United we Stand – divided they rule – the politics of the Union
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alogosdownload (1)United we stand?

Party politicians on all sides should be chary about the tactics they employ in this general election over the political legitimacy of potential coalition partners – for they may have effects which are unexpected and potentially irreversible.

It is becoming less and less clear to me that the Conservatives are any longer minded to continue on with the Union in its traditional terms. The tactics first adopted on the morning of the Referendum result when the PM raised the issue of English votes for English Laws (EVEL) in a manner which only exacerbated a prevailing sense that politics of the UK Union are singularly a matter of party advantage.  These are not new tactics. The main political parties have employed them one way or another ever since Parnell. As tactics today they only make political sense to a political party that has had little or no representation in Scotland for 40 years. The Conservative Party has literally lost touch with an entire nation in the Union.

This tactic has now been continued into the General Election. It may bring some near term party advantage to the Conservatives in terms of seats in England but may also bring about another Independence Referendum in Scotland. The fact they are willing to take that risk  betrays much more than the need to win. to this as a party they have additionally added the potential of the EU referendum. That may also further destabilise Union parties in Scotland. Moreover, the febrile nature of the politics of devolution in NI rests on the UK and Irish governments as two equal parties. Were there to be more parties to that agreement the very rationale that has contained aspirations for a United Ireland may be quickly undermined – particularly if Sinn Fein rises in Ireland North and South much as the SNP has risen in Scotland.

The LibDems have today – or at least Mr Clegg has – set out his terms for a UK government that may exclude the entire party political interest in Scotland from participation in the Union government in Westminster. The Labour Party has not been far behind in rhetoric but somewhat less explicit. Mr  Clegg has additionally offered the constitutional novelty of the notion that a party with most votes or seats  - presuming no matter how small the plurality – in always entitled to be part of the government. The corollary to this is the LibDems must be present in a government to make it legitimate; whereas UKip or DUP would have an equal and opposite effect. In effect a minority Conservative government would be preferable to one composed of any number of other parties.

If as seems likely – there are no Conservative or LibDem MP’s from North of the border and at best a handful of LiS – they are by these actions only making the SNP’s case to pursue independence.

I’m not sure Union parties who can’t get MP’s elected in Scotland should be wagging their fingers at the party chosen by an entire Nation in the Union and saying – we cannot do business with you. I am at a loss how these Nationalists differ in nature to the Irish nationalists or British and Irish unionists with whom we happily did business for a century.

Personally, as an Irishman and historian I am well aware that the politics of the Unions was always about low base calculation rather than high principle. That said – that was then – the history of these Islands since 1921 has demonstrated that small independent nations particularly within the EU can prosper – and that the politics of divide and rule tends over time to make divisions ever more unbridgeable.

The parties of the Union have all failed in Scotland. That is not something for which they’re taking any responsibility but instead they’re demonising their opponent and in doing so making the whole project UK ever more unstable.

Many contemporary politicians have a very poor grasp on History. If they did they’d really not play party politics with the Union – it had never ended well in the past – in Ireland North and South and elsewhere in GB – over disestablishing the Church of wales for example –  and it will end badly this time as well.

It is a cliche of every age to say we get the politicians we deserve – but honestly this time we all deserve better of them because something bigger is at stake. If we all value the UK and the Union we should all tell all our party political leaders to drop this language.

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Game of Thrones II – a rough Guide to the Wars of the Roses continued…
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A rough Guide to the Wars of the Roses –

Part II –  a culture of claim & counter-claim.

.000000000000000000Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)Edward III: sire of princes & father of the Royal Dukes

In addition to the Black Prince, Edward (of Woodstock) Prince of Wales, Edward III had four other sons: Lionel (of Antwerp); John (of Ghent/Gaunt); Edmund (of Langley); and Thomas (of Woodstock). In line with his elevated notions of royal blood Edward III broke with precedent and, following the French custom and as his sons came of age or married, he created them Royal Dukes rather than mere Earls.

