Tag Archives: Queen Elizabeth II

BRITISH EMPIRE WAS A BLESSING

It has been suggested that citizens of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms be given their own “fast lane” at UK Points of Entry.   This will be good news for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the smaller realms.   If the idea is approved, it will be a first step toward restoring closer Commonwealth ties that ended when Britain joined the EU.

While Britain has been a member of the European Union, EU citizens were able to go through the fast lane, while the rest of us waited for up to two hours, slowly inching forward in the “Aliens” line.

Post-Brexit, it will certainly be in Britain’s best interests to enter into closer trade and defense ties with the countries that share Britain’s parliamentary system and all have the same Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.   Other Commonwealth countries have opted for a republican form of government, recognizing the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth but not retaining her services as their own sovereign.

It will also mean that, for the first time, the United Kingdom is reversing five decades of history and turning its attention again to its former Empire.

The word “Empire” has been a pejorative for two generations.   Before World War One, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the British Empire around the world in territories that constituted the “empire upon which the sun never set.”   Over a quarter of the world’s people lived under the British flag.   Imperialism was in vogue and inspired millions of people to help develop other nations.

Today, people forget what a blessing the Empire was.  Let’s take a look at a few of those blessings.

1.  The Bible and religious freedom.

The fourteenth century philosopher and theologian, John Wycliffe, was the first man to translate all the scriptures into English.   His favorite verse was Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”   He struck the first blow for religious freedom and democracy by encouraging people to study for themselves and make up their own minds.

Two centuries later, the English Queen Elizabeth I, secured the Protestant Reformation by bravely sending her smaller fleet against the Spanish Armada.   England defeated the Spaniards, thereby thwarting an attempt by the pope to force the country back into the Catholic Church.

In the nineteenth century, the British and Foreign Bible Society, took the Bible into dozens of different countries.   The Wycliffe Bible Translation Society still exists, sending volunteers into poor and backward countries to develop a written language and then translate the Bible so that all may read it.

The most famous British missionary, David Livingstone, took the Bible with him into central Africa, to “bring light into darkness.”  He was also motivated by a desire to see the end of slavery, perpetrated by Arab slave traders, who were seizing black Africans as slaves.

2.  Britain was the first major country to abolish slavery.

Slavery was universal and had not been questioned until the eighteenth century.   It wasn’t just Africans who were taken as slaves.   One million white people were being held by Muslim slave traders at this time.   (“White Gold”, Giles Milton, 2004.)

In 1772, the Somerset decision by an English court, ruled that British people could not hold slaves, that all people in Britain were free. It took another 35 years before the slave trade was abolished and a further 27 years before slavery itself was ended throughout the British Empire.  (Denmark banned the slave trade in its territories a few years before Britain.)

One year after the abolition of the slave trade, the British government authorized the Royal Navy to stop ships on the high seas and free all the slaves.   Wikipedia has this to say about the West Africa Squadron:

“The Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron (or Preventative Squadron) at substantial expense in 1808 after Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807.   The squadron’s task was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa.   With a home base at Portsmouth, it began with two small ships, the 32-gun fifth-rate frigate HMS Solebay and the Cruizer-class brig-sloop HMS Derwent. At the height of its operations, the squadron employed a sixth of the Royal Navy fleet and marines.

“Between 1808 and 1860 the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans.[“1]

Because of its role in fighting slavery, Britain was seen as a Liberator around the world.  Many tribes in Africa asked to be annexed into the British Empire, seeking protection from slave traders.  At one point, so many African tribes were asking to join the Empire that the British were overwhelmed. “The Dualla chiefs of the Cameroon repeatedly asked to be annexed, but the British either declined or took no notice at all.”  (Pax Britannica, James Morris, 1968, page 43)

In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, Victorians were caught up in an enthusiastic desire to see slavery ended in Africa, and the Bible, Protestant Christianity, democracy and the rule of law introduced (“Africa and the Victorians,” Robinson and Gallagher, 1961)

Sadly, in the sixty years since the end of the British Empire, slavery is back in every single African country, according to UNESCO.   The former Ghanaian President, John Kufour, condemned slavery in Ghana a few years ago on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire; he also apologized for the role Ghana’s own chiefs had played in promoting slavery by selling their own people and members of other tribes.

