European Union – The Road To Rome
The European Union is ostensibly driven by economics, although there is much talk of Federalism and a move towards political union. There is also a religious factor, which few people recognise, but is nevertheless very real. The lack of democracy in the European Union is characteristic of Papal Rome, which Britain has resisted for centuries. If Britain joins a Federal Europe, with a single currency, we will eventually find ourselves in a position where we become the Northern Ireland of Europe.
And the road to Babylon
See also my book, Forgotten History of the Western People, Chapter 8, The End of the World.
The Myth of Modern Secularism
History is boring, and nobody remembers any of that stuff about the Magna Carta, the Reformation and Oliver Cromwell. Papal interference in British politics seems to be in the dim and distant past, and in any case nobody goes to church any more and we are all much too pre-occupied with materialism, consumerism, sport and entertainment. Such is the myth, but the facts are as follows:
Just because people don’t go to church, that doesn’t make them atheists. Many people have left the church because of internal politics and the ambitions of career theologians. They continue to pray and study their Bibles in their homes and are willing to talk about their faith to others.
We are all affected by our history and the faith of our ancestors. The Reformation was one of the primary motivations for the move from authoritarianism to Parliamentary democracy. If we continue to hold Parliament in high esteem, in spite of the obvious weaknesses of the politicians who assemble there, then we should remember the Reformation and our deliverance from Papal tyranny.
Germany, in spite of its appearance as a modern secular state, is still very traditional. Shops and businesses are all closed on Sundays, and many of them close at lunch-time on Saturday. A very large proportion of the German people pay the “kirch-steuer” or “church-tax”. This is an additional tax, on top of their income tax, and it is paid directly to the church to which they are affiliated. When someone applies for a job they have to fill in a form and give their religious denomination. If they have the most tenuous association with either the Catholic or Lutheran Church, they will have to pay the church tax. If they say something unusual like “Pentecostal” or “Messianic Jewish”, they might get out of it, and some employers will quietly register them as “atheist” to avoid controversy. Germany is full of very large and well-maintained churches, where there is hardly any congregation. People continue to pay the church tax even though they hardly ever go there.
As I was write this article, Europe is involved in a conflict between two religious groups, Albanian Muslims and Serbian Orthodox Christians in Kosovo. The Kosovan population was driven out, and then they returned with the help of NATO (which has got involved for reasons best known to themselves) and the Serbians are leaving. It’s a re-run of the conflict in Bosnia, but with greater tension and bitterness. Whatever the eventual outcome of this, it is impossible to say that religion in Europe is a matter of no consequence, particularly as Islam always tries to expand by establishing Islamic States.
The Old English Government
Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England had a system of democracy which worked from the bottom upwards. Ordinary people could choose their own earldormen, who in turn helped to choose the King. In addition, people had the right to own freehold land. The system worked as follows:
A number of households, in which every man had his own freehold land, made up a village, and they had their village meetings under the supervision of a “village-reeve”.
A number of villages, between 100 and 120, made up a “Hundred”, and they had meetings under the supervision of a “hundred-elder”.
A number of “Hundreds” made up a “Shire”, and they had meetings under the supervision of an “earldorman”.
The Shires made up the Kingdom which was ruled jointly by the King and the Witenagemot, or Witan, the “Meeting of the Wise Men”. The approval of the King and Witan was required to appoint an earldorman to a Shire.
When the Normans invaded in 1066, they abolished the Old English Government and replaced it with their own Feudal System, in which the King owned everything and distributed it to his knights, earls and barons in a way that maximised his own influence and power. The Norman Conquest was so devastating that it took another 229 years, until 1295, to re-establish a Parliamentary system, and even then it was made up by privilege rather than election.
The Normans, the Barons and the Magna Carta
The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 led to a succession of kings as follows:
William I (William the Conqueror). 1066-1087
William II. 1087-1100. Second son of William I. Never married.
Henry I. 1100-1135. Third son of William I.
Stephen. 1135-1154. Son of Adela, daughter of William I
Angevin / Plantagenet kings:
Henry II. 1154-1189. Son of Matilda, daughter of Henry I. His father was Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou.
Richard I (Richard the Lionheart). 1189-1199. Second surviving son of Henry II. Married Berengaria of Navarre but had no children.
John. 1199-1216. Youngest child of Henry II.
Henry III. 1217-1272. Eldest son of John.
Edward I. 1272-1307. Eldest son of Henry III.
After the fall of the Angevin Empire, the Plantagenet line continued until the House of Lancaster in 1399.
Church and State
William the Conqueror’s policy towards the Church was to strengthen it, but to keep it under his control, so that it could be used as an instrument of the State, and he implemented the following measures:
In 1070 he deposed Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and appointed Lanfrac, the Norman Abbot of Bec.
He passed laws which meant that the Pope could do nothing in England without the consent of the King.
He established ecclesiastical courts, which were separate from the secular courts.
In politics, as in all other activities in life, you get back what you give out. As long as the King was strong, the Church was subject to the King, but when the King was weak, he would become subject to the Church. The effect was to bring the Church closer to Rome, and the Pope was able to impose his will on the State whenever he found the opportunity.
Henry II, Thomas Becket, and the Constitutions of Clarendon
The consequence of establishing ecclesiastical courts was that clergy were able to commit crimes and get away with it. The clergy, including clerical servants who obtained “benefit of clergy” by knowing just a few words of Latin, could only be tried in the Bishop’s Courts where they would be punished with censures, excommunications and penance. Everybody else had to be tried in the King’s Courts, where they could receive the death sentence.
In 1162, Henry II attempted to correct the abuse of church power by appointing his Chancellor, Thomas Becket, as Archbishop of Canterbury. However, in 1164, Becket changed his mind and opposed Henry’s church reforms. A crisis developed when a clerk committed a murder and was allowed to go unpunished. Henry responded by drawing up the Constitutions of Clarendon, which included the following provisions:
Clergy charged with criminal offences had to be tried in the King’s Courts.
No appeal can be made to the Pope without the King’s consent.
Forfeited goods cannot be protected within the churches.
Becket reluctantly signed the Constitutions, but then appealed to the Pope to free him from his oath. The Papal annulment of oaths is a measure which was used later, during the reign of King Henry III, when the King was released from his oath to form a Parliament. Papal interference in the affairs of State were commonplace in those days.
Becket was summoned by the King to give an account of his behaviour. He defied King’s authority at the Council of Northampton, then he fled to France, disguised as a monk, and was received by Louis VII.
In 1170, Henry’s eldest son, Prince Henry, was crowned by Roger, Archbishop of York. This type of coronation was a way of bestowing a title, rather that giving up the throne to a successor. In effect it meant there were two kings, Henry II and his son. The young King never had the opportunity to rule on his own, because he died earlier than his father.
Thomas Becket, Louis VII and the Pope were infuriated, because only the Archbishop of Canterbury had the right to perform a coronation. The Pope responded by threatening to excommunicate Henry, and forced him to become reconciled with Becket, who was able to return to England. The reconciliation was very shallow, and Becket continued his rebellion by excommunicating Roger, Archbishop of York, together with two other Bishops who had supported him.
Henry, in a moment of exasperation, uttered the words “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest”. Four of his knights took him seriously, and went off to Canterbury. They demanded that Becket should withdraw the excommunications, and when he refused they killed him on the steps of the Cathedral. Thomas Becket was buried in the Cathedral and was considered by the Church to be a martyr. He was subsequently canonised and Henry did penance at his tomb to appease public feeling. Thomas Becket’s shrine became a place of penance for thousands of pilgrims.
A shallow martyrdom indeed. Thomas Becket was no campaigner for social justice, civil rights or even the salvation of souls. If he believed in the salvation of souls, according to the Catholic definition, he would not have excommunicated the Archbishop of York and two Bishops for purely political reasons. All he wanted was to maintain the privileged status of the clergy. I remember in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited Britain, I watched on television while he marched down the aisle of Canterbury Cathedral, with Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, and they paid their respects to Thomas Becket while the congregation sang “For all the saints, who from their labours rest”. Only those who don’t take the trouble to read up the history of this affair would be fooled by their hypocrisy.
The Angevin Empire
The Normans and their Angevin successors built an empire that included England and most of France as far as the Mediterranean coast. The empire was somewhat united by intermarriage between royal households and somewhat disunited by family squabbles. It reached its peak in the days of Henry II who inherited England, Normandy and Maine from his mother Matilda, and Anjou and Touraine from his father Geoffrey. In addition to this, Henry gained control of large provinces of southern France from his marriage to Ealanor of Guienne, the divorced wife of Louis VII.
The Angevins were not content just to rule England and France. They also wanted to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), succeeded Henry II in 1189 and went off to the Crusades, leaving the English administration in the hands William Longchamp who was appointed Justiciar. The expedition was hugely expensive, but even more expensive was the ransom of £100,000 that had to be paid to get Richard released when he was captured by Leopold, Archduke of Austria, on his way back to England. This ransom was more than twice his entire revenue, and some of his castles in Normandy and Touraine were lost in the effort to raise the money. After his release, he made a brief visit to England in 1194, and then spent the next five years recovering his lost territories. Then in 1199 he died in a confrontation with a man on the battlements while laying siege to a castle.
Richard had two younger brothers, Geoffrey and John. Geoffrey had a son called Arthur. John had been prepared as a possible successor to the throne, but Richard and John had been bitter rivals since childhood, so that Richard preferred to leave the kingdom to his nephew Arthur instead of his brother John. However, John behaved himself well enough during the last five years of Richard’s lifetime to gain his favour as successor. When Richard died, John’s claim to the throne was recognised in England and Normandy, but not in Anjou, Maine and Touraine where Arthur was favoured as king. This led to a civil war in which John captured Arthur and threw him into the dungeon at Rouen Castle, and it is generally supposed that he killed him.
John, the Tax Man
John had won the kingdom, but with the loss of Normandy and Anjou which was seized by Philip II of France. The expense of the war, together with the cost of getting Richard out of prison, had left John with an empty treasury. In the circumstances, it might have seemed sensible for him to forget about France and consolidate his control of England, but that was not the way of things in those days. Lost territory had to be recovered, as a matter of honour. In 1206 he went on an expedition to Poiteau which failed due to lack of funds, and then he spent the next eight years in England raising money for future campaigns.
The people of England were not used to having a king who was resident in the country for so long, and they resented his continual demands for money. He never took any interest in the welfare of the people, and considered them to be just a resource from which money could be raised to fight foreign wars. Against this background, the legend of Robin Hood developed, although it is debatable how much of the story is actually true.
John, the Reluctant Vassal of Rome
One of John’s biggest mistakes was to engage in a dispute with the Pope, which he eventually lost so that he became the Pope’s vassal. The Norman invasion had brought the church closer to Rome, so that the European influence of the Vatican was extended to England. In all the nations that were considered to be within the domain of the Vatican, no king could rule effectively without the consent of the Pope. John had a dispute with Pope Innocent III about the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Hubert died in 1205 and there was disagreement among the monks about whether to appoint Reginald, the sub-prior of Canterbury, or John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich who was favoured by King John. The monks appealed to the Pope for a decision, but the Pope rejected both candidates and ordered the appointment of Stephen Langton. John refused to receive Langton and the Pope proceeded to punish him with the following measures:
In 1208, an interdict was issued, so that church services in England and Wales were forbidden for at least four years, and possibly as many as six years.
In 1209, John was excommunicated.
In 1212, the Pope declared that John was no longer king, and called on his old enemy, Philip II of France, to depose him.
These three measures were so damaging to John’s authority as king, that he was forced to patch up his relationship with the Pope. In 1213, he did so by paying “homage”, a procedure in which one party submits to the other party, recognises him as a superior authority and becomes his “vassal”. John’s homage was received and accepted at Dover by Pandulf, the Pope’s legate. John promised to accept Langton as archbishop and restore the church property that he had taken in his attempts to raise funds. He also agreed to pay an annual tribute of 1,000 marks to the Pope. In response, the Pope ordered Philip not to make war against John.
Philip was angry at being deprived of his opportunity to attack John, and instead he attacked John’s ally, the Count of Flanders. John allied himself with Otto, Emperor of Germany, and sent out an army under the command of the Earl of Salisbury to defend the Count of Flanders, but they were all defeated by Philip at the Battle of Bouvines.
John’s reconciliation with the Pope did little to enhance his popularity among the people of England. They said that “John had forfeited the name of King, and had become the Pope’s man”.
The Revolt of the Barons
John’s defeat at the Battle of Bouvines had made him weak and vulnerable, giving the Barons, mostly from the North of England, an opportunity to air their grievances about his heavy taxation policies. The Baron’s revolt was led by Gerald Fitzwalter and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. In 1215 they met first at St. Albans to prepare a declaration of their grievances, and then at St. Paul’s where Stephen Langton laid before them the Coronation Charter of Henry I. From this they put together the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”), containing provisions about the legal ownership of property, inheritance and civil liberties.
The Barons met again at Bury St. Edmunds in 1214 and took an oath that they would compel John to sign the Magna Carta, and if necessary take up arms against him. John asked for three months to consider it, and in the meantime he tried to consolidate his weakened position with the following measures:
He gave the clergy the freedom of election to higher ecclesiastic positions, in an attempt to separate the Church from the Barons.
He took the oath of the Crusaders to try and get the protection of the Church.
He recruited mercenaries from Poitou.
The Barons met again at Brackley in 1215 and marched on London where they were welcomed by the people. John’s army deserted him, and he was compelled to meet the Barons at Runnymede where he signed the Magna Carta on June 15th. It was also signed by 25 Surety Barons who would enforce the Charter, with the right to go to war against him if he should violate it.
The Magna Carta was a document of immense importance. It formed the basis of English Common Law and established that England would be a free country even if all other laws were repealed. It has been ratified by successive monarchs and parliaments at least 38 times.
It is debatable whether the Barons were supporting the Magna Carta for the benefit of the people as a whole, or as a means of regaining and preserving their own estates which had been ravaged by the Angevin Empire. Whatever their motivation, the Charter was drafted as a document for all the people, and could not have succeeded if it had been put together any other way.
Interference from Rome
Although the Magna Carta was a document of great benefit to English civil liberties, the Pope did not see it that way. He had accepted John as his vassal and did not want to see him weakened or overthrown. He considered the Magna Carta to be an act of rebellion, both against the English Crown and against Rome. On 24th September 1215 he declared the Magna Carta to be null and void, and excommunicated all the 25 Surety Barons who had signed it. He also suspended Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, an act that entailed some irony, considering that he had fought so hard to get Langton appointed in the first place.
This enabled John to defy the Barons, and he recruited mercenaries and ravaged the North of England. The Barons responded by appealing to Louis, King of France, and invited him to take the Crown. Louis was the son of Philip II who had already defeated John’s army at the Battle of Bouvines, and accepted the opportunity for further war against John. In May 1216, Louis invaded and entered London unopposed, while John was still in the North. John set off to march on London, but lost all his baggage and treasure while crossing the Wash. He retired to Swinestead Abbey near Newark, where he died.
Henry III ascended the throne in 1216 after the death of John. Henry was only nine years old, and was assisted by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who was appointed as his Regent. He inherited a disputed kingdom, and his immediate task was to dispose of his rival, King Louis. This was settled in 1217, firstly at the Fair of Lincoln where Louis was defeated, and then at sea near Dover where the French reinforcement fleet was destroyed. Louis was obliged to make a treaty with William Marshall, declaring a general amnesty, liberal terms for the former rebels and a bribe to Louis to leave the country.
The Barons were sometimes supportive and sometimes in opposition to Henry III, depending on whether or not he supported the Magna Carta. Many of them had deserted Louis and supported Henry at his coronation, since he was the legitimate King of England. Their main argument had been with his predecessor John, not with Henry. In 1227, when Henry reached his majority at the age of 19, he was on reasonably good terms with the Barons, based on his acceptance of the Magna Carta.
In 1236, Henry married Ealanor of Provence, with the result that many French immigrants arrived from Provence and gained wealth by inter-marriage and appointment to high positions in Church and State. He appointed foreigners as his own counsellors, causing irritation for the Barons who were deprived of contact with the King.
In 1242, Henry followed the example of his ancestors and engaged in a war to regain the French territories, but he lost, leaving him with less territory than he had to start with. In 1250, he took the cross and raised funds with the intention of going on a crusade, but the money was diverted to an unsuccessful attempt to gain Sicily for his son Edward.
The Second Baron’s Revolt
In 1258 there was a second Baron’s revolt, led by Simon de Montfort, brother-in-law of the King. This revolt was motivated by Henry’s partiality to foreigners and his defeat in France and Sicily. They held the so-called “Mad Parliament” in Oxford and presented the King with a new constitution called the “Provisions of Oxford”, which both Henry and his son Prince Edward agreed to accept. The provisions were as follows:
24 Barons should be appointed to reform the Government;
There should be three Parliaments every year;
The King cannot act without the authority of a permanent body of 15 advisors;
A committee should be appointed to manage financial affairs.