The Plantagenet family now literally lorded it over the rest of the nobility. Additionally these royal dukes had significant royal lands bestowed upon them – often landholdings located in the more distant reaches of the kingdom which had been largely in crown hands since the Norman confiscations – or as a consequence of successful waging of war – the far west of England – the north of England and along the Marches of Wales and within Wales. These royal dukes were also useful in providing marriageable sons into ancient noble houses like the Neville, Percy and Mortimer. They then were a natural focal point for crown-led local government and for regional administration organised in informal royal councils in Wales; in the North of England and all along its debatable Scots border; and in Devon and Cornwall.

A suitably heroic Victorian impression of the Black Prince....

A suitably heroic Victorian impression of the Black Prince….

So it was that the younger brothers of Edward Prince of Wales were all made dukes – Lionel (of Antwerp) was created Duke of Clarence; John of Gaunt (i.e. Ghent) was created Duke of Lancaster; Edmund of Langley was created Duke of York. Edward III’s youngest son, Thomas (of Woodstock) – was as yet unmarried when his father died in 1377. On his accession Richard II continued his grandfather’s tradition by making his Uncle Thomas, the Duke of Gloucester. It turned out there was little gratitude in noble preferment. Gloucester of all the king’s paternal ducal uncles harboured a truly royal ambition.

These ducal titles have since been employed and reemployed for the same purpose of elevating in title Princes of the Blood above the nobility. It is therefore to Edward III that we owe the tradition of royal dukes and royal duchies.

.000000000000Richard-IIRichard II & the family rivalry begins:

Richard II was only 10 on his accession in 1377.

If previous Plantagenet minorities were a mixed bag at least both Henry III and Edward III  had survived the storms of faction to reign supreme. From those precedents Richard II could reasonably have hoped to survive his own minority even if it was to be one marked by the predations of his relatives. As matters turned out his minority rather was marked by regal authority mature for its years; and his majority by an equally immature imperious grandiosity.

All successful kingship rests heavily on the temperament of the king. In husbanding this vital quality the Plantagenet kings had owned a long if patchy history. King John had lost most of his family’s personal Angevin Empire leaving him England alone and he almost lost his English throne as well before timely death saved matters for his baby son, Henry III. Richard II’s great grandfather Edward II had lost not only his better judgement in affairs of the heart but he also lost his throne to his wife and his life itself at he hands her scheming lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March.

Richard II’s accession in 1377 was therefore met with some trepidation. Initially  it fell to Richard II’s uncles to provide him with sound support and wise advice. As by this time both Edward the Black Prince and Lionel, Duke of Clarence had gone to their graves that duty of care of the young king fell largely to Edward’s third son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; and his fourth son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and the youngest, Thomas of Woodstock whom Richard as aforementioned had made Duke of Gloucester for his coronation.

As Richard was now sole heir of the Black Prince his marriage was the only means of continuing the senior Plantagenet line. His marriage to Anne of Bohemia was a personal success but from it, it was quickly apparent there was to be no heir apparent. The reason almost certainly rested with Anne rather than Richard but the failure to make legitimate issue created issues that would play out in bouts of repeated political unrest.

The second line to the throne descended via Lionel, Duke of Clarence. It was similarly perilous since Lionel had only one surviving child before his death – Phillipa of Clarence. She had married the 3rd Earl of March, Edmund Mortimer and she and March together had two sons – Roger Mortimer and Edmund Mortimer.

Whilst Richard II had no children these two Brothers Mortimer were nearest in line to the succession and in 1486 – his own marriage being without issue – Richard II informally named the elder cousin, Roger Mortimer to be his heir presumptive. Given that matrilineal descent from Empress Matilda had established the succession of the first Plantagenet king, Henry II, there was nothing out of the way in Richard II’s nomination of his cousin.

The family tree that led to a family at war with itself...

The family tree that led to a family at war with itself…

However, prudence was not always to be the hallmark of Richard II’s reign – like that of his great grandfather, Edward II – his reign was strewn with incident and adversity. When he was still only 13 he faced the most serious challenge to the post conquest English monarchy – in the form of a popular insurrection known as the Peasants’ Revolt. In 1381 it almost ended in a political disaster and also almost ended the Plantagenet dynasty. The rebellion had been stirred over the imposition of a Poll Tax to pay for continued wars in France. It was not his wise uncles on the royal council – led by John of Gaunt – but the inexperienced king himself who rode to the rescue of the monarchy and nobility. By his bold action he saved his throne and after Watt Tyler was butchered in a melee it was the king’s cry to the milling peasantry –  ’I am your captain follow me’ –  that saved the day.

