royal wish and not to their electors’ wishes. Another innovation which helped the monarch control the debates in Parliament was the appointment of a “speaker”, a position which has continued to exist up to the present days∗. The speaker’s duty was, at that time, to make the MPs have the speeches and make the decisions wanted by the king. However, in time, and especially towards the end of Elisabeth’s reign, in spite of the monarchs’ effort to control Parliament, the importance of the House of Commons grew considerably, reflecting the economic and political importance of the social elements it represented; it replaced the House of Lords in importance as it had outnumbered nobility. “Should the crown’s leadership falter, there existed by the end of the century an organization that was quite capable of seizing the political initiative” [53; p. 53]. However, at that moment, there was not a clear image regarding the categories of problems Parliament was entitled to discuss and decide upon. It was generally agreed that the Crown was to select the problems to be debated, but, in practice, during the 16th century, Parliament was called to advise on almost every subject. Thus, Parliament finally came to start considering that it had the right to decide on, practically, any matter.
The “speaker” is in charge with taking care of MP’s good behaviour during the debates.
Imperceptibly, Parliament began to show confidence in itself, and with the new class becoming more aware of its own strength, the House of Commons was changed into its instrument by which the voice of this class could be heard and its will could be fulfilled. As regards the Tudors’ way of governing, the general behaviour was of “paternalism”, specific to autocratic monarchies, but combined with a benevolent attitude, showing the enlighted conceptions of those Renaissance kings; they knew how to hidden their authoritarism by carefully shaping public opinion and artistically developing pomp and ceremony. The number of people employed in governmental activities was limited, with a small number of privy councilors at the top, and a few thousands at the bottom, scattered in different departments all over the country. Anyway, much work was done by unpaid amateurs, who were not professionals, as sheriffs, lord lieutenants or JPs. However, as regards the economic and social philosophy, the Tudors continue to be medieval; their final aim was to maintain order and stability in the country, everything being done and shared according to a recognized and accepted status. For a long period of time, the economic and social order of the country had remained untouched, but in the 16th century the general situation began to change. For the first time, there was a sudden increase in population which doubled in less than a century. (From 2.2 million in 1525 to 4 million in 1603). That increase determined serious food problems; areas of land and forests had been cleared and turned into pasture lands for sheep grazing, while wood had been used for the newly developing shipbuilding industry. Food produce were scarce and expensive, while an unprecedented inflation took place∗; the wheat, barley and other produce prices increased over five times, and, at the same time, the real wages fell by half.
At the time of Henry VIII, the government tried to stop inflation by making coins containing up to 50% less gold or silver metal; that was a damaging policy, reducing English coinage even more, to 1/7 of its value within twenty five years.
It is not surprising that under such a situation of crisis the people’s living conditions got ever worse. Those who hardly felt the poverty were the poor farmers cultivating small plots of land, (twenty acres or less) and who were often not able to pay the rent for their land. In many cases they were in the situation of losing it, and finding no other work to do, they were left without any food for themselves and their families. However, other categories of people managed better, as for example the yeoman farmers possessing large areas of land; they employed people to work it, and had plenty of produce to sell. They would ask for higher and higher prices for the food they produced, as demand was growing while supply was not sufficient. Another action which had dramatic consequences as it aggravated the situation by reducing the area of farming land, was represented by enclosures. It was related to cloth industry, and it was caused by the important amounts of money paid for the wool necessary to this rapidly growing industry. Thus, the land, either the one which had always belonged to the whole village or even that used for farming, was fenced off in order to keep the sheep in; the result was that many poor people lost their land, and were reduced to a state of severe poverty. The words written in 1583 offer a clear image of the situation: “these enclosures be the cause why rich men eat up poor men as beasts do eat grass” [25; p. 82]. There were situations when people showed their anger, and the rebellions∗ which took place in the first decades of the 16th century, represented warning signs of the serious problems to come. In time, the situation worsened, and because of an alarming number of unemployed and homeless people who had become vagrants and robbers, the government was obliged to take steps in order to keep the situation under control. Thus, in 1547, Parliament issued a severe law according to which any person found without work was obliged to carry out two
Such a rebellion was the so called “Pilgrimage of Grace” in 1536, when a large mass of people marched to London in order to show their disagreement with the dissolution of monasteries, which made them lose their job. It was cruelly put down, the leaders being executed.
years’ compulsory labour with some farmers who needed it; found workless for a second time the person could be sentenced to death. As a law like that did not solve the problem of poverty and criminality, other laws had to be issued with the aim of attaining an ordered and stable society in which each person could share some prosperity according to his status. In 1563 “The Statute of Apprentices” established that everybody had the moral obligation to work, and the state had to define and control all occupations according to their utility to society∗. Another famous law was Elisabeth’s Poor Law”∗∗ passed in 1601, when poverty and unemployment had reached unprecedented levels, and the church alone could no longer handle the situation. Thus, the state had to interfere and to take the necessary steps; the law made the local authority responsible for the poor in the respective area, giving them the power to levy taxes and pay for the subsistence of the poor ones; besides, the JPs had to take care and provide work for those able to do it, while the sick, aged and the disabled were to receive charity. According to the same law the indolent persons, or those who refused to work were punished. The 16th century also meant an important change of the country’s economic patterns, with the stress laid on industrial development; it mainly included the textile industry of woolen cloth. It grew especially in the north and west of England where there was a surplus of cheap labour force providing low production costs. The metalworking industry (iron, lead, copper) also developed, especially in Kent, and the English learned how to produce improved steel (1565) with the assistance of some German craftsmen; as a result, better knives and forks, clocks and watches, nails, pins a.s.o. could be produced; besides, new weapons appeared, as for example the musket∗∗∗ which replaced the longbow in Henry VIII’s time.
Wages and working hours were clearly decided; thus, the work had to be carried between five o’clock in the morning and seven o’clock at night, with a break of two hours and a half for meals and rest. ∗∗ The “Poor Law” remained in operation until 1834. ∗∗∗ The forefather of the gun, the musket, was, perhaps, less efficient than the long arrow, but gunpowder and bullets were cheaper than arrows, and soldiers easier to be trained.
Famous for the production of steel were Birmingham and Manchester, where coal was used for fires instead of wood. In its turn, the mining industry grew, the main extraction being of coal, the most commonly used fuel, especially in towns (by the end of the 16th century, more than 150,000 tons of coal from Newcastle had been burnt in London, the city’s sky being darkened with its smoke). The paper industry started to grow due to the introduction of printing, and the first glass factories were set up in different places of the country (Loxwood, Alfold, Wealt, Nottinghamshire etc.) by religious refugees. Due to the new economic developments, the successful representatives of these activities were able to show off a life of plenty, expressed in the building of magnificent houses, good food and lavish clothing. The differences between the living style of the rich and poor were considerable. The “Sumptuary Laws” which had existed since the 14th century became more severe in Tudor period; thus, clothes of specific qualities were allowed to be worn by each social category, in keeping with the fortune the person possessed; the trespassing of the law was immediately punished, with the payment of fines or even with some days in the stocks. Generally, the clothes of the well-off people were tailored in a way that altered their figure by the skilful use of padding and framework. The intention was of making them to look more imposing. The clothes were made of rich fabrics with bright colours, while expensive furs were used for nobles’ coats, varying in length or draped in exquisite ways; they showed other clothes from rich materials underneath. The poor people wore simple clothes made of leather and wool, silk being absolutely forbidden to a person who was not a knight’s son, or did not possess a fortune of at least £20 a year; the punishment was of three months spent in jail and a fine of £10 a day. The rich ate good quality food, bread made from wheat, while the poor had to be satisfied with rough bread made from rye and barley, or even from beans, peas or oats. As regards the housing condition, people had generally a better and larger home than ever before, in spite of the comparatively hard living conditions of most of them. Thus, in the second half of the 16th century almost all families doubled their living space.
A technical development which improved the people’s life, making it more comfortable, was the building of chimneys, in, practically, every home; it made cooking and heating easier, and more than one room could be used in winter time. In fact, chimneys and enclosed fireplaces had become necessary because of the widespread adoption of coal as fuel∗, and the increased smoke produced. Although most of the English nation continued to live in villages∗∗ and manors, towns underwent different trends of development; on the one hand, some towns continued to decay, a process which had begun in the late Middle Ages caused by the Black Death, but, on the other hand, there were some exceptions, as Bristol or London, both of them developing as important ports; Bristol, placed in the west of the country, was found most convenient for overseas exploration and enterprise, while London “embarked on its extraordinary rise to metropolitan status in the European world” [12; p. 124]. London had a spectacular growth in population over the period between the beginning of the 16th century and the middle of the 17th century, increasing from 50,000 to 200,000 people; it resulted mainly from immigration rather than from a rising birth rate. Although the old City remained confined to the area within the walls (one square mile), London expanded territorially in all direction, including the city of Westminster, much of Middlesex, Holborn, and other neighbouring parts. London had became a centre of attraction for both rich and poor for several reasons: it was the seat of the royal government and of the courts of law offering employment and advantages to those involved in running the country’s matters; it was the residence of the leading trading companies, Merchant Adventures, of the banking services and other incipient financial institutions (markets and exchanges), which brought important profits; it also offered location to the prosperous printing industry, attracting the publishers and news sheets promoters, in an age eager of culture. London’s rapid expansion, both in number of inhabitants and territory, produced serious administrative problems; its sanitation was hard to
Previously, wood smoke was allowed to escape from the interior through a hole in the roof. Only the houses of the rich were provided with chimneys. ∗∗ Woollen industry was mostly developed into the countryside; it was organized by entrepreneurs who bought raw wool and employed the domestic labour of spinners and weavers, mostly women and children in the cottages.
keep, and the town was only moderately clean. There were difficulties with the sewerage systems rubbish disposal and water supply, and only those living on the Bridge or having houses overlooking the river ditches and streams could be considered healthy people. Generally, the Londoners knew that their place was “a nuisance and it stank”. Besides, with the permanently growing number of migrants, the public order was often threatened, although the capital’s peace was rarely jeopardized as the English really appeared to value law and order. As regards architecture it still largely preserved the Gothic style, especially during the first half of the century. If a transformation took place, it was mainly socially oriented, as with the Reformation taking place, the building effort went towards secular, rather than ecclesiastical buildings. There are some architectural aspects considered as being specific to Tudor period: a special attention paid to details; smaller windows and doors, but richly ornamented; the replacement of the smartly Gothic arch with the flattened Tudor one. But the real novelty was represented by the use of brick in building. Brick was either imported into England, or produced in the brick yards established in the country. In the beginning, brick was a luxury item and only those placed at the top of the social and economic spectrum could afford to build in brick. (The most remarkable Tudor brick building is Hampton Court Palace). However, in many areas of England wood continued to be used, most of the houses being built in oak. Wood was used to create a skeleton, which was filled in with brick or plaster; bricks also served as decorative infill, but when it was too expensive, plaster was used instead, the result being the typical “black and white” small Tudor house. Another specific architectural element was represented by the fanciful gatehouses, which, by their decorated traverses, arches and family coat of arms created an impressive entrance which had an awe-inspiring significance. Towards the end of Henry VIII’ s reign there was less building activity in England because of a marked economic downfall which left less wealth available for important architectural projects. But, with Elisabeth’s reign
economy started to revive, and, with it, a real building boom became a characteristic of the age, in which the new wealth expressed itself. Besides the large number of houses built in the countryside, new mansions were constructed or old ones were remodeled or modernized. The style adopted was a blend of Italian Renaissance and Dutch influence, which could be seen especially in the curved gables. The gatehouse lost its previous significance, being purely ornamental, but the main entry∗ became the new ostentations and elaborate architectural element by which the owner of the house could lavish his wealth. Windows∗∗ were larger, showing no arching. As regards the novelty of the style, it consisted in a new and almost universal architectural feature specific to Elizabethan manor represented by the long gallery, often a portrait gallery, used as a family area for entertaining or exercise on dull days. The Renaissance motifs influenced less the small houses of the time, they continuing to evolve from the old Tudor style, with common fireplaces and chimneys, but with more prominently staircases. Generally, the building material for those who could afford was stone, brick suffering in popularity, but where stone was scarce and expensive, half-timbering remained the most common material. However, the difference consisted in a more widely spaced apart timber than it was the style in Tudor years, allowing a more elaborated infill decoration which consisted in moulded plaster, panelling, coloured marble, curvilinear columns and plaster ceilings. Taking into consideration the economic situation of the country especially towards the end of the 16th century, the social stratification of the Elizabethan society becomes obvious, although, at the respective moment, the social distinctiveness was not quite clearly made; the highest social position was held by the titled nobility, the landed gentry and the important members of the learned professions, while the lowest one was composed of illiterate peasantry, unskilled labourers, and small artisans of little training and poor rewards. In between, there was another
Entries were, in many cases, an odd mix of heraldic pretention and classical columns, profuse carvings and ornate decoration. ∗∗ Windows were quite specific, made of a multitude of small rectangular panes separated by thin mullions.
important class, the class which had emerged during that century, and which was to represent the backbone of a progressive society, the vigour and strength of its representatives enabling England to take place of pride among nations. This class was that of Elizabethan businessmen, merchants, trades folk, or skilled craftsmen, people whose interests was centred on business profit. They had developed a philosophy of success, and their characteristic features were thrift, honesty, industry and strength of mind. They were the average people, the bourgeoisie, the middle class, the society’s virile group whose type of culture could explain much of the English culture, and whose ideas vigorously survived and could be recognized in many clichés of modern civilization. The way of life they developed combined with their ethics and ideas contributed not only to their distinctiveness, but to their power as well, built during a long period of peace. It goes without saying that the political changes of the time had favoured the growth of the middle class, but, this class, being grown, determined and forced, in its turn, important political changes. The representatives of this class of “Nouveau riche” were not only MPs or JPs, but also close advisers of the crown, as Sir William Cecil, and others. The growth of the middle class went hand in hand with a constant effort for educating the young people, wealth and literacy being directly related. The documents show that in the period 1560-1650 more than 140 new schools were set up, and large amounts of money (£290,000) were given to Grammar schools for their endowment. In the respective period nearly 100 p.c. of the gentry and merchants were literate, about 50 p.c. of the yeomanry, and a high proportion of the townspeople, as well. However, the number of literate people among husbandry was reduced (about 10 p.c.), while peasantry continued to be illiterate. As regards the aim of education in Tudors’ time, it was not only to teach the young ones the three Rs∗, but especially, to establish a type of mind control by which the children had to get “knowledge of their duty towards God, their prince and all other(s) in their degree” [53; p. 51].
Reading, writing and arithmetics.
In this way, the respect and obedience for the established order could be secured. Universities also flourished during the period, new colleges being founded as part of Oxford and Cambridge, (Brasenose, Trinity, St. John’s, Magdalene a.s.o.) and the number of students increased significantly. In Scotland a new university was set up at Edinburgh, 1582, besides those already existing, and which had been established in the 15th century: St. Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen. The first Irish university, protestant and using the English language, Dublin University College was founded by Queen Elisabeth in 1592. At that time, a mark showing an educated person and its belonging to the social elite was a good knowledge of Latin and of some Greek; these elite were the MPs and JPs, landed gentlemen or merchants able to express their principles on economic, political, social or religious matters in an abstract way, shaping the people’s attitudes and conscience for the further political and religious evolution. Artistically, the Tudor age was characterized by different trends, determined by situations specific to the respective historical moments. Thus, the Reformation carried with it a violent destruction of churches and monasteries, which also meant the destruction of manuscripts, works of art, and other important relics: religious images, paintings, sculptures and valuable stained glass. A direct consequence of the situation was the painters’ and sculptors’ discouragement to produce religious art, and their orientation towards portrait painting, limning and miniatures. The first important painters of the period were foreigners, as for example the German Hans Holbein who had came to London from Basel, (1526), and who produced more portraits of Henry VIII and of other members of the royal family, as well as of different official persons at the court, among whom the portrait of Sir Thomas More. Other foreign painters were Gerlach Flicke, who worked in England in the period 1545-1558, Hans Eworth, in London 1545-1574, or Marcus Gheeraerts, who painted Queen Elisabeth in an allegorical manner.
The first really skilled English painters were John Bettes, appreciated for the realistic treatment of his models, George Gower, who produced the famous painting “Armada” (1588), Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), an artist of European value, and others. These painters developed a special kind of painting in England, namely, the miniature portrait. With Elisabeth, the artistic life flourished, fully expressing the English Renaissance which included in it the personal cult of the queen, gloriously nicknamed Gloriana, or Oriana, but which also borrowed and centralized in itself the refinement and elevate human culture of the neighbouring countries∗.
In music, England enjoyed its most fruitful period ever, and literature, including theatre, was England’ s highest form of art. The Tudors encouraged music, the monarchs themselves being gifted musicians (they were not only able to play several instruments, but were composers as well). The English were famous for their madrigals, and other types of music as ayre or ballet. Among the well known musicians of the time, were Robert Fairfax, John Taverner or Christopher Tye, who composed both religious and secular music, Tallis Byrd and Thomas Morley who got the monopol on music printing, John Dowland or Hugh Aston, gifted musicians, famous throughout Europe. The Renaissance unprecedented explosion of culture produced, in England as elsewhere, poets, playwrights and scholars of an universal value. Shakespeare, the best known playwright of the world literature, Marlowe, and Ben Johnson, who filled the theatres with their plays, Sir Edmund Spenser, Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleig, the soldier poets, adventurers and highly educated men, Bacon and Donne, the scholars whose deep interest in science laid the foundation of inductive method in the study of natural phenomena.
Being an island, rather isolated from the continent, England felt the effects of the Renaissance later than the rest of Europe. At the beginning of the 16th century, the English thinkers became interested in the work of Erasmus, and, under his influence, Thomas More wrote “Utopia”, a study of an ideal nation, which soon became highly appreciated throughout Europe.