More Interference from Rome
As if it was not enough to oppose the civil liberties of the Magna Carta, the Pope also opposed this first rudimentary attempt to form a Parliament. The only type of government, favoured by the Vatican, was a King who could do as he pleases within his own territory, because such a King would be easier to manipulate.
In 1261, the Pope intervened and absolved Henry from his oath to keep the Provisions of Oxford. Here is an interesting theological question. The Bible says that if you swear an oath you have to keep it (Num. 30:2). Yeshua advised against swearing elaborate oaths with words such as “by heaven” or “by the earth”. He said we should just keep it simple and say “yes” or “no” (Matt 5:33-37). In Roman Catholic theology, an oath is an oath, only until it gets dissolved by the Pope. Even the oaths sworn by a King to his counsellors amount to nothing if the Pope says so.
In 1264 the matter was referred to Louis IX for arbitration, and he ruled in favour of the Pope, to cancel the Provisions of Oxford. This led to a civil war in which the King was defeated by Simon de Montfort at Lewes and was taken prisoner, together with his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall. A treaty was made in which Prince Edward gave himself up as a ransom for the King, leaving Simon de Montfort in complete control of the kingdom.
The First House of Commons
In pre-Norman times, as described earlier, the Kingdom was ruled jointly by the King and a council called the Witan, made up of representatives from a number of Shires. The Norman Kings, in contrast, did virtually anything they wanted, appointing counsellors at their own convenience, but they were out of the country so much on foreign conquests they had hardly any time to listen to counsellors anyway. The main function of the King’s officials was to raise taxes and manage the affairs of England while he was away.
In 1265, Simon de Montfort organised the first House of Commons, which was the first real Parliament since the Norman Conquest. It included the Barons, the Clergy, two Knights from each county and two representatives from each of the main cities and boroughs. It didn’t last long because the involvement of so many minor officials was making Simon de Montfort too powerful, causing resentment among the Barons. They also resented the imprisonment of Prince Edward, and were given some satisfaction when Edward escaped from prison, raised and army, defeated Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham, and killed him.
In 1266 the Dictum of Kenilworth was signed which restored Henry to his full authority and cancelled the Provisions of Oxford, provided that the King observed the Magna Carta.
Prince Edward ascended the throne when Henry died in 1272.
From 1277-1284, Edward was at war with Llewellyn, the Prince of Wales, who had taken sides with Simon de Montfort. The war broke out when a marriage was arranged between Lewellyn and de Montfort’s daughter, but Edward captured her and detained her in England. Llewelyn was killed in battle, his brother David was captured and executed, and Wales was annexed to England so that it became subject to the same laws, although it was not until the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) that Wales was represented in the English Parliament.
In 1291, there was an internal dispute in Scotland between John Balliol, Robert Bruce and John Hastings about who would ascend the throne of Scotland. Edward was invited to arbitrate, and he ruled in favour of Balliol, who paid homage and became his vassal. In 1296, Edward was at war with France, and Balliol invaded Cumberland in an attempt to gain independence, but failed. Scotland ceased to be a kingdom and was totally dependent on England, but there were a number of rebellions which eventually achieved the independence of Scotland under Robert Bruce in 1314, when Edward II was King of England.
The First Complete Parliament
Edward I took a keen interest in the law-making process and instituted a number of constitutional changes, regarding the titles to lands, inheritance, local defence and public safety, crime prevention, taxation and the organisation of law courts.
In 1295 Edward summoned the First Complete Parliament, made up of the Lords, Commons and Clergy, which is generally considered to be the origin of the Parliament that we have today. His motivation was to raise funds to pay for his wars, and since he had to raise funds from all classes of people, he might as well give them a say in how it was raised. He said “That it was right that what concerned all, should be approved of all”.
The term “approved of all” did not mean all people. It only meant all people of great importance, but it was a distribution of people from around the country and was much better than having a king who could do what he liked. The right to vote in Parliamentary elections was not given to ordinary people until 1832, and even then it was only given to wealthy and middle-class owners of property. Through a series of subsequent acts it was gradually extended until the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1948, which governs our current electoral system. Universal suffrage got off to a slow start, considering the number of centuries that passed with a Parliament made up of privileged members. It took a long time to create a democracy that was in any way comparable to the Old English Government that preceded the Norman Conquest.
The European Union
During the period of history, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 until the establishment of the First Complete Parliament in 1295, Britain gained the following benefits from Europe:
The Old English Goverment, with a system of democracy involving the Witan, the Shires, the Hundreds and the Villages, was abolished and replaced by a dictatorship.
The right to freehold land was abolished. Almost all land was confiscated and given to the King and his officials.
The people were considered to be merely a resource from which money could be extracted for fighting foreign wars.
The Church was brought closer to Rome.
The Constitutions of Clarendon, containing provisions to end the privileged status of the clergy and their immunity from the civil law, was undermined by Thomas Becket with the assistance of the Pope.
The Magna Carta, the first attempt to establish civil rights was cancelled by the Pope and had to be re-instated by armed struggle.
The Provisions of Oxford, calling for the establishment of a regular Parliament, were cancelled by the Pope, leading to civil war.
From this historical example of European Union, are we likely to gain anything positive from the European Union that is being imposed upon us now? We have a Parliamentary system of government for which our ancestors fought long and hard, and our present-day politicians are prepared to surrender this precious democracy and subordinate themselves to a self-appointed committee called the European Commissioners. They know we won’t be fooled by the outright cancellation of the electoral system, but they are trying to fob us off with an illusion of democracy called the European Parliament which has no real power. For all it’s worth, we might as well have the Norman Conquest all over again.
Renaissance and Reformation in Europe
The news from Europe is not all bad. Both the Renaissance and the Reformation were primarily a European affair from which Britain has greatly benefited. However, it should be noted that all the main players were radical thinkers who took the Bible as their authority instead of ignorance and superstition. If they had any involvement with either the Church or the State, they insisted that it should be run on Biblical principles and not for personal ambition.
The Renaissance preceded the Reformation, but they both worked together to produce an enthusiasm for art and literature, including the Bible in its original languages. The way to heaven was understood to be through personal faith and not by the sacraments and indulgences of the Church.
The Renaissance was basically a change of conciousness that occurred during the 14th to 16th centuries, in which people began to think of themselves as individuals rather than collectively. Italy, and particulary Florence, because the centre of the Renaissance, influenced by the following factors:
There were many ancient Roman monuments in Italy, which acted as a stimulus to the study of Latin and Roman culture.
The decline of Byzantium, and particularly the fall of Constantinople in 1453, caused many Greek-speaking intellectuals to move to Italy, creating a revival of interest in the Greek language and classical Greek literature.
Florence was politically stable and enjoyed economic prosperity, creating leisure time and an opportunity to study.
The Renaissance spread around Europe as people from other regions travelled to Florence to sample its intellectual delights and then returned home, full of enthusiasm, spreading their new ideas. Many travellers came from Northern Europe and England, creating the so-called “Northern Renaissance”.
By far the most prominent of the Northern Renaissance intellectuals was a Dutchman called Desidierus Erasmus (1466-1536). He was an Augustinian monk who had been introduced to the monastic life by his guardians, after his parents had died. He became a priest and took monastic vows in 1492, but continued his career as a scholar rather than a priest. He was critical of the behaviour of the monks, and of the church in general, but was personally very devout. After his ordination he lived in Paris until 1498 and made a living by teaching, and then came to England, probably at the invitation of Lord Mountjoy, who was one of his pupils. He lived in Oxford until 1500, then returned to Paris. He made another short visit to England in 1506, then he went to Italy where he was tutor to Alexander, Archbishop of St. Andrews, son of James IV of Scotland. When Henry VIII became King of England in 1509, Erasmus returned to England at the invitation of Lord Mountjoy and held two professorships, in Divinity and Greek at Cambridge. At the time, Mountjoy considered Henry VIII to be a man of virtue who would spread liberality throughout the land, although he could be forgiven for not knowing at the time, what would happen during the reign of Henry VIII. After 1514, Erasmus travelled alternately between Basel and England, then he lived at Louvain from 1517 to 1521.
Erasmus was, in Renaissance terms, a “humanist”. This meant something very different from humanism today, and has got nothing to do with atheism, agnosticism, the abolition of religion, or even the advancement or benefit of society. During the Renaissance, humanism meant “eloquence” and anyone who was skilled in the arts and literature was considered to be a “humanist”.
Erasmus wrote satirical articles about the behaviour of the church, mostly to entertain and amuse, rather than to promote head-on confrontation and revolution. Among his famous works were “Handbook of the Christian Soldier” and “The Praise of Folly”. He was a very popular author and everything he wrote was immediately published and devoured by a hungry public.
His most important work of all was to compile and publish a Greek New Testament, which became known as the “Textus Receptus”, or “Received Text”. Although a large number of manuscripts were available to him, he only used a few of them, from Greek Orthodox, Syrian and Waldensian sources. The number of documents does not matter greatly, since they were all basically the same. They were of Byzantine origin, and came from a family of documents known as the “Majority Text”, representing the large number of manuscripts which were commonly used in the churches.
The philosophy of the early church was to distribute their manuscripts as widely as possible, rather than keeping them hidden away in dusty archives where they would be destroyed by the next invasion.
And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. (Acts 13:49).
The free movement of documents from one place to another meant that each new document could be compared with all the others, and any errors could be easily corrected. In this way, the Word of God was preserved intact. Any document that was significantly different from the others was excluded from the Majority Text family of documents and was either destroyed or stuffed away somewhere and not used. We should therefore take great care when someone comes up with an old document that has been hidden away for centuries, claiming that it must be correct because of its antiquity. The reason that it was hidden away in the first place is because nobody believed in it. Any document that is actually used should be expected to fall apart and be replaced by copies, just like any good preacher’s well-thumbed Bible.
Erasmus did not trust the Latin Vulgate, which was used by the Roman Catholic Church, and he considered it to be inaccurate. He also did not trust a Greek document called “Codex Vaticanus” or “Vaticanus B” which had come from Alexandria and was hidden away in the Vatican for centuries, hardly ever used. Alexandria had been a hotbed of Greek philosophy during the first few centuries of the church, where theologians considered Plato to be just as important as the Bible, and currupted their manuscripts accordingly. Most of the Alexandrian manuscripts, including the Codex Vaticanus, belong to a relatively small family of documents called the “Minority Text”. In spite of their unreliability, they have been used as the basis for many modern English translations which are inferior to the King James Authorised Version and should not be taken seriously.
Erasmus knew about the variant Greek manuscripts and he was supplied with them by Professor Paulus Bombasius, the Papal librarian. In 1533, a Catholic priest called Juan Sepulveda sent extracts of the Codex Vaticanus to Erasmus, hoping he would use them. It was a bit late in the day, because Erasmus had already published and printed the fourth edition of his Greek New Testament, and was about to produce his fifth edition. Erasmus rejected all the variant readings and stuck to the Majority Text because he knew it was correct.
In the early 16th century, the printing industry had only recently reached the stage where it could handle large amounts of Greek text, and there was a race to see who could be first to produce a Greek New Testament. In 1514, Cardinal Francisco Ximenes of Spain published a Greek New Testament as part of a larger six-volume work called the Complutensian Polyglot, but he did not publish it as a separate edition until 1922. In the meantime, Erasmus continued working on his Greek New Testament and published it as a separate volume for distribution in 1516, printed by John Froben of Basle. This was immediately seized upon by a hungry public, all waiting for the next offering from Erasmus, and was soon out of print. Erasmus had won the publishing race because of his popularity and established reputation as an author, while Cardinal Ximenes was virtually unknown. It is also possible that Cardinal Ximenes was slowed down by political problems. The history of Greek New Testament editions is as follows:
The first edition of the Greek New Testament, published by Erasmus in 1516, was soon sold out.
In 1518, Aldus Manutius published a complete Greek Bible made up of the Septuagint Old Testament and the Greek New Testament of Erasmus.
In 1519, a second edition was published, correcting some errors in the first edition that were mostly typographical and had occurred during the laborious task of typesetting by hand.
In 1522, 1527 and 1535, Erasmus published his third, fourth and fifth editions.
In 1546, the French editor and printer, Robert Estienne (Latinised as Stephanus then Anglicised as Stephens) published an edition that was almost identical to that of Erasmus. He produced three further editions in 1549, 1550 and 1551, and the last of these contained verse numbers.
From 1565 to 1604, Theodore Beza produced a number of editions. His 1598 edition was used by the translators of the King James Authorised Version, published in 1611.
In 1624 and 1633, Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir produced their first and second editions. The Preface to the second edition says “Therefore you have a text now received by all, in which we give no alteration or corruption”. The name “Textus Receptus” or “Received Text” is derived from this Preface, and has subsequently been applied to the entire chain of editions, starting with the first edition of Erasmus in 1516. Elzevir’s second edition was used to make translations into European languages.
The availablility of the New Testament, in the original Greek language, and in the languages of Europe, meant that the Reformation was unstoppable. In fact, by the time the KJAV was published in 1611, the Reformation was virtually complete, having proceeded throughout the period of re-publication and revision that had occurred since the first edition of Erasmus was produced in 1516. People who were familiar with the Latin Vulgate could see immediately that the Greek New Testament was different, and they knew they had been duped.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is well known as the central figure of the Reformation in Germany. He became an Augustinian monk in 1505 and was a contemporary of Erasmus. They both had similar views, to some extent, but very different temperaments. Luther was a fiery, outspoken campaigner, while Erasmus was a careful scholar, full of humour and wit. When the Lutheran Reformation was getting under way, the Lutherans called on Erasmus to cast in his lot with them, but he refused, believing that he could do more good by continuing his work as a scholar. Erasmus was a Reformer of a different type, treading a middle road in the belief that if learning could be restored, all the other evils would disappear. The Lutherans called him a coward, but in the end it turned out that he was right. Without his Greek New Testament, the Reformation could not have succeeded. The Roman Catholic Church charged him with having “laid the egg that Luther hatched”, and in his usual good humour he half-admitted the charge, but said he had expected another kind of bird.
The context of the Reformation was social and economic, as much as it was theological. The Roman Catholic Church had for a long time listened to confessions, and suggested that people should do some charitable works to show that they are serious and make amends. The priests were considered to be the most charitable people of all, full of good works, so it made sense to buy some good works from the priests if you did not have any of your own. The practice of buying good works from the church was called “indulgences”. They were a means of forgiving, not the sins, but the temporal punishments applied to those sins. It was such a good way of making money for the church, that the alternative method of doing your own good works became obsolete. The cost of indulgences gradually became more and more expensive, so that the church became rich and the people became poor. People became demoralised and discouraged, because the only way to get absolution from their sins was to pay out large amounts of money.
Luther’s emphasis on personal faith, rather than church sacraments, was very attractive, because it was much cheaper. In particular, he used to preach:
The just shall live by faith. (Rom. 1:17).
On the basis of this and other, similar texts, the whole edifice of the Roman Catholic theology of sacraments came crashing down. The rejection of indulgences was just the starting point for the rejection of the entire heirarchy of the church. No longer was it necessary to ask a priest for absolution, or to make appeals to the Pope. The Lutheran Movement emphasised a personal relationship with God, who would deliver all spiritual and temporal benefits directly to the believer, without any need for favours from a priest. Personal prayer and study was encouraged, and along with it came a concept of personal freedom, and then political and economic freedom.
The battle between Luther and the Church eventually led to his excommunication in 1521 and he formed his own, independent Lutheran church.
There is just one sad epitaph on the life of Martin Luther. At the end of his life he became frustrated at the reluctance of the Jews to accept his teaching, and became anti-semitic, calling for the destruction of synagogues. His advice was acted upon three centuries later by Hitler, who murdered six million Jews, knowing that the German Lutheran Church would do nothing to stop him. Luther started off well but finished badly. His fiery temperament was eventually his downfall, and I much prefer the humour and wit of Erasmus. The most generous epitaph that I could give to Martin Luther would be “We have this treasure in earthen vessels”. (2 Cor. 4:7).
The Lutheran Reformation spread throughout Germany and the German-speaking cities of Switzerland, namely Zurich, Bern and Basel, but it took a little longer to reach the French-speaking city of Geneva. They had been ruled by the House of Savoy, but had overthrown them, and in 1533 the Protestant Canton of Bern sent Protestant reformers to Geneva. In 1535, it officially became a Protestant city.
John Calvin (1509-1564) was a successful lawyer, and was invited to Geneva to build the Reform church. He was both a religious and political thinker, and wanted to build the organisation of both the church and the city on Biblical principles. At first, the people of Geneva thought he was building a heirarchy similar to the Catholic church, and in 1538 they threw him out. He went to Strasbourg where he began writing his commentaries, and finished his account of Protestant doctrine known as “The Institutes of the Christian Church”.
In 1540 there were some new city officials in Geneva who invited him back, and he began a process of reform which enabled the church to be involved in the government of the city. He also created a heirarchy in the church with four levels:
Pastors – five men to have authority over religious matters in Geneva;
Teachers – a larger group to teach doctrine;
Elders – twelve men (after the twelve apostles), who were chosen by the city council, to oversee everything that people did in the city;
Deacons – appointed to take care of the sick, widows, elderly and poor.