.0000000000000000spirit_richard_IIlargeAfterwards there were recriminations and tensions in the court. The king was wary of his family. That wariness was reinforced by repeated military failures in France which also inevitably brought about a cooling of relations between uncles and royal nephew. John of Gaunt withdrew first from the king’s Council and then from the kingdom – ostensibly to pursue his claim to the throne of Portugal.  Richard did not turn to his other uncles – York and Gloucester – but instead promoted his own men – primarily the de la Poles and the de Vere Earl of Oxford and his powerful regional affinity. The latter became a particular royal favourite and like all  medieval royal favourites de Vere became particularly detested. Richard ignored the clamour of the royal dukes and made his upstart friend Duke of Ireland. The upstart was now an equal; that was intolerable. The royal dukes were then cast aside from the royal council – that was not to be borne with.

Minor squabbles and major disagreements

The dukes and their sons –  led by Thomas (of Woodstock) whom Richard II had made Duke of Gloucester and Gaunt’s eldest son Henry (of Bolingbroke) –  were determined not to be so lightly set-aside by the king still nominally but a minor. They used their position to appeal matters in Parliament and thereby they hoped to force the king to set aside his new advisers. As a result of their appeal the royal and noble opposition became known collectively as the Lords Appellant. The lords however did not play straight with the king. As Richard II ‘s happy marriage to Anne of Bohemia had produced no children the Duke of Gloucester’s agents in Parliament – with their own axes to grind because of refused patronage – loudly whispered that there was something unnatural in the king’s relationship with de Vere. The accusation deliberately brought to mind the conduct of Edward II and thus caught light and spread like wild fire. Richard showed a regal disdain which although understandable was unhelpful to his cause.

The king, resentful,  parried and resisted but gradually he was forced to make concessions to the lords appellant whilst he secretly appealed to de Vere for assistance. The king’s ploy forced a confrontation and the so-called ‘lords appellant’ ambushed the king’s favourite de Vere at Radcot Bridge near Oxford. De Vere was heavily defeated and he and the de la Pole fled the country. Richard II’s victorious uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester now forced the king to purge his chamber of his favourite chamber-knights and even forced the king to give up his old tutor Sir Simon de Burley. Gloucester then ensured – despite appeals form all sides including from his brother the Duke of York  - that they were all executed. Richard II was powerless to resist his uncle’s pretensions and bore the insult with an even countenance. Behind the shallow mask of manners there was another hidden – the face of revenge.

Restored to their monopoly of advice on council and at court the royal dukes gradually relented and everything returned to a sort of normal. Richard II, however, was biding his time. He never forgave Uncle Gloucester and he was now also as wary of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke – John of Gaunt’s eldest son – who had led the army which defeated de Vere at Radcot Bridge.

Thoughtfully, Richard recalled his senior uncle, John of Gaunt, from Spain. The old duke of Lancaster came back in a triumph and managed both the young king and the lords appellant and managed to restrain his own son from further confrontation with the king: family relations were mended and patched.  Richard II gradually asserted his own policy priorities over those of Gaunt – remaking English policy in France by seeking peace – and on the death of his first wife he cemented that policy by marrying the young French Princess Isabella. She, however, at the age of 7 was too young for child bearing.

Meanwhile, turning his attention to Ireland where rebellions had partly created the opportunity for the lords appellant to strike at his king’s friends through Parliament, Richard II raised an army 8000 strong of which he took personal command. He went on campaign in Ireland and quickly won a string of striking successes and his success raised his reputation back home in England.

Empowered, Richard suddenly struck down the unsuspecting appellant lords – arresting three of them whilst he had his Uncle Gloucester detained in Calais where he had him murdered. That murder of his own uncle in retrospect might be considered the moment when the so-called Wars of the Roses truly began. Richard also executed Arundel and Warwick and then set about breaking up their noble affinities in the localities – this time buying new friends on the way like the de Mowbray whom Richard cannily made up to duke of Norfolk. By this means he enhanced royal revenues and for the first time in his reign looked very much in control of politics. Old John of Gaunt and his son sided with Richard and as a reward Richard also made Gaunt’s son Henry Bolingbroke Duke of Hereford in his own right.