The contribution of these extraordinary thinkers to the humanist movement, by the exaltation of man as a sensible creature, and the confidence placed in man’s infinite capacity for moral progress, entailed a profound change in the ethos of English society and became an intrinsic element of the Renaissance concepts regarding universe. At the heart of the English Renaissance literature, drama and poetry, lies the extraordinary vision of man as a “tangle of contradictions, a blending of titanic powers of mind and will and of heroic greatness with paralyzing weakness, and inborn sinfulness” [37; p. 15]. Renaissance also meant an important moment in the evolution of the English language∗. At the beginning of the 16th century the language spoken in different regions of the country still preserved lexical elements reminding the successive invasions, and the languages of the respective settlers. However, a mixture of south Midland and south-eastern English dialects had been accepted as “standard English” even since the middle of the 14th century, when Chaucer wrote his masterpiece, and, especially, after the introduction of printing which had made that language widely accepted amongst the literate people. The event also determined the first differentiation between the language spoken by the educated people, and the illiterate ones. Thus, “the correct” English started to be considered the London form of the language, while the other forms continued to be spoken as local dialects by common people. The language spoken at the Court was recommended as the correct one in a work written in 1589 (author: George or Richard Puttenham), with the avoidance of the dialects spoken in other geographic, or social areas. On the other hand, even that form underwent important changes during the 15th-17th century period regarding phonetics, vocabulary, and, to a certain extent, grammar. The “vowel mutation” was important, and the language was enriched with a large number of new words coming from Latin, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese or other exotic
Starting with the beginning of the 16th century up to the present, the spoken and written English belongs to the third period of evolution, called “modern English”.
languages as a consequence of the Renaissance influences, and multiple diplomatic contacts. In the language area The Renaissance also meant “the final triumph of English over Latin, in literature and science [28, v. I; p. 460]; the event took place with the translation of More’s Utopia∗ into English, in 1551. From that moment on, the English language was used for all literary or scientific works. (The first Latin-English dictionary had been published in 1538; the author was Thomas Elyot).
2.8.6 The End of an Exceptional Age
The Renaissance was an extraordinary age of transition from the medieval to the modern world. Its humanist thinkers gave the signal for the reform of learning directed towards the emancipation of thinking, education, and culture from the dominant, rigid, and limited medieval systems. Humanism, as a distinct Renaissance movement developed the new doctrine and concept about man, emphasized the study of man and the necessity of enriching men’s minds; it placed man at the centre of human preoccupations, giving him a new status in the universe.
Utopia, written in Latin, (1516-1517) consists of two parts: the first part is a keen criticism of England’s economic and social situation, written in the form of a Socratic dialogue, the second part is the presentation of an idealistic society placed on an island called “Utopia” (in Greek: a place of nowhere), somewhere in the New World. The political and administrative organization of this society is democratic, and it is based on the principle of collective ownership; there is no private propriety, as this is considered as generating economic and social imbalances and inequity. Over centuries, More’s Utopia inspired the socialist (Utopic Socialism) and communist ideologies.
Man’s right to be valued in himself, and be measured according to the achievements and dimension of his spirit fully asserted the intrinsic value of human life. This new conception made life more enjoyable on earth, influenced the spiritual life, and let free the intellectual effervescence and creative activity that characterized the Elizabethan Age. But the Renaissance was also the meeting-ground of a diversity of intellectual trends, in many cases divergent or even controversial and conflicting; the evolution of the society was not constantly calm and happy. Toward the end of Elisabeth’s reign, Puritanism which had emerged from Protestantism, had increased in strength, being centred in that part of society – gentry and merchants – who had the means, both economic, political, and social, to influence and even to decide on the state’s matters. They were “a disciplined spiritual elite” considering themselves different from the rest of humanity whom they looked upon as being corrupted; besides spiritual issues, the Puritans aimed at changing the very roots of society. Thus, they questioned the role of the Church, asking if it consisted in serving the God, or the Crown. In fact, their intention was to purify the religious institution, and to do away with the last vestiges of Roman Catholicism in England. There were some tensed moments and Elisabeth managed the crisis in 1586, (attacks in the Commons coming from Paul and Peter Westworth, who asked, among others, whether Parliament was called to debate religious matters), but the danger coming from those religious idealists had not passed; on the contrary, they continued to represent a potential security risk, endangering the Tudor paternalistic society, and its old values.
The last years of Gloriana’s reign were not easy, and when she died (1603) “it was almost with relief that men looked forward to the problems of a new dynasty and a new century, as well as to a man, not a woman, upon the throne” [53, p. 53]. Had been Elisabeth a great queen? She was undoubtedly endowed with special moral and intellectual qualities and her long reign happily coincided with the peak of the English Renaissance; but, there were negative aspects during her reign as well; an unwise fiscal policy, high inflation, the growth of national debt and usury, as well as an acknowledged corruption both with the Court and local administration. However, she had, from clear economic and political reasons, powerful allies: the gentry and the newly enriched middle class; the common people also supported her as, in spite of the monarch’s autocratism and even despotism, the queen offered and guaranteed them political stability, order and peace in the country. The century that came to an end with Elisabeth’s death, had witnessed the consolidation of the English nation-state, and of the national consciousness. Although the victory against Spain had been, to a large extent, the result of hazard, it meant the beginning of England’s supremacy over the world’s seas and oceans, a supremacy which was to last for centuries. England’s first colonization of the New World took place during her time. Her passing away from life after forty-five years of reign was not only the end of an exceptional life but of an exceptional age as well.
2.9 Culture and Civilization in the Stuart Age. Civil War. the Period of Commonwealth and Protectorate. Restoration and the People’s Life
2.9.1 The Smooth Succession. England at the Beginning of the 17th Century: Economic, Social and Political Organization
The accession to the throne of England of James VI of Scotland∗, as James I of England, had been already prepared when the old queen died in 1603. The takeover of the crown by a foreign king went on without any complications, and the smoothness of the event demonstrated the soundness of both the nation and of its system of government. Besides, James was a legitimate king. According to his Scottish subjects James was a pleasant person; he had a sober character, JAMES I enjoyed physical exercises, and he was a scholar himself, being author of political treaties, and showing interest in the art of statecraft. Although described as sensible, adaptable and peace-loving person, James I was less appreciated by his suspicious English subjects, a situation which could be explained by the centuries of hostility between the two nations; in many cases, the image they created to him was not at all flattering. Anyway, the moment was important as it was for the first time in the history of England and Scotland that both countries were ruled by the same monarch. At the moment of James I’ s accession to the throne, England’s economic and social situation was quite complex, and there was an accumulation of difficulties and problems left unsolved by the old queen.
Son of queen Mary of Scotland, executed by Elisabeth for high treason, James VI was descendent from Henry VIII’s elder sister. As ruler of Scotland (1567-1625), he had proved to be a successful king, able to put an end to the fights between the factions of clans and to limit the influence of the Scottish Presbyterian Church.
Thus, more than four million people lived in England and Wales at the beginning of the 17th century, concentrated in the southeast areas and along the coasts. The rapid growth of population, and the price inflation had created serious social and economic problems. Most of this population (85%) was rural, the economy being basically agricultural, a mixture of animal husbandry and grain production. There was a high pressure on the local resources determined by the unprecedented population increase, and both landlords and tenants were obliged to consider ways of raising productivity in order to obtain either profit or the produce necessary for their subsistence. The practice of enclosures had worsened the situation, leaving the poor farmers without means of living for them and their families, and turning them into homeless vagrants in search of work. This difficult situation in agriculture lasted for several decades, and only towards the middle of the 17th century starvation was put an end to, and the rural economy recovered by entering a period of real growth. As regards the urban centres, they had known some development in the 16th century, but it was still reduced in comparison with the situation on the continent. The most important centres were, besides London, some other towns as Bristol, Norwich, Exeter, York and Newcastle with a population varying between 10,000 and 15,000 inhabitants. London was highly developed at the beginning of the 17th century, and more than a quarter of a million people lived there, both poor migrants, who had come to the large town in hope of a decent life, and wealthy people as well, involved in government work, in finance and overseas trade, or in cultural activities. As regards the industry of the time, the really significant manufacturing activity was that of woolen cloth; it was located especially in the northeast and southwest regions of the country, where, because of the poor soil and severe climate conditions the grain production was less suited and it had given place to sheep raising and wool production. The English mercantile activity, highly diversified and busy in transshipping a multitude of domestic and foreign products, was, perhaps, the most important development of the century that had just ended, constituting a significant source of wealth and well-being.
As regards the English society, it had developed as a result of the economic situation, being organized hierarchically, but also flexible. Thus, the social hierarchy reflected the degree of wealth accumulation, but he society was not ossified; in this respect, there was a clear difference between England and the countries on the continent. There was no special preference here for the old aristocracy, and those who had achieved some recent elevation due to their wealth or other skills were highly considered. Any able person could rise to a high social status, and, similarly, those holding a high social position could fall and lose it. At the top of the social hierarchy were the peers (between 76 and 100, at the beginning of the 17th century), whose title was hereditary. They were extremely wealthy, had honorific positions in local government, and held the office of lord lieutenant in their county. The next in the social rank were the gentry, whose importance and prestige were constantly growing, representing the rural middle class; they, generally, had no titles, although some of them were knights or even baronets. The positions they held were of deputy lieutenants, militia captains or JPs∗. Yeomanry was the next social class, prosperous and economically independent, although they had to work for their survival. They held various positions in local government, such as village elders, constables or tax collectors, being often selected to form the jury that heard different local cases. Many of them owned enough wealth to participate in the parliamentary selections and aspired to enter the ranks of the gentry. The rest of the rural population consisted of husbandmen, cottagers and labourers who had to work hard in order to get their subsistence. As regards the urban population, the beginning of the 17th century witnessed the rapid growth of the town middle class, represented by
JPs had the responsibility to enforce the king’s law , being the backbone of governance at local level. They mediated minor disputes and collectively decided on petty crimes.
merchants and tradesmen; characterized by an important concentration of wealth, this class used the new educational opportunities for its own professional development and cultural evolution, becoming active participants in the urban and even state politics. Below them, the mass of artisans, apprentices and labourers constituted the rest of the towns’ population. The social hierarchy was reflected in the government organization both at the state and local level, the rank, status, and reputation representing aspects that matters in the 17th century political community. As regards the political organization, the monarch was at the head of the state which he ruled personally on the basis of divine right, but he could not limit or interfere with the country’s laws and customs, or seize the liberty and property of the subjects. However, most of the aristocracy and gentry were the king’s tenants, and they had different obligations to their monarch, as the payment of taxes, the fulfillment of military service and the carrying out of local offices. Any king had around him a court, consisting of a body of royal servants and officeholders; “personal service to the king was considered a social honour and thus fitting to those who already enjoyed rank and privilege”. [53, p. 54] From among these persons the king selected the members of the Privy Council∗, whose obligation was to advise him on matters of domestic and foreign policy, being also charged with the administration of government. The persons serving the king had no special training or proved skills in this respect, but they, commonly, were educated people, who had graduated well grounded universities or had attended the law courts; they
The Private Council mainly included the chief officers of the state: the lord treasurer (he oversaw revenue), the lord chancellor (the chief legal officer), the lord chamberlain (in charge of the king’s household), the archbishop of Canterbury, (England’s leading churchman).
were members of the social elite and they had family connections which was just enough to recommend them for different jobs in the state. At the same time, they should be people able of imposing respect to the others, both at the state and local level. Another political institution active at the beginning of the 17th century was Parliament; the historians tend to call it more “an event” than “an institution” because of its intermittent summoning by the king, when the latter needed the support of his subjects for creating new laws or for him being provided with extra revenue. Observing the same rule of hierarchy, Parliament also consisted of the king, lords and commons. The House of Lords was composed of the peers of the kingdom, and the House of Commons of the most important citizens of the communities, the position of MP representing a sign of distinction and an honour for the respective person. The House of Commons grew in number over the years, at the same time with the growth of local communities, and with the right they got to be represented in Parliament. Thus, in the first years of the 17th century, the House of Commons numbered 464 members, and it continued to grow in the next decades. The MPs’ main function was to create a doubly directed link between the royal power and the people; on the one hand, they expressed in front of the king the views of the local communities which they represented, and, on the other hand, they presented the king’s views to the people in their localities. They were also summoned to provide the king’s necessary revenue in some difficult moments, especially for defense purposes. However, the kings tried to summon Parliament as seldom as they could, and their policy was to rule without Parliament. Anyway, at least until the middle of the 17th century, Parliament was a constituent part of the king’s system of government, in spite of some transient clashes between the two protagonists over specific state matters. Against this general social economic and political background, James I began his reign in England. There were some problems left unsolved by queen Elisabeth, and just from the start, he was faced with difficulties and discontent coming from some categories of people. In the beginning,
James showed his abilities and his reign seemed to be under good omens. Thus, there were religious problems, and, just, at the opening of his reign in 1603, he received “The Millenary Petition”, which was signed by one thousand reforming ministers, and which drew his attention to the unfinished Church reform; the king organized a debate (Hampton Court Conference, 1604)∗ with the participation of a number of leading bishops and of the reformers, where he decided to take a personal role. The king was determined to continue, in the ecclesiastical matters the moderate policy inherited from Elisabeth, eliminating the extremists whose desire was to destroy the established church of England. He considered that both Protestants and Roman Catholic could dwell together in the existing church. Unfortunately, his plan, showing a moderate attitude in the hope of achieving reconciliation between the two opponents, was undermined by the foolish plot of the converted Catholic Guy Fawkes. He and his confederates had conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the occasion of the official opening of the debates (5 Nov. 1605)∗∗, assassinating the king, lords and commons. The plot was discovered, Guy Fawkes was captured, sentenced to death, after having been tortured, and executed in the cruel medieval way. Thus, the Gunpowder Plot failed, and the further period meant not only reprisals against Catholics, but also a slowdown of the king’s initiatives towards finding a formula of including Catholics into the Calvinist English Church. Nevertheless, James I’s moderate ecumenical outlook contributed to the creation of an atmosphere of relative peace within the English Church. Another difficulty James I had to face was of financial nature, as Elisabeth had left him a massive debt, larger than the total yearly income of the Crown (more than £ 400,000). Besides, the king turned out to be exceptionally spendthrift himself, and his family of wife and three
The next positive result of this debate was the establishment of a commission charged with the provision of an authorized English translation of the Bible (King James Version, 1611); besides, the decision was taken that a better educated and paid clergy be formed in the country. ∗∗ The event is still vivid in the people’s memory, and in the night of November, 5th of each year, stakes are lighted in parks and private gardens where a “guy” made of old clothes filled with straw, rugs and leaves is burnt. The custom is spread especially in Sussex, Somerset and Kent.
children increased the costs of the Royal Household. By 1606, royal debt was more than £ 600,000 and Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the Crown’s financial minister tried hard to find various measures for raising the money necessary to the king: an increase in customs duties (impositions) levied on an expanded list of goods, a better exploitation of royal rights of wardship, purveyance and the discovery of crown lands on which rents and dues had not been paid, and, finally, the squeezing of more revenue out of the sale of titles. Although justified in themselves, all these measures were unpopular, and produced many loud protests. One more attempt Salisbury made to commute the crown’s fiscal rights into an annual amount to be raised by a land tax as result of negotiations with the taxpaying subjects, and levied on the counties (Great Contract) failed in 1610, when both the royal officials and the representatives of the House of Commons backed away from the talks. Anyway, by the end of James I’ s reign, the royal indebtedness had reached the huge amount of £ 1 million. James I had some problems with Parliament, as well. Even since the beginning of the 17th century the general situation had changed, and the economic power had moved into the hands of the middle class, represented by merchants and landowning farmers; the Crown was obliged, at the respective moment, to govern with their cooperation, and no money could be raised without the acceptance of Parliament, more exactly of the House of Commons, where these new social groups were represented. In return of money, the Commons demanded political power, but James was not able to understand and accept the new trends, or to give up his own belief concerning the king’s “divine rights” to decide on his own. Thus, during his reign, he summoned Parliament only for three times; the first Parliament was mismanaged and it deteriorated into a series of unproductive clashes, while during the next two Parliaments (1614, 1620-21) only subsidies were accepted and no bills were passed, to the disappointment of those expecting private acts. The situation had worsened with the appointment of Sir Edward Coke as Chief Justice. Coke had opinions different from the king’s, considering that the king was not above the law, and that neither he nor his council could make laws, this activity being the prerogative of Parliament.
Removed by James from his position, Coke continued to express his opinions as an MP, causing the quarrel between the king and Parliament, and determining some negative feeling which accompanied James’ entire reign, and were transmitted to his son, king Charles I. Thus, for most of the time, James I ruled without Parliament and he was successful enough, but such a position was possible as long as the country was at peace. As regards foreign policy, James’ hottest desire was to play an important part into its development. His accession to the throne of England had coincided with the peace with Spain (1604) after two decades of war at sea, and the permanent danger of an invasion coming from the continent. The conflict with Ireland was settled as it had been reconquered. These events were in favour of the king, but not for long, as, in 1618, when the Thirty-Years War burst out in Europe, the king clashed with Parliament once again, as they were of different opinions: James remained determined against war, while Parliament called for military action in support of the Protestant cause. It was only in 1624 that the old king gave up in front of his son Charles, angry with the Spainiards because of the humiliation he had suffered during his incognito visit to Spain, and of his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham∗. Parliament was summoned by James for the last time, in 1624 with the purpose of declaring war to Spain; all laws were passed, the subsidies for the war were voted, the issues of foreign policy were openly discussed and a proper grant of taxation was obtained. The 1624 Parliament had turned out to be the most successful one of James’ reign. A year later, the old king died.
George Villier got James I’s confidence, and became duke of Buckingham (1623) although he was of non-royal extraction; he was an able politician, and understood to support the fiscal reform, as well as James’ desire to re-establish peace in Europe. When James, old and sick, was at the end of his power and influence, Buckingham and the king’s son Charles, took the state matters into their hands. In charge with military and domestic policy after Charles I’s accession to the throne, Buckingham was considered guilty of all that was going on wrong in the country; he was assassinated in 1627, to the satisfaction of the people, who, in the streets, drank to the health of the assassin.
2.9.2 Charles I’s Reign. Events that Led to the Civil War Inheriting England’s crown at his father’s death (1625), Charles I also inherited all the problems left by James I. The country was faced with a serious economic crisis, and it worsened in the further years because of some consecutive bad grain crops, and the recurrence of a virulent plague that killed tens of thousands of people. As regards the war with Spain, the results were not up to the expectations; Buckingham’s expedition to Cadiz was a failure, and another expedition of the duke, to the Ile de Ré, this time against France in support of the besieged Huguenots (French Protestants), was disastrous (1627-1628). Parliament that the king summoned in 1626 was badly managed, and the subsidies needed were not granted. Advised by his councilors Charles tried to raise money without Parliament by a forced loan from merchants, bankers and landowning gentry. (The wealthy subjects were persuaded to give the money freely). A large sum of money, £ 260,000, was raised in that year (1627), and, fiscally, the action could be considered a success. But, politically, the action had bad consequences for the king; a number of important gentlemen (27 MPs) refused to pay the money, and they were imprisoned “by the special command of the king” while Charles’s decision made them get the sympathy of the people. Faced with such a situation, many MPs started to fear that the common law was not enough to protect them and their liberties against the king’s will. When, next year (1628), Charles, in need of more money, (especially after the military defeats the English had suffered) was forced to recall Parliament, the MPs made the king agree to the “parliamentary rights” known as the Petition of Rights, and which asserted some liberties for them.∗ These rights meant a great victory of parliamentarians, as a new
The four liberties were: freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from non-parliamentary taxation, freedom from the billeting of troops, freedom from martial law.
and important rule of government was to be established in Britain. It obliged the king to agree to Parliamentary control of both state money (national budget) and the law. However, Charles, a determined supporter of the king’s “divine right” concept, could not accept such an approach of the political life, and next year, 1629, he dissolved the 1628 Parliament, with the clear intention to govern without the parliamentary institution. For the next eleven years, Charles I ruled without Parliament (1629-1640), and the period turned out to be, in many ways, quite successful; peace treaties were concluded ending England’s involvement in Europe’s warfare and the subsequent waste of money, administrative and fiscal reforms took place balancing the budget and making administration efficient, trade expanded both with Europe and North America determining customs increase. Due to the clever fiscal policy, the royal revenue had reached £ 1 million a year. Charles also did his best to do away with the dishonesty and corruption that had existed since Tudor period and had continued during his father’s reign. But, in spite of real successes, Charles made serious mistakes especially in the way in which he managed the religious problems; that happened partly because of his lack of information regarding the state of opinion in his kingdom∗. Thus, he was involved into a movement of religious reform under the influence of the Arminian doctrine∗∗ which was not accepted by his Calvinist subjects. Taking no notice of popular feeling, he appointed William Land, an able Arminian and an enemy of the Puritans∗∗∗, as Archbishop of Canterbury (1633). Believing into the “beauty of holiness” Land was for the importance of ceremony over preaching, and introduced some decoration in the churches, and even decided the separation of the communion table from the congregation.
