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Reflections on the importance of the medieval English parliament
(Feast of Michael and All Angels, 2017)
What was the importance or significance of the mediaeval English parliament? This is a vast question and my thoughts on it are particularly difficult to articulate, but I think it requires a lengthy process of ‘setting the scene’ to begin with. To put the disputes between kings and representative institutions in their proper context, it is important to consider earlier mediaeval notions of law and kingship. The early mediaeval ‘customary law’ was not one of sovereignty, like the Roman law – whose famous maxim put it ‘whatever has pleased the ruler has the force of law’ – but one of compromises worked out according to a few immutable principles. In such an understanding, law – being the law of one’s fathers – was good because it was old, and old because it was good, and law was sovereign. The king was under the law, bound by it, and his very existence was predicated upon it. Indeed, the mediaeval Icelandic constitution functioned well without a king for centuries, with only one part-time ‘government employee’, a single lawspeaker. Furthermore, since ‘feudal’ relations were essentially personal ones of reciprocal rights and duties, territoriality, like sovereignty was alien to the mediaeval social and political order. As Frank van Dun has it in his essay Uprooted Liberalism and its Discontents, “…power rested on personal allegiances between freemen. Thus, the feudal lord-vassal relationship was not a transitive relation…” Tacitus’ words might well be applied to the early Germanic or barbarian societies, ‘Nec regibus infinita aut libera potestas’ (Their kings are not unlimited or free). (more…)
On the evening of 27th September 2017, I visited the boys at The Oratory School to give a short talk. I gave no title at the time, but a title which suggests itself retrospectively is ‘The medieval roots of European freedom.’ Here is a very brief outline of the 30 minute talk:
How do we explain freedom or liberalism? Any Little Englander will tell you that England is a bit special, but there are other such places in Europe worth investigating. Racialistic accounts, such as in Mein Kampf, and other accounts such as Max Weber’s, of how small countries like England and Holland came to dominate the world, are flawed. Explanations of the ‘European miracle’, too, are mostly confused, often lapsing into 19th century historicism. Rather, we must look to how our early and high mediaeval forebears thought about and practised law and kingship to come to a better understanding of liberal England and liberal Europe. After all, it was in the mediaeval period that the foundations of much that we hold dear – whether economic, political, cultural, or religious – were laid. Ideas and practices worth considering here are: strong kinship bonds; fealty; oath-helping/compurgation; the sovereignty of law; the absence of sovereign territoriality; the absence of the Divine Right of Kings; the consensus fidelium; the right of resistance etc.
Why was Charles I executed?
By Keir Martland
I am what might be jokingly termed a ‘crypto-Anglican.’ Often, I attend some of the more ‘High Church’ services in the Church of England, principally at my College Chapel when ‘on duty’ as a Warden, alongside my regular attendance of Roman Catholic services. This is partly out of a spirit of ecumenism and partly out of an aesthetic appreciation of Choral Evensong and Anglican High Mass according to the Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, there is much to recommend this kind of Anglicanism to the aesthete. Firstly, the Church of England owns – or rather, is in possession of – all the old Catholic churches in this country, and these churches are invariably the prettiest in the country. Secondly, there is something charming, but also interesting on an academic level, about the Cranmerian English of the Prayer Book, such as in the archaic and foreign-sounding “spare thou them.” Thirdly, the Anglican choral tradition is hard to compete with, and Choral Evensong – at least, at my College Chapel – is a delight for those who enjoy early Stuart and Restoration Era “Mag & Nuncs” and anthems (the works of Orlando Gibbons and Pelham Humphrey are particular favourites of mine). It is this rich tradition that the Personal Ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI seek to preserve.
And yet I digress already, for it is in a spirit of ecumenism (an entirely benign effect of Vatican II) and not aestheticism that I write today. Today is the 368th anniversary of the execution of the Anglican Martyr King Charles I. 368 years ago, Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall following two Civil Wars, also known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Charles had lost both Civil Wars and had failed to reach a settlement with the Scots, Parliament, or the Army, and eventually the latter took the initiative to break the deadlock, put him on “trial” following a royalist defeat in the Second Civil War, and murdered him. But why did this happen? (more…)
How Glorious was the “Glorious Revolution”?
(Adapted from an address to the 11th meeting of the Property & Freedom Society)
By Keir Martland
I would like to begin by thanking Professor Hoppe and Dr Imre Hoppe for their generosity in inviting me to speak on 2nd September to such an august gathering as the Property and Freedom Society – and at such a young age. The topic of the speech I gave was the so-called Glorious Revolution, although it might as easily have been titled “On Politics and Religion”, so central were these two themes to my own speech. Therefore, at the beginning of this essay I cannot help but recall an anecdote told of G.K. Chesterton. The great man was offered a column by the Illustrated London News Company and he very humbly asked on what he could possibly write for them. (more…)
What is the difference between our political setup in the West and that of, say, Iran? Why, we are “democracies”! In the countries of the West, we rule ourselves, whether directly through plebiscites or indirectly through electing deputies. This, any constitutional textbook will have you believe, is what makes us in the West free, and everyone else unfree.
So what are these freedoms that we hold dear in the West? Trial by jury, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom from mutilation, habeas corpus, free markets, private property rights, limited government generally. These rights, and others as articulated by the classical liberal, conservative, and Natural Law traditions, are what make us who we are. (more…)