With a structure like this, we might well ask, how is it different from Roman Catholicism, and were the previous city officials right to kick him out? The difference is that Calvin emphasised the study of the Bible, where as the Catholic Church built their edifice on ignorance and superstition. Calvin insisted on the literal reading of the Bible, and everything explicitly found in the Bible had to be faithfully observed. If something was not literally and explicitly found in the Bible, it had to be rejected. There was no room for reading between the lines or creating allegories based on one’s own imagination.
One of Calvin’s most important doctrines of salvation was predestination, which meant that God knows the future, and therefore God knows in advance who will be saved and who will not. Therefore, although from our point of view, it appears that we have chosen to be saved, by believing in Yeshua (Jesus) and his redemptive work on the cross, in reality it is God who chooses us. Luther taught us that we cannot boast of our good works, because we are saved by faith and not works. Calvin taught that we cannot even boast of our faith, because we never chose to have faith. It was God who gave it to us. We can only boast of the grace of God, which comes entirely from God himself and not from ourselves.
This has, of course, created endless discussion between the Calvinists and the “Arminian” school of theology who believe that we are saved by our own choice. I used to listen to a preacher who tried to reconcile the two ideas by saying that salvation is like walking through a door. As you approach the door, you see written on the doorpost “Whosoever will may come”, and then after you have gone through you look back and see another inscription saying “Saved by the grace of God”. If this is considered a rather simplistic example of two apparent opposites that are both true at the same time, consider also Einstein’s theory of relativity. How is it possible for the same beam of light to travel at two different speeds, depending on the speed of the person who is observing it?
The Roman Catholic Church did not take kindly to the collapse of their sacramental edifice and the transformation of their mass into a mass desertion. They responded in a number of ways:
They encouraged simple ethical living and piety among the clergy, as a way of cleaning up their act.
They founded the “Society of Jesus”, otherwise known as the “Jesuits”. This was a reactionary movement within the Catholic church, under the leadership of Ignatius of Loyola, which began in the 1530’s and was officially recognised by the Catholic Church about ten years later. They emphasised extreme self-denial and total obedience to the Catholic heirarchy. Ignatius, in his “Rules for Thinking with the Church” said “I will believe that the white that I see is black if the heirarchical Church so defines it”. It is hard to imagine how this could persuade a free-thinking Protestant to return to the Catholic fold, but it might have prevented some devout Catholics from falling away.
They organised the Council of Trent, which met in a number of sessions. In their fourth session in 1546, they issued a statement that can be summarised as follows:
Scripture cannot be regarded as the only source of revelation. The unwritten traditions, from the mouth of Christ or the Apostles, are also important.
Protestant lists of canonical books are deficient. The Council produced a full list of books which it considered to be canonical, including the Apocryphal writings.
The Latin Vulgate is authoritative and no-one should dare to reject it.
The Roman Catholic Church has the authority to interpret Scripture, and nobody else has the right to disagree.
Roman Catholics are not allowed to publish any work relating to the interpretation of Scripture, unless it is first vetted and approved by his superiors in the Church. Roman Catholics are also not allowed to read, write, circulate or possess any book that is anonymous, unless the Church has approved it in writing, and the approval appears at the beginning of the book.
The measures issued by the Council of Trent had the effect of restoring order within the ranks of the Catholic Church, but at a high price. Catholic learning and scholarship was brought to a standstill, because the only possible answer to any theological question was to ask the person next in line up the heirarchy. It also meant that Catholics were unable to argue with Protestants, because they could not express any view unless they were sure that it had been approved by the Church. Catholic scholarship was reduced to the boring routine of finding out what was approved by the Church and what was not. This situation existed until Vatican II was held in 1962 to 1965, so that for more than three centuries the Catholic Church was a prisoner in its own house as far as theology was concerned, but active in other areas such as politics, social welfare and evangelism of the ignorant.
Early British Christianity
Before considering the Protestant Reformation in Britain, it is first necessary to consider how deeply rooted was the Christian faith among the inhabitants of these islands. Christianity has existed in Britain from very early times, probably as early as the first century AD.
The Ancient Britons
One of the earliest migrations to Britain was led by an Italian called Brutus, who went to Greece and then Egypt, and then arrived in Totnes, Devon sometime between 1104 and 1121 BC (difficult to get precise dates that far back). His arrival is commemorated by the “Brutus Stone” which bears his name, and it is thought that the “Britons” were named after him. The pre-Christian calendar is thought to be dated from his arrival.
About seven or eight centuries BC, there were two Celtic migrations across Europe. The first wave was Gaelic and they occupied the northern parts of Scotland and Ireland. The second wave occupied most of England and Wales, and they were called “Britons”, adding to the population that had already arrived with Brutus.
The Celtic Britons were pagan Druids, and the arrival of Christianity was probably an indirect result of the Roman invasion.
The Family of Caractacus
Caractacus was a Welsh king who held out against the Romans but was eventually defeated in 50 AD and taken to Rome in chains. He was tried in the Roman Senate where he made a brave and passionate speech about how he had defended his hereditary domains, as any king would be expected to do. He was pardoned by the Senate, and was allowed to live in a house in Rome, together with other members of his family. He was sent back to Britain in 51 AD as a Roman provincial governor. His father, Bran, was held hostage for a while and then sent back to Britain in 58 AD. The family who remained in Rome was very friendly with the Romans and intermarried with them.
Gladys, the daughter of Caractacus, was re-named Claudia, probably in honour of the Emperor who had pardoned them, and she married a Roman senator called Rufus Pudens. They were active members of the early church in Rome, and had a number of children who all became martyrs during the subsequent persecutions. Claudia had a brother called Linus who was the first Bishop of Rome. All three of them are mentioned in 2 Tim. 4:21.
Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.
There is also some evidence that when Bran returned to Britain in 58 AD, he was accompanied by Aristobulus who is mentioned in Rom. 16:10.
Salute Appeles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus household.
Note that Paul refers to the household of Aristobulus, not to Aristobulus himself, implying that he had gone away somewhere.
Details of these events, and some historical documentation, is given in my book Forgotten History of the Western People.
Did Jesus Come to Britain?
My book also discusses the possibility that Joseph of Arimathea was the great-uncle of Jesus, that he was in the tin trade, and he visited the tin mines of Cornwall. The New Testament does not specifically say that Joseph was related to Jesus, but he might have been, considering that he was able to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus and was granted immediate permission. There are some historical claims that Joseph brought Jesus to Britain as a young boy. He then apparently made another trip to Britain after Jesus had been crucified, bringing with him the communion cup that was used by Jesus at the last supper, known as the “Holy Grail”. He is alleged to have built a church on Glastonbury Thor. At this point it becomes difficult to separate fact from legend. There are claims that the monks at Glastonbury invented the story to enhance the status of their Abbey and resist the Norman Conquest. There are counter-claims that the Roman Catholic Church would not tolerate the prospect of Glastonbury becoming more important than Rome, and destroyed all available records. Whatever the truth might have been, the suggestion that Jesus came to Britain has been a matter of intrigue for many people, for example William Blake who wrote the famous hymn “And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England’s mountains green…”.
How Did Christianity Arrive in Britain?
The story of Joseph of Arimathea, or even Jesus himself arriving in Britain, would be of immense importance if it could be shown to be true, but unless there is some more substantial evidence, it has to be denounced as a myth. The story about the family of Caractacus has much more credibility, and it is very likely that Bran and Aristobulus brought the Christian faith to Britain when they arrived in 58 AD, having been inspired by their experience of the early church in Rome. Whatever the precise details might be, there can be little doubt that Celtic Christianity existed in Britain during the first century.
Lucius, the Christian King, 124-201
Lucius was a British king who founded a church called St. Peter on Cornhill, probably the first Christian church in London. It was destroyed by the Great Fire but the dedication stone is preserved in the vestry.
St. Alban, Martyred in 209
St. Alban was martyred at Verulamium, now known as St. Albans in his honour.
Decline of the Roman Empire
During the third century, the northern limits of the Roman Empire were invaded and the Romans were unable to resist.
The Caledonians or Picts invaded from Scotland.
The Scots from Northern Ireland (yes, that’s right!) invaded Britain and occupied the western shores from the Clyde to the Severn.
The Saxons, from Germany harrassed the eastern coast of Britain.
British Ancestry of Constantine the Great
King Coel had a daughter called Elaine (Helen) who became a Christian. Constantius Chlorus came from Rome to subdue Coel, and then married Helen. They had a son called Constantine, who became known as Constantine the Great and was the first Christian Emperor. In 313 AD he declared that Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire. His Christian faith was undoubtedly derived from his mother, who was British. However, the purity of his Christianity is questionable and he seems to have considered the Christian God to be someone who would help him with his battles.
The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire seemed like good news at the time, but it caused the church to lose its vitality and become institutionalised. It created the opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to rise as a political and religious power which would attempt to subjugate the true followers of Christianity into sumbission to the Pope.
St. Patrick of Ireland
A young boy called Succat, born in 384 and brought up in a Christian household, was captured by Niall and taken to Ireland. He was rescued, but stayed in Ireland to preach Christianity to the Irish pagans. He became known as St. Patrick and founded many churches.
Collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain
In 410, the Roman Empire was in such a state of decline that the Emperor Honorius told the Britons that they would have to defend themselves against the Picts, Scots and Saxons, and Britain ceased to be a Roman province. In 446 the Britons made their final appeal to the Romans, known as “the groans of the Britons”, but no help came. The Britons were pushed westward into Wales by the Angles (from Denmark) and the Saxons (from Germany) who became known as the Anglo-Saxons.
St. Columba and the Abbey at Iona
Columba was the great grandson of Niall, who had captured St. Patrick. In 563 he built an abbey at Iona in the Western Hebrides. They spread the Gospel to Scotland, Bangor in Wales, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
Pope Gregory was passing through the slave market in Rome when he saw some Anglo-Saxon children with fair hair and blue eyes. He was impressed by their appearance and said “Not Angles, but Angels”. In 597 he sent Augustine, together with 40 other missionaries, to Britain. They landed in Kent and went to Canterbury, where they persuaded Aethelbert, the Saxon king of South-East England, to accept Roman Catholicism, including the authority of the Pope.
Catholicism began to spread around the Saxon areas of England, but the Welsh Britons and the Ionians in the North refused to submit to the Pope. Augustine attempted to hold a conference with Dinud, the leader of a Christian centre in Bangor, requiring him to submit to the Pope. Dinud refused with the words:
We desire to love all men and what we do for you we do for you also whom you call the Pope. But he is not entitled to call himself “father of fathers”, and the only submission we can render him is that which we owe to every Christian.
Augustine responded with the following threat, which was later considered by the “venerable” Bede to be a prophecy.
If you will not unite with us in showing the Saxons the way of life, you shall receive from them the stroke of death.
In response to Augustine’s threat, the Saxons attacked Bangor. They massacred 1,200 monks who had gathered to pray for the success of the British forces, but were then driven back. Note: According to Theophilus Evans, this was in Bangor-is-y-coed, about four miles south-east of Wrexham, not Bangor on the Menai Strait near Anglesey.
I use the word “saint” in quotes because Augustine was no saint. He was an envoy of the Pope and a warmonger. He never brought Christianity to Britain as is commonly supposed. Christianity had already been well established among the Britons since the first century, and Augustine was bringing a different type of religion that required submission to the Pope.
The Council of Whitby
The Saxons did not have any deep devotion to the Catholic faith and many of them reverted back to their previous pagan beliefs. The Saxon king Oswiu was unable to make up his mind so in 664 he called a conference in Whitby where he could hear the opposing views of the Catholics in the south and the Columbans from Iona in the north. He was persuaded to follow the Catholics, because of their claim that Peter has the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”. The Catholic faith spread further throughout England, but never gained total control. Even after the Norman Conquest, a succession of English kings resisted the power of Rome and proclaimed that the King of England has authority in his own domain.
Renaissance and Reformation in Britain
Now that we have reviewed the early history of Christianity in Britain, we can see how the Renaissance and Reformation spread to Britain. Basically it followed the same pattern as Europe. There was a revival of interest in art and literature, followed by a rejection of the Roman Catholic heirarchy and a move towards Protestantism. In particular, Britain was influenced by the following factors:
Britain had always been in a state of tension with Rome. In particular, the Welsh Britons who had been driven westward by the Anglo-Saxons, and then attacked again at the instigation of Augustine, had maintained the true Christian faith that they had inherited from the early church.
Henry VII, the first Tudor King of England, was Welsh, and brought his Protestant heritage to the throne of England.
Erasmus was in England for a number of successive periods. He was in Cambridge continuously from 1509 to 1514, then he travelled alternately between England and Basel until 1517 while working on his Greek New Testament.
The Authorised Version of the Bible was produced during the reign of James I.
There was a high level of literacy among all those who could afford an education, and there were many people who could understand Latin and Greek.
The Welsh Protestant influence of Henry VII did not last for ever. Britain had a succession of monarchs who caused the nation to oscillate from Catholic to Protestant and back again. Eventually it became obvious that stability could only be achieved by having a strengthened Parliament in which both Catholics and Protestants could participate, and a constitutional monarchy with limited powers.
The Rival Houses of Lancaster and York
The predecessors of Henry VII were the rival houses of Lancaster and York, descended from two of the sons of Edward III. His third son, John of Gaunt, was the Duke of Lancaster. His fourth son, Edmund of Langley, was the Duke of York. Their respective emblems were a red rose for the House of Lancaster and a white rose for the House of York. The wars fought between these two houses were called the “Wars of the Roses”.
Henry VII the Protestant
Henry VII was a Lancastrian, the great grandson of John of Gaunt, through his mother Margaret Beaufort. His father was Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, but he died before Henry was born. He was taken prisoner by the Yorkists and died at Carmarthen Castle.
Margaret was taken into the care of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, at his stronghold of Pembroke Castle, where Henry was born in 1457. When he was only four years old, Edward IV seized the Crown and Pembroke fell to the Yorkists. Jasper fled abroad, but Henry was still able to stay at Pembroke under the guardianship of William Herbert, the new owner, who was given Jasper’s earldom. Margaret married a Lancastrian Knight, sir Henry Stafford. Henry was parted from his mother, but he still received a sound schooling.
When Henry was twelve years old, Herbert was executed for alleged treason. The following year, Henry VI was restored to the throne and Jasper returned from exile. Henry VI died a year later leaving Henry Tudor as the true heir to the House of Lancaster. Edward IV of the House of York took the crown at the battle of Barnet in 1471, and it was no longer safe for either Henry Tudor or his uncle Jasper to remain in Wales, so they went to north-west France. Henry was in France for 14 years and during that time Edward V took the throne for only two months in 1483 and then Richard III took the throne. Richard’s usurpation of the throne antagonised many in the Yorkist camp. The Duke of Buckingham had staged rebellion against Richard, but failed, and the rebels who fled to France rallied to the support of Henry. In 1485, Henry returned to Wales and landed at Pembrokeshire, where he was very popular because of his Welsh blood. He rallied a large army and fought against Richard at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Richard was defeated and killed, and Henry took the throne.
Henry’s first act was to marry Elizabeth of York, which he had vowed to do before he returned from France. His marriage to Elizabeth united the houses of Lancaster and York, and put an end to their bitter feuding. He built a strong, centrally-controlled kingdom to hand on to his son, Henry VIII.
Henry VIII the Protestant
The story of Henry VIII and his wives is probably the most well-known story of British history, and like most well-known stories it is not known well enough. It is commonly supposed that his only reason to break with Rome was to resolve his domestic affairs. It would be a mistake to assume that the great Protestant Reformation in Britain was based on something so trivial. Henry was the son of a Welsh Protestant, and his dislike for Rome was derived from his Protestant heritage, not from his domestic affairs. His domestic problems were the issues that he quarrelled over, but the real issue was the right of the King of England to reign in his own country without having to submit to Rome.
His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, gave him a son called Henry who lived for only six weeks, and then a daughter called Mary. They had no other children, and Henry wanted the Pope to annul the marriage on the grounds that she had previously been his deceased brother’s wife, but the Pope refused. In 1534, Parliament abolised the authority of the Pope in England, and with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, they gave Henry the marriage annulment that he wanted. In 1535, Parliament declared Henry to be “Supreme Head of the Church of England”.
Edward VI the Protestant Child King
In 1547, Edward VI, son of Henry VIII by his third wife Jane Seymour, ascended the throne at the age of nine. He was a sickly child and his reign lasted only six years. Edward Seymour, Earl of Hereford, became his guardian and regent, and was given the title “Duke of Somerset”. Seymour was effectively the ruler of England, and made the country into an unequivocally Protestant state. Acts of Parliament were passed abolishing Catholic practices of worship, and a Second Prayer Book was published. Despite his youth, King Edward was fully persuaded as a staunch Protestant. Before he died, he signed a document saying that Lady Jane Grey, the grand-daughter of Mary, the younger sister of Henry VIII would succeed him, rather than giving the throne to his older half-sister Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, who was a Catholic.