Ruling without Parliament meant working against the principles on which the unitary state had been imagined by Thomas Cromwell, a century before, and according to which Parliament had been seen both as a means of making laws and a link between the king and his subjects, an institution able to keep one another in permanent informed contact. ∗∗ Religious doctrine, advocated by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, spread to the English Church and supporting the idea of free will and the importance of works along with faith; the doctrine of predestination and justification by faith formed the core of beliefs in the traditional English Church. ∗∗∗ Puritans supported the idea of a democratic Church, similar to the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk and asked for the removal of the Anglican bishops. They had become active since Elisabeth’s time and continued their pressures during James I’s reign.
The introduction of these practices, similar to the Catholic ones, made him extremely unpopular, and frightened the Protestants, already worried about the survival of their religious. In general, the Anti-Catholic feelings were strong enough and able to unite the diverse elements of the Protestant reform, the Puritans being the spear’s end of a rallying attitude against any innovation in England. Under these circumstances, Land had the bad idea to make the Scottish Kirk accept the English Church type of organization, and, in 1637, tried to introduce the bishops and a new prayer book in Scotland. The king would have liked more religious uniformity in the three kingdoms he ruled, but he had not the force to impose it. Land’s innovation was met with resistance from the Scots, and, in 1640, they invaded England, captured Newcastle (the vital source of coal) and, under the circumstances, Charles was obliged to accept a treaty which was not in favour of the English; he agreed to respect the Scottish political and religious freedoms, and to pay money to the Scottish army. In the same year, the king had to summon Parliament, known in history under the name of “the Long Parliament” (1640-1653). It debated on important reforms aiming at both the king’s prerogatives and the church. Its first outcome was a limitation of the king’s authority, and a real protection of Parliament’s existence; thus, in 1641, “the Triennial Act” was passed, stating the king’s obligation to summon Parliament at least every three years. As regards the Church reform, the situation was more complicated, with more direct attacks coming from the radicals, and a defensive position of the moderates, which allowed the king to show himself as a “conserver of religious matters as they were in Elisabeth’s time”; his attitude and his success in creating a peace treaty with the Scots, made him be positively considered by his subjects and most of the MPs. The king seemed to control the situation when, unfortunately, a new crisis emerged in Ireland∗, when the people rebelled against the Protestant English and Scottish settlers. Thousands of people were killed
In Ireland, its northern part, Ulster, had started to be colonized in Elisabeth’s time, this process continuing during James I’s reign; the Catholic Irish had lost their land, and, during Charles’s reign, even the Irish workers who had toiled for the new settlers started to be replaced by workers coming from England and Scotland. The situation exploded into a rebellion.
during the events. An army had to be raised in order to put the situation under control, but suspicion about the king’s intentions regarding Parliament’s fate (The Grand Remonstrance, 1641) divided the commons into opposing factions: the royalists and parliamentarians. There was a dangerous political situation, and the king’s attempt to arrest five MPs worsened it, making even many moderates in Parliament to lose their confidence in the king’s good intentions. Failing to reach his objective, Charles left London; Parliament continued its activity, and, after a couple of months (June 1642), some proposals (the Nineteen Prepositions)∗ were presented to the king; he rejected them, determined to settle the dispute with Parliament by force. Convinced that the lords would support him, Charles gathered an army to defeat those who had opposed him in Parliament, bearing the device “Give Caesar His Due” (August, 1642). The Civil War had started.
2.9.3 England during the Civil War and Protectorate
The events that caused the war and the war itself, were much debated by historians, and one point of view could be that they were only “a series of accidents tied together by a small number of personalities on either side” [12; p. 152]. When the war broke out in 1642 nobody really wanted it, most of the nations staying neutral (90%) in hope that the fight would quickly come to an end. During the first year, Parliament was supported by the navy which protected the coast from foreign invasion, and by most of the merchants and people of London; Parliament had, in fact, the control over the national and international sources of wealth covering East Anglia and the southeast coat. On the other hand, the king had the support of most of the lords and land gentry, and even of a few of the Commons. The Royalist known under the name of “Cavaliers” controlled most of the west and north of the country.
The proposals, which meant the Parliament determination to impose their conditions, included among others the parliamentary control over the militia, by appointing the lord lieutenant, the choice of royal counsellors, and the religious reform in a Puritan direction.
In the next year, the war widened (1644) as both Ireland and Scotland were involved in it∗, by their sending of troop. In 1644, the war continued between the two opponents and several battles took place, the victory being on one side or another. (Marston Moor, Lostwithief, Newbury). Finally, in 1645, Parliamentarians, known under the name of “Roundheads”∗∗, succeeded to recast their military establishment, and they formed the very well centralized “New Model Army”. It was directed by a parliamentary committee, which included the parliamentary generals, one of them (the general first) being LieutenantOLIVER CROMWEL General Oliver Cromwell∗∗∗; he represented the Puritans called the Ironsides. This army met the royalist one in the Battle of Naseby (June 14, 1645), when the latter was definitely crushed. The war seemed to be over but the country was still faced with serious problems. In the year to come, Charles I was obliged to surrender, and he preferred the Scots in hope of a better bargain, but, in 1647, he was returned to English custody, for a ransom that the English had paid. Meanwhile, the discontent and material grievances in the army determined its rebellion against the way in which different parties in Parliament, formed around various religious and political centres, ruled the country. Thus, in 1647, faced with a situation which had turned a civil war into a revolution, Parliament became, in its turn, a target of reform. Seized by Cromwell, Charles tried to use the situation in his advantage, and to negotiate his restoration in exchange of the church reform. At that time, there were not only military but also political forces involved in the conflict. One of them were the Levelers led by John Lilburne, whose desire was a reform of Parliament through elections,
Charles negotiated with the Irish Catholic rebels and brought Irish troops to England, while Parliament promised to the Scots the establishment of Presbyterian Church (The Solemn League and Covenant) and they brought an army to England. ∗∗ “Roundheads” because they used to have their hair shortly cut. ∗∗∗ Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), gentleman farmer, he created the „New model army” where he invited educated men, eager to fight for their beliefs. This army was the first regular military force in England from which the modern British army developed. Later on, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and North Ireland.
based on a broad franchise (Agreement of the People, 1647). In an attempt to use the situation to his benefit, the king encouraged both the rebellion against Parliament and the Scots’ rebellion against the Parliamentarian army. Charles’ uninspired interference in a situation already complex and difficult, led to a new outbreak of the Civil War (1648), when the army opposed the king’s supporters joined with the discontented Scots. Both the English rebellion and the invading Scots were defeated in two brief but bloody battles (Colchester and Preston). For the first time after these events, Charles was accused for his attitude, which had caused loss of lives and started to be called “that man of blood”. Two opposing forces clashed again: on the one hand, the moderate members of Parliament who still believed that a reconciliation with the king was possible and who wanted him back on the throne, and, on the other hand, the army (the Ironsides) whose intention was to put the king on trial for treason, and to establish God’s kingdom in England. Some negotiations with the king failed, as he continued to be intransigent in some religious matters. Furious, and fearing that Parliament could, finally, compromise with the king betraying its ideals, some army troops purged the House of Commons, where they arrested or removed two thirds of the MPs; the rest of them together with some civilians and army officers established a High Court of Justice, prepared a charge of treason against the king, and found him guilty of making “war against his kingdom and Parliament”. Even if the charges against Charles I were politically correct, the legal basis was less sound, but, he “was to be sacrificed to the law of necessity if not the law of England” [53, p. 60]. King Charles I was beheaded on January 30, 1649. His execution was regarded with hostility not only in England, where most people realized that Parliamentary rule was not the best option, but throughout the continent as well, regicide being considered the worst and unpardonable crime. With the abolition of monarchy, all the old legitimate English institutions were dissoluted, including the House of Lords and the representative House of Commons, as well as the Anglican Church. The old Parliament was replaced by a new one (the Rump Parliament) and, latter on (1653), by a Parliament with a single house where the members were nominated and which had at its back the military power, army representing, at that moment, a permanent part of the government.
England had become a republic (Commonwealth), and it preserved this form of government between 1649 and 1660, under the strict command of Oliver Cromwell and, at his death, of his son, for the last two years. In the beginning, Cromwell and his army were busy to punish the Irish, both for the killing of Protestants in 1641, and for security reasons, as the royalist and catholic forces continued to rebel from there; two towns, Drogheda and Wexford were captured (autumn, 1649) and the civilian population was merciless put at sword. About 6,000 people were killed, and the events remained in the Irish memory as a symbol of English cruelty. In the next year, the young English republic was faced with one more danger: Charles I’ s son landed in Scotland, where he had been invited by the Scots shocked with the king’s execution, and a large army was assembled. Once again, Cromwell and his army proved their skills, and the Scots were decisively defeated in the battle at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651). Scotland was obliged to accept the English republican rule. Due to these victories (including the one against the Dutch, 1652), England started to be looked upon as an important military power. However, the country was torn in inside by all kinds of disagreements caused by divergent groups∗, ranging from the pragmatic ones, interested in restoring order, to the idealists and missionaries, who dreamed about the establishment of “heaven on the earth”. The situation and the demands of the army made Cromwell dissolve the Rump Parliament in 1653, and replace it with an assembly, nominated mostly by the army (The Nominated Parliament). After only five months, this parliament dissolved itself and the whole power was returned to Cromwell who became the sole ruler of the country, under the name of “Lord Protector”. Backed by the army, he got far greater power than king Charles I had ever had. Cromwell’s government was not a popular one, and his effort of ruling and maintaining law and order through the army was not appreciated by
Among these groups were the republicans, whose intention was to create a state based on the model of ancient Rome, millenarians, expecting the Second Coming of Christ, social reformers, and agrarian communists, who thought that the land should be returned to the people, mystics, or the Quakers, characterised by religious radicalism, etc.
the people; more than that, this way of governing has remained unpopular in Britain since then. However, the first British constitution was drafted in Cromwell’s time, by John Lambert (1653), as an instrument of government. That constitution created the office of “Lord Protector” who was to govern helped by a Council of State, as well as by a reformed parliament which was to be elected once every three years. The Protectorate, Cromwell’s republican administration intended a law reform, and tackled different other issues in social or religious fields. Some of the decisions did not make the people happy, and the puritan intrusion in their private life discontented the people. Thus, legislation against swearing and drunkenness was introduced; stage playing was forbidden as well as playing games on Sunday, or the celebration of Christmas and Easter. In the political field, the Protector did not manage better; the parliaments summoned by him either questioned the new government, or evolved into oppositions coming from both royalists and republicans. It is clear that if the regime could continue for a time, it was due only to Cromwell’s personality. However, his personality was as complex as the contradictions it contained, reflecting, in fact, the position of the groups whose representative he was∗, the contradictions of the war and revolution themselves. Cromwell died in 1658, and, with him, the hope that reform could be in the end fulfilled vanished from the people’s heart. His son, Richard, was elevated to the title and dignity of lord protector, but he did not prove to be a good or skilled leader; being not at all able to control the Puritans’ Commonwealth, disorder prevailed in the country and, in 1659, a real vacuum of power at the centre became obvious. Under the circumstances he resigned, by simply leaving the office. Meanwhile, in the period 1658-1659, there were signs in the government
As representative of the gentry, Cromwell understood the necessity of a stable constitution, but being infused with the millenarism doctrine he believed in a glorious world to come; as an old MP he was convinced of Parliament authority, but being a member of the army, he knew the importance of the power, and what the “demands” of necessity meant.
and political life resembling the old monarchy; thus, an upper House of Lords had been created, and the court at Whitehall had started to develop a monarchical ceremonial style. With Cromwell’s death, army had ceased to be a unified force, while a general state of confusion characterized the country’s life. The political chaos had to be put an end to, and the solution found was the Restoration of monarchy; it was the decision of Monck, one of the army’s commanders, to act; he marched to London, invited all members of the Long Parliament to return under army protection, and, finally, invited Charles II to return to his kingdom. It was in 1660, when the eleven years of republic in Britain came to an end. England had been in turmoil for a long time, about twenty years, and the period of civil war and protectorate, naturally, draw the attention of historians, analysts and many others who tried to find explanations for the events which had influenced human life and the nation’s fate. There are, mainly, three prevailing theories in this respect, each of them containing some truth, but, representing, in fact, a more or less partisan position. Thus, one of them refers to the part played by the House of Commons which no longer could bear the attitude of a tyrannical king, rising against him in defence of constitutional liberties. This theory, promoted by the Long Parliament itself, could be supported by the numerous statements delivered during the period in connection with the fundamental law and the abuse of power; but, in fact, the same Long Parliament and Protectorate ignored the law and liberty’s principle in their battle for victory; besides, the heavy taxation imposed to the people at the respective time was heavier than ever. Another theory promoted the idea of an upheaval which broke as an offspring of puritan principles threatened, at that moment, by a papist or quasi-papist conspiration. However, the reality reveals the free emergence, as part of the events, of various other religious sects ranging from Presbyterians to Quakers, and which claimed the right to warship God in their own way. Although the political regime favoured the Puritanism interference with the nation’s life for a while, the nation did not become puritan, and most of the people remained, essentially, attached to the Church of England.
The third theory promoted the idea of a revolution supported by the newly raised class, bourgeoisie, against the dominance of “feudal” landowners and their king; if it was true that a new class had emerged in England, a class which could be called “bourgeoisie”, it is equally true that the landlords had already ceased to be “feudal”, both classes believing and being interested in the same facts of economic life. Maybe, the events, “the series of accidents” were simply caused by an unfortunate incompatibility between the political outlook of a king who had exaggerated the royal prerogatives reigning autocratically in order to preserve his and his allies’ interests, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the nation, as it had developed as the result of the Tudor Age, and which, by its Puritans and fervent Anglican representatives had got enough economic power to be comparable to the Royalist forces. Maybe, a monarch ruling in a constitutionally moderate way, rather than a highly autocratic one, would have avoided the clash among the various interests acting at the respective moment, judiciously accommodating the new forces present in the English political and economic life. In support of this point of view are the effects of these convulsions over the nation’s development, in the post-war and post-Cromwell period [12; p. 155]∗. Anyway, the forces emerging from the economic interests of the new classes combined with the political requirements of the age, to which the religious demands of the Puritans were attached, joined together to contribute to the events which shook the nation and society at the respective historical moment. However, when in 1660, Charles II was invited to become the king of England, the old order returned with him, as if nothing had happened; the country was the same unitary realm, the king having legislative sovereignty in Parliament and governing “in Council, under the common law” everything being “held together by the common interests of center and localities” [12; p. 156]. Even in the Church restoration was obvious, the moderate principles of the previous religious thinkers (Cranmer, Parker, Andrewes, Land) being restored, while the dissents were pushed off into sects, with the effort of building a Presbyterian government deplorably failed.
Also, B. Coward, “Was there an English revolution?” in “Politics and People in Revolutionary England”, C. Jones at. al., 1986, p. 9-39.
In many historians’ opinion, in spite of Oliver Cromwell’s energetic position, what happened in England, at that time, was not really a revolution, but a sequence of events which brought death and destruction in the country, but, which eventually ended in the restoration of the same order already set on a long time before.
2.9.4 England in the Restoration Period. Domestic and Foreign Policy
When Charles II, accepted by everybody as lawful king, returned to rule England, Cromwell’s laws and Acts were automatically cancelled. The return to peace and normality was guaranteed by the “Act of Indemnity and Oblivion” (1660) that represented an official pardon of all persons involved in the Civil War and the Protectorate rule∗. In this way the king wanted to show that his intention was to make peace with his father’s enemies. CHARLES II Besides, his general attitude was towards a tolerant religious settlement, and the unequivocal assurance of private property. However, the situation of the nation was too complex and complicated for a rapid solution, and it took about thirty years and numerous other events for the desired normality and peace to return and install in England. Thus, although Charles II continued to believe, as his father had done, in the “divine right of the king”, Parliament was, now, the one to decide, and its independence represented, maybe, one of the changes that had survived the past events. As a consequence, in spite of Charles II’ s desire to make peace between the different religious groups, and develop understanding and tolerance in the Church, Parliament (the Cavalier Parliament, 1661-1679) established a rigid Anglican orthodoxy, and a
The only exception were the Regicides, who were exemplarily punished. Cromwell’s body was exhumed and exposed at Tyburn together with two others.
very strong alliance between squires and parsons which was to dominate the local society for centuries∗ Tolerant, and, to a certain extent, attracted to the Catholic Church, Charles promulgated, in 1672, the Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the penal code against the religious nonconformists, either dissenters or Catholic. The English Protestants united against the king’s attitude, afraid that he could become a Catholic himself, and demanded the abrogation of the Declaration; more than that, next year, in 1673, Parliament passed the Test Act which prevented any Catholic from holding national office. (The king’s brother, James, Duke of York who was Catholic, had to resign his position, the admiralty) A declared persecution was carried out against the dissenters as well, especially Quakers and Baptists, who were imprisoned by thousands. The period was known for its mass anti-Catholic hysteria, but Charles II reacted calmly and decisively keeping the situation under control, and avoiding a new civil war. The situation at the respective time, characterized by the fear of Charles’s connections with the Catholic France and his interest in the Catholic Church, on the one hand, combined with the fear of the king’s building a base for royal absolutism∗∗, on the other hand, resulted in the formation of the first political parties in England; they were known as the “Whigs” and the “Tories” each of them being clearly defined, and politically opposed. The “Whigs” (Scottish name for cattle drivers) were not against the Crown, but they were afraid of an absolute monarchy and of the Catholic faith (Catholicism and absolutism being firmly linked in the popular mind) considering that the king’s authority depended on Parliament consent.