3.  British capital developed many nations.

The definitive books on British investment around the world are the two volume “British Imperialism” by Cain and Hopkins.  The books highlight “London’s role as the chief provider of economic services during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (back cover, volume one).   London remains the world’s number one financial center (New York has the world’s biggest stock exchange).   Not only did British capital develop every country in the Empire, it was also responsible for developing the United States, Argentina, Brazil,Chile, the Ottoman Empire and China.

Interestingly, one reason that members of the European Union are upset over Brexit, is that Britain has been a net contributor to the EU, helping to finance development in other member nations.  When the UK leaves, where is the money going to come from?

4.   Another blessing of British rule was its governmental system and the administration of its various colonies.

Britain’s democratic parliamentary system and its constitutional monarchy is the most stable political system in the world.   It was successfully exported to all its colonies and dominions.  Sixteen of those countries have retained the same system since independence, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a number of majority black countries in the Caribbean.  Queen Elizabeth remains as Head of State in all of these countries.

38 other countries, former colonies of Great Britain, did not retain the Queen as Head of State but still look to her as the Head of the Commonwealth.  Many of these nations have suffered through coups and counter-coups and periods of military rule.  In many, corruption is rife and the people are worse off than they were when colonies.

Interestingly, it was recently suggested that the United States join the Commonwealth, as an Associate member.  The Royal Commonwealth Society is opening a branch in New York City.

5.   The free world’s first line of defense.

For two centuries Great Britain was the “policeman of the world.”  The country brought down Napoleon, after which she was the undisputed leader of the world.  A century later, with her dominions and colonies, she brought down the Kaiser.  In World War Two, the British Empire was the only power that was in the war from beginning to end.   With later help from the Soviet Union and the United States, the Empire defeated Hitler and his monstrous Third Reich that was the most racist regime in modern history.  The Empire’s forces also kept the peace on the North-West frontier of India, in what are now Pakistan and Afghanistan and in other trouble spots around the world.

America’s pre-eminent historian, James Truslow Adams, wrote his history of “The British Empire 1784-1939” in the year that World War Two started, 1939.   This is the final paragraph in his book:   “In this world crisis, we in America have a great stake.  We know that stability is impossible without respect for law and order, for the honesty of the written and spoken word.  Without liberty of thought, speech and press, progress is impossible.  What these things mean to the world of today and tomorrow has been amply demonstrated by the negation of them in certain great nations during the past few years.   Different peoples may have different ideals of government but for those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would be a catastrophe scarcely thinkable.  Not only would it leave a vacuum over a quarter of the globe into which all the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression could rush, but the strongest bulwark outside ourselves for our own safety and freedom would have been destroyed.”  (page 358)

The Empire has indeed been replaced by “the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression.”

It’s no wonder that, at the height of the Empire, during Queen Victoria’s reign and the first few years of the twentieth century, many people in Britain and its overseas territories, believed the Empire was a fulfillment of biblical promises made to Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Israel.  In Genesis, chapter 48, we read of howJoseph’s descendants were to become a great “multitude of nations” and a “great (single) nation,” the British Empire and Commonwealth and the United States.  They were to be a physical blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3).  In the late Victorian period, believers published a weekly newspaper called “The Banner of Israel”  — they enthusiastically tracked the daily growth of the British Empire and the United States at the time.

This belief was widely held in the trenches of World War One.  It’s ironic that those same trenches shattered the religious convictions of many, who witnessed the carnage first-hand.

No empire was perfect.  Britain made mistakes.  Often listed by anti-imperialists is the Amritsar massacre of 1919.  This was not deliberate government policy, but rather the misjudgment of the commanding officer.  The 1943 Bengal famine is also often mentioned; overlooked is the fact that this was in the middle of World War II when other nations also experienced famine. Historical mistakes were made in Ireland, which caused problems to this day.

Imperialism had been in vogue before 1914; after two world wars, there was great disillusionment.   Additionally, the colonial powers had serious financial problems.  Decolonization followed.  It was the end of the European empires.