Mary I the Catholic
In 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen, but the people supported Mary as the rightful successor. The Duke of Northumberland sent an army to capture Mary, who was in Norfolk, but his army deserted him. Mary came to London where she was welcomed by the people and proclaimed Queen. Lady Jane Grey, her husband Guildford Dudley, and Northumberland, were all taken to the Tower, and Northumberland was executed. Mary proceeded with the restoration of Roman Catholicism. A number of prominent Catholics, who had been imprisoned in the Tower, were released, and the Protestant Bishops Cranmer and Latimer were imprisoned, together with others. All the religious Acts of Parliament passed during the reign of Henry VIII and Edward VI were cancelled. Married priests were driven out of their houses, the Second Prayer Book was forbidden, and the mass was restored.
In 1554, Mary announced her intention to marry her cousin, Philip II of Spain, who was also a staunch Catholic. This caused some alarm among the people who thought that Philip would become King and would bring the Spanish Inquisition to England. There was a rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, but it failed because Mary appealed to the people and promised not to marry without the consent of Parliament. Consent was given and the marriage took place, but Parliament would not allow Philip to be crowned King. Thomas Wyatt, Lady Jane Grey, her husband, father and uncle were all executed, and more than 100 common people were hanged. Mary’s younger sister, Princess Elizabeth, was sent to the Tower because she was a Protestant, although she had never actively taken part in any rebellion against the Queen.
During Mary’s reign, there were many Protestant martyrs, including Rogers, Hooper, Rowland Taylor, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer. More than 280 people were burnt at the stake and many others were imprisoned, fined, or had their property confiscated.
Elizabeth I the Protestant
In 1558, Elizabeth I ascended the throne. She restored the Protestant Acts of Parliament that had been cancelled by her predecessor, and attendance at Sunday services at the Church of England became compulsory. Elizabeth took the view that as long as the Catholics showed up at the Church of England, she didn’t mind if they also held their own Catholic mass in private. However, she had a problem with a newly-emerging group called the Puritans. They wanted a purer form of religion without the rituals of the Church of England, and many of them were fined or imprisoned for refusing to attend services.
There was a dispute over the succession of Queen Elizabeth because Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic, was considered by some people to be the rightful heir. Margaret, the sister of Henry VIII, had married King James IV of Scotland, and Mary was their grand-daughter. Mary had married Francois II, King of France, but Francois died in 1560. She returned to Scotland in 1561, and in 1565 she married her cousin, Lord Darnley. Then she married Lord Bothwell after her husband Darnley had been mysteriously murdered in 1567. There was a rebellion, led by the Earl of Murray, because she was suspected of being an accomplice in the murder. She was defeated at Carberry Hill and imprisoned, and was forced to abdicate in favour of her son, James VI of Scotland, who subsequently became James I of England. Mary escaped and attempted to make a comeback, but was defeated at Langside and fled to England where she was taken prisoner by Queen Elizabeth.
The Roman Catholic Church plotted against Elizabeth, taking sides with Mary in her claim to the throne of England. The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, a rather meaningless action in itself, considering that Elizabeth was a Protestant, but it was a way of declaring that they did not recognise her as Queen. Mary requested that Elizabeth should at least name her as successor, but Elizabeth refused. There was a series of plots and insurrections, including a plot by Babington to kill Elizabeth. Mary was put on trial for conspiracy with Babington’s plot, and was executed in 1557.
The next major event was the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth had given support to the people of the Netherlands in their revolt against Spanish rule, and Philip II sent the Armada because he considered England to be the leading Protestant nation of Europe. He also wanted revenge for the execution of Mary. The Armada was anchored off Calais but was taken by surprise when the English fleet arrived and sent fire-ships among them. They slipped their cables and drifted out to sea. There was a battle off Gravelines where many Spanish ships were sunk or run aground. Strong winds prevented them from returning to Spain through the English Channel, so they attempted to return around the north of Scotland, but they were unable to navigate the area, and many more ships ran aground. Out of 129 ships that left Spain, only 53 returned. This was considered by many to be an act of providence, that God was preserving Protestant England.
James I the Protestant
Although Elizabeth never recognised Mary Queen of Scots as a possible successor to the throne of England, she did not object to the succession of her son James, who was a Protestant. In 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England, so the two nations became united under a single monarchy. Scotland continued to have its own Parliament until it was dissolved in 1707. James was the son of Henry Stuart, so he was the first of the Stuart line of kings.
In 1604, he held a conference at Hampton Court, to try and settle the dispute between the Puritans and the Episcopalians (the supporters of the Church of England). The Puritans argued that the Episcopacy should be abolished, and provoked James to say “No bishop, no king”. He threatened to throw the Puritans out of the land if they wouldn’t conform. At the same time, he ordered a new Bible called the Authorised Version to be produced. There were also some small changes to the Book of Common Prayer.
In 1605, the Catholics created trouble for James which was far greater than the Puritans had ever done. A small band of conspirators tried to get rid of the King and Parliament, and restore the Roman Catholic religion. They attempted to blow up Parliament while the King and the entire house was in session, but the plot was discovered and Guy Fawkes was discovered in a vault, ready to set light to 36 barrels of gunpowder. James had previously waived the penalties against Catholics for not attending Sunday services at the Church of England, but he re-imposed them and passed severe laws against the Catholics. Guy Fawkes and his conspirators were hanged on the scaffold.
In 1611, the King James Authorised Version of the Bible was completed and published, having been translated mainly from the Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament and Theodore Beza’s edition of the Greek New Testament, based on the work of Erasmus. The KJAV is widely considered to be an excellent translation and a masterpiece of English literature. It has been widely used in the churches throughout the English-speaking world for more than three hundred years and has been the bedrock of world missions.
The translators of the KJAV included the following text in their Preface, addressed to King James:
So that if, on the one side, we shall be seduced by Popish Persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their own anvil; we may rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked in the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord; and sustained without by the powerful protection of Your Majesty’s grace and favour, which will ever give countenance to honest and Christian endeavours against bitter censures and uncharitable imputations.
They obviously regarded the KJAV to be an instrument that would bring people together and protect the established order from the extreme positions of both the Catholics and the Puritans. Up to a point, it has been successful because it has been used by Episcopalians, Puritans and all the Protestant denominations that have emerged since that time, although the Catholics have stuck with their Latin Vulgate.
In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America on the Mayflower to start a new life. In spite of the reforms they had achieved since the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, many Puritans felt that in England they did not have freedom to worship in their own way.
James I was an authoritarian King who believed that the right to rule was given to him by God, and he dissolved Parliament when he could not get his own way.
He wanted a regular income from Parliament, and they were willing to grant him £200,000/year if he gave up feudal dues and ceased the practice of impositions (increase of customs and duties without the consent of the Commons), but he refused and dissolved Parliament in 1611.
In 1614 he called his second Parliament but it did not pass a single act because the argument about impositions was still going on and Parliament was dissolved.
From 1614 to 1621 he ruled without a Parliament.
In 1621 he called his third Parliament and they made a protest about their long dissolution. They declared that Parliament is the birthright of the English people and not a gift from the Crown; that they had a right to discuss matters of public interest; and they had a right of liberty of speech. James tore the protest document out of the Journal of the House and dissolved Parliament.
Charles I, Catholic or Protestant?
In 1625, Charles I succeeded James I. He was a meglomaniac ruler with a complete disregard for Parliament, much worse than his father James. He was at war with France and Spain, but both campaigns were unsuccessful and Parliament refused to supply funds, so he billeted soldiers without paying for them, and collected taxes illegally, without the consent of Parliament. He held three Parliaments during the first few years of his reign and dissolved all of them when they would not give him what he wanted. The third Parliament, in 1628, achieved some reforms by passing the Petition of Right which stated:
No taxes can be raised without the consent of Parliament;
Soldiers and sailors cannot be billeted in private houses;
No-one can be imprisoned without showing a cause;
No-one can be tried by martial law.
The King was forced to accept the Petition, because of his financial difficulty, and it became second in importance to the Magna Carta. However, in 1629 he refused to authorise the reading of a resolution against illegal taxation and religious innovations. The resolution was read out anyway, while the Speaker was held down in his chair, and then Parliament was dissolved in a state of tumult.
The King ruled without a Parliament from 1629 to 1640, then he held a fourth Parliament when he was badly short of money, but it lasted only three weeks. In 1640 he held a fifth Parliament, and in 1641 they passed a Bill to prevent Parliament from being dissolved without its own consent. This Parliament lasted longer than the King himself because in 1649 they executed him.
Not only did Charles antagonise people with his arbitrary taxes, he also antagonised the Puritans and other reformist Protestants by encouraging Catholic worship and rituals in the Church of England. He promoted “Arminians” or high-churchmen who opposed the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and believed that salvation is a matter of free will. Charles never openly declared himself to be a Catholic, but many people believed that he was one.
Now here is a lesson about how the Calvinist/Arminian debate spills over into politics. Calvinists believe that only God can determine who is saved and who is not, and that once a person is saved, they are always saved. Arminians believe that people are saved by their own free choice, and they can lose their salvation just as easily as they can gain it. The Arminian position gives greater opportunities for Catholic priests, who can use the instrument of absolution to mitigate the effects of someone’s sin, or the instrument of excommunication to cancel their salvation and exclude them from the church. Thus, salvation becomes the choice of the priest, just as much as the choice of the person who wants to be saved. The instruments of absolution and excommunication become political tools to keep the people under control and make sure they are obedient to both the priest and the king. The Calvinists were obviously a thorn in the flesh for any authoritarian king, because there are no priests who can cancel salvation which is given by the grace of God alone.
Charles introduced his religious reforms in England, but there was a rebellion when he tried to imposed them in Scotland. In 1637, almost the whole of Scotland signed the “National Covenant”, pledging to resist the Popery and Episcopacy. An army of 16,000 men was raised, known as the “Covenanters”, under the leadership of Alexander Leslie.
From 1642 to 1648 there was a civil war in which the nation became divided between the Royalists (or Cavaliers) who supported the King, and the Parliamentarians (or Roundheads) who supported Parliament. The divide was not purely religious or political, but a bit of each. People took sides depending on how they felt about the issues. Neither was it purely geographical as there were some Scots who supported the Royalists because Charles was a Stuart King and his father, James I had come from Scotland. In 1648, Charles took refuge with some of his Scottish supporters who invaded England, but they were defeated by Oliver Cromwell and Charles was captured and taken to London. There was debate in Parliament about the trial of the King, and 100 Presbyterian members were excluded from the House because they refused to sit in judgement of him. The remaining 53 Independent members, known as the “Rump” voted to put the King on trial. In 1649, Charles was tried by the High Court of Justice, charged with “having levied war against his kingdom and the Parliament”. He was found guilty and executed.
The Commonwealth and Protectorate
After the execution of Charles I, Parliament continued in session and ruled without a king. For the first four years, from 1649 to 1653 it was called the “Commonwealth” and was ruled by the Rump. They appointed a Council of State consisting of 41 members with Bradshaw as President and Milton as Latin Secretary. Oliver Cromwell was the most influential figure of Parliament, because his military success had secured the capture of the King, and he continued to preserve the status of Parliament by putting down a number of other rebellions. In 1653, he wanted to bring in some Parliamentary reforms, which would require dissolving Parliament and starting a new one. The Rump feared that the new Parliament would be controlled by the army, so they attempted to pass a Bill saying that members were to keep their seats without re-election and would also have the right to exclude all newly elected members. Cromwell responded to this by forcibly dissolving the House.
In 1653, Parliament was re-assembled, and after a few months deliberating over institutional reforms, they drew up the “Instrument of Government” which gave supreme authority to the “Lord Protector” and a Council of State of 15 members. It also stated that a Parliament of 400 members should be held every three years and should sit for at least five months. In 1654, the first Parliament was held under the “Instrument of Government”, with Cromwell as Lord Protector. It was made up of Protestant Parliamentarians, and all declared Royalists and Roman Catholics were excluded. There were three Parliaments altogether. During the second of these Parliaments, a plot to kill Cromwell was discovered, and Parliament responded by drawing up the “Humble Petition and Advice” which gave Cromwell all the powers of a King, including the right to appoint his successor, and even attempted to give him the title of King. He accepted the new powers but refused to be called “King”, believing the “Lord Protector” was sufficient.
Since Cromwell had risen to a position of supreme power as a result of his military success, it meant that Britain was effectively being ruled by a military government. Cromwell died in 1658, during the third Parliament, and his son, Richard, was appointed as his successor, but Richard was not a military man like his father and he resigned. The Rump took over for a short time, and then Parliament was dissolved in 1660.
A Convention was held, consisting of both Royalists and Parliamentarians, believing that the time had come for a compromise solution that would be more acceptable to all parties. A resolution was passed to re-establish the old form of government, including the monarchy, with Charles II as King. Charles responded by issuing the Declaration of Breda which included the following:
A general pardon to all persons, subject to the approval of Parliament.
Liberty of conscience in religious matters, subject to the approval of Parliament.
Claims to landed property and arrears of payments to the army would be settled by Parliament.
From this point onwards, the powers of the King were gradually reduced, leading to the constitutional monarchy that we have today.
Charles II, Probably a Catholic
In 1660, Charles II became King. Although he was probably a Catholic, he refrained from declaring himself as such because there were laws which prevented Catholics from holding public office. His declaration of religious liberty was ignored by Parliament which was dominated by Episcopalians who were anxious to maintain the influence of the Church of England.
In 1661, the Corporation Act was passed to reduce the influence of Nonconformists in the towns. All members of a Corporation were expected to take communion under the rules of the Church of England.
In 1662, the third Act of Uniformity was passed, which required the Puritan Clergy to conform or leave the Church of England. About 2,000 clergy refused and were thrown out of their homes.
In 1664, the Conventicle Act was passed, to prevent Nonconformists from having their own private meetings. If five persons, not of the same household, held a meeting that was not in accordance with the rites of the Church of England, they would be fined or imprisoned for first and second offences, and transported for seven years for a third offence. Many people were sent to prison, including John Bunyan who wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress”.
In 1670, Charles made a secret treaty with Louis XIV of France, in which he agreed to declare himself a Roman Catholic, although circumstances appear to have prevented him from actually doing so. In 1672, he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, to repeal all laws that had been passed against Roman Catholics and Nonconformists. Parliament rejected the declaration, but 12,000 people were released, who had been imprisoned under the Conventicle Act.
In 1673, the Test Act was passed, to keep Roman Catholics out of public office. All persons holding office under the Crown were obliged to take communion under the rules of the Church of England, and were expected to renounce their belief in transubstantiation.
In 1678, there was a suspected “Popish Plot” to murder the King, overthrow the Government and restore Roman Catholicism. The Disabling Bill was passed, preventing Roman Catholics from sitting in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, with the exception of the Duke of York. More than 2,000 Catholics were imprisoned and all Catholics in London were ordered to leave the city. Lord Stafford, the leader of the Roman Catholic Party, was sent to the Tower and executed in 1680. After that, no Roman Catholic sat in either House for 150 years.
In 1679, the Commons attempted to pass the Exclusion Bill, supported by Shaftesbury, to prevent James, Duke of York from succession to the throne because he was a Catholic, but Charles stopped the Bill by dissolving Parliament. In 1680 the Petitioners (who became known as “Whigs”) urged the King to re-assemble Parliament and pass the Exclusion Bill. They were opposed by the Abhorrers (who became known as “Tories”). When Parliament met, they passed the Exclusion Bill, but the Lords rejected it.
Although these religious laws might sound archaic, primitive and draconian from our point of view, looking back on them from more than 300 years into the future, we have to understand the real fears of the people at that time. From the time when Henry VIII broke with Rome and was declared Supreme Head of the Church in 1535, until the Corporation Act was passed in 1661, only 126 years had passed. During that time, Britain had lurched repeatedly between Protestant and Catholic rule, including a bitter civil war which had resulted in the monarchy being suspended for 11 years. There was popular support for any measures that would prevent a return to the Papal domination that had existed since the time of the Norman Conquest.
The Church of England was considered to be the front line of defence against Rome. Stability, together with a certain amount of freedom of thought (which was never available under the Papacy) could be achieved by maintaining a strong Church of England. The Puritans and other Nonconformists were considered to be a threat, not because there was anything particularly obnoxious about their views, but because they were sowing division within the Church of England. Any weakness in the Church of England was perceived as an opportunity for a Catholic takeover and had to be avoided at all costs. Although we might justifiably throw up our hands in horror at the religious laws that were passed by this Parliament, we have to ask ourselves, what would we have done in the circumstances?
Apart from the religious laws, there is another important Bill that was passed during the reign of Charles II. In 1679 the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, affirming the following rights that already existed primarily in the Magna Carta:
Any unconvicted prisoner, except those charged with treason, can demand a writ of Habeas Corpus, so that the prisoner has to be taken to court and the cause of imprisonment must be stated.
Time limits were imposed so that a prisoner must be put on trial within a reasonable period of time and cannot be held indefinitely.