Thus, bishops returned to Parliament, a new prayer book was authorized and became compulsory in the church, with repressive acts passed against tresspassers in order to get general conformity, etc. The dissenters were barred from holding separate church services. ∗∗ Under the guidance of the chief minister Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, Parliament was better managed, the crown patronage was centralized, royal finance was well organized and a standing army could be maintained.
Under the guidance of the chief minister Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, Parliament was better managed, the crown patronage was centralized, royal finance was well organized and a standing army could be maintained. On the religious matters, they had inherited the values of the old “Parliamentarians”, being tolerant towards the new Protestant sects so much disliked by the Anglican Church. Thus, they strongly were for religious freedom, but, in the given circumstances, they feared that the Crown could go to Charles’ catholic brother James, a fact which they could not accept, being, however, undecided whom they wanted as king. The other political group nicknamed “Tories” (an Irish name for thieves) upheld the authority of the Crown and the Church, and they had inherited the “Royalist position in Parliament”, being supporters of the Anglican Church, of the land, and of the principle of passive obedience. The two parties were actively involved in the political events which took place during Charles II’ s last years of reign, being either for, or against the king’s decisions; those who supported the monarch as loyal servants were the Tories, while the king correctly managed many difficult situations, succeeding, towards the end of his reign, 1685, to be the full master of his state; he was financially independent and politically secure. In spite of the Whigs’ fear, James II became the king of England at his brother’s death, as Charles, with no legitimate children would not allow any interference with his brother’s divine right to the Crown. When James II became king, in 1685, the Tories and Anglicans were satisfied, but not for long; although James had guaranteed the preservation JAMES II of the Anglican church, having no desire to establish either Catholicism or absolutism in the country, he was for a better treatment of the Catholics (he himself had been converted to Catholicism), his intention being to repel the Test Act.
Very soon he did it, when, on the occasion of Monmouth’s rebellion∗, he dispensed with the Test Act and appointed Catholics to military command. Parliament tried to oppose the king, but James II was decided in his attitude, and he even tried to forge an alliance with the dissenters. In 1687, he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the penal law against Catholics and dissenters. By his action, James II became an undesirable ruler for the Anglican Parliament; the more so, when he imprisoned the bishops who had refused to read the Declaration in their churches, and when his son was born being likely that another Catholic heir would come to the throne some day, the leaders of the political groups decided to take action: some leading Protestants drafted an invitation addressed to William of Orange∗∗ to come to England; there was, in fact, an invitation addressed to a foreign king to invade the country. It was in 1688. Although dangerous for him, William accepted the invitation and organized the crossing, landing at Exeter; there, he issued a declaration which called for the election of a new Parliament. James tried to oppose the invasion organizing his own army, but, to his surprise, he had nothing to do but to watch its dissipation, while his closest supporters, including his own daughter Anne, betrayed WILLIAM III him joining William’s forces. In a state of breakdown, James tried to escape leaving the country for France, after he had lost the great Seal into the Thames. Captured, he was allowed a second “escape”, while William reached London, where he called Parliament into being (the Convention Parliament), and started to organize his acceptance as king of England. Finally, Parliament declared legitimate the joint reign of Mary (James II’ s daughter and William’s wife) and of William III of Orange,
The Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of Charles II, could have been considered a possible heir to the throne. After having recruited farmers and tradesmen he marched to the west country, but he was defeated at Sedge moor. He was captured and executed, and more than 600 supporters were hanged or deported. ∗∗ William of Orange, ruler of Holland; he was Protestant and married to James’ s daughter Mary, who was also Protestant.
as the throne had become vacant after James II’ s abdication. Parliament decided that James’s flight to France and his gesture of tossing the Great Seal into the Thames could be considered an abdication∗, and that he, consequently, had lost his right to the crown. James made one more attempt to take the crown in 1690, when, backed by the French and supported by Catholic and Puritan partisans, he invaded Ireland, but, he was crushed at the Battle of the Boyne by William who, personally, led his army. The event marked the final victory of what was called the “Glorious Revolution”, a sequence of circumstances, completely unplanned and unprepared, but which meant the replacement of the older absolutist Stuart monarchs, who had continued to believe in the “divine right of king”, with the new constitutional monarchs. Thus, a Counter-reformation monarch had been replaced with a new Reformation monarch, in the person of the Dutch Protestant, William III of Orange. However, although called “revolution”, the event was more a “coup d’état” organized by the ruling class represented in Parliament; the representatives of this class made William king by their choice, and not because he had inherited the crown. Acting in this way, Parliament proved that it was more powerful than monarchs, and it has continued to keep the same position since then. In this respect, the event was really a “revolution”. Two laws sanctioned the Parliament power over the monarch: the Bill of Rights (1689) and, especially, the Act of Settlement (1701). The former, a conservative document, established the principle according to which only a Protestant could wear the crown of England, and the coronation oath required the king to uphold Protestantism as well as the statutes, laws and customs of the realm. The latter, was even more specific, stipulating that the monarch had to be a member of the Anglican Church, that his foreign policy was to be directed by Parliament, and his domestic policy by the Privy Council. The king was also limited in his right to dismiss judges.
Besides, Parliament considered that the king had undermined “the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between King and People”. The idea of a “contract” was part of some theories (the most important ones belonged to Algernon Sidney and John Locke), according to which government was based on the “consent of the people” (Parliament), the king’s powers being limited; it resulted that Parliament and not the king should represent the real power in the state.
By its clauses the Act of Settlement showed a high degree of control over monarchy coming from Parliament. The document, important for the nation’s political development, has remained in force since then. By these documents the royal prerogatives were seriously weakened and the immediate effect was the possibility that the newer wealthy classes could be better accommodated; it is interesting to notice that these forces representing the new economic order worked side by side with those representing the newer, anti-Catholic Protestant religion, the English masses being organised within both a religious and political framework∗. Thus, the English Glorious Revolution was considered politically parliament-led, and monarchically aimed being, simultaneously, religiously tinged; according to historians, that revolution was “corporate” in spirit, being inspired by a pragmatic need to compromise. The early modern English political scene was to witness the same corporate political spirit, and it proved able to “accommodate the new forces within the older frame, and to adjust the old political order so as – in the long run – to fit in with the new one”. [46, p. 47]. The last of the Stuarts who inherited the crown was Anne, James II’s daughter. When she came to reign in 1702, the country was politically divided, and the competition between the two groups – the Whigs and the Tories – for gaining power continued during her reign. The major event which took place at the beginning of the 18th century was the union with Scotland which happened in 1707. When Anne died childlessly, in 1714, the succession to the crown had already been resolved in the Act of Settlement. The person who became the king under the name of George I, was Georg Ludwig, elector of Hanover, a grand grandchild of James I. The Stuarts’ dynasty had come to an end.
There were some other laws, at the time, restricting the monarch’s rights in favour of Parliament: the Military Act (1689) restrained the king’s control over military forces and the use of martial law; the Toleration Act (1689) by which the Anglican clergy preserved its monopoly, although it permitted more forms of Protestant worship, etc.; the Triennial Act (1694) re-established the principle of regular parliamentary sessions.
As regards foreign policy in Stuarts’ age, England’s main enemies had been Spain, Holland and France, and the wars with these countries had been caused by trade competition. During Charles’s reign, there were three Dutch Wars (1652-54; 1665-67; 1672-74) which ended triumphantly for the English as they achieved the trade positions they wanted. Once peace agreed, Holland and Britain started to cooperate against France, especially during the reign of William II, who brought the country into the Dutch-French conflict. At the beginning of the 18th century, during Anne’s reign, Duke of Marlborough led the British army to victory at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet. By the Treaty of Utrecht (1715) France accepted the limits imposed on its expansion to Britain’s advantage, the latter expanding its colonial empire to Canada and the Carribean, and maintaining the possessions of QUEEN ANN JAMES II WIFE Gibraltar and Minorca, already captured in 1704/1708; in this way, Britain controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean. Besides these new territories, Britain already possessed twelve colonies on the east coast of America, and some territories in the West Indies. During the respective period, Britain’s interest in India was still in trade only, without any interference in Indian politics∗; its first trading settlements there had been established on both the west and east coasts. In comparison with Spain or Netherlands, Britain’s empire overseas was still small at that time. England’s neighbour, Scotland, continued to be a separate kingdom in the 17th century, although, starting with James II (James VII of Scotland), the two countries shared the same king. However, political and economic matters urged them to unite in 1707, the name of the new state being Great Britain.
However, the competition with France will determine direct effort of controlling Indian politics, in the next century; this will be carried out either by alliance or conquest of Indian states.
Thus, England was interested to unite with Scotland, as the latter, being free to choose its own king after Queen Anne’s death, might invite a Stuart back on the throne, a situation which could revigorate the Auld Alliance with France, England’s most dangerous European enemy. On the other hand, Scotland had some economic problems caused by England’s limitation of its trade, a situation which was negotiated with the English against the Scots’ agreement to the union of the two countries. The Scots accepted to unite by “Act of Parliament” and, from that moment on, the decisions were to be taken by only one parliament for both countries; however, Scotland preserved its own separate legal and judicial system, as well as its own separate Church. In Ireland, the situation was different; the Catholics had some hopes in connection with James II, especially those who had lost their land because of the Protestant settlers. After his abdication, James made a last attempt of taking his throne back by using Ireland as a supporting base and landing there. An Irish Catholic Parliament passed an Act by which the Protestants’ lands in Ireland were confiscated, but the Protestants resisted, locking themselves in the city of Londonderry, and refusing to surrender∗. Very soon, the English army arrived, James was defeated, and, with this event, Protestant victory in Ireland was complete. Thus, the 17th century meant the beginning of a new stage in England’s foreign policy, and a change of its position on the international arena. The new situation became obvious especially towards the end of the century, as the result of a long process which had begun with the defeat of the Armada, and had continued with the union of England with Scotland under one sovereign. These were important events which made Britain a leading European power by the beginning of the 18th century. At that moment, Britain already had so many colonies that it could be considered an important competitor of other earlier colonial nations, such as Spain, Portugal or Holland.
“No Surrender!” was the battle cry of the Protestants at Londonderry, which has remained, to our days, the cry of Ulster Protestantism.
2.9.5 The Economic, Social, Cultural and Religious Life in the Stuart Age. The Revolution in Thought The second half of the 17th century witnessed the flourishing of England’s economic life, mostly due to the development of trade; besides, a strong interest was showed to an intensive agriculture which was achieved by carrying out farming improvements, although the same traditional grains were cultivated. Thus, Britain was able to export its cereals to the continent, where the living conditions were inferior to those on the island. Sheep growing continued to develop as well, especially in Yorkshire, Cotswold Hills and East Anglia supplying the raw material for the traditional textile industry. It included, besides the finest woollen cloths designed to export and woven at Norfolk or Kendal, the linen produced in Scotland and Ireland, the silk produced in Canterbury and London, while in Lancashire (Manchester) a cloth woven from cotton and wool was produced. In the field of industry, mining was developed in the same old regions where iron (Sussex, Northumberland, etc.), coal, or salt were found. At the same time, new industrial branches such as shipbuilding, glass, paper or leather industries started to develop. The unprecedented trade development was the direct result of improved transport conditions, the waterways∗ becoming an important and cheap means of transport which allowed practically each region to develop its own specific produce, and to sell them on other markets. The well-known example is that of Kent “the garden of England” where large quantities of fruit and vegetables were grown and, then, sold to other regions. A new activity became largely appreciated, namely, that of shopkeeper, as many towns started to have proper shops, contributing, in this way, to the development of the respective places. However, London remained the
By the end of the century most places were no more than twenty miles from a river or canal, and no place was more than seventy-five miles from the sea.
most important town of the country, having the control over the sea trade with other countries by means of large trade companies (East India Co.; Africa Co.; Hudson Co.). Important financial institutions were set up in London during the century, one of them being the Bank of England, established in 1694, mainly to finance the state’s large debt. At that time, the Bank of England was a private bank which wielded great influence, partly because of its close relationship with the Treasury. It was given a monopoly of joint-stock banking and it was empowered to discount bills and issue notes. It became the government’s bank, lending to the latter at a fixed rate of interest (initially 8 p.c.), secured by a specific customs grant∗. Lloyd’s, the world most important insurance company was also settled in London, during the same period, in 1686, as a necessity of eliminating or diminishing the sea risk, demanded by the increasing trade activities overseas. In the beginning, it had been only a famous coffee house where people met to comment trade news. But in the second half of the 17th century, London was also the victim of two unprecedented disasters: the great plague in 1665 and the great fire in 1666, interpreted as divine judgement against a sinful nation (The events had followed the king’s execution and the calamities of the Civil War). Although there were not rigorous statistics at that time, it seems that the plague killed between 75,000 and 100,000 people in only six months, with a percentage of 1/3 in the City, because of the dense population. One year later, London was destroyed by the Great Fire which burst one night in a bakery situated in Pudding Lane (the City), and continued for the next three days burning to ashes thousands of houses, numerous churches, and guildes headquarters. Among the buildings seriously damaged, and famous at that time, were the old St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange.
The bank’s notes, considered gilt-edged securities were highly appreciated by the investors, and, at that time, a huge amount of £ 1.2 million was raised on only the initial offering.
The fire broke out and rapidly extended partly because of the crowded and rather insane halftimbered houses, and partly because of the narrow streets, to which a strong east-west wind contributed substantially∗. After the Fire, in only a couple of days, the architects John Evelyn and Christopher Wren∗∗ submitted to the king a plan for the CHRISTOPHER WREN reconstruction of the City. A part of it was turned into life, and London enjoyed larger streets and new magnificent buildings in a modern style; for the first time, the richer citizens of the town had water supplied to their houses carried through specially made wooden pipes. Thus, those two unhappy events (the plague and the fire) changed the architectural aspect of London and, paradoxically, determined a state of mind inclined towards the enjoyment of life. The population had increased to a total of 7.7 million in Stuarts’ time, and as regards the social life, the same categories prevailed; but, however, some changes became obvious; thus, some improvement in the life of the poor could be noticed, as fewer people asked for help from the parish, and, generally, prices had fallen in comparison with wages. The middle classes did even better, and many former yeoman farmers or traders turned into minor gentry or merchants. Besides, there were the “aristocrats”, the old and the new ones; high position could be easily bought in the British society by paying money, and the newly rich families were eager to add aristocratic titles to their names. However, the old nobility was reluctant in accepting the new rich as their equal, and, in order to avoid being confused with them, the older Tudor gentry started to call themselves “squire”, a title which indicated the ruling class of the countryside; together with the JPs the squires governed locally.
An impressive description of the Great Fire is presented in Samuel Pepys’s “Diary” (1633-1703). ∗∗ Sir Christopher Wren, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, as well as a capable architect designed the plan of London’s rebuilding into much of what it is today, and giving the town a definite baroque personality.
Their power consisted in deciding the taxes for local purposes, in calling out soldiers, and trying different legal causes. A novelty of the century where the coffee houses were the rich of the towns used to meet, and where coffee, tea and cocoa were offered as drinks; the ordinary people had, as a meeting place, the “alehouses” in towns and villages. As a result of the English booming trade, and with it, of a new, rich and full of perspectives class, a general taste for comfort and elegance became the commonly accepted premise for the English life-style in the century to come. The 17th century is primarily known in England for the revolution which took place in the political area; but, for sure, it could not have happened if a revolution in human thought had not primarily taken place. In the same way in which this new way of thinking had influenced politics or religion, it also influenced science, which developed some main and definite principles; thus, the demand for a sceptical mind was considered necessary in scrutinizing scientific matters; thus, mind had to be freed from any preconceived ideas, and a critical attitude towards all points of view ever expressed had to be maintained. A new method of investigation was taken into consideration based on observation and experimentation as the only trustworthy means of securing data, and the inductive method of reasoning started to be used to work on these data. Thus, the experimental science was imagined, and, with it, the authoritarian principles of antiquity were undermined, advancing the cause of modern science. A principle much insisted upon was that of “liberty” with a direct reference to the necessity of freedom for investigation and advance in directing the possible findings against the established ideas. The removal of ancients’ authority, especially that of Aristotle, and the advancement beyond their ignorance made the scientists embrace the idea of progress. Towards the second half of the 17th century, all these new ideas, attitudes and values started to represent a scientific movement comprising not only the authentic scientists, but many others, who admitted the new trend, and acknowledged themselves as part of this movement. The chief embodiment of this movement was the Royal Society, organized around
Francis Bacon∗ (1561-1626). The Stuarts encouraged the movement, and the Society became, in time, an important centre for the thinkers and scientists to meet, argue, ask questions and share their knowledge and information. However, when the English scientific movement of the 17th century is investigated, the first name which must be taken into consideration is that of Francis Bacon, James I’ s Lord Chancellor, whose works (“Novum Organum”, “Advancement of Learning”) disclosed the spirit which inspired and motivated scientific activities of the century. Thus, being the creator of the inductive method in the research activity Francis Bacon insisted on the importance of testing every scientific ideas by experiment, a point of view put into practice by scientists ever since. The discoveries which followed laid the foundations of modern science in different fields of research. Thus, William Harvey (1578-1657) discovered WILLIAM HARVEY blood circulation (1628), which led to important advances in medicine and in the study of the human body. Inspired by him, Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and Robert Hooke (1635-1703) made important discoveries in chemistry and physics (thus, Boyle discovered the law of gas compressing and the role of oxygen in combustion). One of the most important scientific findings of humanity belongs to Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a Cambridge Professor of Mathematics (Trinity College), who, in 1666, started to study gravity, and, a couple of years later (1687), ISAAC NEWTON published his revolutionary discovery, the law of gravitation (Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Matematica). The importance of Newton’s discovery was welcomed by his contemporaries,
Some other important names of that time who supported and popularised the new ideas were Robert Boyle, an authentic scientist, John Webster, a Puritan chaplain (his work: Academiarum Examen, 1654), Joseph Glanvill, rector in the Anglican Church, Thomas Sprat, bishop of Rochester, a.s.o.
and, from that moment on, he has been considered the founding father of modern science∗ in physics. He also stated three fundamental laws of mechanics called after his name, and had important discoveries in optics (Newton’s rings) as well. His friend, the astronomer Edmund Halley (1656-1742) became famous for the tracking of a comet in 1758 (Halley’s Comet), the existence of which he had announced in 1706; the interest in the field of astronomy was considereable at that time, and led to the discovery of the geometric movement of stars and planets in the same EDMUND HALLEY direction of interest; Halley drew up in 1679, a catalogue of the stars in the South hemisphere (Catalogus Stellarum Australum) and even, the famous architect Christopher Wren was Professor of astronomy at Oxford. As regards arts, the Stuart period, between the reigns of James I and Georges I, was one of the richest and most interesting in England. A large quantity of works of art was produced, containing some of the most vigorous and beautiful expressions of the British genius. Charles I was the most enthusiastic and discerning patron of arts, assembling a collection of pictures and works of art unequalled up to him∗∗, and developing, at his time, a perfect taste for art. With reference to architecture, its impetus came from both the Court and the upper classes, determining decisive forward moves; the development of three important styles can be noticed: Jacobean, classical and baroque. By about the first quarter of the 17th century (1620-1625) most of the greater aristocracy had built or rebuilt their houses; at the same time, the lesser aristocracy and squirearchy, (including merchants, who had bought land and needed new houses) who were to play a greater role in the national development, built many houses, sometimes charming or interesting.