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BINGE WATCHING RECOMMENDATIONS

war-and-peace

Diane and I spent Saturday night and too much of Sunday afternoon watching “War and Peace”, the BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel that has been described as the greatest novel ever written.

It’s set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the years between 1805 and 1812 when France turned its attentions to Russia, arguably Napoleon’s biggest mistake.

It isn’t just about the military and endless battles.   There’s the usual romantic entanglements that make a good novel, which keep you enthralled until the end.

The television series lasts eight hours.  According to a website I checked, it takes 32 hours and 40 minutes for the average person to read the book.   So you can save yourselves almost 25 hours by watching the series, even if you do feel guilty about “wasting” a Sunday afternoon binge watching.

Warning:  once you start, you won’t want to stop!!!

(It’s even led to me starting to read the 3 volume set that has been on my bookshelf for fifty years.)

NETFLIX:  THE CROWN

the-crown

We also binge-watched “The Crown” over Thanksgiving when our eldest daughter, her husband and children were with us.  This is the most expensive online production ever, showing on Netflix.  They reportedly spent over 100 million pounds on it (approx. $125 million).  As it’s the first of four seasons, they will be spending a good $500 million before it’s over.   One newspaper said that Netflix is hoping to bury cable with this and other upcoming productions.

“The Crown” tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, up till the present time.  As flashbacks go back to the Abdication in 1936, it effectively covers her life from the moment she learned she would become Queen when her uncle abdicated, until the present day.   The first series ends in 1955, when Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister.    Coincidentally, with the recent deaths of the King of Thailand and Fidel Castro, she is now the only political figure who was around in the 1950’s.

Although many of the conversations that take place in the series are pure conjecture, the production is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the 1940’s and 50’s and its attention to detail.   The deep spiritual and historical meaning of the coronation is brilliantly conveyed to audiences that are unfamiliar with the biblical significance of the ceremony, which has its origins in the coronation of Israel’s King Solomon and his anointing by Zadok, the priest.

Politically, the series will help people to understand constitutional monarchy.   43 countries around the world are monarchies, not all of them constitutional.   Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State of 16 of those countries.  Each country chose to remain a constitutional monarchy at the time of independence.

All four of us recommend the series and look forward to the following three seasons.

Footnotes:  In one scene Prince Philip says something negative about visiting Australia; in a later episode, he is asked to go there alone for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1956 and, again, expresses a complaint.  I question the series’ interpretation of events here.   Mark Steyn, a Canadian of decidedly conservative views who now lives in New Hampshire, wrote an article some years ago about a dinner he had with others at Buckingham Palace, where he was hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip.  In the article he recounted a private conversation with the Prince in which they both compared and discussed the Canadian and Australian constitutions.   It didn’t seem as if the Prince was not interested in the two countries.  The trips were undoubtedly a challenge as they went by sea and were away from their children for months at a time.    This fact is alluded to in the later episode.

Personal footnote:  Our son was helping his eldest daughter, Paris, prepping her for a test on Canada the following day in her fifth grade exam.   One question was “What kind of government does Canada have?”  Kurt told her Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  It turned out to be the wrong answer.  What the teacher wanted was:  “Canada has its own government.”   Even teachers don’t seem to understand “constitutional monarchy,” which has a very good track record of preserving democracy.

ANTENNA

the-hollow-crown

A third series we’ve started binge-watching (well, every Sunday evening for a couple of hours) is “The Hollow Crown,” adaptations of Shakespeare’s historical plays.  The series is showing in the Sunday night “Masterpiece Theater” slot on PBS.  It stars some of the world’s greatest actors. Somehow, we missed the first series, which we’ve now requested through our public library system.   But we’ve started the second series, which begins in 1422 with the death of Henry V and the ascension to power of his son, Henry VI.   Actually, it was not that simple – the new king was only nine months old, the youngest monarch in English history.  In view of his age, there had to be a regency – and that was the start of his problems.   Out of this came the War of the Roses, a civil war that lasted over thirty years.

SERIOUSLY

“Britain’s oldest manufacturing firm put its business up for sale.  Based in East London, Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570 and cast the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as well as Big Ben and bells for St Paul’s Cathedral.  Fewer churches mean fewer orders for large bells.  But the success of “Downton Abbey” has wrought a new market:  for handbells to ring for tea.”  (The Economist, December 10th.)