A person cannot be put on trial more than once for the same offence.
A person cannot be imprisoned out of England.
James II the Catholic
In 1686, James II, the younger brother of Charles II, ascended the throne. His ambition was to gain absolute rule by restoring Roman Catholicism. He adopted the profile of a tolerant libertarian, opposing the religious laws that kept both the Nonconformists and Catholics under restraint. He wanted to restore the position and influence of Roman Catholics in society, and he didn’t mind if some liberty for Nonconformists was achieved at the same time, since it was just a means to an end. His actions were as follows:
He used the “Dispensing Power” (the right of the King to set aside individual penal cases) to aquit Edward Hales, a Roman Catholic and regimental Colonel, who had been brought to trial under the Test Act.
He tried unsuccessfully to get the Test Act and Habeas Corpus Act repealed. Although the Habeas Corpus Act, passed in 1679, was just an affirmation of existing law, and contained nothing new of any significance, the repeal of the Act would have been a disaster for genuine civil liberties because it would have undermined the Magna Carta.
He established an Ecclesiastical Commission and used it to make appointments at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. At Oxford he appointed Dr. Massey, a Catholic, as Dean of Christ Church, and he expelled the Fellows of Magdalen College because they would not elect a Roman Catholic as their President. At Cambridge he expelled Dr. Pechel, the Vice-Chancellor.
He maintained an army of 13,000 men under his his own control, independently of Parliament, ready to subjugate London if necessary.
In 1688, he issued a Second Declaration of Indulgence, on his own authority and without the consent of Parliament, suspending all penal laws against Nonconformists and Roman Catholics. He ordered the clergy to read it in church, but many of them refused. Seven bishops petitioned the King to be excused from reading it, and James put them on trial on the grounds that their action was libelous, but the trial failed and they were aquitted.
When James issued his Declaration of Indulgence and put the bishops on trial, Parliament decided they had had enough and invited his Protestant nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange, to come over from Holland with his army.
William was Stadtholder of the Netherlands. He was born in 1650, the posthumous son of William II, Prince of Orange, who had died the same year. His mother was Mary, the older sister of James. He was married to the eldest daughter of James, who was also called Mary. So he was related to James through birth and also through marriage. Their association with the House of Orange had arisen because his great-grandfather, William I, had inherited the French principality of Orange.
When Parliament issued their invitation to William of Orange, James dissolved the Ecclesiatical Commission and reinstated the Fellows of Magdalen College, but it wasn’t enough to appease Parliament, the people, or even his own army and navy. William landed at Torbay with a large army and marched on Exeter, then went to London. James was left undefended because his army deserted him and his navy went entirely over to William. James fled from London and boarded a ship, but was caught and brought back to London. William allowed him to flee again and he went to France.
William III and Mary II, the Protestants
In 1689, after James had fled to France, a Convention met (a Parliament not summoned by a monarch) and declared William and Mary to be joint monarchs, with executive power vested in William. They also drew up a Declaration of Rights which William and Mary accepted. This Declaration limited the power of the monarchy, and condemned the way that James II had used his royal prerogatives to dispense with the laws.
The Convention was declared to be a Parliament and passed the following Acts:
Anyone holding offices in either church or state should swear allegiance to William. Seven bishops and about 300 clergy refused and were removed from office. They became known as the Non-Jurors.
The First Mutiny Bill was passed, declaring that the army is under martial law and the maintenance of any army without the consent of Parliament is illegal. This was obviously a response to the behaviour of James II, who had raised his own private army to oppose Parliament.
The Toleration Act was passed, allowing freedom of worship to all Protestant Nonconformists. Now that Parliament, King and Queen were all Protestants, the Church of England was strengthened and there was no longer any reason to keep the Nonconformists under control. Besides, William was a Calvinist and he had to declare liberty for his own denomination.
The Bill of Rights was passed, which was basically an enactment of the Declaration of Rights that William and Mary had accepted at their coronation. It abolished the supposed power of the monarch to cancel or suspend the laws. It abolished the Ecclesiastical Commission that was set up by James II. It declared that raising taxes without the consent of Parliament is illegal. It declared that maintaining an army without the consent of Parliament is illegal (basically an affirmation of the First Mutiny Bill), but it allowed Protestants to have arms for their defence. It declared that the election of Members of Parliament should be free, that speeches and debates in Parliament should be free, that Parliament should meet frequently, and that subjects have a right to petition the King. It also declared that bail, fines and punishments should not be excessive.
In 1689, James II made a comeback in Ireland with the support of Tyrconnel, head of the Roman Catholics, and ruled as King in Dublin, but the Protestants in the North declared their support for William. About 30,000 Protestants were kept under siege at Londonderry by the Roman Catholic army under Hamilton. The siege lasted for 105 days until relief arrived and Colonel Wolsey defeated the Irish army at Newton Butler.
In 1690, William arrived in Carrickfergus and defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. In 1691 he subdued the South of Ireland, except for Limerick, and then returned to England. Ginkel remained in Ireland and defeated Limerick, bringing the war to an end. He made a treaty at Limerick, stating that Irish Roman Catholics should be able to continue their religion, and Irish army officers and soldiers should be taken to France if they wished to go. About 10,000 Irish soldiers went to France where they joined Louis XIV and became known as the “Irish Brigade”. The Battle of the Boyne is still celebrated today by the Protestant Orangemen in Northern Ireland, who march through the streets every year, much to the displeasure of the Roman Catholic Republicans.
James II, thrown out of England and then thrown out of Ireland, was not finished yet. He joined up with Louis XIV, who assembled a large fleet at Brest and an army of 30,000 men in Normandy in 1692, ready to invade England, but was defeated by Lord Russell off Cape La Hogue and abandoned any further attempt to invade England.
In 1692, in an attempt to ensure that everything was in order in Scotland, William ordered the highland chiefs to take the oath of allegiance, but Ian Macdonald of Glencoe neglected to do so. This was misrepresented as an act of rebellion, and almost the whole Macdonald clan was massacred by their old enemies, the Campbells.
In 1694, Queen Mary died of smallpox. William continued to reign alone and did not marry again.
In 1694, the Triennial Bill was passed, to regularise the provision in the Bill of Rights, that Parliament should meet frequently. The duration of Parliament was limited to three years, and the interval between successive Parliaments was also limited to three years.
In 1697 the Peace of Ryswick was agreed between England, France, Holland and Spain, acknowledging William as King of England and Anne as his successor. Anne was the Protestant daughter of James II, through his first wife Anne Hyde. She was married to George of Denmark.
In 1701, the Act of Settlement, otherwise known as the Succession Act was passed, to ensure the Protestant succession to the throne of England. The provisions were:
Sophia, the grand-daughter of James I, would be next in line to Anne as successor to the throne. After that her heirs would succeed her, but only if they were Protestants. Sophia was married to Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Luneborg, but she never actually took the throne. Instead her son, George I took the throne in 1714 and was the first monarch of the Hanover-Brunswick line.
The monarch should be in communion with the Church of England.
The monarch should not leave England without the consent of Parliament.
The nation should not go to war in defence of any territory not belonging to England.
The judges should hold their offices, provided they are well behaved, and can only be removed on the agreement of both Houses of Parliament.
The Act of Settlement was built upon the Peace of Ryswick, agreed with Louis IV in 1697, but he did not keep his word for long. From 1698 to 1701 there were a number of attempts to partition different parts of Europe, because Charles II of Spain was close to death and had no children. His nearest relative was Philip, the grandson of Louis IV, but the other European states did not wish to see Spain and its territories joined to France because it would become a large Catholic empire that would dominate the rest of Europe. In 1701, the Grand Alliance was formed between England, Holland and Austria, to place Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne, instead of Philip. James II died in the same year, and Louis IV went back on his agreement to recognise Anne as the successor of William, and claimed that James Francis Edward (the Old Pretender), the Catholic son of James II through his second wife Mary of Modena, was the rightful heir to the throne. Parliament was enraged at this abrogation of the Peace of Ryswick, and declared war on France, although William did not take part in it because he fell off his horse and died while making preparations for it. The war continued during the reign of the next monarch, Queen Anne, and was known as the War of the Spanish Succession.
The Succession Act of 1701 established England as a Protestant nation, and was passed at a crucial time when the James II, the last Catholic king had been thrown out, and all his attempts to make a comeback during the reign of William III had failed. England continued as a Protestant nation and there were no more Catholic monarchs. From this point onwards, we shall focus mainly on what Parliament was doing, rather than what the successive monarchs were doing, because the Succession Act, together with the Bill of Rights, created a constitutional monarchy with Parliament in control of the affairs of the nation.
In 1702, Anne, the daughter of James II ascended the throne and reigned until she died in 1714.
The War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaty of Utrecht
In 1701 (see the end of the last section) there was a dispute between Louis IV of France and the Grand Alliance, about the succession to the Spanish throne. Louis, unable to get his way, recognised James Francis Edward (the Old Pretender) as the rightful successor to the English throne instead of Anne. This was clearly a last-ditch attempt to restore the Catholic monarchy in England, and Parliament responded by declaring war on France. The war began in 1702 and continued with indecisive results until 1713. The English won some battles and the French won others, until both sides were worn out and people were complaining about the heavy taxes that were levied to pay for the war. In 1713 there was the Treaty of Utrecht which declared that:
Philip V, grandson of Louis IV could be King of Spain, provided that the French and Spanish crowns are not united.
France should acknowledge the Protestant succession to the throne of England, and should cease to support the Pretender.
In those days, people were careful to avoid the union of France and Spain because a large Catholic empire would dominate the rest of Europe.
Act for the Union of England and Scotland
In 1707, the Scottish Parliament was dissolved, so that both England and Scotland were governed by the Parliament at Westminster, and the two countries would be called “Britain”. Scottish MPs were appointed to Parliament. The laws relating to trade and customs duties would be the same in both countries, but Scotlland would have its own church, criminal laws and courts of justice.
The Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 as part of the devolution of Scotland and Wales. The concept of self-government for Scotland and Wales is actually an illusion, because they are both Euro-constituencies and are heavily influenced by the European Union.
George I of the House of Hanover-Brunswick
In 1714, George, son of Sophia the grand-daughter of James I ascended the throne. His father was Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Luneborg. George I was the first King of the House of Hanover-Brunswick. The succeeding monarchs of this dynasty were George II, George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria.
The Jacobite Rebellion and the Riot Act
In 1715 there was a rebellion in Scotland, when the Earl of Mar declared in favour of James Francis Edward, the “Old Pretender” at Braemar. The rebellion spread to England, particularly in the Midlands. James landed in Scotland but had to return to France with the Earl of Mar. Six Scottish leaders of the rebellion were condemned to death, but Nithsdale escaped from the Tower wearing his wife’s dress. In 1716, Parliament passed the Riot Act, stating that if twelve or more persons are assembled to disturb the peace, a justice can issue an order for them to disperse, and if they remain assembled for more than one hour afterwards they will have committed an offence.
War with Spain
In 1717 there was an alliance between England, France and Holland, to uphold the Treaty of Utrecht by recognising the succession of the House of Hanover to the English throne, and the succession of the House of Orleans to the French crown if the young King Louis XV should die. In 1718, Austria joined the alliance.
Cardinal Alberoni, the chief minister of Philip, King of Spain, wanted to destroy the Treaty of Utrecht and tried to persuade Charles XII of Sweden to invade Scotland in support of the Pretender.
Philip invaded Sardinia and attacked Sicily, but was defeated by the English navy off Cape Passero under the command of Admiral Byng.
From 1739 to 1742 there was further war with Spain, mainly over issues to do with smuggling and the presumed right of the Spanish to search English ships at sea. Walpole opposed this war and in 1742 he was compelled to resign his office as Prime Minister, but he was given a peerage as the Earl of Orford.
Walpole, the first Prime Minister
In 1721, Robert Walpole was appointed as First Lord of the Treasury and was the first person to be given the title of “Prime Minister”.
In 1727, George II ascended the throne.
Wesley and Whitefield
In 1739, John Wesley and George Whitefield began their religious revival and formed a new branch of Nonconformists called the Methodists. Their ministry was mainly among the poorer people who had not been reached by the Anglican Church, although the Anglicans also benefited from the revival.
War with France, the Young Pretender, the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War
In 1743 there was a dispute over the succession to the Austrian throne. The hereditary successor was Maria Theresa, daughter of Charles VI of Austria, but there were other claims to the succession. When Charles died, Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) invaded Silesia, and the Elector of Bavaria invaded Austria with the support of France and Spain. In response to this, England and the German House of Hanover, under the command of George II, went to war against France and defeated them at the battle of Dettingen.
In 1744, France sent a fleet of 15,000 men against England, under the command of Charles Edward, the son of the Old Pretender, but the fleet was scattered by a storm and the attempt was abandoned. However, in 1745 the French defeated the English and their Allies at Fontenoy, giving encouragement to the Jacobites to renew their campaign. Charles Edward, known as the “Young Pretender”, landed in Scotland with only seven men but soon raised a large army, marched on Edinburgh and declared in favour of his father, the Old Pretender. Then he marched on England, thinking that he would receive support, but was disappointed and retreated to Glasgow. In 1746 he was defeated by the Duke of Cumberland. He wandered about in the Highlands for five months and then escaped to France with a price of £30,000 on his head.
In 1748 the dispute over the Austrian succession was settled by the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle which stated that there should be a restitution of conquests, with the exception of Prussia which was allowed to keep Silesia. Francis of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa was acknowledged as Emperor. The Treaty also stated that France should acknowledge the Protestant succession in England, and the Pretender should be expelled from France. It effectively put an end to the rebellions of the Stuarts.
There was a relationship through intermarriage between Prussia and England because Frederick II was the son of Sophia Dorothea, the younger sister of George II. She had married Frederick William I, the previous King of Prussia. England’s royal intermarriages with the House of Hanover and subsequently Prussia were basically political affairs, to keep Europe divided and prevent the formation of other alliances that would have too much power. In particular, the objective was to limit the power of France and Spain, which had both persistently tried to undermine the succession of Protestant monarchs.
From 1756 to 1763 there was the seven year’s war. Maria Theresa attempted to recover Silesia from Frederick II, with the support of France, Russia and Saxony. England was in alliance with Prussia, for the reasons described above. There was also war between England and France in India and Canada. England suffered a few defeats in 1757, but then both England and Prussia had many victories against the French. This was the first war in which the Scottish highland regiments fought together with the English. England was also successful in India, securing the French downfall. The capture of Quebec in 1759 ensured the conquest of Canada, and helped to establish the United States. In 1762, England declared war against Spain and took Havana and Manila. The war ended in 1763 with the First Treaty of Paris (Fontainebleau), where England, France, Spain and Portugal agreed about how to carve up their territories in Europe, India, America, Canada and the West Indies.
These wars were hugely expensive for England. The War of the Austrian Succession cost £54 million and the Seven Years’ War cost a further £75 million.
In 1760, George III, son of Frederick Lewes, Prince of Wales, and grandson of George II ascended the throne. At that time, the Seven Years’ War was still in progress. When the war ended in 1763, George was in possession of a huge colonial empire.
Britain’s wars with France and Spain were primarily an attempt to prevent either of them from subverting the Protestant succession to the throne and re-installing a Catholic monarchy. However, war has a momentum of its own, so that once started, new objectives begin to emerge. Britain was not content just to fight off the French and Spanish invasions in the Channel whenever they occurred. A more ambitious objective was to weaken both France and Spain so that further invasions would become impossible. During the Seven Years’ War, Britain sought to achieve this objective by attacking the furthest reaches of the French and Spanish dominions around the world, but never expected to be so successful. Instead of gaining just a few isolated territories, a world empire fell into our hands.
When the war ended in 1763 with the First Treaty of Paris, England was left in possession of Minorca, Canada, all land in America east of the Missisippi, some of the West Indies and most of India.
The American War of Independence
Obviously it seemed an absurdity for the American colonists to be governed by Britain, by a Parliament where most of the members had never been to America, and were only interested in America for what they could get out of it (for example taxes and trade restrictions). The American War of Independence began in 1775. The Declaration of Independence was made by Congress on 4th July 1776, but Britain did not recognise it and continued the war. In 1778, France took sides with America and recognised their independence, but mainly to get back at Britain because of the Seven Years’ War. Spain joined forces with France and together they beseiged Gibraltar from 1779 to 1782, but their ships were destroyed by red-hot shot from the British fortress. In 1780, Russia, Sweden and Denmark went into an alliance called the Armed Neutrality, and were later joined by France, Spain, Holland, and even Prussia which had been allied to Britain only a few years earlier. Britain was alone against all Europe, a situation that was bound to happen after the huge gains of the Seven Years’ War, because everybody hates a winner.
In 1783, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by England, France, Spain and the United States, stating that:
England recognised the independence of the United States.
Pondicherry and a few other small territories in India were given back to France.
Florida and Minorca were given back to Spain.
The American War of Independence cost Britain another £100 million, on top of the cost of the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War.
Roman Catholic Relief Bill and the Gordon Riots
In 1778, the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, drafted by George Savile, was passed, repealing some of the laws against Roman Catholics.
