Tag Archives: William Wallace

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.

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COUNTDOWN TO DISUNITY

Scottish Nationalism

Paul Johnson, the prolific British historian, made the following very perceptive observation about his own country:

“Disunity has always proved fatal to the Offshore Islanders.”

The offshore islanders he was referring to were the British. He wrote a book of that name in 1972, the year before Britain entered the Common Market (now the EU). The book was a history of Britain’s relationship with the European continent.

Great Britain is facing that same disunity in exactly nine days.

September 18th is the date of the Scottish referendum, when people residing in Scotland have an opportunity to vote on independence from the United Kingdom. The vote will be legally binding.

It’s a countdown to chaos.

This all started with “Braveheart,” a movie about William Wallace, a Scot who was executed by the English in the late thirteenth century, over 700 years ago. The fact that the movie has been labeled the “most historically inaccurate movie ever made,” with 87 historical errors, doesn’t alter the fact that it stirred emotions in people of Scottish descent around the world.

When the new Labour government led by Tony Blair took over the reins of government in 1997, they gave both Scotland and Wales their own national assemblies, a parliament that was designed to appease the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. The British of all people should know that appeasement never works – all it did was fuel the nationalist fires, particularly in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party is led by Alex Salmond, who has been described as the most brilliant politician in Britain. He has seen opinion polls progressively move in his favor – the vote is set to be really close.

Only residents of Scotland can vote. Sean Connery, the first James Bond and an ardent supporter of Scottish nationalism, cannot vote because he now resides in the Bahamas. However, 120,000 people from various EU countries can vote because they live in Scotland. This includes thousands of Germans who may see an opportunity here to take Scotland into the eurozone and orient it more toward Germany and the continent.

16-year-olds can also vote. These are more likely to be influenced by the emotion of the movie and have no personal experience of history and the benefits of the Union.

Only nine days before the vote, there is still no answer to the big question of money. What currency will Scotland use? A preference has been stated for the British pound but London says this will not be possible as it would mean that two national governments would be trying to control the currency. The logical alternative is the euro. An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the EU and all new member countries must adopt the euro. This could mean instant austerity as Scotland depends on England for 10% of its expenditure.

A precedent here is the Republic of Ireland, which broke away from the UK over 90 years ago. For some time it had to maintain close financial ties with London but today Ireland is very much a part of the eurozone. Ireland’s national government is increasingly subject to Berlin, which calls the shots. Even road construction signs have “Achtung!” at the top, reflecting closer ties with Europe’s new superpower.

“Don’t let me be last Queen of Scotland” ran the banner headline in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, a British national tabloid. The Queen is said to be very concerned about the kingdom breaking up. Following the announcement of the Duchess of Cambridge expecting a second child, Prince William said he was mostly concerned at the international and domestic situations at this time, a clear reference to ISIS and Scotland, two separate issues.

The Scottish leader professes to want to retain Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. But this may not last. When southern Ireland broke away from the UK in 1921, the Irish Free State retained the British monarch as its own king. But, in 1949, they severed the tie with the crown and became the Republic of Ireland. In more recent years, it has been able to distance itself further from London, thanks to closer ties with the EU and membership of the euro currency.

Independence for Scotland is the logical, though sad, end to the British Empire. In the last 70 years the British have given independence to over 50 countries. It’s as if history is in reverse. Following the full union of Scotland and England in 1707, the British Empire grew in leaps and bounds. In the last seven decades it’s fallen apart even more rapidly. Now Scotland seems set to leave the union with England, with potentially disastrous consequences for both.

Even if the vote is to stay in the UK, it will not be long before there will be a demand for another vote. The nationalists won’t stop until they achieve their goal, which is complete and total independence.