 

THE PASSAGE OF TIME

Aubren watching the clock strike.
Aubren watching the clock strike.

We’re still moving.

Although the move has gone smoothly, we’re still adjusting to a new home and can’t seem to find anything when we need it.   Or it’s still at the old house!

One little thing has made quite a difference.

In 2002, our youngest daughter bought an “antique grandfather clock” from England that was a limited edition clock to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.   The clock bears a commemorative plate on the front.   Of course, it’s not really an antique as it’s only 14 years old, but it looks like an antique.   Finally, we have a good place for it and it’s now chiming every 15 minutes from 7am to 10pm.

Our eldest grandson loves it.

Wherever he is in his “new house” he runs to the clock when it starts chiming and is fascinated by it.   He then comes running back to me pointing in the direction of the clock and repeating enthusiastically “Hickory Dickory Dock.”   (Long-time readers will remember his love of the old nursery rhyme.)   I’m taking the opportunity to teach him time using the clock.   Every hour you hear the number of strokes denoting the passage of time.   The chimes are “Westminster” chimes, just like Big Ben.

Although, to be exact, not like Big Ben, which, after 150 years, has now been silenced for extensive repairs.  I don’t know what the BBC will do.  When we lived in Ghana, we heard the chimes of Big Ben every day on the BBC World Service, the most listened to radio service in the world.   In a period of turmoil, it conveyed a sense of stability, normalcy and even sanity.  But it’s now too old to continue – until it’s fully repaired.

Our clock and London’s famous clock are reminders of the passage of time.

No two days are exactly alike in this world.   Every fifteen minutes, there’s likely to be some change.   I wonder what the world of our grandchildren will be like when they are 65?

This year we are seeing some changes that may turn out to be very significant.

On Sunday, Austrians gave the right-wing Freedom Party the most votes in the first round of the Austrian presidential election. Now, the president of Austria does not have executive powers.   His responsibilities are more ceremonial, similar to what the Queen has in the United Kingdom.   However, he can dissolve parliament and call an election.   If he does, we may find his party wins and controls parliament.   Europe is moving to the right as the people reject the traditional centrist parties that have governed for seven decades. It’s similar to the 1930’s with a rising nationalism, xenophobia and economic stagnation all contributory factors.

Arguably, the same phenomenon is taking place in the United States with Donald Trump.

We see it in a number of different countries.  In the United Kingdom, a referendum is to take place in a few weeks on the country’s continued membership of the European Union.   We should not confuse this with the euro-zone – Britain has an exemption on this issue regardless of the outcome of the vote.   The EU itself is the issue in June. The EU has a great deal of support, but many want to put “Britain First,” the name of one of the anti-EU parties on the political right.

In hindsight, it was a big mistake for Britain to enter the Union in 1973.  But after more than 40 years of marriage, divorce is not going to be easy.   In the short-term the outcome may not make much of a difference.  The EU is evolving into something more akin to the Holy Roman Empire than the United States, with no two members seemingly alike.  Whatever the outcome of the June 23rd vote, the UK will have to come to terms with a German-dominated potential superpower on its doorstep.

So will the US.   Donald Trump gave a major speech yesterday calling for a radical reappraisal of US foreign policy.   He promised to put “America First,” the name of a movement in the 1930’s to keep America out of Europe’s rising conflict.

It’s been 25 years since the fall of communism but the US continues to spend billions each year defending long-time allies against Russia, China and North Korea.   There is growing resentment amongst American voters who feel that the US has to spend more than its fair share, at a time when Americans are experiencing a fall in their standard of living.

There could be significant changes if Trump wins the election in November.

At the same time, there could be significant changes in Europe regardless of who wins the US election.

King Solomon wrote 3,000 years ago:

“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Future historians may label this period in time as “the rise of nationalism.”   But it’s nothing new.   We’ve been there before.   The post-World War II international set-up is increasingly falling apart.   Within the next few months we could see some real changes.