Priests were no longer punished for celebrating the Roman Catholic Mass;
The estates of Roman Catholic heirs educated abroad would no longer be forfeited to the next Protestant heir;
Catholics were no longer prohibited from purchasing property.
There was much public opposition to this Bill because it was perceived as a return to Papal influence. In 1780 there were riots in London, led by Lord George Gordon, president of the Protestant Association. A mob of 60,000 people held London for a week, harrassed members of both the House of Commons and the Lords, and burned the house of George Savile. They also broke open Newgate and other prisons and burned some Roman Catholic chapels. Parliament eventually restored order using 10,000 troops. More than 500 of the mob were killed or wounded, and 25 were tried and executed. George Gordon was put on trial for high treason, but aquitted.
In 1817 and 1829 there was further legislation to emancipate Roman Catholics, a subject that we will return to later.
The French Revolution
In 1789, the French populace rose up and overthrew their authoritarian monarchy, and deprived the clergy, nobles and upper classes of their privileges. Louis XVI tried to flee from France but was captured and detained in Paris. The revolution was fuelled by the writings of Voltaire, who was an atheist, but it was a social revolution rather than religious. People were more concerned about the power of the clergy, rather than their beliefs. After a successful revolution, they offered to assist other nations that wanted to overthrow their monarchs and privileged classes, and from 1792 to 1797 this spawned a number of wars involving Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Prussia and Holland. Virtually all the monarchs in Europe were afraid that they were going to be overthrown by popular revolution.
First War of Napoleon Bonaparte
In 1798, Napoleon defeated the French fleet on the Nile, but failed to invade Egypt and returned to France. In 1800, the Northern League, consisting of Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Prussia, attempted to prevent England from searching vessels at sea. In 1801, Sir Hyde Parker destroyed the Danish fleet off Copenhagen. This event, together with the assassination of the Emperor of Russia, caused the Northern League to break up, and the war ended with the Peace of Amiens in 1802, which agreed that England would give up all territorial gains except Trinidad and Ceylon. Malta would revert to the Knights of St. John, France would give up some parts of Italy, and Egypt would be restored to La Porte.
The Treaty also agreed that the King of England should give up his rather fanciful title of “King of France”. This title can still be found in the preface to the King James Authorised Version of the Bible, currently on sale in bookshops, because it pre-dates Napoleon. The preface has the title “To the most high and mighty Prince James, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland defender of the faith.”.
The Society of United Irishmen and the Orangemen
In 1782, the Declaration of Right drafted by Henry Grattan was passed, repealing the laws which made the Irish Parliament subject to the English Parliament. This was followed by a number of events in Ireland which occurred in parallel with the French Revolution and the First War of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1791, the Society of United Irishmen was formed, consisting of Roman Catholics and Republican Protestants. Their objective was to persuade the French to invade Ireland and set up an independent Republic. Their leaders were Edward Fitzgerald, Wolf Tone and Hamilton Rowan. They were opposed by the Protestant Loyalists, known as the Orangemen, named after William of Orange who came to England in 1688 at the invitation of Parliament and ousted James II. The French invaded in 1796, led by General Hoche, but failed. In 1798 there was the Irish Rebellion at Vinegar Hill, near Wexford, but it was defeated by General Lake.
In 1800, Parliament passed the Bill for the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, drafted by Prime Minister William Pitt, stating that there would be one Parliament for the United Kingdom, with representatives from Ireland, and there would be free trade between the two countries.
Second War of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon had been given the title of Emperor, and had annexed a number of territories to France, including Parma, Placentia, Piedmont, some parts of Italy, and was invading Switzerland. England had not left Malta according to the Peace of Amiens that was agreed in 1802, and was looking after many French refugees.
In 1805, Napoleon made preparations to invade England, and had a fleet of gun-boats in Boulogne, with 150,000 men. Nelson returned from the West Indies where he had been pursuing the French and Spanish fleets, and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalger, but was killed in action.
Napoleon continued his campaign in various parts of Europe, until 1813 when he attempted to invade Russia, but had to retreat in winter and lost more than 400,000 men in the snow.
In 1814, Wellington invaded France and defeated Napoleon’s forces at Orthez and Toulouse. The allies (England, Russia, Austria and Prussia) entered Paris, and Napoleon abdicated and went to Elba. The Allies agreed the First Treaty of Paris, defining their respective territories. England was allowed to keep Malta, which had been disputed at the beginning of the war.
There was peace for almost a year, but Napoleon escaped from Elba and regained the support of his army. In 1815 he marched on Paris and became Emperor again in three weeks, then he defeated the Prussians. He was finally defeated by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo and the war came to an end with the Second Treaty of Paris. The war had increased the British national debt to £860 million.
Some French people still feel embarrassed when they arrive at Waterloo Station on the Euro-Shuttle, and would like the station to be re-named, although not many people in Britain are likely to agree with it.
Abolition of the Slave Trade
In 1807, an Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed, supported by Wilberforce and Thurlow. For about 20 years there had been public opposition to the practice of capturing slaves from Africa and transporting them under terrible conditions to the American plantations. In 1833, an additional Act was passed to abolish slavery in all British Colonies, and £20 million compensation was paid to owners who lost their slaves
Muslim Pirates and Christian Slaves
The victims of the slave trade were not all black Africans. Some of them were white Europeans. Muslim pirates had been sailing around the Mediterranean, attacking merchant ships from all the nations, capturing Christians and selling them into slavery. In 1816, a combined fleet of Dutch and English ships sailed to Tunis and Tripoli, and compelled them to release 1,800 Christian slaves. The Bey of Algiers refused to give up their slaves, so the town of Algiers was bombarded for nine hours and their forts destroyed, and 1,083 Christians were released.
Roman Catholics in the Armed Forces
In 1817, the Military and Naval Officers’ Bill was passed, which enabled Roman Catholics to occupy positions in all ranks of the army and navy.
In 1820, George IV ascended the throne.
The Roman Catholic Relief Bill of 1778 and the Military and Naval Officers’ Bill of 1817 had given a limited degree of emancipation to Roman Catholics, but they were still excluded from Parliament, a situation that began with the Popish Plot of 1678 when there was a suspected attempt to murder the King, overthrow the Government and restore Roman Catholicism.
There was continued debate about Catholic Emancipation from 1821 to 1829, with four Bills being accepted by the Commons but thrown out by the Lords. In 1823, the Catholic Association was formed in Ireland, led by Daniel O’Connell, to support Catholic Emancipation. It became almost as powerful as the Government of Ireland, so that in 1825 the English Parliament passed a Bill to suppress it.
In 1828, the Corporation Act of 1661 and the Test Act of 1673 were repealed. Nonconformists and Roman Catholics who held positions of influence were no longer required to take communion under the rules of the Church of England. Roman Catholics who held public office were no longer required to renounce their belief in transubstantiation.
Also in 1828, Daniel O’Connell was elected as the Member of Parliament for Clare, but he was unable to take his seat because he was a Roman Catholic. This caused so much agitation, it was likely that every county in Ireland would return a Roman Catholic MP at the next general election.
In 1829, when it seemed that the pressure from Ireland might result in a civil war, the Lords gave way and the Catholic Emancipation Bill was passed, enacting that:
Roman Catholics can be admitted to Parliament after taking a new form of oath.
Roman Catholics can be admitted to all public and military offices except those of Regent, Lord Chancellor and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Daniel O’Connell was re-elected for Clare and took his seat.
The Protestant Party denounced the Prime Minister (Duke of Wellington) and the Home Secretary (Robert Peel) as traitors to the King and the Church of England. Peel resigned his seat at Oxford University and Wellington was compelled to fight a duel with the Earl of Winchester, who had previously been one of his staunchest supporters.
Why Was Roman Catholicism Considered to be a Problem?
If religion was just a matter of personal faith, it would cause no problems for anyone. The problem is that some religions are organised into structures in which all members are subject to a hierarchy of authority figures. Sometimes the authority structure spills over into the rest of society and subjugates people who are not members of the faith and have no loyalty to its leaders. Such is the case when Roman Catholics have gained positions of authority in Britain. A Roman Catholic priest rules over his congregation, but a Roman Catholic politician rules over all the people and is himself subject to his priest and to the Pope. Therefore all the people become subject to the priests and the Pope, whether they like it or not.
In our modern age of pluralism and tolerance, the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in England seems in the dim and distant past. I am writing this article in 1999, but it was only 180 years ago that Wellington and the Earl of Winchester fought a duel over the admission of Catholics to Parliament. Today we continue to have the same struggles in Northern Ireland. The struggle is not so much about what people believe, but about political subjugation.
The Protestant Reformation brought many benefits to Britain, releasing the people from superstition and ecclesiastical control, and giving them the freedom to read the Bible for themselves and decide how to worship God. The priests have been reluctant to give up their control and have sought to subjugate the people by placing their own loyal supporters in positions of political authority.
It was true 180 years ago, and it is still true now, that when we appoint leaders to rule over us, we have to consider whether or not the person is a free man or woman, or whether they are subject to another power from elsewhere.
Parliamentary Reform, Universal Suffrage and Globalisation
After the Catholic Emancipation Bill had been passed in 1829, Britain moved gradually towards more open government with a larger number of people taking part in Parliamentary elections. The great benefit of universal suffrage is that all politicians have to gain the approval of the people, regardless of their religious affiliation. If any politician is seen to be taking orders from the Pope or any other external power, he will lose his seat at the next election. As people were given greater power to choose their leaders on the basis of personal merit, religion became less important as a political issue.
Instead, new problems began to emerge which had nothing to do with the religious struggles of the past. Developments in technology gave new opportunities for travel, and also an increasingly destructive military capability that had to be kept under control, creating a need for international and global cooperation.
In 1830, William IV ascended the throne.
The Great Charter of 1832
In 1831, the First Reform Bill was introduced by Lord John Russell. Its objectives were to get rid of so-called “rotten boroughs” where a small geographical area with few inhabitants could return two members of Parliament, and to give proper representation to towns that had grown due to trade and industry. It also sought to increase the franchise, as only a small proportion of the population were able to vote. There was strong opposition to the Bill, in both the Commons and the Lords, and it was passed by only one vote, but then it was rejected in Committee.
Parliament was dissolved, and there were public campaigns throughout the country, with the popular slogan “The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill”. Parliament was reconvened with a larger majority in favour of reform, and a Second Reform Bill was introduced. It was passed by the Commons, but rejected by the Lords, causing an outcry from people who wanted the Bill to be passed, some of them calling for the House of Lords to be abolished. There were riots in Derby, Nottingham and Bristol. Supporters of the Political Union declared that they would pay no taxes until the Bill was passed.
In 1832, the Third Reform Bill was passed by the Commons, with a majority of 162, but was again rejected by the Lords. The King was pressurised to appoint new peers in the House of Lords, to outvote the opposition, but he refused, and the ministry resigned. The Duke of Wellington, who opposed the Bill, was asked to form a new ministry (government), but was unable to do so. The original ministry, under Lord Grey was reinstated, with a promise from the King to create new peers if necessary. Wellington and his 100 supporters withdrew their opposition and abstained from voting, so that the Bill was passed in the Lords with a majority of 84. The provisions of the Bill were as follows:
The vote was given to various types of householder, depending on where they lived, their status as a householder (freehold, leasehold, copyhold or tenant), and the amount of rent they paid. A copyholder is the same as a freeholder, but subject to certain payments. The minimum annual rent required to obtain a vote would vary typically from £10 to £50.
143 seats representing rotten boroughs were disposed of, and 143 new seats were created.
The effect of this Bill was to give the vote to an additional half a million people.
The Last Ministry Dismissed by a Monarch
In 1834, there was a dispute within the ministry about the right of Parliament to manage revenues that had been misused by the Irish Church and use them for other purposes. Lord Grey resigned and a new ministry was formed under Lord Melbourne, but it lasted only a few months and was dismissed by the King. After that, no ministry has ever been dismissed by a monarch.
The Municipal Reform Act
In 1835, the Municipal Reform Act was passed, requiring members of Town Councils to be elected instead of being self-appointed. This rule was applied everywhere except London.
The Marriage Act
In 1836, Nonconformists were allowed to conduct marriages in their own churches, or in the presence of a district registrar.
In 1837, Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In 1840, she married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.
In 1838, the Chartists drew up their “People’s Charter”, demanding the following:
Every man should be able to vote;
Voting should be by ballot;
Every man should be eligible to stand for election to Parliament, regardless of whether or not he owns property;
Members of Parliament should be paid, to enable poorer members to take their seats without having to raise an income from elsewhere;
There should be a new Parliament every year;
The country should be divided into equal electoral regions.
In 1839, a petition signed by Chartist delegates from all over Britain was rejected by Parliament, leading to riots in Birmingam, Sheffield and other places. There was a rebellion in Newport, led by a magistrate called Frost, but it was suppressed.
Public protest continued until the Great Chartist Demonstration of 1848. Feargus O’Connor, the Member of Parliament for Nottingham, called on his supporters to assemble in large numbers at Kennington Common and march on the House of Commons to present a petition containing 5 million signatures. The Government forbade the march and 2,000 special constables were sworn in. The Duke of Wellington secretly posted soldiers all over London in case they were needed. The march was abandoned and the petition was found to contain only about one third of the stated number of signatures, many of which were fictitious. The Chartist movement ceased to exist as an organised body.
Irish Campaign for Repeal of the Union
In 1828, as described earlier, Daniel O’Connell was elected to Parliament but was unable to take his seat until the Catholic Emancipation Bill had been passed in 1829, and then he was re-elected. In 1829 he began campaigning for the Repeal of the Union.
In 1843, the Repeal campaign reached its height, and was supported by the Roman Catholic Church which collected “Repeal Rent” at church doors amounting to £48,000 in one year. O’Connell called for a large demonstration to be held at Clontarf, near Dublin, but the Government forbade it and sent 35,000 troops to Ireland. The demonstration was abandoned and the Repeal campaign subsided. O’Connell was arrested and tried for sedition, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and a large fine, but he successfully appealed to the House of Lords and was released.
Jewish Members of Parliament
In 1858, Lord Derby became Prime Minister, and a Bill was passed allowing Jews to become Members of Parliament.
Disraeli’s Parliamentary Reform Bill
In 1859, Disraeli introduced his Parliamentary Reform Bill, to give the vote to lodgers at £20/year, graduates, schoolmasters, and people with savings in banks and public funds. The Bill was defeated and Parliament was dissolved.
Gladstone’s Parliamentary Reform Bill
In 1866, Gladstone introduced a Reform Bill, to give the vote to people paying £7 in the boroughs, £14 in the counties, and lodgers paying £10/year. Some of the Liberals withdrew from the Ministry and the Bill was defeated, so the Ministry resigned.
Disraeli’s New Parliamentary Reform Bill (Second Great Reform Bill)
In 1867, Disraeli introduced a Parliamentary Reform Bill, to base the franchise on rates instead of rent. The provisions were:
In the counties, the vote was given to occupants of property rated at £12/year.
In the boroughs, the vote was given to all householders paying rates, and to lodgers paying £10/year rent.
In boroughs which returned three members, each voter was given two votes.
The Bill added one million voters to the electorate, extending the franchise to the working classes.
The Fenian Conspiracy and Irish Republican Brotherhood
The Fenians were an Irish secret society that formed the Republican Brotherhood, led by James Stephens. Their objective was to form an Irish Republic, separate from England. They were supported by a large number of Irishmen in the United States who had served in the American Civil War. They also had support from the Irish living in England.
In 1866 the Government in England suspended the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland and arrested more than 100 Fenians, but the rebellion continued as follows:
In 1867 there was a general uprising in Ireland, supported by Irish Americans, but it was suppressed by the Irish Constabulary.
There was a plot to seize the arms in Chester Castle, in England, but the plot was betrayed by one of the conspirators.
The Fenians rescued some Fenian prisoners from a prison van in Manchester, and during the ensuing struggle they killed a police sergeant.
Some Irishmen used gunpowder to blow down the walls of Clerkenwell Prison, London, where two Fenians were confined, damaging nearby houses and causing injury to the inhabitants.
Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland
In 1868, Lord Derby resigned and Disraeli became Prime Minister. Gladstone introduced his resolution for the Disestablishment of the Protestant Church in Ireland, on the basis that it was a minority Church. The resolution was carried, but was opposed by the Government, and Disraeli appealed to the country. Parliament was dissolved, there was a general election, and a new Parliament was returned which was strongly Liberal. Disraeli resigned and Gladstone became Prime Minister.
In 1869, the Bill for the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Irish Church was passed.
Religious Tests in Universities
In 1871, a Bill was passed abolishing all religious tests in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
The Third Great Parliamentary Reform Bill
In 1884, Gladstone’s Third Great Parliamentary Reform Bill was passed, with the following provisions:
The household franchise of the boroughs was extended to the counties, so that throughout the nation the vote was given to all householders paying rates, and to lodgers paying £10/year rent.
The county and large town constituencies were split into several separate constituencies, each returning a single Member of Parliament.
