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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Multum in Parvo: Much in Little - Some Byways in History

King Charles III

I can't be the only person in Britain - monarchist though I am - who felt just a little sad that the King chose Charles as his regnal name. There had, over the years, talk of him taking the name George. Yet instead of taking a good Hanoverian/Windsor name he chose a Stuart one instead. To those of us who remain supporters of the old House of Stuart, if only romantically, it is a bit of a blow as Bonnie Prince Charlie became de jure King as Charles III on the death of his father, James the Old Pretender, de jure King James III.The Stuart 'Charles III' 'reigned from 1766 until his own death 22 years later. He was succeeded as de jure King by the last direct descendant of The Royal House, his brother Henry. Henry was a Catholic Cardinal, and is often referred to as The Cardinal King. He took the title King Henry IX. He died in 1807, supported by a pension from George III. By this time most Britons were unaware of his existence.

A quotation from Robert Harris' novel 'Act of Oblivion'

Cromwell speaking in a dream to Whalley,

'But if we learned nothing else, it was that the people of England will not follow a Committee. They still hankered after a King, and by the grace of God I was the next best thing'.

Dr Guillotine

Dr Guillotine who is credited with the invention of the execution machine named after him was an opponent of capital punishment. He reasoned that if there had to be capital punishment then his machine was the most humane. I doubt those strapped to the plank with their neck under the blade thought the same.

PS The people of Halifax in Yorkshire would contend the above declaring that it was their town who had the first guillotine (although they simply called it a gibbet) back in the 16th century.

Historical Relativism

This phrase is used to argue that any historical event or idea can only be understood by placing it within the context of its time, and not our time. A useful response in tackling wokism in regards to historical figures. My bête noir is abandoning this valuable concept when discussing Winston Churchill. A recent example from England is a Primary School dropping the name Sir Francis Drake, the victor of The Armada, because of his involvement with the slave trade. Of course, no sane person today thinks of the slave trade as anything but horrific but that should not detract from Drake's success in 1588 when Philip of Spain's Armada threatened to land troops in England and return the country to Catholicism.

The Times thundered, 'History is complicated. People with obvious flaws and repellent opinions can still be a force for good. That in itself is a valuable lesson for young children. So please, let's not write Drake completely out of our national story. Apart from anything else, it would be a belated victory to another another group of enthusiastic slave traders - the Spanish.'

PS For those interested in Alternative history the novel 'Pavane' by Keith Roberts, first published in 1968, is a great read. The conceit of the book is that Elizabeth I was assassinated as the Armada sailed up the Channel. Civil War broke out in England, the Spanish landed, and Catholicism was restored. The novel takes place in a catholic England of the mid 20th century. A great and challenging novel.

This concept of 'historical relativism' was first expounded by German-American Franz Boas (1859-1942). Recently I was reading James Fennimore Cooper's 'Deerslayer' novel, with its unacceptable attitudes, for us, regarding Black and Indigenous Americans. There is a good discussion of all this in the introduction to the Wordsworh Edition of the novel.

Margaret Thatcher

Talking about the difference between Europe and America she opined,

'Europe will never be like America. Europe is a product of history. America is a product of philosophy'.

Medieval English Jewry

As some of you know I am a numismatist, amongst other interests - that is I collect coins. Some of you may also know that by birth I am a Bristolian.

Both things came together recently when I acquired, via ebay, a silver penny of

King Henry III (1216-72). The coin was minted at the Bristol mint and as usual for this period the name of the moneyer (ie the person in charge of the mint) is given on the reverse. In this case it is a man called Jacob. Almost certainly therefore a Jew. There were in fact after 1066 a number of Jewish moneyers, the earliest of whom came to England with William I whom they had financially backed. Maybe becoming a moneyer was by way of royal thanks. But by Henry III's reign those events were far in the past, and yet we find a number of Jews holding such posts. An intriguing niche occupation, and a well paid one. The coin also reminds us that medieval English Jewry had spread across England's cities, not just York and London but places like Bristol too, where we have rare archaeological evidence of a Jewish population, with a Jewish ritual bath house situated in that part of Bristol still known as Jacobs Wells. For more detail simply google 'Bristol Jewish bath house' and an academic article with fascinating information will be yours.

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