In Daniel 2:21 the ancient prophet says of God:

“And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

God is behind the rise and fall of nations.   America, like Britain before it, has had its period of pre-eminence.   A withdrawal from much of the world would inevitably diminish America’s international standing – the president would no longer be “the Leader of the Free World.”

It would be time for another superpower to fill the vacuum.

Like our grandfather clock, our grandchildren are likely to see these changes and feel the impact as their world dramatically changes.   They will need to remember the words of Jesus Christ to pray fervently for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10).

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT!

queen-elizabeth-parliament-opening

According to the BBC’s website:   “Almost all of Australia’s state and territory leaders have signed a document in support of the country becoming a republic.”

This follows republican Malcolm Turnbull replacing monarchist Tony Abbot as prime minister of Australia.   Both men are Liberals.  The Liberal Party in Australia is actually the nation’s conservative party.  Mr. Turnbull feels that this is not the time for a republic – it would be best to wait until the Queen’s reign ends.

Elizabeth II has been Queen of Australia for more than half the country’s existence as an independent nation.   Nobody speaks ill of the Queen, who has been a conscientious monarch, serving the country well.   But Australia has changed in the fifty years since the queen’s first Australian prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was in charge.   Sir Robert was an ardent monarchist who attended the coronation of the monarch in 1953.

At the time, Sir Winston Churchill was the British prime minister.  When the nine Commonwealth prime ministers met for their bi-annual conference, they spent a great deal of their time discussing defense matters.   The Korean War was ending and there were serious threats to the British Empire in Egypt, where the new radical government of Gamal Abdul Nasser wanted to gain control of the Suez Canal, a move that would later deal a fatal blow to the whole idea of empire.

Today, the Commonwealth has 53 members, almost all of whom are non-white and mostly have different ideals and priorities to the mother country.

Trade ties have declined with Britain’s industrial decline.  Australia now has closer ties with Asia than with Britain.

Demographic trends also mean that there are less people of British descent in Australia.

It’s interesting to note that the new Canadian prime minister feels very differently to Mr. Turnbull.  In December, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was in Malta for the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.   The BBC asked him if he had any plans to make Canada a republic, something his father favored when he was PM.  Justin Trudeau, thirty years later, replied:  “No, we are very happy with our Queen, the Queen of Canada.”   Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party is a left-wing party, so very different from Mr. Turnbull’s Liberal Party.

Why the difference in attitudes toward the Crown?

I suspect the answer lies in the word “identity.”

Canada was founded by Loyalists who did not want to be a part of the new American Republic after the American Revolution.   They asked for independence in 1864 while the US was fighting a Civil War.  They did not think much of the American form of government, adopting a system more in line with Great Britain.   They wanted to retain the British Head of State, Queen Victoria, as their own monarch.   They laid the foundation of the Commonwealth.  Australia, New Zealand and South Africa followed their example.   These nations were the mainstays of the British Commonwealth until after World War II, when India, Pakistan and Ceylon joined the club.

Canada’s identity, dwarfed by its more powerful southern neighbor, is bound up in the monarchy.   It needs to retain the link in order to maintain its sovereignty, separate and distinct from the United States.

The same dynamics do not apply in Australia, though a case can certainly be made for preserving Australia’s distinctly unique way of life, separate from other nations in the region.  The link with the Crown is a part of Australia’s cultural heritage, which sets it apart from most other countries in the region.

magazine has been in favor of an Australian republic ever since the issue was first raised, describing the queen as “Elizabeth the Last.” But even The Economist admits that it will lead to ten years of political instability, as the ripple effects will require a number of constitutional changes.   Perhaps now is not a good time to change the system.

It should also be pointed out that, approximately half the population remains very loyal to the monarchy, so any change could be divisive.

Interestingly, whereas many Australians who favor a republic would prefer the US system, it’s not likely to happen.   Politicians prefer the German or Irish system, replacing the Queen with a figurehead president appointed by parliament.   This is not a very good system.   While the monarch is above politics, any political appointee inevitably won’t be.   It should also be remembered that, when the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, died in office, the new Chancellor did away with the office and had himself proclaimed Fuhrer.   The rest, as they say, is history!