The Bill added a further two million voters to the electorate and extended the franchise to agricultural labourers.
In 1901, Edward VII ascended the throne. He was the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and was the first monarch of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line.
New Education Bill
In 1902, a New Education Bill was passed. Among other things, it stated that no denominational form of religious instruction can be given in State-aided schools. This explains why religious education at school today is so boring. They can’t teach doctrine, and they can’t tell you how to be saved. If they say you are saved by faith, they are teaching Protestant doctrine, and if they say you are saved by sacraments of the church, they are teaching Catholic doctrine. Consequently, they go repeatedly through the journeys of St. Paul, listing all his destinations, because it’s about all they can get away with.
Disestablishment of the Church in France
In 1905, a Bill was passed in France, for the complete separation of Church and State. This could possibly explain the improved relations between Britain and France during the 20th century, since there have been no more invasions to try and overthrow the Protestant monarchy.
In 1907, the Suffragettes were campaigning for votes for women, and some of them were imprisoned for riotous behaviour.
In 1910, George V ascended the throne. He was the second monarch of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line. The German surname became an embarrassment during the First World War, so in 1917 he changed it to Windsor.
In 1911, the Parliament Act was passed, to strengthen the House of Commons and reduce the power of the House of Lords. The provisions were:
The Lords cannot reject financial Bills;
A Bill passed three times in the Commons during the same Parliament becomes law without the consent of the Lords after two years;
The life of a Parliament was reduced from seven years to five years.
Disestablishment of the Church of Wales
In 1914, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was passed, disestablishing and partly disendowing the Anglican Church in Wales.
Plural Voting Bill
In 1914, the Plural Voting Bill was passed, to prevent people from voting in more than one constituency.
First World War
On 28th June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were murdered in Sarejevo, Bosnia. There was rivalry between Austria and Prussia for influence in the Balkans, and on 28th July, Austria declared war on Serbia, using the murder as an excuse. This spawned a number of wars in Europe as follows:
Russia supported Serbia against Austria;
On 3rd August, Germany declared war on France;
Germany violated Belgian neutrality, so on 4th August, Britain declared war on Germany;
On 6th August, Austria declared war on Russia and France.
There were two alliances at war against each other:
The triple alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy;
The triple alliance of Russia, France and Britain.
In November 1914, Turkey joined the alliance with Germany.
In 1915, Italy changed sides and declared war on Austria.
In 1916, the British and their allies suffered huge losses at the Battle of the Somme. Britain alone lost 400,000 men.
In 1917, the following events occurred:
The United States joined the war, on the side of Britain and it’s allies, because of the indiscriminate attacks on shipping.
The Russian Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar and signed an armistice with Germany.
Allenby captured Palestine from the Turks.
In 1918, the Germans and their allies were defeated and the Kaiser fled. The war was brought to an end with the armistice of 11th November. This date is known as “Armistice Day” and is still celebrated every year with a march past the Cenotaph in London and a minute’s silence being observed throughout the land at 11am.
The First World War incurred huge losses on all sides. Britain’s losses alone were one million lives and £13,000 million.
Parliamentary Reform Act
In 1918, the Parliamentary Reform Act was passed, giving the vote to all men aged 21 and all women aged 30, increasing the electorate from about 8.35 million to 16 million.
Post-War Peace Treaties and the League of Nations
In 1919, Peace Treaties were signed and a number of new independent states were created in Europe and the Middle East, including Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Iraq and Arabia. The German navy was given up, their armed forces were limited, and a large indemnity was imposed. The League of Nations was set up by President Wilson, to resolve international disputes by discussion and avoid any further war.
Division of Ireland
In 1920, supporters of the Irish militant group Sinn Fein went into armed conflict with the Government police and troops. The British Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act, partitioning Northern Ireland into a separate province and setting up an Ulster Parliament.
In 1921, the Irish Free State was established, with Dominion status.
The division of Ireland did not satisfy some elements of Sinn Fein, and resistance to partition has continued to this day.
Germany Joins the League of Nations
In 1925, France and Germany signed the Treaty of Locarno and agreed to submit further disputes to arbitration. Germany became a member of the League of Nations.
Equal Franchise Act
In 1928, the Equal Franchise Act was passed, giving the vote to all women over 21, in parliamentary and municipal elections. The vote had already been given to men over 21, in the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1918.
Build-Up to World War II
In 1933, Adolf Hitler became the totalitarian dictator of the German National Socialist (Nazi) party.
In 1934, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations.
In 1935, Germany established military conscription. Russia joined the League of Nations and made a pact of mutual support with France. Italy invaded Abyssinia, and the League of Nations applied economic sanctions under British leadership. The Hoare-Laval pact, giving Italy part of Abyssinia, was rejected by the Cabinet. Britain embarked on a re-armament program, because of the militarism of Germany and Italy.
In 1936, George VI ascended the throne. He was the second monarch of the Windsor line, having inherited the name from his father who had changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.
Germany, Italy and Spain
In 1936, there was a revolt against the Republican Government in Spain, led by General Franco. In 1939 he established a dictatorship, assisted by Germany and Italy.
Sanctions had never been successfully applied against Italy, and they completed their conquest of Abyssinia. Italian resentment against the sanctions, and Hitler’s support of Mussolini, led to the Rome-Berlin Axis, an alliance joined later by Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.
Chamberlain’s Policy of Appeasement
In 1937, Baldwin resigned and Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister
In April 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Chamberlain offered appeasement and concessions, hoping that Hitler would back down from any further militarism. Chamberlain’s policy was condemned by Winston Churchill and others as useless and dangerous. In September, Chamberlain went to Munich and negotiated a peace pact with Hitler, in which the Czech Sudetenland was given to Germany. He came back to England saying “I have in my hand a piece of paper, signed by Hitler”, which turned out to be absolutely worthless.
In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.
In April 1939, Italy invaded Albania.
World War II
On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. On 3rd September, Britain and France jointly declared war on Germany, in support of Poland.
In 1940, Germany invaded and conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium, and occupied part of France. British troops advanced into Belgium, but were driven back and withdrew over the beach at Dunkirk, losing most of their equipment.
Winston Churchill took over from the discredited Neville Chamberlain and formed a Coalition Government. Britain was alone against Northern Europe which was almost totally occupied by Germany, and prepared for a German invasion. A Home Guard of part-time soldiers was formed.
Germany tried to destroy the RAF in daylight raids, but were driven back in the Battle of Britain. Then they began to bomb London and other cities at night.
In 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia, with Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary as their allies.
On 22nd June, 1941, Germany invaded Russia but was driven back and failed to get to Moscow.
On 7th December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing the United States into the war.
In October 1942, the tide began to turn against Germany. The British Eighth Army, under Montgomery, drove the Axis forces out of Alamein in Egypt. After that, Germany, Italy and Japan suffered further defeats on all fronts.
On 6th June 1944, the Western Allied Forces landed in Normandy and advanced through France, driving out the Germans. Paris was liberated in August.
In 1945, the Western Allied forces advanced East, and the Russians advanced West, causing the German forces to disintegrate, and Hitler committed suicide in Berlin.
On 7th May 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies.
The war in the Pacific still continued until America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. On 6th August 1945 they dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and on 9th August they dropped a second one on Nagasaki. On 14th August, Japan surrendered, and on 2nd September they signed a document of surrender on board USS Missouri. The atomic bombing of Japan caused so much indiscriminate suffering that it can hardly be justified, even though it brought the war to an end. Japan had already been defeated on several fronts and it was only a matter of time before they would have to surrender anyway. The Americans knew that the war would not last much longer, and probably the real reason for dropping the bomb was because it was their latest scientific development and they wanted to test it on humans while there was still time.
The overall military casualties in the Second World War were less than in the First World War, with the possible exception of Russia. However, the civilian casualties were greater because of the large amount of aerial bombing. In addition to the war casualties, six million Jews were killed in the German concentration camps, an act of barbarity that had nothing to do with the war itself, although the war made it possible.
In 1945, the United Nations was formed, to encourage dialogue and prevent further war.
Marriage of Princess Elizabeth
On 20th November, 1947, Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten (formerly Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, son of Prince Andrew of Greece). He was created Duke of Edinburgh.
Representation of the People Act
In 1948, the Representation of the People Act was passed, redistributing Parliamentary seats and abolishing the representation of the universities, the City of London, and the business premises vote. This is the Act that governs British Parliamentary elections today, and it appears as the heading on the polling cards distributed to voters.
In 1949, the Parliamentary Act was passed, reducing the period for which the House of Lords could delay the enactment of a Bill from three sessions to two, and from two years to one.
Establishment of NATO
In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg for mutual assistance against armed attack and peacetime co-operation in plans for supplies and strategy.
Council of Europe
In 1949, the Council of Europe was set up with a Committee of Ministers and a Consultative Assembly.
In 1952, Elizabeth II ascended the throne.
The H-Bomb and the End of Conscription
In April 1957, a new defence policy was announced involving nuclear deterrence, the reduction of conventional forces and the abolition of conscription. On 15 May, Britain underlined its reliance on nuclear weapons by exploding its first H-Bomb. On 18th November 1960, the last National Service men were called up.
The Common Market
In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was established, outlining future plans for a united Europe, and in 1958 the Common Market was formed. In 1961, Britain began negotiations to join, but was excluded until 1973, mainly because of opposition from France. This subject will be dealt with later.
Legal Age of Majority
In 1968, the legal age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18.
Failure of Scottish and Welsh Devolution
In 1979, a referendum on Scottish and Welsh devolution failed in both countries. In Scotland there was an insufficient majority, and in Wales the proposal was defeated totally.
Pope John Paul II Visits Britain
In 1982, Pope John Paul visited Britain, hosted by Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury.
This section has listed the various reforms that have led to the democratic system that we have today, with a new Parliament being held every five years, made up of representatives elected by the people. We have in principle a multi-faith, multi-racial Parliament, although the first-past-the-post electoral system tends to exclude people from minority groups, so there may be more reforms still to come. There is still a possibility that we might be ruled by politicians who are vassals of Rome, but if it happens we can get rid of them at the next election. There is also a possibility that we could elect people who do not believe in democracy and proceed to dismantle it, as has happened in some Islamic countries, although the demography of Britain makes this unlikely.
There have also been some religious reforms, for example the New Education Bill in 1902 and the Disestablishment of the Church of Wales in 1914.
After the First World War and the increasingly destructive weaponry that has been used in successive military conflicts, international efforts have been made to resolve problems by negotiation rather than warfare, by the formation of the League of Nations in 1919 and the United Nations in 1945. The idea of international cooperation led to the formation of the Common Market in 1958, ostensibly as a trading community, but the real objective was to unite the nations of Europe into a single nation, going far beyond what is necessary for either trading or security purposes.
The European Community
The European Community, as envisaged by the Treaty of Rome, is a social, political and economic union which diminishes the self-governing status of the member nations and makes them into something like a United States of Europe.
The Treaty of Rome
On 25th March 1957, the Treaty of Rome was established, outlining future plans for a European Community that would be united economically, politically and culturally, and would have a single currency. This goal would not be achieved all at once, but would be introduced in stages. The Treaty of Rome was given little publicity at the time and is missing from many history books. Nevertheless, it has been implemented roughly according to the agreed timetable, as if the future of Europe was known in advance, and is a document of great importance.
The Common Market (European Economic Community)
In 1958, the Common Market, otherwise known as the European Free Trade Area, was formed by “the six”, consisting of France, the German Federal Republic, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. Britain and others were excluded.
On 3rd May 1960, the alternative European Free Trade Association was established by Britain, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. These were known as the “outer seven” because they were not included in the Common Market.
On 8th November 1961, negotiations began in Brussels for Britain to enter the Common Market.
In 1962, the Labour Party Executive opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market unless better terms were agreed.
In January 1963, Prime Minister Macmillan announced the breakdown of the talks for Britain’s entry into the Common Market because of opposition from the French Government.
In 1967, Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that Britain would apply to join the European Economic Community (Common Market). Five of the six member nations were in favour of British membership, but France vetoed the application.
In 1970, Britain re-applied to join the Common Market, and re-opened negotiations with the Community.
In 1973, Britain joined the European Economic Community, together with Denmark and Ireland, making up a total of 9 member states.
In 1981, Greece joined the EEC, making a total of 10 member states. Christians began to speculate that this represents the beast with seven heads and ten horns that is mentioned in several places in the Book of Revelation.
In 1986, Portugal and Spain joined the EEC, making a total of 12 member states. The suggestion that the EEC was the ten horns of the beast lost some credibility. However, before we dismiss any connection with the beast altogether, let’s see what the Book of Revelation says.
And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth . . . and the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. (Rev. 17:9-12).
Regarding the seven heads, this is clearly a reference to the city of Rome, which is known as the city built on seven hills. This appears in the present tense, because Rome existed at the time when John wrote the book of Revelation. The reference to the ten horns is for the future, and we have yet to see what it means, but we can be sure that the prophecy about the beast is about Rome.
In 1990, East Germany joined the EEC as part of a unified Germany.
The Maastricht Treaty
On 7th February 1992, the Treaty of European Union was signed in Maastricht by the foreign and finance ministers of the member states. The objective was to convert the European Economic Community to the European Community, or European Union, which would cooperate on a wider range of issues, not just on economic and trading matters. This would involve the following:
The abolition of internal frontiers, to allow freedom of movement between member states;
The establishment of economic and monetary union, ultimately including a single currency;
The implementation of a common foreign and security policy, possibly leading to a common defence policy;
The introduction of a citizenship of the Union;
Cooperation on justice and home affairs.
The treaty claims that the Union will respect the national identities of its member states, although it is hard to imagine how that will be possible if all the above are achieved.
Shortly after the treaty was agreed, it was ratified by a number of member states who had to consult their Parliaments, and in some cases referenda were held.. Britain ratified the treaty on 2nd August 1993.
Expansion of the Union
In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EC, increasing the total number of member states to 15.
The following applications have been submitted, and if all these are accepted they will increase the total membership to 29.
In 1987, Turkey.
In 1990, Cyprus and Malta.
In 1992, Switzerland
In 1994, Hungary and Poland.
In 1995, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia
In 1996, the Czech Repuplic and Slovenia.
The Amsterdam Treaty
On 2nd October 1997, the Amsterdam Treaty was signed. It was an amendment of the Maastricht Treaty and included the following;
Common action on asylum, visas, immigration and controls at external borders. The UK and Ireland opted out of this provision;
Common action on public health and the environment;
Protection of the rights and interests of consumers;
Promoting the diversity of cultures;
Countering fraud against the financial interests of the Community;
Acknowledging the role of the system of public broadcasting in the member states;
Protection and respect for the welfare of animals;
The rights of citizens to have access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. (Previously the transcripts of debates at the European Parliament were not available to the public);
Improving the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by defining common strategies;
Changes in the co-decision procedure to place the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on an equal footing.
More power is given to the Commission, as the initiator, administrator, mediator, negotiator and guardian of the Treaties. In particular, the President of the Commission has greater powers in selecting Commissioners.
The Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties are just two of a larger collection of Treaties establishing the European Union. Altogether there are a dozen basic Treaties and Acts, plus a number of protocols, making up a total of nearly eight hundred Articles. The Amsterdam Conference initiated a project to codify all the European Treaties and make them more comprehensible.
The Single Currency
On 1st January 1999, the European Single Currency, otherwise known as the Euro, was launched. It was brought into circulation in a number of EU Member States alongside their own national currencies which would gradually be phased out. Britain opted to stay out of the single currency for the time being, pending a wider public debate and a referendum.
The European Election Protest Vote
In June 1999, there was an election of candidates to the European Parliament, throughout all the EU Member States. In Britain, polling day was Thursday June 17th. As usual, apathy ruled because few people in Britain take any interest in European politics and the turnout at European elections is always low. This time it was the lowest ever, with only 23% of the electorate turning out to vote. At one polling station in Sunderland, only 1.5% of the electorate turned out. However, those who voted sent a clear message of disapproval to the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties who had advocated ever closer union with Europe.
The Labour Party, which had won a landslide victory at the British Parliamentary election two years earler, suffered a disastrous defeat. Their share of the vote was cut from 44% to about 28%. The main beneficiary was the Conservatives, who had conducted a vigorous campaign using the slogan “In Europe but not run by Europe”. They wanted Britain to continue as a member of the European Union, but opposed joining the single currency for the time being. The minority parties also did well, particularly the UK Independence Party which had only been in existence for six years and gained three seats. The UKIP wants to be out of Europe altogether, on the basis that the UK has a strong economy and has always done well as an independent trading nation.
This was the first time that Proportional Representation had been used in Britain, giving a boost to the minority partes.
This election was held when NATO was at war in Serbia and was on the point of reaching an agreement about the withdrawal of Serbian troops and police from Kosovo and the entry of an international peace-keeping force. Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minister of Britain, was at the forefront of the campaign and should have benefited from the so-called “khaki effect” which usually emerges when Britain is successful at war. For example, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity was at an all-time low until she won the war in the Falklands and immediately became a heroine. The khaki effect didn’t work for Tony Blair because nobody is inspired by a Prime Minister who wins a foreign war and at the same time attempts to give away the home country to undemocratic control.
