Out Now!

Friday, 6 January 2012

We are subject to shadows

Harry Hotspur with his wife, Elizabeth Mortimer

We are subject to shadows. It has always been so.

Henry IV deposed a king. A fairly useless king who’s sole claim to fame was to introduce the handkerchief to England. Before then real men had wiped their noses on mailed sleeves. Henry IV was made of sterner stuff, but he had set a precedent. Richard II may have been a lying arrogant twerp but he was king, anointed by God and son-in-law to the King of France. To make things worse, their grandfather, Edward III, had been unusually fecund, taking a second wife in his dotage. In consequence a large tranche of the English aristocracy had some claim to the throne. Henry IV had kicked and shattered Pandora’s Box, and when Owain Glyndwr sparked a Welsh rebellion against English rule, pride and ambition threatened to tear the island apart.

In 1402 Sir Edmund Mortimer was captured by Glyndwr but Henry IV refused to ransom him. Why should he when, as yet another descendent of Edward III, Mortimer could also stake a claim to the English throne?

Understandably niggled, Mortimer negotiated an alliance with the Welsh and married Owain Glyndwr’s daughter. He acted quickly and called in favours - in particular from his powerful brother-in-law Henry Percy (Hotspur) who ruled most of Northern England as Earl of Northumberland.

Owain Glyndwr acted almost as quickly. Envoys were sent to the King of France, who, like Brussels today, saw nothing but advantage in a weak and divided Britain. An agreement was arrived at.

Under the Tripartite Indenture, Glyndwr would rule an enlarged Wales, one that would extend as far as the rivers Severn and Mersey including most of Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. Mortimer would take all of southern and western England and Percy would take the North. French forces landed in Wales and the Isle of Wight. They devastated the coast of Devon and with Scottish privateers raided the English and Welsh coastline wherever vulnerable.

In history much is determined by accident and holding one’s nerve. At the battle of Shrewsbury Hotspur raised his visor in order to breathe and was immediately killed by an arrow to the mouth.

Henry IV was said to have wept, though I don’t see why. However when rumours later circulated that Hotspur still lived, Henry had him exhumed, his body salted and quartered and circulated around the kingdom. Just to hammer home the point, Hotspur’s rotting head was stuck on a pole in York.

England remained undivided, and with the death of Mortimer and the demise of Owain Glyndwr and Wales absorbed.

The story is a case of what might have been and testimony to the power of ambition and deals made in darkness. I imagine the average peasant, craftsman or merchant had little idea of the issues, of what had been agreed and why – much like today. Only today bankers, politicians and bureaucrats are unlikely to be salted and quartered should they get things wrong.

Ambitious warlords put their neck on the line but behind the heraldry a peasant whose crops were seized or destroyed would have little idea why. It is much the same today though the warlords have been replaced by global financial powers, bureaucrats and politicians.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: A golden rule and a test of the probity of those who think otherwise. Whose interests are served by the break up of the UK, a small, already over-governed island?

The only real beneficiaries of devolution are politicians seeking more troughs. And behind them a Commission in Brussels that would like to see Britain the political equivalent to Lichtenstein or Italy before unification. But devolution didn’t carry the process far enough.

What other reason was there in John Prescott’s attempt to create another layer of government in the form of Regional Assemblies. The 2004 attempt mercifully failed when a referendum that was allowed saw a 78% majority against the idea. But don’t believe the impetus has gone.

With Wales seeking more power for itself, and in Scotland a smug grinning toad waiting his chance, you have to question the wisdom of those siren whispers calling for an English Assembly. Who gains from diluting power into the hands of even more politicians? And is democracy enhanced if we’re allowed to choose the design of a new postage stamp, the winners of Big Brother, or the X Factor, whilst more power is taken up by a European Commission that no one elects?

We are subject to shadows.


DRC said...

How interesting. I don't usually get involved in politics, but HISTORY on the other hand...

Mike Keyton said...

I love history, and though never repeating itself it's fascinating how fractal patterns repeat.

As for politics, historians have a cynical gene :)

Misha Gerrick said...

"...bankers, politicians and bureaucrats are unlikely to be salted and quartered should they get things wrong."

More's the pity.

Unknown said...

A smug grinning toad? Ha. Love it.

LD Masterson said...

Fascinating AND frightening

Angela Brown said...

What's the phrase, "those who know nothing of history are doomed to repeat it?"

This seems like those who know history are distracting the masses so it can be repeated...or worse.


Maria Zannini said...

Ref: Angela
One of my favorite quotes. From Santayana.

Ref: salted and quartered
If our politicians were salted and quartered, I suspect we'd have far more honest public servants--or less of them.

Mike Keyton said...

Misha and Maria, ref salted and quartered, clearly great minds think alike, alternatively put into cornish pasties and/or Fray Bentos pies.

Mike Keyton said...

Shirley, the words wrote themselves :)

Mike Keyton said...

LD and Angela, sorry for such a jaundiced and serious post. I blame it on the Christmas excess : )

Claudia Del Balso said...

As I was reading, it felt like the plot of a well-written novel or movie ;) I didn't know anything about Mortimer. Politicians, on the other hand, have not learned anything from history.

Mike Keyton said...

Claudia, I agree. The fifteen century is pure plot. And power-hungry men put themselves on the line - more so than their equivalents today.