Until Einstein’s discoveries, Newton’s work continued to represent the basis of scientific development in the field of physics. ∗∗ Charles’ s possessions included renaissance and contemporary masterpieces as Titian’ s Emperors, Raphael’ s La Perla, Andrea del Satro’s Holy Family, Correggio’ s Allegories, Mantegua’ s Triumph of Caesar, Caravaggio’ s Death of the Virgin a.s.o.
The majority of the country houses built before the Civil War followed a line of development originating in the Jacobean architecture. It was a continuation of the Elizabethan style combined with renaissance-classical elements, characterized in their planning by a decline in importance of the great hall specific to medieval time. The style, mixed and rather extravagant, with mouldings having classical profiles, etc., was used at Halfield (1607-1611) built by Robert Lyminge for Robert Cecil, count of Salisbury, or for building the bizarre Bodlehein library (1610-1630), the architects being Thomas Holt or John Ackroyd. Many other buildings of the same type can be found, as for example: Kew Palace and Broome Hall near Canterbury (around 1630), interesting especially for the treatment of brick in a new way, imported from Flanders. The classical style, Palladianism, had a direct connection with Inigo Jones’s∗ buildings, showing a great understanding of Italian models; these buildings were not only decorated, but also planned in the full manner of the Italian Renaissance. However, he was genius enough to considerably adapt that style to English conditions of climate and taste. Inigo Jones’s chief surviving houses are at Greenwich, the Queen’s House, and at Wilton; Queen’s House is Jones’s first demonstration of Palladianism, and of planning in the manner of the Renaissance buildings: the hall is a central vestibule with other rooms leading out of it. The real Palladian masterpiece by Inigo Jones is the Banqueting House (1622), “a palazzo” in Whitehall, England’s best example of an architectural fashion fully accepted only in the next century. It is a serene, monumental composition, its details deriving from Palladian villas, and from palaces in Vicenza. Inigo Jones was also the architect of the Covent Garden piazza, more “barn like” and indeed called by him a
Ingo Jones (1573-1652), a Londoner of humble origin, made friends with the highest in the land. He paid formative visits to Italy and France, and made serious studies not only of Italian buildings, but of the theories of design and of the works by leading Italian architects. Pupil of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio of Vicenza, Jones was truly influenced by him, becoming a pioneer of the classical style in England’s architecture. The Palladian architects, with their somewhat rigidly antique Roman style, drew their inspiration from Palladio’s careful study of ancient buildings still existing in Rome, combined with the very precise instructions of planning, proportions and details coming from the Imperial Roman architectural author Vitruvius. The style was enthusiastically readopted in England in the 18th century being used especially for the construction of houses more than for public buildings.
“Tuscan Barn”; arcaded in the Italian manner, and geometrically laid out as a rectangular square, the building was a novelty in London of that time. Other two important architects, students of Inigo Jones, were Roger Pratt (1620-1685) and Hugh May (1621-1684), whose main works were, unfortunately, demolished. However, the architect who dominated the period was Christopher Wren (1632-1723); endowed with a surpassing ability as an engineer, and with a great flexibility of mind as an artist, Wren was also a mathematician and a scientist. His buildings represent British national treasures. His name was closely connected with the restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral and of other churches in London after the Great Fire, in 1666, his work being extremely important for the understanding of Wren’s character as an architect. Besides being of an intrinsic value, these building were of major importance in his career, for the flood of invention they offered, St. Paul’s Cathedral and by which an immense practical experience was gained. Many projects designed by Wren can be found in London, and include Marlborough House, Kensington Palace, Royal Hospital, Royal Naval College, Fountain Court and many others; in Cambridge he designed two colleges (Pembroke and Emmanuel) and the Trinity College Library, and at Oxford the well-known Tom Tower. As regards his style, Wren found a balance between the classical, (Trinity College Library), gothic (Tom Tower) and baroque (St. Paul’s) ones. Towards the end of the century, a change of emphasis took place in English architecture, with a steady weakening of the dependence on Italian Renaissance and with strong baroque elements appearing in architecture and decoration. During this period, the country-house building showed either the persistence of the of type old design, or the introduction of the grandiose baroque elements; William Talman (1650-1719) designed wonderful country-houses, being famous at his time.
The type of painting representative for the English artists continued to be the miniature, including not only Hilliard’s name, but also of his epigones, Isaac Oliver (1565-1617) being one of the best known. Samuel Cooper (1608-1672) was considered a great English portrait painter, while William Dobson was known as Serjeant-Painter at Charles I’ s Court. A modern and competent school of portrait painting grew up in London, whose style was realistic, simple and worldly. A great contribution to the development of portrait painting in England was brought by the two titans Peter Paul Rubens (1557-1640) and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), who spent a part of their life there, creating and introducing into the country a completely new range of expressions and conventions. As regards sculpture, it became, especially in the later part of the 17th century, more closely linked with continental art, dominated by the full baroque style. Tomb sculpture continued to represent the material in which the history of English sculpture can be discovered, but a few important secular statues are also available, side by side with architectural sculpture, all of them offering the image of the artistic creation of the time. Among those who produced important works of art were sculptors as Bushnell, Cibber or Francis Bird. Cibber is known especially for carving the relief at the base of the Monument celebrating the Great Fire. In music, the name which dominated the century was Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Characterized as “an individual genius”, Purcell produced, in his short life, a considerable amount of religious and secular music, including full anthems and verse anthems solo songs, duets and catches in the French style; over forty Restoration plays had songs composed by him; he also provided five “musicals”, one of them being Fairy Queen, an HENRY PURCELL adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Purcell extended the “Ode”, a specific English style in music, representing a joyful verse-anthem composed to welcome or celebrate a special event. “Dido and Aeneas” is Purcell’s opera in which he
experimented dissonance and created bizarre effects, contributing to the English music future development. The 17th century witnessed a vast and diverse literary production, from drama to prose, and from poetry to diary. Shakespeare, generally connected with Elizabethan age, perpetuated his greatness in the 17th century producing his famous tragedies, “Hamlet” (1601), “Othello” (1604), “King Lear” (1605), “Macbeth”, “Anthony and Cleopatra” (1606) and looking deeply into the human soul. His last plays, including “The Tempest” (1611) represented a quiet acceptance and ultimate reconciliation with life as a fitting close for his SHAKESPEARE literary career. His sonnets were published in 1609, although they had been written much earlier. Ben Jonson (1572-1677) was an influential figure of his time, shaping, in his turn, the future development of the English drama. A cultivated person (translated Horatio’s work) he wrote both comedies and tragedies. Jonson is important in the English drama especially due to his comedies, written with verve and imagination, and in which he satirized various manners considered unproper BEN JONSON for the prevailing standards of good sense and moderation. His best comedies are “Volpone” (1606) and “The Alchemist” (1610), in which he created witty portraits of contemporary London life. His effort was directed towards improving drama as a form of literature, and he advocated adherence to classical forms and rules. Francis Beaumon (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625), collaborated in writing a number of tragicomedies: “Philaster”, “The Maid’s Tragedy”, “A King and No King” etc. Their plays reveal morally dubious situations, reversals of fortune and so on, in which sentimentality was combined with hollow rhetoric.
Poetry included a significant number of poets, some of them writing in the first half of the century, in the period prior to the revolution, and others after the Restoration. For the first period poets as Michael Drayton (1563-1631), John Milton (1608-1674), John Donne (1571-1631), Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) or Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) can be mentioned. Out of them, John Milton could be considered of special importance, being the accepted literary authority of his time. His work covered both historical periods; thus before becoming involved with the Puritan cause, he produced remarkable poems as “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” (1629), “On Shakespeare” (1630), “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (1631), “A Mask” (1634) and the pastoral elegy of Lycidas JOHN MILTON (1637), which showed both his humanist learning and poetic genius. In the period between 1640 and the Restoration, Milton wrote fourteen poems and the dramatic poem “Samson Agonists” of religious inspiration; it is also the period when he started to work on the blank-verse epic “Paradise Lost”, published in 1667/1674; in 1671, the last work of the blind poet was published, “Paradise Regained”. Milton’ s massive literary achievement stands out as a connection between the age of Renaissance, whose last representative he was, and the Neoclassic Age; beginning his literary career with a declared preference for graver subjects drawn from classical mythology, Milton evolved towards modified forms in “Paradise Lost”, where baroque elements can be detected, and verged on neoclassicism in “Samson Agonists”. Another important poet of the second half of the century was John Dryden (1631-1700); his poetry impressed the readers by the grandeur, force and fullness of tone, which were somehow specific to the Elizabethans, but, at the same time, it expressed the new age by achieving a new clarity and an impersonal atmosphere of JOHN DRYDEN moderation and good taste. Although he wrote odes, he was famous especially for his political satires, a form of poetic genre dominant of the age; “Absalom and
Achitophel” (1681/82) and “MacFlecknoe” (1682) are his most remarkable poems of this type. Anyway, the bulk of Dryden’s work was in drama; his heroic tragedies “The Conquest of Granada” (1670), “All for Love, or The World Well Lost” (1678), showed the dominant trait of all Restoration tragedy: the desire to achieve surprise and splendour on the stage, obtained by the display of exotic places and extravagant plots presented on a rather bombastic style, on the account of the reality of characterization and consistency in motivation, intentionally sacrificed. Dryden also wrote prose: “Essay of Dramatic Poesie” (1668), where his easy, informal, and clear style defined the tone of his age. As regards prose, the most significant writing of the century was considered King James Bible, also known as “The Authorized Version”, which represented the translation of the Bible into English from a Hebrew version. Among the prose writers, the most impressive figure of the century was Francis Bacon (1561-1620), who remained in the history of British culture for his activity as essayist and philosopher. It is difficult to make a clear-cut distinction between his literary and philosophical works. His first essays (“Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral”) (1597-1625) are advice to be followed in any circumstances, dense with aphorisms, sometimes borrowed from the classics, but always with a deep moral meaning. Some of them, as “The remedy is worse than the disease”, “Knowledge is power”, “Travel is a part of education”, “Histories make men wise” are often quoted, preserving their interest even today [29; p. 205-206]. Bacon’ s vast work is represented by a trilogy consisting of “The Advancement of Learning” (1605), “De Argumentis Scientiarum”, revised issue in Latin (1623) and “Novum Organum” (1620), an attack to Aristotle’ s concept on knowledge, and a proposal for a “new instrument” of work (the experiment) in the reform of mind and scientific investigation. Thus, Bacon moved philosophical approach to a new
direction, by advocating reasoning in any form of human thought. Either criticized (Kant, Bertrand Russell) or highly admired (Newton, Boyle, Hooke) Bacon can be considered as the founder of the British empiric philosophical school, his concept being followed and pushed forward by other philosophers as Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and later, David Hume (“An Enquiring Concerning the Human Understanding”, 1748). Bacon also wrote an utopia “New Atlantis”, printed firstly in Latin (1627), one year after the writer’ s death, and, later, in English (1629). The work, left unfinished at Bacon’ s death, was roughly used as model in the construction of the Royal Society, in 1660. Other prose writers of the first half of the century worth mentioning are: Robert Burton (1577-1640), an encyclopedic spirit, whose main work was “The Anatomy of Melancholy” (1621), James Harrington (1611-1677) with his utopia “The Commonwealth of Oceana”, Isaac Walton (1593-1683) with a work on fishing “The Compleat Angler”, Thomas Fuller (1606-1661) who wrote “The History of the Worthiest of England” (1662). Among them, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) deserves special mention; he wrote “Elements of Law” and “Elementa philosophiae”, but his main achievement is considered “Leviathan” (1651), a work of political philosophy; it is centred on the idea that man is a rebellious being who must be saved from self-destruction (homo homini lupus) by the setting of a commonwealth which he should willingly join, on the condition of observing some pre-established rules, improved by a superior authority having absolute but not arbitrary power, the monarch [29; p. 211]. Thus, according to Hobbes, the monarch should rule not by divine right, but by an original and indissoluble social contract, in order to secure universal peace and material welfare. According to Leo Strauss, Hobbes is the father of modern political philosophy, being the founder of the theory on constitutional monarchy. The second half of the century witnessed the emergence of other important prose writers. One of them was John Locke (1632-1704), whose work “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1690)
was highly appreciated by Votaire. The treaty consists of four books in which he rejected the theory of inborn knowledge, considering that its source is experience, due to senses (“Nihil fuerit in intellectu quin fuerit in sensu”); he also referred to the problem of language, and to the limits of human understanding. Lock’s work was the product of the belief in experience as the exclusive basis of knowledge. John Bunyan’ s (1628-1688) main works “The Pilgrim’ s Progress from this World to That Which is to Come” was written in prison (1678-1684) where he spent twelve years of his life. It is an allegory of his character’ s journey, Christian, to a heavenly city, and an opportunity of describing his contemporaries’ way of being in the part called “Vanity Fair”. Together with his second work “The Life and Death of Mr. Badman” (1680) the narratives present the moving, allegorical journey of the human being at the level of the fundamental truths of life, death and religion. There is a really deep characterization of life in both his works, and also much vitality which attained, especially, in the beginning, a special popularity among merchants, artisans and the poor. The 17th century literature is considered remarkable not only because of its fiction, philosophical, or religious works, but also for its memoirs. The two important representatives of the genre were John Evelyn (1620-1706), who wrote works on different topics, but who was mostly appreciated for his “Kalenderium” (discovered in 1818), a document by which the second half of the 17th century could be perfectly known, and especially Samuel Pepys (l633-1703). He wrote only one work, “Diary”, convering the period between 1660 and 1669, and published in 1815. Due to the minute details it offers, the vast area of events observed, the directness and colour of the description, often presented with humour and irony, Pepy’s Diary remained a unique achievement of its kind [29, p. 230]. The revolution in thought, which characterized the 17th century development in politics, science, and art, also influenced the religious life of Britain; the real Protestant movement started to express loudly during the century, and new religious groups came into existence.
The influence of the Puritanism grew considerably, especially among the merchant class and lesser gentry. An important contribution to these events was brought by the translation of the Bible, which encouraged its reading by all those who were able to read; some of them started to interpret the Bible in a new revolutionary way, according to the new and rather non-conformist trends in thought, leading to the formation of a large number of new religious groups. The most important of them were the Baptists and the Quakers, who, in spite of the opposition met, managed to survive, having an important impact on the nation’ s life∗. However, many of the members of these groups were not able to bear the opposition showed to them, and they decided to leave Britain for the new land of America, where they hoped to live a new life of freedom. For the first time, such a decision was made in 1620, when the “Pilgrim Fathers” embarked The Mayflower to reach Massachusetts. It was the beginning of the British emigration, which continued with the Catholic families who settled in Maryland for similar religious reasons, or, latter on, with the hundred of thousands of young people who left the country for economic reasons. Their desire was to start a new life in a new place, a chance never hoped on the old land.
Thus, the Quakers gave hope to the poor and powerless developing a reforming social activity, in the 18th century; trade unionism and different social reforms which occurred, owe much to the religious non-conformism of the 17th century. Until the end of the 19th century, these groups were not liked by the ruling classes in Britain, in spite of their positive work and attitude.
