“Charles the First,
he could ride a horse,
despite being short and sickly.
He grew up fast,
with a Spanish lass,
then lost his head rather saintly.”
I’ve read two books now, in a fairly short span of time, on Charles the I. I wrote the above little ditty intending it to be a sort of child’s rhyme to help characterize his life. The two books were biographies, one by Jacob Abbott and the other by Hilaire Belloc – both excellent, though each had a different emphasis and view of Charles.
Belloc paints him as a doomed and tragic hero, while Abbott makes him a well-meaning villain. This might be expected since Abbott was writing from an American’s perspective while Belloc was English.
I read these two books (almost back to back) because Charles the I fascinates me. He’s very important on his own, but as I read about him, I found that many of the questions raised were relevant for today’s political situation as well.
Charles the I was the King of England (and Scotland, Wales, and Ireland) during the time of the English Civil War. Reading his biography is to learn about the circumstances leading to the war, who Oliver Cromwell was, why the King was executed, and, essentially, confronts one with the biggest questions in political philosophy, especially pertaining to the nature of monarchies verses the nature of republics.
I’ll spare my readers an overview of his life and the times in which he lived; I do recommend you read about him, though. His life (especially concerning the Spanish lass mentioned in my little rhyme) is fascinating.
Instead, I’d like to make a few points:
1. Reading these books convinced me of the “rightness” of monarchy. I was dibbling my toes in monarchist thought before reading them, but post-Belloc – I’m as dedicated to it as any merry ol’ Brit.
For those new to monarchy and feudalism, consider the following illustration:
Suppose your family moves onto a 1000 acre farm. As the father, you’re ultimately responsible for the entire land, but the mother has her responsibilities and authorities as well, and the children have some stake in the claim.
But now suppose 100 workers swear their loyalty to you, and agree to work the land in exchange for you devoting a small portion of it for them to live on.
This is the basic set up of feudalism. One man (and his family) own a giant portion of land, and everyone else lives and works it by their good graces.
2. During the reign of Charles, these workers rebelled against him and took all his family’s land for themselves, claiming unity, *not* under the King, but under an abstract banner of nationalism.
During his ludicrous show trial, Charles brought up this very point: “by whose authority do you bring these charges????” The real answer was: they had no authority other than that of brute force.
3. But this raises some perplexing issues that I’m still trying to work through.
Going back to our 1000 acre farm analogy, if the workers came to live on the land under certain specified conditions, then for this contract to be valid, the conditions must be agreed upon. So, the “people” (the rabble) living under Charles, had a right to expect certain “privileges” which were to be clarified and adjudicated according to the legal system.
All well and good – but even if the “contract” were violated by the King, that doesn’t mean he forfeits his entire kingdom, does it? (Using a modern analogy – if you don’t pay your electric bill one month, should your neighbors kill you and take your house? Doesn’t seem right).
And as a matter of fact, going on what I’ve read from Belloc and Abbott, I don’t think Charles the I violated the rabble’s “privileges” anyway.
I suppose it must be granted that Charles and his friend Buckingham had juvenile antics. They engaged in mismanagements and petty tyrannies from time to time. On the other hand, there were also periods of peace and wise monetary policy. But even assuming all the worst charges against Charles are justified, by what right did the people have to try and execute him?
4. If the rabble replies by saying “our rights before God, because of the contract we had with the king“, then by what right did they have to try governing themselves after the execution?
Is there a God-ordained right to corporate land ownership?
To be consistent, every citizen who owned a bit of land in England, would have (essentially) become the king of his own tiny kingdom. But the minute they try creating a government that has jurisdiction over *all* the tiny kingdoms, they’re stepping outside of a God-ordained monarchical system, and into a propositional nation or a commune of some sort. (Actually, in the days following the execution of Charles, they referred to the state as “the common wealth”, so they might have realized this point).
There may be some precedent for this in Scripture, in pre-monarchial Israel, where the various tribes (and the clans there-in) governed themselves. But in each tribe, there was an “elder” or, as John Frame points out in his book on ethics, an “eldest elder” who ruled each tribe, and so there was a sort of feudal system there, if not in name, at least in practice.
This is very similar to the pre Anglo-Saxon era in Britain, and also in Sweden and Denmark (as witnessed in epics like Beowulf). You had “kingdoms” but, in reality, they were simply large tribes who owned and fought for the land they lived on.
The minute you say that land is no longer owned by individuals, but by the aggregate of citizens, you’ve moved from a Godly propriety, and into a rebellious system.
5. How can I, as a protestant, oppose the majority protestant rabble, and support the King?
Learning history from Calvinists tends to bias one towards Cromwell, who, according to some zealous “chosen” folk, was a saint. I’m in the odd position of agreeing with some (not all) of the protestants theologically, but disagreeing with their usage of these truths to further political agendas; as if precious theological truths are mere fodder for public debates.
The fallout from this time period affects the Protestant movement to this day; we even see traces of it in the Kinist camp, many of whom are die hard presbyterians who still support the Solemn League and Covenant.
This requires much more thought on my part – but as of now, I’m a dedicated monarchist and would have sided against the puritans in the civil war.
Much more can be said; these questions, insights, and data will give me something to chew on for years to come.