Tag Archives: Lincoln

CHARLES VISITS WASHINGTON

Prince Charles and Camilla

Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, are visiting Washington DC.   During their visit to the US, they will commemorate three things — the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the most important secular document in the history of the English-speaking peoples; the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War; and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Prince of Wales visited the National Archives yesterday where a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta is on loan from Lincoln Cathedral in England.  The Magna Carta is embodied in the American Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

I’ve had the privilege of viewing the same Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15th, 1215, in Lincoln, which is not far from my hometown.   A depiction of the event can be seen on the bronze doors of the Supreme Court building.

It’s been over forty years since the Washington Post claimed that President Richard Nixon was brought down by Magna Carta.   The charter established the principle that everybody is equal before the law, including the king or president.   This principle separated England from the continental powers, where the head of state is above the law.   When French President Jacques Chirac was accused of corruption while in office, nothing could be done about it until he was no longer president of France.

Exactly ten weeks after King John was pressured into signing the charter, Pope Innocent III declared it null and void.  He said that no people had any right to demand anything of their king. Consequently, England was plunged into civil war.

Magna Carta reminds us that:   “God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34)   We are all equal before God, who is the ultimate Law-giver.

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It’s a good thing that the royal couple were not in America on Sunday, where they might have seen the first episode of “The Royals,” on the E! Network.   This show depicts a fictional royal family ruling in England.

I watched the first 30 minutes of the 75-minute much-hyped premiere.

It was utter and total trash.

If any of today’s royal families behaved like those in the fictional series, they wouldn’t last very long.

Monarchy has a serious side.   According to the organization “Democracy Watch,” the seven most democratic countries in the world are all constitutional monarchies.   They are:   The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (the United Kingdom was not included in the list, maybe because it does not have an elected Upper House).

They have all also been the most stable countries in the world.

Constitutional monarchy also happens to be the cheapest form of government.

There’s a lot to be said for constitutional monarchy.   In contrast, there is nothing positive to be said for the new television series, which raises trash to a whole new level – and that’s really saying something when it comes to TV!

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While on the subject of royalty, I have to recommend the new “Cinderella” movie.

My son and I took his two girls to see it on Sunday.   The girls, aged 8 & 9, have gotten used to me falling asleep whenever I take them to a movie.   Brooklyn, the youngest, promised to wake me up if this should happen again.

But it didn’t.   The movie was engrossing.   It is beautifully made with real people.

I have never been one for fairy stories, even when I was a child.   But this was different.   It’s a real old-fashioned love story, with an upbeat ending that will leave many in tears.

Lily James (Rose in “Downton Abbey”) plays a very convincing Cinderella.   (One of her ugly step-sisters is played by Downton’s Daisy.)   Richard Madden plays the prince.   Helena Bonham Carter, one of England’s greatest actresses, plays a humorous Fairy Godmother and Cate Blanchett plays the Wicked Step-Mother.

The movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, one of England’s greatest theatrical talents.

A superb movie, perfect for the whole family.   It’s also perfectly respectable for married couples to go without children — I intend to take my wife who could not go on Sunday.

 

 

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HISTORY IS BRUTAL

(Our youngest grandson, Leeson, who turns 2 in December, deleted this morning’s article. Here is an attempt at a re-write.)

Sword

Bernard Cornwell is an American novelist who has written dozens of books on English history. I’ve just finished his first novel on Alfred the Great, “The Last Kingdom,” set in the ninth century when the Danes (Vikings) were raiding England and wanted to take over the country. England at the time was more than one kingdom. The Danes conquered all the other kingdoms until finally only Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex, in the south and west of the island, survived. If the Danes had succeeded in conquering the last kingdom, they would have killed all the English males and there would have been no England.

It’s not surprising that Alfred is the only English monarch described as “the Great.” Without him, the country would not exist today.

The Danes at the time were ruthless. They still worshipped the pagan gods of Thor and Woden. Because they were usually victorious against the “Christian” (Catholic) English, they considered their gods superior to the Christian god. They were particularly fond of raiding churches and killing priests (churches had more money than anybody else).

Their favorite method of killing was beheading, a subject that has been in our news a great deal lately.

Coincidentally, the non-fiction book I was reading at the same time as Cornwell’s was “When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World,” by Hugh Kennedy, a far more challenging read. I remember having a problem reading Russian literature in my teens because I could not keep track of all those Russian names; believe me, Russian names are a lot easier than Arabic.

This book is set in the same time period as Cornwell’s. As in “The Last Kingdom,” there are plenty of beheadings, the preferred punishment for opponents and anybody the caliph did not like.

Having said that, the Muslim world was far more advanced than England at the time.

The Danes were still a problem two centuries later when Saxon King Harold took his troops north and defeated the invading Danes at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which was fought on the 25th September, 1066. He then had to rush south to fight the invading Normans at the Battle of Hastings. Harold lost the battle and lost his life. England came under Norman rule.

Beheadings continued. During the Peasants Revolt in 1381, the rebels beheaded any law students they could find. In turn, the rebels themselves were later beheaded by the royal authorities.

Henry VIII, in the sixteenth century, was fond of sending people to face the axe-man, including two of his wives.

The most famous victim was Anne Boleyn, his second wife. “Compassionately,” Henry sent for the best swordsman in France to come over and do the final deed, as he did not want his wife to suffer. A good swordsman could kill with just one swipe of the sword – an axe-man might need a few swipes, thereby prolonging the agony. Of course, if he had really been compassionate, he would have sent her into exile. He did not have the option of sending her to a convent as he had closed them all down.

A little over a century later, King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. A republic was proclaimed under Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, in turn, was beheaded when the monarchy was restored but by that time he had been dead for well over a year!

Decapitation was the punishment for treason. It was reserved for the nobility. The common man had to endure being hung, drawn, and quartered, as was William Wallace, the famous Scot. The last English noble to suffer decapitation was in 1747. In Scotland, the last beheading was in 1889.

The French were still using the guillotine until a few decades ago. The last public execution was in 1939.  Interestingly, witnesses say that people would utter a word or two or blink their eyes after they lost their heads. Just for a couple seconds, that’s all.

As a child I often visited the city of Lincoln and loved walking around its famous castle. One high point in the castle wall is where public hangings took place until the mid-nineteenth century. Charles Dickens witnessed the last one. There was a pub across the street, which offered a perfect view of the hangings. It was called “The Hangman’s Noose” and did a roaring trade whenever anybody faced the actual hangman. Hanging had replaced decapitation as the preferred form of capital punishment over a century earlier.

The law followed the biblical guideline found in Ecclesiastes 8:11 (and elsewhere):  “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

Typically, a trial was held within two months of a capital offence. Execution then followed within 90 days, after just one appeal. In stark contrast today, in the US, somebody can be on death row for over twenty years, making the death penalty far less of a deterrent.

Back to the two books: I recommend Cornwell’s book. It’s a good read. Kennedy’s is a more difficult read and is only for those who are seriously interested in the subject.

Because the two books include many beheadings, and because I have been reading them at the same time as beheadings have been on the news, I studied into the subject more deeply. The result is this article. I hope you found it interesting.