2.10 Britain in the Early Stage of the Modernization Process. The Years of Reforms and “Revolutions”. Continuity and Change – Characteristic Features of British Culture and Civilization 2.10.1 Britain in the First Half of the 18th Century: Economic, and Political Life of the Country At the beginning of the 18th century, Britain was already considered a leading European country and an imperial power, with colonies in Gibraltar, Minorca, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Hudson’s Bay; it had also got trading concessions in the Spanish New World, as a consequence of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Inside, the country was prosperous and cohesive, proving that it had been able to pay for the wars on the continent, and demonstrating, in this way, the extent of its wealth, which had resulted from the growth of its industries, but, mainly, from its large new trading empire. Britain’s governments had carried a deliberate policy of creating a trading empire whose routes were protected and controlled by a strong navy, the strongest in the world, at that time. Britain’s economy was still based on agriculture, with a growth of production noticed during the period; however, ever more people were employed in industries, many of them being obliged to leave their land, homes, and their way of life because of the new practice of enclosures. Although a wealthy state, the wealth was, however, unequally distributed, one third of the national income belonging to only 5 p.c. of the population; but, the society was not totally polarized, the middle classes being well represented; besides, in most Britain’s regions there was, basically, enough food for the whole population to be fed, although there were some categories of people suffering starvation and hunger related diseases. Anyway, the general situation secured social stability in the country, in spite of some controversies in political issues, obvious in the fighting between the Whig and Tory parties. All these aspects were
obvious in the British society at the moment when Georg Ludwig, elector of Hanover became king of Great Britain, in 1714, under the name of George I; they proved that the process of the country’s modernization∗ had already begun. Thus, the country’s economy had changed from a subsistence type economy to a multiple exchange, surplus oriented one; it was the consequence of the small-scale agrarian economy turning into a latifundarian one, whose main purpose was no longer the supply of the necessary means of subsistence, but of the raw materials and means of production demanded for the exchanges with the wider world; thus, the first change which had taken place in agriculture meant the transition from farmland cultivation and cattle raising on farms, to enclosed land cultivation, and to large scale cattle/sheep raising, whish provided the raw material for the wool industry and the big centralized markets; later on, after the discovery and colonization of North America, some of the wool and linen fabric industries were replaced with cotton weaveries, largely developed in England. At the same time, the social structure had begun to change as well, and the farmers and their families driven off the land (because of a new period of enclosures) came to town becoming the working “proletariat”; besides, the situation was the result of the invention of new machinery, which had destroyed the old “cottage-type industries”, determining the setting up of factories in town and cities. The development of these industries led to the growth of important towns as Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool. As regards trade, it continued to be under the control of “Companies”, which, in fact, had dictated the changes, while their revenues had increased, by taxation, the national income of the 18th country; however, this centralized control diminished towards the end of the century, being replaced with a new trade principle connected with the market selfregulation, namely the “free-market principle”, which completely subordinated production to money interests at the market level. Later on, the industrial revolution, resulting from science advancement, represented the stimulus for a series of economic/trade and legislative
Process that refers to the irreversible differentiation, separation and specialization of certain social functions, structures and institutions and which explains the configuration and tendencies of the modern/contemporary world [46; p. 58].
reforms, which turned the commercial and moneyed middle classes into the real and official power of the society, politically modernized as well. Thus, the series of events that shaped the British civilization of the 18th century represented some chain transformations which had started very early in England, with the setting up of the first enclosures, and culminated with trade supremacy as “backbone” of British economic development. The different stages of development meant the growth of industries, which included, besides those already mentioned, the heavy/ high-energy ones, such as casting iron or smelting metals in foundries; large amounts of raw materials were required for their running, and trade facilitated the supplies from remote regions, specialized, in their turn, in industrial related activities as mining, ore extraction or shipping. Consequently, the growth of transportation became necessary for carrying either the raw materials or the goods produced; for Britain, the best possible means was represented by sea/water, convenient in many ways: safer, cheaper and more feasible than land transportation. As a result, the military fleet of the Middle Ages, turned into the Renaissance both military and buccaneers’ fleet, became in the 17th-18th centuries an international commercial fleet, supporting the development of trade companies business. Under the new economic conditions, the state (in the person of the monarch) gradually became the chief guarantee and manager of production, transportation and trade, both as “patron” of some groups of entrepreneurs, and the beneficiary of taxation coming from them. In the early stages of modernization, the administration of these activities was delegated to a system of national trade companies∗ and other bodies,
The denomination of first trade companies reminded the guild names (e.g.: the company of Merchant Adventurers, dealing in woollen cloth, 1400), while the next companies mirrored the geographical location of the trade area (Muscovy Company, 15th century; Levant Company, Barbary Company, Guinea Company, 16th century; East India Company, 1600; West Indies Company, the South Sea Company, the American Virginia Company, 17th century).
while Parliament was called to vote the economic and administrative laws∗ by which the working of the system was held under control. Politically, the state seemed stable, although the inner fight for supremacy between the two parties, Tories and Whigs, was keen enough. Thus, at the moment of George I’s coming to the crown, some Tories∗∗ disagreed the idea of having him king, and supported the return of James II’s son to England, as James III. The movement was not an inspired one, as their rebellion was easily defeated, and George I, a German, mostly interested in European affairs who did not particularly liked the Tories whom he considered “insular”, was offered the occasion to get rid of them entrusting the whole administration of the realm to the Whigs. Among the new ministers, Robert Walpole was to become an important political figure of the century. Considered Britain’s first Prime Minister∗∗∗, Robert Walpole, an extremely able politician, “shrewd, greedy and entirely Whig”, was, besides, an able manager of financial matters, a fact obvious in the way in which he handled the “South Sea Bubble”∗∗∗∗. Walpole dominated Britain’s political life for a period of
There were passed laws for the control of the workers’ wages, of the commerce prices at the national level, for the protection of certain foreign groups of entrepreneurs and their settlement in England, protectionist tariffs etc. [46; p. 62] ∗∗ They were known under the name of “Jacobites”. ∗∗∗ The title, already applied to some ministers during Queen Ann’s reign and frequently used in Walpole’s time, became an official title only in the early 20th century. ∗∗∗∗ The affair was the result of the people’s interest in investing their money in financial matters, the trading companies doing business in the newly developing geographic areas (West Indies, East Indies, a.s.o.) which represented a very attractive investment. Such a company was the South Sea Company, founded in 1711, a trading and finance institution, which, in 1719, offered to take over a large part of the national debt managed by the Bank of England. The Whig administration supported the action offering the company in exchange, the monopoly rights to trading in the South Seas. For raising money, the company planed to sell shares, and one year later, a real madness seized those who, more or less, could afford buying them, making the share price grow incredibly and ungroundedly. Inevitably, the crash came with the shares price falling dramatically, and thousands of people who had invested their money in the business found themselves ruined. The moment was difficult, a serious shortage of money followed in the country, and Parliament demanded an investigation of the financial scandal, which had raised the possibility of some members of the government and Royal family be implicated in the disaster. Walpole used his ability to minimize the scandal and Parliament inquiry,
twenty years (1722-1742), being considered by some historians as “the architect of political stability in Britain”. Thus, due to Walpole’s domestic, and foreign policy, the political power in the country was stabilize and the Hanoverian dynasty was helped to become well settled in Britain. However, it is no less true, that at the moment when he began his political career, Britain was already laid on strong foundations of peace and wealth. One of Walpole’s main achievements in political management was the idea of all ministers working together and constituting, in this way, a “team” responsible for all political decisions made. The team was called “Cabinet”, and the rule was introduced that any minister deeply disagreeing with the rest of the ministers had to resign. As regards the relations between government and the crown, they had been settled by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the political classes ruling Britain at the beginning of the 18th century did their best to be sure that the power of the king would always be limited by the constitution. These limitations included the king’s interdiction to be a Catholic, to remove or change laws, as ROBERT WALPOLE well as his dependency on Parliament for his financial income and army. But it was the king’s obligation to “choose” the ministers, although it belonged, to the same extent, to Parliament, namely to the majority forming Parliament (the House of Commons), and whose members belonged to one of the two main parties; thus, at the respective time, Britain already possessed a constitutional structure by which the “executive” Crown was responsible to the House of Commons, while Parliament, in its turn, was responsible to the electorate who had voted for one of the two parties that had put forward candidates for election.
managing to restore the public confidence into financial matters; he took firm steps for avoiding the recurrence of such events in future. It was for the first time that measures were taken in order to “make companies responsible to the public for the money which they borrowed by the sale of shares [25; p. 108].
In this way, the political debate and action had moved from the Court to Parliament, and many historians speak about the existence of “a government responsible to and ultimately controlled by the people” [12, p. 192], a point of view sometimes debatable. However, in spite of political innovation and important achievements, Walpole’s policy was often criticized by his contemporaries who considered that he had got too much power, which could lead to corruption and the loss of liberty. It is worth mentioning that not only his political opponents, (the Tory MPs and the group of Whig dissidents who had confederated against him), but also the most gifted writers∗ of the time, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding and others took attitude against him. But his most important political enemy was William Pitt “The Elder”, who considered that trade represented the main activity able to make Britain the most important economic power in the world∗∗. His conception made Britain be involved in the war with France, its most important trade competitor, in the second half of the century. However, for many years, Walpole enjoyed the support of the crown, resisted the military involvement in continental Europe by carrying a skilful economic policy, in hope that government could finally pay back the money borrowed and get rid of the national debt, a desideratum never attained; in spite of the high taxes levied on luxury goods (tea, coffee, chocolate) brought to Britain from the new colonies and consumed by the rich, and, although, the government income raised, the national debt could not be covered; Walpole became very unpopular, but due to his political abilities preserved his position even during the reign of George II, who he had initially planned to dismiss him.
They were centered around the journal „The Craftsman” widely read in the political circles. ∗∗ The same opinion was expressed by Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) who wrote: “Trade is the wealth of the world. Trade makes the difference between rich and poor, between one nation and another”.
Walpole’s long political career and the important position held, had, as a result, national prosperity and the growth of national product (from £57.5 million in 1720 to £ 64 million in 1740). He encouraged trade by abolishing some customs duties, as well as agriculture by diminishing taxation from land, which he had switched to the consumption of luxuries. His decisions, often met with riots and demonstrations coming from some groups of discontented ones, were supported by others who were satisfied with them; thus, the decision to keep the land tax at a low rate made the landed class support him. However, Walpole’s decisions started, at a given moment, to be viewed as dubious, even anachronistic, and his political power started to decline as well, announcing the end of his career, in spite of his winning the general election∗, (1741), but with a greatly reduced majority. Walpole resigned in 1742 and “his age” came to an end, but the political events which followed his resignation meant only the reshuffling of the state employments among his former opponents, a situation which caused much disillusionment and anger among those who had expected that with Walpole’s fall a revolution in government and society would take place. The major event which occurred in the period 1745-1746 was the Jacobite rebellion, in support of the Stuarts’ restoration, in the person of Charles Edward Stuart (the young pretender). After some initial victories and a short incursion in Scotland and northern England, the Jacobite army was finally defeated at Culloden, in northern Scotland (April 16, 1746). It was an event worth being remembered as it represented the last major land battle to take place in Great Britain.
The electoral system in Britain was far from being democratic at that time. Power was closely connected with the possession of property; only adult males had the right to vote, and only if they possessed some residential property; as regards the persons eligible for election as MPs, they should possess land worth £600/annum for county constituencies and £300/ annum in case of borough constituencies. In the “rotten boroughs” constituencies with 100 – 50 voters bribery was widespread, although in larger constituencies the voice of the public opinion was loud enough to be heard.
2.10.2 British Society by the Mid 18th Century. Changes in the People’s Life Style The first half of the 18th century, which began with the Hanoverian succession, witnessed important developments in Britain’s social life, its composition and quality changing considerably during the respective period. These changes referred mainly to the categories of people included in the upper classes, important discrepancies continuing to exist between the rich and the poor∗, and to the development of the urban areas, while the countryside preserved its general aspect and conditions. At the top, the society was still represented by landed aristocracy, (peers, great landlords, greater gentry) many of them belonging to the peerage (about 70 families), which carried with it hereditary titles and the right to sit in the House of Lords. This landed elite held the dominant position of power in both central and local government, setting the cultural background of the time. It was also the landlords who had monopolized the office of lord lieutenant∗∗. But, besides the aristocrats, there was another important new category of wealthy people, also influential in society; they were the representatives of the mercantile families, those who had got rich as the result of the foundation of the Bank of England (1694) and of other financial institutions/companies, those who had made fortunes either on the stock markets or due to the expansion of trade and industry. Many of them had bought landed estates to boast their wealth, or had built smart houses/villas in towns or in the countryside.
According to the economist of the time Joseph Massie, 40 p.c. of the population represented the bottom of the society which survived on less than 14 p.c. of the nation’s income. The three top categories of his estimation continued to be closely connected to land, and possessed more than half of the cultivable land in Britain. ∗∗ Lord lieutenants were the crown’s representatives in the territory, being appointed by the king; their responsibility was to maintain law and order in the county under their control, and to organize civil defence in time of war; they were assisted by deputy lieutenants and JPs, offices held by squires and lesser gentry in the countryside, and merchants and landed gentlemen in towns. All these positions carried no salary (it is obvious that the respective persons were prosperous ones) but they were looked upon with much consideration, being locally influential.
The period by the mid 18th century was also important because it offered the middle-income groups the opportunity to increase in number. They were represented by small merchants, tradesmen, professionals, artisans a.s.o.; real opportunities in professions as law, medicine, school teaching, banking or government services, highly expanded during that period of time, side by side with commerce and different industries development. Thus, the general growing prosperity determined a higher demand for leisure and luxury industries (porcelain china, armchairs, fine mirrors, newspapers, toys, etc.) which, in their turn, offered increasing job opportunities. However, the historians argue that only a minority could enjoy the advantages of the new jobs developed with the new consumer goods as the great majority of the population continued to live in the countryside, preserving their old values, ways and traditions. The opinion could not be but true for large areas, such as the Scottish Highlands, Wales /, the mountainous central region/, or East Anglia, which had remained predominantly rural regions. It goes without saying that the new consumer goods which embellished the life of the well-off were beyond the reach of the poor. Similarly, while, on the one hand, imposing and smart town houses or villas were built up for the rich ones, on the other hand, some agricultural or industrial labourers lived in precarious conditions, in cottages, cellars or caves∗. Undoubtedly, there were in the country beggars, vagrants, and unemployed who needed even the basic commodities∗∗ for a decent life. However, the goods which characterized a style of life specific to “modern age” could be seen not only in towns, but also in the rural areas; the fact was due to the large number of shops which had proliferated in Britain at a fast rate, starting even with the end of the 17th century. Not accidentally, Napoleon had described Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. Such proliferation of shops selling even goods as buttons, toys or jewels could not have taken place without an existing demand for the respective goods.
An information on the discrepancies existing in society is offered by the amount of income of the duke of Newcastle, and which was of £100,000/annum while the workers on his land were paid £15 a year. ∗∗ The social conditions were better in Britain, in comparison with other European countries, and British aristocracy had less power over the poor than elsewhere. Besides, the social classes could mixed freely together, and it was easier to move up and down the social “ladder” [12, p. 115].
The paradox of “change in continuity”, characterizing British society is very well mirrored in the urban and countryside development. Starting with the 18th century the preoccupation and effort to make towns cleaner and healthier became permanent, and the results were obvious. The best example was London, which had become so clean and tidy that it was considered “the wonder of Europe”, and made Samuel Johnson express his famous remark “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford”. “Local authorities” became more seriously involved in the towns’ correct development and their level of sanitation∗: thus, the streets were cut wider to afford the horse-drawn vehicle to pass each other, and a system of street lightening (1734, in London), street cleaning and social services was introduced in the British towns. It had been the local authorities determination to take such steps, as, many towns asked Parliament to allow them the introduction of a local tax, payable by each house owner, and which was designed to local urban improvements. As a consequence, the towns became better organized, safer, pleasant places to live in. As a result of the new attitude, the City of London was beyond all praise, being unique in its size and numerous functions it had. It was a political centre, being the location of the Court and of Parliament, an economic and financial centre because of the numerous institutions active in trade, finance or industries, the hub of the communication network, and a cultural centre, as well, with new theatres, libraries, assembly rooms and famous coffee-houses, the base for clubs, debating societies and spontaneous political activities; besides, it was the home of the printing industry producing newspapers and books. Other provincial towns in Britain developed at a similar rate, growing in size and importance∗∗, with sophisticated urban planning and architecture, with insurance companies and fire fighting systems able to protect the citizens against the risk of destruction, with good supplies of clean water and with a
The sanitation conditions in towns up to the respective time had been really awful: there had been no clearing system, the towns smelling bad with the dirt left in the street and seldom removed; the streets were narrow, about two metres wide, and muddy. Looking in that way, the towns were real centres of disease, which affected mainly the poor population. It was estimated that the young people suffered the consequences, only one child in four living to become an adult. ∗∗ By 1750, there were 17 towns in Britain with a population of more than 10,000 people, [53; p. 70].
cultural life of their own, the growing number of schools set up both in towns and surrounding countryside deserving special mention. By mid 18th century life in the countryside had changed as well, and that was mainly due to the new policy of enclosures∗; the change was determined by the greater landlords’ desire to invest their large amounts of money on land, money which had come either from profits made from trade, or from investments in coal mines, iron works or other industries. At that moment, farming could be considered a profitable business due to the possible improvements introduced and to the interest showed in the new farming methods. Thus, the introduction of the “seed drill” had made fields easier to weed; the method of growing root crops, animal food and wheat in three successive years, by which the old method of the land being left to rest for every three years was replaced, represented an important development which raised productivity and made possible the growing of animals all the year round. However, the old traditional farming system did not allow the efficient and large-scale introduction of these new methods; but, its change had become a necessity. Thus, the influential and money-possessing people succeeded to persuade the MPs to pass a law through Parliament allowing them to take over common land and to enclose it. Therefore, in the 18th century, the land enclosure was not done for sheep raising as it had happened in Tudors’ time, but for mixed animal and cereal growing, which was possible because of the new farming methods, and which meant a higher and more efficient food production. The increased productivity had, as a first result, an improvement of the people’s life, and it is said that “for the first time everyone, including the poor, could afford to eat white wheat bread” [25; p. 118]. In spite of the positive results expected from this policy, enclosures were, to a certain extent, damaging from the social point of view. In many cases the impact was negative, as the villagers were simply sent off the land when it was enclosed, and their homes were destroyed. They were changed into a landless class, some of them getting some work with the
Until the beginning of the 18th century most farming was still carried out in the old traditional system, with a village placed in the middle of three or four fields, and with the type of crop being the decision of the villagers.
new farming class, others finding work in towns by providing the labour force which made possible the industrial revolution, while a large part of them became unemployed, dependent upon the assistance given by the parishes. The situation of this last category worsened in the following years. However, those who benefited from the new farming policy enjoyed improved life-styles, the contacts between town and village increased, and the difference between the two environments tended to diminish. There was an intensive trade between towns and villages, and there were many instances when people employed in different urban activities preferred to live in the countryside where they had build their houses, taking advantage of the better roads or coach services offered on the hand; the country landowners used to spend some months a year in the neighbouring provincial towns or in London, either for settling different personal business or for pure entertainment. Thus, the towns and countryside were intermingled, showing the dynamism of the British society at the respective time. “Men and women moved about to seek pleasure, to do business, to sell goods, to marry, or to find work; and their ideas or impressions shifted over time” [53, p. 71]. 2.10.3 Britain in the second half of the 18th century. Political institutions. The years of “revolutions” and change. Conflicts abroad and trade dominance
In 1760, a new king succeeded to the crown of Britain; he was George III, the grandson of the former king, and “one of the most controversial British kings” [53; p. 72]. The first 10 years of this reign were characterized by a marked instability of administration, seven governments being changed. George III was the first member of the Hanoverian dynasty born in England, less interested in Hanover’s problems and more preoccupied with the British matters, eager to take an active part in governing the country. During the first years of his reign, his ministers had been chosen according to the old and well settled practices from among the aristocrats; anyway, they were those who controlled Parliament as well, although it was supposed that
this important institution was a democratic one, being the result of elections. However, because of the way in which the elections were organized∗, bargains were possible between the powerful groups, so that only the favourite representatives of the respective groups became MPs. In other words, the persons who generally belonged to the gentry, and who were wanted by the rich and powerful people were elected to Parliament, and, in their turn, those persons acted as they were asked. Thus, in those days, politics was still a matter of the gentry, closely connected with the political aristocracy, and it is difficult to imagine elections as being “democratic”. Such a situation caused the emergence of individuals like John Wilkes∗∗. His opinions were new and revolutionary, shattering the old behaviour and traditional attitude of the politicians. Thus, Wilkes claimed that politics should be open to free discussion by everyone, “free speech” representing one of the basic rights of every individual. He had issued a newspaper “North Briton” (1763), and in one of its articles Wilkes addressed a strong attack against government, openly expressing his points of view; the fact made the king and his ministers extremely angry. Imprisoned “of state necessity” and tried in the court, Wilkes was acquitted; the victory made him famous, and, mostly important, it established essentially important principles in the history of mankind: first, that “freedom of the individual is more important than the interests of the state” and second that nobody could be arrested without a proper reason” [25; p. 111]. Wilke’s victory proved that Parliament was not representative for the common people, whose individual freedom was not assured. Due to his organizational skill and well managed propaganda, a nation wide movement became active in Britain, its effects being felt in the American colonies, as well.