It’s also interesting to note that the Toronto based organization “Democracy Watch” recently listed the seven most democratic countries in the world.   All were constitutional monarchies, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.   The United States was not in the top seven.   Sadly, America has become less democratic in recent decades, as big business together with lobbyists seem to determine everything in politics.   Add to that the influence of the media – elections are increasingly just personality contests.  Reality TV has taken over.

An additional factor for Australia to consider is that constitutional monarchy is the cheapest political system.

Christians should also remember I Peter 2:17 – “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”

It might be good for everyone to ponder on the old maxim:   “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

QUEEN ELIZABETH LONGEST REIGNING MONARCH

Westminster Abbey's bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.
Westminster Abbey’s bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Today at 5.30pm British Summer Time, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, overtaking the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

She still has some way to go to pass the longest reigning European monarchs,   Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (1848-1916) and France’s Louis XIV (1643-1715).   However, the latter doesn’t really count as he was only five when he became “king,” meaning that his mother and Cardinal Mazarin ruled in his place.

Thailand’s current king was crowned in May 1950 so he’s been around even longer than the British monarch.

A PBS documentary on the queen aired last week.   The one-hour documentary is available on DVD.   It’s part of the “In their own words” occasional series.   There was one mistake in the program when a BBC broadcast announcing that “the king’s life draws peacefully to a close” was applied to her father, King George VI, who died in 1952.   The recording dates to January 1936 when his father, George V, was dying.   The queen’s father was found dead in bed on February 6th, 1952.   He had been out hunting the previous day. Elizabeth and her husband were in Kenya, on a tour of the empire, when he died.

The monarchy goes back over one thousand years.  It has evolved through the centuries into today’s constitutional monarchy.   The system has worked very well, giving Britain and the other Commonwealth realms (which include Canada, Australia and New Zealand) an unparalleled period of political stability, without which economic progress is difficult to achieve.

The very complimentary documentary highlighted Elizabeth’s role as constitutional monarch, using her influence rather than authority in chaperoning the country for over sixty years.   It’s been a time of unprecedented change, as was Victoria’s in the nineteenth century.

The program began with then Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday broadcast from Cape Town, South Africa.   In her own words she pledged herself to serve “the great imperial family to which we all belong,” a reference to the Empire and Commonwealth, which included South Africa.

Immediately after these words were shown on the documentary, a royal expert then added a comment about her lifelong service to Britain.

There’s a blind spot here, which obscures Britain’s incredible decline during her reign.   As she is a constitutional monarch, the blame for this decline rests with the politicians, especially the twelve British prime ministers who have served under her.   Her Canadian, Australian and New Zealand prime ministers can also share some of that responsibility.

The fact is that the British Empire has gone and its successor, the Commonwealth (the “British” was dropped 50 years ago) is no more than a shadow of what it was.   It may not even survive the queen’s passing.   The queen remains Head of State of 16 countries and has 138 million subjects.   She is also titular Head of the Commonwealth, an organization of 54 former colonies.   It remains to be seen if Prince Charles will be able to hold it all together after he succeeds his mother.

Sir John Major, her ninth British prime minister, said in the documentary that throughout all the changes of the last six decades, the queen has been the one “constant” in the country, giving a sense of continuity and stability during monumental and significant changes.   This is true, but it hides some painful realities.

The loss of empire saw a rapid decline in global power.   The country’s military capability is about one-twelfth of what it was at the beginning of her reign – and continues to decline even under a Conservative administration.   The queen’s international role remains at the core of British “soft power,” along with the BBC World Service and British aid.   This soft power has replaced the strong military power it used to have.

With the empire gone, Britain entered the European Common Market (now the European Union), which has progressively taken away the UK’s independence.   Under the EU’s freedom of movement rules, millions of people from other European countries have been able to move to Britain, changing the composition of the nation’s population.

Added to this has been mass immigration from Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan.

The changes are so significant, it’s fair to say that the Great Britain she inherited in 1952 and the Great Britain of today are two very different countries.   It’s amusing to remember that in 1949, when she was Princess Elizabeth, she spoke out against the evils of divorce.   The nation would not take kindly to such comments today and the queen would not be qualified to speak on the subject anyway as her own family has seen a few divorces.