The Illusion of European Democracy
The existence of a European Parliament, with representatives directly elected by the people, gives the illusion that Europe is democratic, but this is far from the actual truth. Europe is governed by a codecision procedure involving three bodies as follows:
The European Commission is an unelected body which determines the agenda for debate. New members are appointed to the Commission by invitation from the existing members, and in particular the President of the Commission has power to make appointments. In theory, they could appoint anyone to be a Commissioner, but in practice it tends to be people from the Member States who have experience of politics and foreign affairs, and are looking for a new direction in their career. For example, Neil Kinnock was the leader of the Labour Party in the UK, but he lost a general election and was appointed a Commissioner. Chris Patten was the British Ambassador to Hong Kong, but the province was taken over by China when the lease terminated, and he was appointed a Commissioner. The power to make their own appointments, and the power to determine the agenda for debate, makes them an unelected committee of dictators.
The Council of Ministers is made up of representatives from the governments of the Member States. Unlike the Commissioners, these are actual serving members of government, including Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries. They are not retired politicians or ambassadors.
The European Parliament is made up of representatives directly elected by the people of Europe.
The Codecision Process
The European Union reaches a decision on any motion by a codecision process involving all three bodies listed above. A motion begins with the Commission drawing up a Proposal and submitting it to the European Parliament.
At the first reading, Parliament gives its opinion and passes the motion to the Council of Ministers, with or without amendments.
At this stage the Council may do either of the following:
Adopt the Act by a qualified majority if it accepts all Parliament’s amendments, or if Parliament has made no amendments, so that the Act becomes law. A qualified majority means that each Member State is given a number of votes in proportion to its population.
The Council may adopt a “common position” and make its own amendments to the Act, and send it back to Parliament for a second reading.
At the second reading, Parliament may do any of the following within three months:
Approve the common position, in which case the Act is adopted by the Council and becomes law.
Make further amendments to the common position, to be considered by the Council.
Reject the common position by an absolute majority of its members, so that the Act fails. In practice it is difficult to achieve an absolute majority against any motion, because of the geographical size of Europe and the distance people have to travel to get to the Parliament building in Strasbourg. It is unusual to have more than half the members present at any given time. Anyone absent is considered to have voted in favour, and there is no such thing as an abstention.
Fail to reach a decision, in which case the Act is adopted by the Council and becomes law. Parliament has to work to a timetable and cannot simply ignore an Act that they don’t like. If they fail to amend or reject a common position, it is assumed that they agree with it.
If Parliament has made amendments to a common position, the Council has three months to approve all of them and adopt the Act. If the Council has not approved all the amendments within three months, a Conciliation Committee is convened within six weeks, consisting of an equal number of representatives from the Council and Parliament. Their task is to reach agreement on a joint text, based on the Council’s common position and Parliament’s amendments. If they fail to agree on a joint text, the Act is not adopted.
If the Conciliation Committee reaches agreement within six weeks, the joint text may be approved by Parliament by a simple majority of those present, and by the Council by a qualified majority. If either the Parliament or the Council does not approve the joint text, the Act is not adopted.
Before the Treaty of Amsterdam in October 1997, there was the possibility of a third reading. If Parliament failed to agree on a joint text, by a simple majority, the Council had the power to confirm its position within six weeks, in which case the Act would be adopted unless Parliament was able to reject the text by an absolute majority of its members. Considering the difficulty of reaching an absolute majority, this virtually gave the Council the power to force the adoption of a joint text. This power was abolished by the Treaty of Amsterdam, placing Parliament and the Council on a more equal footing.
The European Dictatorshop
The European Union offers only an illusion of democracy. Neither the Parliament nor the Council of Ministers can introduce a motion to the codecision process. Only the unelected Commissioners can introduce a motion. This is why, during the elections to the European Parliament, the campaign literature that arrives on your doorstep is noticeably devoid of policy and tends to focus on the activities of the local political parties or the hobbies and interests of the candidates. Nobody goes to the European Parliament with their own agenda and policies that they would like to introduce to the Parliament for debate, because they are unable to introduce anything. They can only debate what is given to them by the unelected Commissioners. Even the Council of Ministers, made up of Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and other members of the governments of Member States cannot introduce a motion. The best they can do is beg and plead to the Commissioners if they want something debated.
A motion can be rejected only in the following circumstances:
The European Parliament can reject the Act at the second reading by an absolute majority of its members. For reasons already given, this is almost impossible to achieve.
If the motion goes to the Conciliation Committee, and a joint text is not agreed within six weeks, the Act fails.
If the Conciliation Committee agrees a joint text, but it is not approved by a simple majority in Parliament, or a qualified majority in the Council, the Act fails.
If Parliament is opposed to an Act, they cannot simply reject it at an early stage and tell the Commissioners to either forget it or try again with something better. At the first reading they have to introduce amendments in the hope that the Council comes back with a common position and not a straightforward acceptance. If a common position is achieved, Parliament has to introduce further amendments at the second reading, in the hope that they will be rejected by the Council, and then it goes to the Conciliation Committee. Only at this point is there any real hope of rejecting the Act, by waiting for it to time out, or by rejecting the joint text by a simple majority vote in Parliament.
If the Council is opposed to an Act, they cannot reject it at an early stage either, in fact they are worse off than Parliament. The don’t even see the Act until it has been processed by Parliament at the first reading, and even then they cannot simply reject it. They have to come back with a common position and pass it back to Parliament for a second reading, in the hope that they will make further amendments and bring the Act to the Conciliation stage. Then they can wait for the Act to time out, or reject the joint text by a qualified majority.
The people with the real power in Europe are the Commissioners. They can introduce whatever motions they want, knowing that they are likely to be accepted unless there are committed people in both Parliament and the Council who are prepared to indulge in a tedious process of amendments and filibustering. Members of Parliament haven’t got time for it, and the Council of Ministers have even less time because they are already preoccupied with the government of their own countries.
Is there a need for further reforms, to reduce the power of the Commissioners and increase the power of Parliament and the Council? Surely it would be better to resign from the whole thing. Britain has long had its own Parliament where any Member can introduce a motion subject to Parliamentary procedures and timescales, and any unsatisfactory motion can be rejected at the first reading. There is no need to subjugate ourselves to a European dictatorship when we already have our own system of democratic government, which has evolved through a long period of struggle over the last thousand years.
In Genesis 11:1-9 we read about how the earth was all of one language and they had a common interest, to build a tower up to heaven to demonstrate their greatness and keep them all together. God was displeased with their materialistic pride, and scattered them and confused their languages. The Hebrew word “davar”, meaning “word” or “speech” means more than just a system of grammar and vocabulary. Depending on its context it can also mean the subject matter of a person’s speech or the feelings and emotions associated with it. When the people began to speak different languages, they also developed a diversity of interests, so that they could not all live together in the same place and began to separate. At Babylon, there was not just a separation of languages, but also a separation of ethnicity.
Ethnicity is a difficult term to define. If you ask a British person what they think it means to be British, they will not be able to give a simple definition in two paragraphs. Either they will be completely stumped, or else they will ramble on about differences between themselves and other nations. They might even come up with crude generalisations like the English have the “stiff upper lip”, the Scottish are stingy, the Irish are thick, and the Welsh either sing or play rugby depending on their size.
Ethnicity can also not be defined purely in terms of language. For example, The United States and Canada both speak English (although some parts of Canada speak French). They share a common border of great length, yet they are separate nations and wish to remain so.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ethnicity as “pertaining to race”. It defines “race” as “group of persons … connected by common descent”. This is clearly an incomplete definition, especially when we consider the British who are an assimilated mixture of Ancient Britons, Vikings, Danes, Saxons and Normans. The fact is, nobody knows how to define ethnicity in terms of either language, culture, common interests, or ancestry, yet it is so important that they are prepared to fight and die for it.
Ethnicity is such a vague concept that probably the best way to define it is just to look at the event itself. At Babylon, God divided the languages and at the same time put within us a property called ethnicity that causes us to separate into different groups, even if we speak the same language.
How does God put such a property within us? I don’t know. Neither do I know how God created the change of conciousness in Genesis 3:7 that makes us feel ashamed of being naked. We have been given certain psychological properties that are so fundamental, we hardly bother to ask how they are derived.
There is no Biblical justification for the suggestion made by some nationalist groups that people of different ethnic origin should be prevented from coming into contact with each other. Genesis 11:8 says:
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth…
This does not allow us to make our own man-made rules to prevent two people of different ethnic origin from sitting together on the same park bench, as was the case in South Africa during the apartheid regime. God decides how to scatter people, not man.
The Ethnic Factor of the Euro-Elections
If God gave us the desire to remain separate, why should we be interested in voting at European Elections where it is pre-supposed that the nations of Europe want to unite?
During the run-up to the 1999 Euro Elections, I found it easy to persuade people to vote for parties that rejected the Single Currency. I just explained that if we lose the pound we lose the country. Any nation that loses control of its own currency is no longer a nation. It was hardly necessary to say anything else. The instinct to preserve our ethnicity is so fundamental it is an immediate election winner.
Ethnicity in Reverse
The European Union is an attempt to recreate the conditions at Babylon, before the dispersion. Our desire for ethnicity is still as strong as ever, but our humanistic greed and materialism is also very strong. If our desire for material gain is strong enough, and if we can be persuaded that we are economically better off in the European Union, then we might be able to put aside our ethnicity, at least temporarily. But if we join together in the European Union and then discover that our economic dreams are not realised, the Union will break up, with the possibility of much bloodshed. If Britain’s gold reserves have been transferred to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, how much persuasion will be needed to get them back?
The politicians who argue in favour of European Union have only one argument. They say we will be economically better off, but they can’t prove it, and even if they can, they will have an uphill struggle trying to persuade millions of patriotic Brits to sacrifice their country for material gain.
Common Cultural Heritage
The Treaty of Rome, established in 1957 and amended by subsequent Treaties, contains a Title on Culture (Title IX). Article 128 states that:
The Community shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing their common cultural heritage to the fore.
This section was introduced by Ireland, in a effort to promote their own artistic, musical and literary talent abroad, which was a major source of income. Their objectives are outlined in a document on Cultural Relations.
While it is easy to understand what is meant by “cultures of the member states”, it is less easy to define what is meant by “common cultural heritage”. To some extent, it is concerned with the preservation of historic monuments.
Article 128 of the Treaty of Rome recognises the cultural dimension of the audiovisual sector. In 1989, the Television Without Frontiers Directive was adopted. One of the aims is to guarantee that over 50% of the television broadcasts in Europe will be reserved for European audiovisual production. There is also a Steering Committee on Mass Media (CDMM) which aims to promote and broaden the freedom of expression and free flow of information across frontiers.
Clearly, this involves more than just the distribution of programmes from one country to another, which has already been undertaken by satellite and cable television companies using sub-titles and voice-overs into different languages. There would not be any point having EU committees on mass media unless the intention was to control what is broadcasted. We already have a media that is controlled to some extent according to national interests, and if we want to find out what other countries are thinking we have to look at the Internet. The involvement of the EU means the media will be subject to European rather than national control. Perhaps the BBC will eventually disappear and become absorbed into something like the EBC (European Broadcasting Corporation, for want of a better term).
The majority religion of Europe is Roman Catholicism, although there are also large numbers of Protestant and Orthodox Christians. There are also large numbers of Muslims, including immigrants and their descendants, and temporary workers. The idea of secularism is actually a myth, as described at the beginning of this article. Almost everyone is affiliated to some religion or other, even if it is only for the purposes of births, deaths and marriages.
I have never seen an opinion poll that gives the respective views of Protestants and Catholics towards Europe, but subjectively it would appear that Catholics are more in favour of European Union than Protestants. They are members of a church that has its centre in Rome, so they feel at ease with the idea of being ruled by Europe. Protestants have absolutely no interest in being affiliated to Rome and are quite happy with the British Parliamentary system the way it is.
It would not come as any great surprise if we eventually discovered that the so-called “common cultural heritage” is actually Roman Catholicism, kept under wraps for the time being.
What are we to make of our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is married to a Roman Catholic and is the most Europhilic Prime Minister we have ever had? During his first two weeks of office he spent all his time in Europe going from one meeting to another, discussing his aspirations for the further European integration. He makes it clear that he wants to abolish the pound and adopt the Euro, pending a referendum, although the result of the 1999 European Election is a great setback. To what extent is he influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, and would it be correct to describe him as a Roman Catholic sympathiser? Clearly the Roman Catholic church has an influence on his personal and family affairs, because his Roman Catholic wife is subject to the authority of her priest and ultimately the Pope. Considering our history, we should be wary of any attempt by Rome to subjugate Britain by coaxing the Prime Minister into their camp.
Britain, the Northern Ireland of Europe
The long history of conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland resulted in the country being partitioned in 1920, when the British Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act. Northern Ireland became a separate province, annexed to Britain, with its own Ulster Parliament. Conflict continues between Protestant Unionists who support the partition and Catholic Republicans who oppose it. Sometimes the conflict has spilled over onto the British mainland, with Republican bombing campaigns.
Tony Blair has made conciliatory gestures towards the Republicans, probably because of his Catholic sympathies, and has released some prisoners, but he has annoyed the Ulster Unionists. His Conservative predecessors were not so favourable towards dialogue with the Republicans or the IRA. In particular, Margaret Thatcher considered the IRA to be terrorists and common criminals, and would have nothing to do with them.
Many Republicans are favourable to the European Union because they see it as an opportunity to weaken the influence of Britain and establish a united Ireland. It will be much more difficult to maintain the partition of Ireland if both Britain and the Republic of Ireland are absorbed into the European Union.
The absorption of Britain into the European Union will make Britain into the Northern Ireland of Europe. There will be a situation similar to Northern Ireland, but in reverse. Catholics will favour the European Union, while Protestants will not. The division will be not over religion or personal beliefs, but over institutions and control systems, as it has always been throughout our history, and there will be a campaign for cessation from Europe.
This type of conflict can be very prolonged, and very difficult to bring to an amicable conclusion, as we have already seen in Northern Ireland. The only political solution is to prevent it from getting started. We have the opportunity now to withdraw from Europe, or at least to reject the single currency. Once we have the single currency, the opportunity will be gone and Britain will descend inevitably into division and conflict, with the possibility of troops arriving from Europe to try and sort it out.
Corpus Juris – On Remand Until Proved Innocent
In Britain we have a legal system that assumes a person is innocent of an offence until proved guilty. A prisoner has to be brought to trial within a reasonable period of time and judged by his peers, and cannot be tried more than once for the same offence. These are ancient rights, based on the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and have stood until this day.
The European Union has developed its own system of justice, based on Corpus Juris, to prevent fraud and the misuse of European Community funds, but it might be applied in future to other types of crime. The rules of Corpus Juris are basically as follows:
A person suspected of a crime can be held on remand indefinitely until brought to trial and proved innocent or guilty.
A person can be tried more than once for the same offence.
All judgements are made by professional judges and there are no jury trials.
No recognition is given to the judicial procedures of the EU Member States. If Corpus Juris is applied generally throughout the European Union, it means the Magna Carta and the right of Habeas Corpus will be abolished.
What will be the consquence for Britain if we become the Northern Ireland of Europe, ravaged by ethnic conflict, and at the same time our judicial system has been replaced by Corpus Juris? Suspected troublemakers will be dragged across Europe where they can be held indefinitely and then put on trial at the convenience of politically motivated judges. It will be like the dark ages all over again.
The transient and uncertain economic advantages that are being offered by some politicians, in favour of European Union, do not justify the huge disadvantages which are as follows:
The introduction of the European single currency and the abolition of the pound, together with the transfer of our gold and currency reserves to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, will mean that we have lost control of our economy. This will mean that Britain ceases to be a nation state in any meaningful sense.
The democratic system of government, with its Parliament at Westminster, will become nothing more than a local centre of government for the London Euro-Region. Britain will be ruled by an unelected committee of dictators in Brussels, who will continue to create the illusion of democracy by passing their resolutions to a Parliament in Strasbourg which is virtually powerless.
The ancient right of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury is likely to be abolished and replaced by Corpus Juris, so that a person accused of a crime is deprived of the civil rights that have been preserved for centuries.
The media will come under control of the European Union, so that they will tell us what we are allowed to see on television.
The Protestant Reformation will be undermined, as Britain is brought under the influence of Rome.
There is a possibility of ethnic conflict as cessasionist movements try to break away from the European Union.
Am I being unduly pessimistic? Am I scaremongering? I don’t think so, but if only half of this is likely to happen, it would be worthwhile coming out of Europe.
I am actually quite hopeful that the British people will remember their history, and will resist the influence of Europe as they have done many times in the past. I don’t think the Brits will give away their country easily.
Corpus Juris. See also Behind Corpus Juris.
European Parliament Web Server
Treaty of Rome, 1957
Treaty of Maastricht, 1992
Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997 (PDF)
UK Independence Party