While Britain’s mid-century population was of eight million, there were fewer than 250,000 voters, out of which 160,000 represented counties and 85,000 represented towns or boroughs; in many cases the boroughs were represented by a reduced number of people, controlled by a small number of very rich voters, while representation to Parliament was carried by two representatives for each county/borough irrespective of the number of voters. ∗∗ John Wilkes (1727-1797), a Protestant dissenter, MP of a borough which he had bribed, was described as “an interesting, irresponsible, and cheerfully immoral man” [53; p. 72]. Arrested for his opinions, he was acquitted. Leaving Britain for France he was expelled from the Commons, tried again and declared an outlaw for impeding royal justice. Returned to Britain, and elected MP once again, John Wilkes was considered both in his country and in America, “a martyr for liberty”.
The matter questioned referred to the supremacy of the decisions made by a Parliament elected by only a fraction of the people. Political activities outside Parliament started to be organized, as, for example, the “Society for the Supporters of the Bill of Rights” (1769) pressing for parliamentary reform. Their demands referred to parliamentary representation for some important new towns, (Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester) the abolition of rotten boroughs, and the right to vote for men of movable property (merchants, traders, professionals). Another important development which gave impetus to the movement was represented by the increasing number of newspapers printed between 1750-1770. Thus, the large number of literate people who had not the right to vote could, now, have access to the important political matters of the time. Politics had ceased to be the monopoly of a certain social category. Besides, newspapers got the permission to send reporters to Parliament, and their task was to inform their readers about the political events, and to comment, in their newspapers, the decisions taken by the MPs. It was the beginning of a new age. The shaping of the people’s new attitude towards the way in which they were ruled had started; the people began to understand that they had the right to have a word to say in the state politics. It was the beginning of “the age of public opinion”. Foreign policy. The domestic instability with which the second half of the 18th century began in Britain was, mainly, the consequence of the conflicts which the nation had to face abroad. At that moment France and Spain were powerful countries, and they had allied in 1733, offering France a trade advantage over Britain. Although at peace with France (1748), the British continued to invest in their navy, in order to build the world strongest fleet with which they could keep the trading routes under their control and, possibly, to take over the French trading positions overseas. Harassment on either sides took place in the colonial settlements in North America, West Indies and India, and the British often stopped the French ships to reach or leave their ports.
War broke out in 1756, when the French attacked the British at Minorca, which was lost, as well as Oswego in North America. But one year later, in 1759, the British took their revenge over the French at the Battle of Plessey, and in 1757, the French fleet was largely destroyed at the naval battle of Quiberon Bay. British dominance over the world trade started to be imposed: two most profitable regions of India for European traders, Bengal and Carnatic fell under the British control when the French army was defeated by the British East India Company army both in Bengal, and, in the south, near Madras. In Canada, British control was effectively secured when Quebec fell; the Island of Guadeloupe∗ was captured, as well the French trading centres on the west coast of Africa. The Treaty of Paris (1763) was to confirm most of these gains which had followed the British victories. Thus, Britain “was drunk with victory” which caused a feeling of patriotic exultation, especially among traders and merchants. The new colonies were to provide fresh raw materials, and besides, they were to represent new markets for the British manufactured goods. However, the price paid by the nation for the purchase of these “gains” was high enough; the postwar period was difficult for the British explaining the inner conflicts and political instability, as well as the necessity for the governments to face the situation with finding new fiscal opportunities; on the other hand, the Royal Navy had suffered a deterioration which could explain the subsequent weakness of the British army during the American revolution. Anyway, at that moment, Britain had become, and not for the first time, an imperial nation. The novelty of the situation was that the new empire had extended beyond the bounds of Europe. One direction was North America, where settlements had begun during the reign of James I with the search for new land which had moved an increasing population, followed, during the reign of Queen Ann, by the emigration of religious dissidents who were seeking freedom to their worship or, later on, of Catholics, and of Quakers. A chain of colonies were settled along the eastern sea board, beginning to extend inland towards the Appalachian mountains; among these colonies were Virginia, Maryland, Carolinas,
As part of the Treaty of Paris, Guadeloupe was restored to the French in return for Canada’s control.
New England, Rhode Island and the English New York converted from the Dutch New Amsterdam after the British victory in the second Dutch War. The new British empire was organized in territorial units ruled by governors and councils which were appointed by the crown; there were also representatives assemblies of the local inhabitants. As a result of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) with France, British expansion included Canada, and started to control most of India, not only by conquest, but also by treaties with the local princess. Thus, India became the “jewel in the crown” of Britain’s possessions overseas. For the rest of the century, Britain’s international trade continued to grow, the colonies providing, on the one hand, the raw materials processed in the country’s industries (e. g.: sugar from the West Indies, tobacco from Virginia, calicoes from India) and, on the other hand, an important market where the British sold the goods they had produced. The empire, whose building started in the 18th century and continued in the next one, made Britain, in spite of some intermittent difficulties as for instance the American colonies’ escape or the Napoleonic wars, the world’s leading trading and manufacturing nation, until its end, in the 20th century [46; p. 70].
2.10.4 The years of change and “revolutions”
The years after 1760 witnessed major changes in the British society, changes known under the name of “Industrial Revolution”∗ and which transformed a society, up to that moment predominantly agrarian, into a factory-based economy using technological changes and innovations.
Important debates are carried by scholars in connection with the term of “Industrial Revolution” and the real period of its action over Britain’s territory. Thus, some scholars assert that industrialization had started in Britain even from the beginning of the 18th century, when it had already become the most industrialized state of Europe, without a sudden take off being necessary for it after 1760-1780; others argue that the term cannot be applied to the British economy of the respective period, as employment in industry overtook agriculture only later, in the second half of the 19th century. Besides, they say that the large factories became common in Britain in that period, while in the previous century (18th century) the average production unit did not employ more than 10 people.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Britain had become the most industrialized country in the world, with an accelerated economic growth towards the end of the 18th century. A number of factors, among which the geographic position and the subsoil riches contributed to this economic development. Besides, a small compact island, Britain enjoyed perfect ways of communication including the natural ports facing the Atlantic, coastal shipping and a good system of internal waterways; a whole system of inland canals was built during the 18th century connecting towns, and providing a cheap means of transport especially for goods. The roads were also improved during the century, and a speedy system of coaches secured the rapid travel for people. These systems of transportation made possible the economic success of the industrial revolution. Britain was also rich in coal and iron ore, which were closely located in counties such as Staffordshire, Northumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire. The replacement of wood with coal, found in large quantities, for changing iron ore into steel or into high quality iron had as a result Britain’s positioning as the leading producer of iron in Europe. The demand for coal and iron rapidly grew, and Britain produced at the beginning of the 19th century four times more coal, and eight times more iron than it had done one century before. New and large ironworks were set up in the country, the high quality of the metal determining the development of other industries; thus, the first iron bridge was built over the river Severn (1779), as well as the first iron boats; iron started to be used as building material, or for the production of different objects or new machinery, giving an impetus to inventions and innovation never though of before. Thus, John Wilkinson, a man with a special confidence in the possibilities offered by iron, and James Watt greatly improved the steam engine, producing an engine with a turning motion, made of iron and steel. Other inventions included the spinning machine, which replaced the slow work of the hand spinners (1764), and the weaving machine (1785) which revolutionized cloth making, allowing Britain to make cheap cloth,
(The Lancashire cotton was sold everywhere in the world). Thus, the development of machinery determined the growth of the textile industry. Another industry which met with an unprecedented growth was the one producing china goods, by using the locally found clay. The most famous factories were those belonging to Wedgwood, and their high quality products became very popular. Wedgwood china continues to be largely appreciated even today, large quantities being exported. But the introduction and use of machines had diverse and important consequences, constituting the essence of what “industrial revolution” means. Thus, each machine developed only one working process, bringing in the workers’ mind the idea of “labour division”, essential for the further industrial development. Besides, large and cheap quantities of goods could be quicker produced, determining the “mass production” never thought of before. It brought about he unprecedented growth of trade, as the demanded goods were easily produced for an ample supply of customers represented both by the home market, mainly constituted of a large number of prosperous people, and by the overseas market constituted of the larger number of colonies. There was, at that moment, a positive juncture of circumstances which supporting one another, created huge advantage∗ for the nation’s growth; the colonies fed the newly set up industries with the necessary cheap raw materials, serving, at the same time, as customers eager to purchase the processed goods. Besides, there was an expanding population at home, meaning both labour force and great demand. Another important consequence of the technological development, and, with it, of the industrial revolution was the creation of a new social environment. Thus, the former “cottage industry” practically disappeared, being replaced with a “factory industry”. But this replacement meant a lot of people being put out of work and obliged to move to the industrial centres which offered them job opportunities in a new environment; they had to keep work hours and rules established by factory owners, developing a new class, the workers.
A good example is the cotton textile industry; the amount of new cotton brought from India highly increased in the second half of the 18th century, determining the eight time growth of annual cloth production in Britain, in the period 1770-1800. Most of the production was consumed by the home market.
Another category which was practically ruined was that of some skilled craftsmen, especially the handloom weavers. It goes without saying that the social effects of industrialization were huge; undoubtedly, there were some families who made enormous private fortunes, but a large number of people painfully felt the dark side of early industrialization. The working conditions were hard, sometimes even brutal, with minimal industrial safety, dangerous environmental pollution and machines often producing mutilating injuries, or even death. Both children and women were employed in the industrial sectors, but the payment offered to them was extremely low, and the hard working conditions made their life quite miserable. There was enough labour force emerging from different sources (the ruin of “cottage industries”, enclosures in agriculture, the unprecedented growth of the population a.s.o.), which badly diminished the payment offered to the workers. At this point there is much debate among scholars in connection with the standard of the labouring people’s living conditions∗ but it is certain that it could not have been decent, as long as the workers tried to join in self-assisting societies (forecasting the development of tradeunions) in order to protect themselves against the employers; they asked for fair wages and reasonable working conditions. There were also situations when riots occurred; they were organized by the people left unemployed when their work was replaced by machines. A famous riot was that of the Luddites (1799), when the workers started to destroy the machines considered the cause of their losing the jobs. The government supported the factory owners, and the attacks against the machines became punishable by death.
The existence of the “Speenhamland Act” is an example of how the social problems were solved in the 18th century. The act stipulated the obligation of the parishes to help those whose wages were extremely low with money taken from local taxes. The act had disastrous effects, as the employers being aware of the parishes obligation, were encouraged to pay even lower wages. As a consequence, the national cost regarding the poor’s assistance doubled from 1790 to 1800 (from £2 million to £4 million). A secondary effect of the Act was that it indirectly determined the growth of the population; the help was given to the families according to the number of children, and larger families meant increased financial assistance. The Act also brought to the building of the “parish houses” where the poor families were housed and fed; some businessmen thought about hiring these “work houses” and the people living there, getting, in this way, cheap labour force. The workers received only food in return of their work, the system being, practically, a form of slavery, both adults and children being obliged to work for long hours. Finally, the old Poor Law collapsed, and a new law was passed in 1834 [25; p. 118].
However, Britain’s economic situation at the end of the 18th century showed that, at the respective moment, it was the most industrialized state of the world, and that the results of industrialization had been positive. Thus, although during the second half of the 18th century an unprecedented growth in the country’s population took place, (the increase was, between 1770-1790, of 1.5 million people), Britain was able to sustain the growth without famines or severe ADAM SMITH unemployment being registered. (For comparison, Ireland’s case can be considered; in the absence of a real industrialization a serious famine occurred there at the beginning of the 19th century as a result of a similar population explosion). The 18th century also represented the age of the first economic treatise which laid the foundation of modern economic science. It was “The Wealth of Nations”, (1776) and its author was Adam Smith. Two of his principles turned out to be of essential importance to the economic health and growth of the nation’s economy: the division of labour using specialized skills in the factory setting, and the freeing of trade within which the market demand was to decide the supply. Some decades were to pass until the existence of a full free trade, and until the fully developed factory system really worked (the mid 19th century), but the foundations had been laid for the incipient practice of manufacturers, and traders, while occasional decisions of governments started to limit the restrictive monopolist attitudes. In the last two decades of the century, Britain’s economy was closely connected with the name of the prime minister William Pitt the Younger (1773-1801); his policy was in keeping with Adam Smith’s argument which had directed the nation positively, and had ultimately determined economic growth and prosperity. Thus, under William Pitt’s direct control the national debt was reduced by WILLIAM PITT increasing tax revenue, smuggling was limited by THE YOUNGER cutting import duties (especially for tea), and an important commercial agreement was concluded with France (the Eden Treaty) showing Britain’s availability to explore trading opportunities in Europe after the loss of her colonies in North America.
During Pitt’s rule, and partly because of his reforms and policies, Britain demonstrated renewed power and international prestige abroad, while at home, national confidence was registered. An accelerated economic growth was required in that period; after a short decline in exports and industrial productivity related to the American war, the nation recovered rapidly, and in the period 1794-1796 British average exports were of about £22 million per annum. Even the Napoleonic wars could not slow down Britain’s economic boom and prosperity, the fact demonstrating that, besides Pitt’s positive measures, the recovery had wider and more complex explanations; they basically consisted in the results of a new experience, that of the “industrial revolution”. An important development, which also became obvious, took place in the field of communication which knew a higher mobility, being considered one more revolution of the century. Starting with the same period the improvement of roads and of postal services made the relations and communication between people safer and more rapid. But the dramatic progress in real communication was the printed word. In 1760 there were already four dailies and six tri-weekly papers which could be read not only in London, but also everywhere in the country. Besides, there were numerous newspapers printed in the provincial towns, while Scotland had established its own newspapers and periodicals. Printing became an extensive activity, including books, dictionaries, advertisements and primers. As literacy was almost general, larger numbers of people had access to information, including the political one. Thus, they could become aware of different events inside or outside the country, as well as of political scandals or protests. It was also in the second half of the 18th century that the American revolution broke out, producing a serious impact on the British society and on the whole world as well, because of the emergence and further development of a new state and nation. As regards the British colonies in North America, often referred to as New England, they represented, at the time of their revolutionary movement, a special type of communities. These colonies∗ were socially constituted of middle and lower classes, traders and farmers, who had come to the New World, mainly, to get land
Colonization of the New World included important events such as: the coming of the separatist Puritans on board of the Mayflower in 1620, or the foundation of the
for free, and who had transformed the British manorial system they had been used to, into the plantation system, especially in the Southern colonies. Far from the metropolis, these people were self-dependent, not only economically but also politically; thus, they were self-governing townships led by elected small public officials organized into court-house assemblies at the local level, and general assemblies at the country’s level. [46, p. 65]. From the English, they had inherited the common law system and the justice administration, but, at a time when England was divided between the monarch’s and the parliament’s power which led to the Civil war, they had already succeeded to enforce the expression of the people’s political will in their Parliament. In the period which followed the Glorious Revolution, the metropolis mercantile policy, its government as well as its trading errors made furious the British North Americans. The metropolis representing the British capital was interested in organizing the trade of the colonies and in taxing them according to their own needs, with a view to strengthen Britain’s position against the colonial competitors. Thus, the British government decided to tax the inter-colonial trade, and to control the market prices to its benefit. But, the colonies’ interests were different; they wanted to buy the goods they needed cheaper on the colonial market. The metropolis’ policy worsened the already existing discontent of the new Englanders, caused by the previous unpopular measures taken by the British Parliament without the colonies’ agreement; thus, besides the old colonial navigation acts which specified that only England/Britain was to intermediate all the navigation transactions, with the goods from different areas having to be shipped only to England, some other disappointing measures included the restriction of colonial paper money (1764), the conditions imposed for a standing British colonial army quartered in North America (1765), and the introduction of a stamp/duty on printed matters and documents (1765).
Plantation and of the Massachusetts Bay colony, as a religious experiment; the establishment of Maryland, Rhode Island, New Haven and Connecticut, and the setting up of the New England Confederation, (1640) in order to defend the American colonies against the Indians, turned into a Crown dominion after the Restoration; other coast territories became British, such as the New Netherlands territories conquered by Charles II in 1667 (including New York and New Jersey); Pennsylvania was founded in 1683 by the Quakers as a Neo-Protestant colony, and the Carolinas, were chartered as proprietary colonies in 1663 (named after Charles II), although they had been unofficially set up even before Restoration; Georgia was a sort of “buffer” colony, serving as a defence zone against the Spanish colony of Florida. There were also the inland colonies inherited from the French Arcadia (Louisiana) and the Hudson Bay Co., in the North and which had become the objects of the colonial wars between the European great powers of the respective period in the New World [46; p. 65].
The colonists reacted, considering the laws passed by the British Parliament as enslaving them, and denied their validity; their point of view was that the British were not entitled to pass laws without their agreement, and started to act under the slogan “no taxation without representation”. The clash became obvious in 1773, when, at the port of Boston, a group of colonists threw a shipload of tea into the sea rather than pay tax on it. The event is known in history as “the Boston Tea party”, and it represented the beginning of the American War of Independence (1775-1783). The British answered by closing the port, and, in their turn, the colonists reacted by preventing any British ship from entering the American ports. Undoubtedly, the British unwise policy had caused the events that, finally, brought about the loss of the North American colonies, mainly because they had failed to see the force of the numerous people who represented, at that moment, the New Englanders. Drifted by their own prosperity and inspired by the Enlightenment ideas, those people chose to start a revolutionary war of political and economic liberation. It is interesting to note that, at the respective moment, even the British were divided with regard to the political opinion on the situation in North American colonies; while there were some politicians who considered the attitude of the British government as being fair, there were many others (Wilkes, Chatham, Tom Pain) who openly supported the colonists’ cause. The American “Declaration of Independence” (1777), drafted by Thomas Jefferson, in the wonderful language of the Enlightenment philosophy, replaced “a rather local conflict on economic matters into the noble universalities represented by the principles of freedom, justice, democracy and human fraternity”. The war cost Britain a lot, and many people were convinced that their country was in decline; the war also meant an unexpected humiliation for a strong and proud nation, besides the loss of one of the most profitable region of the empire. However, the recovery was rapid, the national confidence was restored, and in the next years, the country crossed a period of accelerated economic growth and prosperity; the situation was partly due to the correct measures and reforms initiated by the Prime Minister William Pit, but, mostly, because of the new revolutionary trends in technology, industry, communication
and trade. Thus, when, again, Britain entered a war, in 1793, this time against revolutionary France, it was a wealthy country, confident in its power and stability. British Reaction to the French Revolution At the moment of the French revolution outbreak (1784), the economic, social and political situation was completely different∗ in the two countries (France and Britain), but it still created fear in Britain, as it did all over Europe. In fact, there were, at that moment, in Britain, two different attitudes towards the French revolution. On the one hand, there was a category who THOMAS PAINE believed that the post-revolutionary France would become an enlighten state, under whose influence some political, religious and social changes could be accelerated in Britain. Among those in this category were the poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the writer William Godwin and Mary Wallstonecraft. Some views were courageously expressed in defense of the French revolution and of the common people’s rights, against the power of monarchy and aristocrats. Such a radical was Thomas Paine with his “The Rights of Men” (1791-1792), a real best seller, which aroused the nation’s enthusiasm for democratic reforms. Monarchy, aristocracy and all kinds of privileges were attacked in this book, the author demanding important rights for ordinary people: manhood suffrage, public education, old-age pensions, maternity benefits, full employment, a. s. o. Pain’s ideas were considered so dangerous, that he had to escape to France, from where he never returned. His book remained one of reference on the problem of political freedom.