None of this detracts from the great accomplishments of Elizabeth II.   She has set an incredible example of service.   Her sense of duty is unsurpassed by anybody in any field.   In her own personal private life she has set a fine example, never putting a foot wrong.

In many ways, the world was a better place when the Queen ascended the throne on February 6th, 1952 (the Coronation was in June the following year).   At that time, she presided over the greatest empire in history.   As countries were given independence, all too often they were taken over by self-serving bad leaders who destroyed much of what Britain had accomplished, enriching themselves by stealing from their own people.   They were often from the lowest echelons of society, suddenly receiving absolute power, which they abused in every way.

I remember an incident 35 years ago at a time when Ghana, in West Africa, was going through a long period of political instability and economic chaos, I stopped to buy some food at the side of the road. When I opened my wallet, the lady who was selling me the items, saw a British bank note with the portrait of the queen on it.   The lady sighed and said:   “Ah, Queen Elizabeth.   She used to be our queen.   Now we have so many presidents, we cannot count them all. And we are in such a mess.   And England still has the queen.”   Stability is so important.

Two verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes illustrate this so well:

“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
And your princes feast in the morning!
Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles,
And your princes feast at the proper time —
For strength and not for drunkenness!”   (Eccl. 10:16-17.)

Britain has been greatly blessed with Elizabeth II as Queen.

As many are saying today:    “Long may she reign!”

FATHER OF ENGLAND’S RULING DYNASTY

 (My brother Nigel's official website is http://www.nigelrhodesfineart.com/.   He has been in the art business for over 30 years.   This picture is of the portrait he has for sale.)
My brother, Nigel, has been in the art business for over 30 years. This picture is of the rare portrait of George I, by C. Fontaine, he has for sale.

My brother Nigel in England asked me to write this article to accompany a portrait of King George I that is being sold by his art and antique business.   I find George I interesting, so here is the story.   (My brother’s official website is http://www.nigelrhodesfineart.com/.)

The first Hanoverian king did not get the dynasty off to a good start.

So desperate were the English to guarantee the Protestant succession after Queen Anne’s death in 1714, that they turned to a distant relative who lived in Germany and asked him to become King.   More than fifty closer relatives were passed over because of their Roman Catholicism.   It had taken almost two centuries to secure England’s freedom from Rome – there was clearly no turning back.

George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from August 1st, 1714, to his death in 1727.   At the same time, he retained his German titles that he had held since 1698. He was also ruler of the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneberg and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire.   His two successors, George II and George III would also hold the same titles, until the dismantling of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

George I was never comfortable speaking English.   If someone did not speak his native German, he would converse in French.

Although the people were thankful to have a protestant monarch, George was never popular.   He had a bad reputation even before he arrived on England’s shores.   After his wife had committed adultery with a Swedish guardsman, he had the man murdered and then imprisoned her and would not let her see their two children, one of whom was the future George II.   While Prince of Wales, the future George II, was anxious for the death of his father, not so much to be king himself, but to be able to see his mother again.   However, she died shortly before her husband.

“He was by nature neither warm nor congenial (“the Elector is so cold that he freezes everything into ice,” his cousin remarked), and those who had to deal with him soon discovered that beneath his shy, benign reserve their lurked a deeply suspicious, even vindictive nature.   Accustomed to unquestioning obedience, George was selfish and easily offended. And once offence was given, the wrong could never be made right.” (Royal Panoply, George I, by Carolly Erickson, 2003.)

When George became king, he journeyed to England to ascend the throne, but had intended to return to Hanover as soon as possible. His acceptance of his new responsibility owed more to his conviction that it would be good for Hanover, than to any desire to serve the British people.

The year after his ascension, he faced rebellion at home. Jacobites, loyal to the Catholic Stuarts, wanted to place the son of James II on the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland.   When the Pretender landed in Scotland and raised his standard against the king, many Scottish towns declared themselves for James.   But George was resolute – he had faced the Turks and the French and was not about to be defeated by the Stuart usurper. James soon returned to France, discouraged by the lack of support he received from the people.