The main difference consisted in the relations existing between the social classes in the two countries; while in France, it was the middle class who made the revolution against aristocracy, leading the peasants and the working classes in towns, in Britain, the middle classes and the gentry had already been acting together in the House of Commons for centuries, and they represented, at that moment, the most powerful social classes in the country.
On the other hand, there were those who did not sympathize with the French revolution. An important representative of this category was Edmund Burke, who wrote “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790), in which he expressed his fear that the situation in France could cause the fall of the political European established order. Although these problems were mainly debated by the representatives of the middle class and gentry, without voices coming from the working classes being really heard, however, the period meant the setting up of the first political organizations of the lower classes. They were the Corresponding Societies, established in London and some other centres (Norwich, Sheffield, Nottingham, as well as similar ones in Scotland) and which required political reforms, among others, universal manhood suffrage and annual elections, expressing their members’ faith in the French Revolution principles. Although these societies did not last long as the government closed them down in 1798, it was for the first time, just in the end of the 18th century, that the working people all over the country had started to organize themselves in order to achieve political change. Undoubtedly, the British government, slow as it was in its reactions in comparison with other European cabinets, also started to be afraid that the revolution in France could spread to Britain; as a consequence, the radical leaders were arrested and the army started to be trained, (the yeomen) being asked to live in specially built army camps. When Louis XVI was guillotined by the new French regime, and, particularly, after the French army invasion of the Low Countries the general opinion in Britain began to change becoming harder. In February 1783, Britain and France went to war. At the respective period of time, most of the European countries had already been defeated by Napoleon and had entered under his control. Britain itself entered a long period of war (1793-1815).
2.10.5 Life in Britain at the End of the 18th Century
Although, economically, the British society had made decisive steps towards modernization, socially, it had remained attached to the old hierarchical structure; the prevalent concept continued to be “the rank” more than “the class”, and even if a remedy for social injustices had been considered, the idea of levelling the social order had not yet been taken into consideration. More than that, aristocracy continued to set in the general tone of the British society. Thus, the standards of material ambition and taste were those of aristocracy, and they were obvious in architecture, for example; the towns renewed themselves, in the fashionable enthusiasm of the Regency style creating modern spas, such as Bath, or Brighton. “It was in the century after 1750 that England both rural and urban, but more especially urban, assumed its later face” [12; p. 203], the face under which we can discover it today. At the same time, the wealth accumulated by the classes situated immediately below the highest “rank”, namely by the people making profitable investments in industry, banking or trade determined the increase in number and influence of the representatives of these classes, the middle ones. Towards the end of the century, in front of the new wealth upsurge the old landed gentry had retreated, to a certain extent, from its ascendancy position, the top layers of the society altering in composition∗, in favour of the representatives of the middle class in search, now, of possible peerage. On the other hand, the bottom layers of society witnessed much poverty and despair. As a result of enclosure and of other causes, a lot of families had no other choice but to go to parish workhouses, in order to keep themselves alive. The hardest life was for the children of the poor people, who were obliged to work from the age of six or seven. Due to the rapid growth of the population in the 18th century, there were plenty of children
New wealth got a higher status, as for example, the House of Lords, which, after 1775, rose in membership from 199 to 358, “with some families dying out to hide the fact of over 200 new creations” [M. W. Cahill, “Peerage Creations and the Changing Character of the British Nobility”, E.H.R 9 (1918), p. 259-284].
in the country, and they were particularly useful to the factory owners who preferred to use their work as they could be paid less than adults, and were easier to discipline than the latter. However, towards the end of the century child labour started to be considered shameful as a result of a charge in people’s mentality and “their increased dislike for cruelty towards both humans and animals” [25; p. 120]. As regards the woman’s condition in the British society of the 18th century, in many respects, it was not much different from that of men. Thus, the British society accepted the women active in some business, and there were women personally attending to the sale of different products, running some small, especially food producing industries, or administering their own land or other property. They enjoyed a good deal of true independence, as well as some corresponding education especially in the intellectual arts. Even in the preceding century, outstanding individuals as Dorothy Osborne (1627-1695), who had taken an active part, side by side with her husband Sir William Temple, in political entrepreneurial programs, or Aphra Behn (1640-1689) a well-known playwright, had succeeded to make a name of their own, proving that the society was not a repressive or an old fashioned one regarding women. In the 18th century, women started to play an important part in politics and arts. Thus, there are extreme examples as Queen Caroline, on the one hand, who was more the ruler of the kingdom than her husband king George II, and, on the other hand, Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), the first actress employing female roles on the stage. The modern English novel owes a lot to Fanny Burney and especially to Jane Austin, the 18th century novelist who continues to be read with pleasure by the 20th century readers. However, a certain mentality on “women’s frailty” continued to prevail, and the young girls were often obliged by their parents to make efforts in order to match the general image regarding feminine beauty; they had to be, slim with a tight waist and a pale face.
The 18th century meant an advancement in the people’s mentality regarding family life, the most important change being a more openly expressed affection among the family members; even the attitude towards children changed and they started to be seen as a distinct group with special needs and requesting a gentle treatment. This advancement was due to the increase of life expectancy, which made people change their perspective on life in general, but, to a larger extent, it was due to a growing idea of kindness, shown both to humans∗ and animals; the people had reached the level of culture which made them understand that cruelty under all its forms, was wrong and incompatible with the human as a superior being. Basically, this dislike to cruelty was connected with the idea that “every human was an individual”, and in respect of individuality Britain was ahead of the rest of Europe. [25; p. 120] This individuality was reflected in their new style of life, in the need for more privacy, for the achievement of which even their houses were rebuilt in such a way that every person in the family had his/her own bedroom. The end of the century also meant an attempt to improve morals and morale, and it became manifest in a “polite” attitude, which was to pervade everything: ”individual behaviour, relationships between men and women, even the play of politics” [12; p. 207, 208]. Although this attitude did not always prevail, it was, at least, a desire for a “smooth, uninvolved courteous selfishness of a polite world” [ibidem], and although the 18th century continued to be still “crude” and not entirely refined, its contemporaries achieved, at last, the building of a “façade” behind which reality might hide.
This new concept could be seen in the attitude of some groups of people who openly declared themselves against the evils of the slave trade, which, in fact, brought Britain large amounts of money. A first success was recorded when a judge freed a slave, ruling that “no man could be a slave in Britain”; with that, Britain became the international leader in the struggle the aim of which was to end slavery; the slave trade was abolished by law in 1807 in Britain, and in 1833 slavery was abolished in all British colonies. Such an attitude gave a true meaning to the words of the song “Britons never should be slaves”. The same attitude and the efforts made, directed this time against the cruelty of the employers, limited the children’s long hours of work; thus, under the pressure of a growing opinion against the children’s hard working conditions, Parliament passed the first Factory Act (1802) limiting child labour to twelve hours each day, and some years later (1819) the employment of children under nine was forbidden.
The 18th century is also known as the age of clubs and coffee-houses, a trait of culture which made Britain famous, and where people with similar backgrounds and upbringings could meet to politely and unfanatically discuss on divergent opinions. As regards education, the old universities Oxford and Cambridge had been turned into institution for the formation of “gentlemen”, providing excellent instruction in some skills which could be considered as unprofitable (e.g.: the composition of Latin or Greek texts). It is no wonder why some social classes representing merchants, civic administrations or other dynamic categories avoided these universities considered as teaching things irrelevant for life, but preferred the Inns of Courts, for example, where lawyers were trained. In this respect, the Scottish universities could be considered as better serving the real needs of the society; the fact that they produced thinkers as Adam Smith is a proof of their efficiency. There was, at the respective time, much outburst of taste in the country, obvious in arts, pictures, china, silver and other artefacts, in buildings and in gardens, absorbing a lot of the wealth produced, and giving the age and the country a certain glow which made it attractive to many other Europeans. Thus, the 18th century seemed to draw to its end in a general atmosphere which looked relaxed and intent on social peace in comparison with the unrest and turmoil on the continent. However, the events in the 1790’s determined a change of the European nations’ attitude towards the British, “who started to be blamed for their position, and be considered to have stood in the way of liberty, and fought for their interests with the lives of other people∗”.
A. D. Harvey, „European Attitudes to Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era History” 63 (1878), 356-365, T. C Banning, The Origins of the French Revolutionary Wars (1986), p. 131-132.
2.10.6 The Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) and Britain’s Imperial Expansion. The Second British Empire
As well known, the Napoleonic wars, which involved Britain starting with 1793, were massive, both geographically (they covered all of the five continents) and from the point of view of the expenses required; (The wars cost Britain over £1,650,000,000). Faced with the danger of a French invasion, the British army, the Royal Navy and the civil defense forces had to expand more rapidly and to a larger extent than ever before. Not only once the financial situation was difficult for the British, H. NELSON with the country brought to the verge of bankruptcy. But its efforts were not in vain. A series of naval victories (1797, 1798), which caused the destruction of the French navy safeguarded the British possessions in India. In the following years, the British fleet captured from the French a lot of remote territories including St. Lucia, Tobago, Guiana, the Cape of Good Hope, French Guiana, Java, Martinique and others. Besides, the British fleet once again under the command of Admiral Horation Nelson∗, won an extraordinary victory at Trafalgar, near Spain (1805), where the French-Spanish fleet was almost WELLINGTON completely destroyed. Starting with 1803, even the land war began to turn in Britain’s favour, and from 1812 Napoleon’s final defeat was only a matter of time. The British army under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington gained important victories, while the allied forces expelled the French from many European territories.
Unfortunately, Nelson himself was killed at Trafalgar, becoming one of the Britain’s greatest national heroes. The words he addressed to the fleet before the famous battle were “England expects that every man will do his duty” and they are remembered as a memorable “motto” in time of national danger.
Weakened by the disastrous invasion of Russia, Napoleon was obliged to surrender in 1814. However, one year later, Napoleon escaped from his exile on Elba and returned to France where he quickly assembled an army to fight his last campaign (March-June 1815); it ended with his final and total defeat at Waterloo Belgium. Although the defeat was accomplished by the allied forces, the contribution to the final victory of the British army under the command of Wellington was of utmost importance. The direct consequence of these historic events was the British political dominance over Europe and much of the world for the next one hundred years. The events also determined Britain’s move from the first∗ to the second empire, constructed around West Indies in the Pacific, the India of the East India Company, the Australian continent and New Zealand, discovered by Sir James Cook∗∗, as well as Canada. It was further extended to Africa, as far down as the Cape of Good Hope, China and the Tibet, covering one third of the world, when it reached the peak of its extension in the 19th century. Every major war Britain had been engaged in during that period increased its colonial power. Thus, the Napoleonic Wars brought 20 new colonies to Britain, including Tobago, Mauritius, Malta, St. Lucia, the Cape, the United Provinces of Ague and Ouch in India, and many, many others. “By 1820 the total population of the territories it governed was 200 million, 26% of the world’s total population” [53; p. 76]. It was also the wars which further increased Britain’s colonial possessions during the 19th century, as for example “the Opium War” (late 1830s) which secured the British trade from and to India, “the Afghanistan War” (1839-1842) meant to keep under control Russia’s advance in Asia and continued in Europe with the Crimean War (1854), the Boer’s War (1890s) fought with the Dutch
The foundations of the first British empire were laid during the Protectorate with the intervention of the army in colonial trade. Jamaica was won from Spain (1655). After the loss of the North American colonies, Britain was still in possessions of areas in India, West Indies, Canada and other colonies (even North American) won from France as a consequence of the seven years war. Britain’s control over its neighbours took place by the Acts of Union, with Scotland in 1707 and with Ireland in 1801, when U. K. was created. ∗∗ Captain James Cook’s explored Australia and New Zealand after 1770; it was a private enterprise and a scientific inquiry; later, used by Britain as a penal colony, a new territory necessary to shelter the convicts previously sent to North American colonies.
settlers in South Africa, who were an obstacle in the development of a south route trade with India; in 1882 the British invaded the Suez Canal, forcing its way into Sudan. Starting the growth of its second empire with the victories gained during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was inclined to consider itself a sort of “victorious military guardian” of the political interests of Europe’s leaders”, its mission being to preserve “the balance of power” or “the equilibrium of the politically established world” [46, p. 68]. But, in fact, Britain had pursued the preservation of its own interests over the already gained territories, as the objectives of the wars further to the Napoleonic ones had clearly indicated. Thus, as most of the historians consider, post-Napoleonic Second British Empire that hugely grew in the 19th century was more a political empire than only a commercial one. Keeping under its control numerous strategic and trading trans-oceanic positions, Britain had become, at the respective moment, the undisputed sovereign of the world’s oceans and commercial routes – a sea-power – as well as the ruler of 1/5 of the entire world, representing a real power on the world’s arena. The situation encouraged a certain imperial ideology (known as Jingoism), which caused “the belief into the British superiority, and Britain’s right to rule the world” [46; p. 70]. However, the processes by which the empire had grown were complex, and the theories and explanations with reference to that growth are numerous. Anyway, in the middle of the 19th century it was widely considered that the colonies were “burdens” for the centre and that markets and raw materials could be more easily acquired by trade. In spite of such opinions, and even of some colonial crises or colonial wars in Africa, Asia or Pacific, the process did not stop, and new acquisitions were located in remote tropical areas, with no European inhabitants or civilization. (2.5 million square meter of territory fell under British control). The vast territory with its numerous problems was a challenge for the centre, but the opportunities it offered, both economic and political, made the empire’s rulers focus on “the sense of duty” which the British had to assume, in the direction of necessary improvements required in the area. Thus, the British presence and rule over many of the territories had to be justified, and it was done in terms of benefit of law and order. “The white man’s burden” as the poet
Rudyard Kipling saw it, “was a burden of responsibility” [53; p. 85]. A real “network” of interwoven motives and interests was built up in support of the “physical empire” which was doubled by an ever larger “empire” of trade and investments where, although the British flag did not fly, if practically, covered most of the planet. As regards the “white” colonies as Canada, Australia or New Zealand, they had been given important powers of self-government (Durham Report, 1839; Canada Union Act, 1840). In case of India, “the brightest jewel in the British crown”, the situation was different; its territory represented both the beginning of the British nation imperial greatness and the cause of its downfall. India was part of the British empire not by consent, but by conquest; the initial phase of “friendship” between Britain and India, had, gradually, turned the territories of many Indian states into East India Company possessions. After the Indian Mutiny (1857) suppressed by the British, the East Indian Company was abolished, and the title of Viceroy was instituted, while the imperial control was tightened; the construction of a railway network in the country enforced the British position, which reached its peak in 1877, when Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India. The event further caused the emergence of a great nationalistic movement (the First Indian National Congress took place in 1885), which culminated in the 1920’s, with Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for liberation. It happened only a quarter of a century later (1947), when India was finally granted independence, the period during which, practically, all territories once belonging to Britain, were decolonized; with those events the second British empire did not longer exist.
2.10.7 Continuity and Change − Characteristic Features of British Culture and Civilization
The history of British culture and civilization started a thousand and more years ago, including in it some older traces of culture and civilization, coming from other peoples’ passage on the island’s territory; in spite of dramatic events, drastic circumstances and important changes, the characteristic features of the general scene were preserved, the overall image of the British type of culture being one of surprising continuity.
The British formed one people at stages, at the beginning, from the mixture of Anglo-Saxons warriors and farmers with the Celts on the fringes, and, later, with the foreign invaders and alien rulers coming from the continent; quite early, they succeeded to get a sense of nationhood which was enforced, at first, as a result of frequent wars on home grounds, and, later on, overseas, on other peoples’ territories. The language, as an evidence of their origin, but enriched with a multitude of way, being easily recognizable; in the language developed as a means of and adaptable. unity, preserved its Germanic other elements that came their process of its formation, the communication both flexible
What the British really achieved over the centuries was a sense of unity at home, in spite of the diversity still persisting in different regions, and which, formerly, represented different realms and peoples. It is this sense of unity, which the British show and mostly impress at the moments of crisis. As a consequence of their insularity, they acquired and retained a conviction of uniqueness over outsiders, but a lot was learned from the latter in the process of their nation’s development. Although the British started as a rural people, they succeeded, from an early date and once again as a consequence of a people living on an island, first, to promote trade, which made them extremely active on the continental and world markets, and, then, to build external empires. As the historians argue, the features which characterize the British as a people and a nation are due to two “mechanisms” which have always worked and become part of the British society and culture: monarchy and law/administration. From its early existence, the monarchy meant the institution which provided not only the leading power of the nation, but also the control over the society organized according to “the standards of European experiment”. Besides, administration and law constituted the pillars
supporting the building of a nation; it goes without saying that changes occurred, according to the demands of the historical periods crossed by the nation, but they took place within the same framework of continuity, without serious disruptions or total destructions. When the changes occurred, they represented actions of positive reorganization in the uproar of the events, the two mechanisms being present to set the things right, and settle the facts of a self-aware people. However, if, at least, one example of failure in the mechanisms action∗ can be given the situation was only an intermittent one, with a temporary break in continuity. The exceptional ease with which the previous “normality” was restored is one more proof of the British society basic feature; it is considered that it lies in “the mixture of order enforced by authority with freedom exercised under authority” [12; p. 214], this feature constituting in itself a principle, developed and confirmed during the events produced over the ten centuries of human existence. Breaches of this principle, periods of exception, breaks of different bonds, undoubtedly, occurred, but each time they were short-lived, rare, and without enduring consequences. Turmoil and strife are aspects specific to any human society, and the long historic periods witness much of them; the British were not spared, but they managed to handle them keeping unchanged an authority accepted and shared by the nation. However, with the beginning of 19th century and with the events which had made Britain the ruler of a global empire and a real world political and economic power, the situation had become so complex that important changes were to be taken into consideration. The events that followed in the next two centuries made Britain a modern, advanced society, showing a changed image but, fundamentally, it continued to enjoy its well settled principles and important values.
Reference to the period of Civil War and Protectorate.
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