Immediately after this victory, George returned to Hanover, one of five visits he made to his old home during his reign. At the time, Hanover was at war with Sweden. George had allied his electorate with Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, in hopes of acquiring territory from the Swedes after their defeat.   But George was soon faced with a crisis in his new home and had to return to London, where the government had degenerated into squabbles.

Without realizing it, after 1720, George contributed to the modern democracy that has given the United Kingdom three centuries of stability. Robert Walpole was his first prime minister. Indeed, he was also the first prime minister of the country, one of the most competent prime ministers in a long line of, arguably, questionable heads of government.   Walpole blended the power of the Crown with the growing power of parliament, in a balance that remains with us to this day.

Although the king shunned public appearances, on warm summer nights, he would board his open barge at Whitehall with a small party of friends, travelling upriver to Chelsea.   Other barges would soon join the royal barge, one of which had a full orchestra of fifty musicians on board.   The music they played filled the air and was very popular with Londoners.   George had brought with him his favorite musician George Frederick Handel, who composed much of the music played on these royal evenings, music that is still popular today.

George will also be remembered for the South Sea Bubble, one of the greatest financial catastrophes in history. Its collapse ruined thousands of people.

The company was set up to refinance thirty thousand pounds of government debt, a vast sum in those days. The debts were converted into shares of the company’s stock. As investors rushed in to make a killing, the value of the shares kept rising, shares in other companies rising along with them. Inevitably, the bubble burst and the shares became worthless.   As the king was the Governor of the company, he got the blame, inspiring the Jacobites to plan another insurrection, which also failed.

While George I may not be anybody’s favorite monarch, his legacy lives on to this day in his descendant Queen Elizabeth II. George I founded a dynasty, which has lasted more than three centuries and given the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth Realms unrivalled political stability. For this we should all be thankful. Thanks also to the first Hanoverian who had a small part in this achievement.

 

REPEATED DIPLOMATIC GAFFES

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Fifty years ago this month, Sir Winston Churchill died.  Queen Elizabeth II ordered a state funeral, a rare honor, for the great war hero.

Six days later, 110 world leaders attended his funeral.  At the time, the number of countries in the world was not much greater.

Notably absent was the US president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.   It wasn’t just that the president failed to attend, citing illness.  The Vice President Hubert Humphrey was not sent in his place.   Even the Chief Justice failed to turn up.

Former President Dwight Eisenhower attended as a private citizen, honoring his old friend and comrade from the dark days of World War II.   Looking back, Eisenhower could have been sent as the official representative of the United States, but he wasn’t.

This was a serious diplomatic blunder at a time when the Cold War was at its height and America needed its European allies, particularly Britain.   It may, or many not, have been a factor in Britain’s continual refusal to send troops to Vietnam, the only US conflict the British have not supported since the end of the Second World War.

The same mistake was made just under two years ago when only a low ranking official was sent to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

Now, the Obama Administration has made a similar error of judgment, for which it has apologized.

This time, the failure was not to attend the demonstration of unity in Paris held on Sunday. 3.7 million people were in attendance throughout the country, most of them in the capital, Paris.

The British, German and Spanish prime ministers were all present; as were the prime minister of Israel and the Palestinian leader, two men who would not normally want to be seen with each other.

Neither the US president nor the Vice-President were there.   And nor was the Secretary of State, John Kerry.   In contrast, the President of France, Jacques Chirac, was the first world leader to visit Washington after 9/11.

Diplomatic gaffes like this can lead to serious problems.  I don’t think the Atlantic Alliance is going to disintegrate because the US president failed to turn up in France for the Unity rally, but repeated blunders like this one send a message, that Europe is now of little importance to the US.   The announced closure of 15 US military bases in Europe last week also sent a negative message, that America is losing interest in Europe.  The announcement came just after the Paris terror attacks.   That was also insensitive – at a time when Europe clearly needs some help, the US is withdrawing!

Washington should remember that only once has NATO’s Clause 5 ever been invoked.   This is the clause that states if one member country is attacked, the others must come to its aid.   The one time it was invoked was immediately after September 11th, 2001, when other NATO countries came to America’s aid.

Alliances, like friendship, work both ways.   If friends don’t support friends in times of trouble, the friendship could just fizzle out and die.