Later, a row flared up between Bolingbroke, newly created duke of Hereford and the newly created duke of Norfolk which Parliament declared had to be settled by single combat. The king over-ruled and banished both Norfolk and Henry – the former for life and the latter for ten years. Bolingbroke fled to France but the French king wanted no war with England and was not minded to do more than offer his English royal cousin much more than royal hospitality.

Heartbroken by his son’s sudden disgrace, the tottering colossus that was John of Gaunt stood with the king but the old man had not much time left on earth. He died in 1399.

Richard II then took a fatal decision – to disinherit Henry Bolingbroke. He extended Bolingbroke’s banishment to life and effectively annexed the duchy of Lancaster to the crown.

The Duchy of Lancaster:

.0Henry IVThe House of Lancaster as a cadet branch of the Plantagenet line had origins much further back than the reign of Edward III. Originally Henry III’s second son , Edmund “Crouchback” (Crossed Back i.e. a crusader knight) was made Earl of Leicester; and later Earl of Lancaster. He was endowed with very considerable lands in the north and midlands. Edmund’s son Thomas played a prominent part in the reign of Edward II for which he was richly rewarded adding Ferrers Earldom of Derby and the Earldom of Lincoln to the family honours. He fell out with his royal cousin’s (Edward II) lover Piers Gaveston and after the disastrous defeat of Edward II at Bannockburn Thomas became England’s virtual governor. His success was short-lived and when Edward II reasserted his control of the government he had Thomas was executed in 1322.

Thomas had no heir so titles and lands had passed to his younger brother Henry who became third Earl of Lancaster. It was his son, Henry of Grosmont (born in Grosmont castle) who famously served in the renewed wars with France and was credited with saving the life of the Black Prince and thus became a favourite at the court of Edward III. Edward III created him successively, first Earl of Salisbury and then first Duke of Lancaster. Most unusually, Edward III made the entire county into a Palatinate. (Palatinates are princely fiefdoms independent of the crown. They were common in Europe – particularly in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. In England there were only three palatinates: the County of Durham (an ecclesiastical palatinate, belonging to the prince-bishop of Durham); the earldom of Chester (a crown palatinate); and the duchy of Lancaster.)

Henry, first Duke of Lancaster as it happened had no male heir and his only daughter Blanche of Lancaster was his heiress. Blanche married to Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt (Ghent). On her father’s death Edward III created Blanche’s husband John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster in the second creation. By then John of Gaunt was already Duke of Aquitaine and one of England’s richest nobles. He now inherited all the lands of Blanche and the royal palatinate remained part of his new royal duchy. By this marriage, therefore, the duke of Lancaster had considerably greater status than the other royal dukes.

The later dynastic claims of the House of Lancaster united Plantagenet descent both from cadet branch of Henry III with direct descent from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt.

The decision of Richard II to disinherit his cousin was, therefore, more than simply a family affair. It struck at all the nobility. Henry Bolingbroke returned to England with an army ostensibly to reclaim his lands. He landed whilst Richard was in Ireland – on a mission to avenge the murder of his nominated heir Roger Mortimer who had been killed in a skirmish at Kells in County Meath. Whilst Richard was away Henry Bolingbroke easily won over his nervous fellow peers. Richard II returned and was quickly defeated and officially resigned his crown to Bolingbroke –  who was crowned Henry IV. Richard was murdered by agents of the new king.

.0000henryivdownload (1)Shortly thereafter Henry’s claim was tested by Richard’s legal heir the son of Roger Mortimer, Edmund, whose uncle, also confusingly an Edmund, at one stage was involved in a plot with Owen Glen-dower to remove the Lancastrian King Henry IV and divide the English kingdom into three parts – between himself and the two Mortimer branches of the Plantagenet line.

Henry IV held the Mortimer family in the Tower and other paces around London since they all possessed a senior claim over his own to the throne. Henry IV’s reign was marked by repeated challenges to the House of Lancaster as Henry IV tried to establish himself and his son firmly in the succession. Henry IV died in 1413 and shortly thereafter his son, Henry V renewed the war with France and reunited the nobility in a campaign that ended in the shock of a total and overwhelming English victory at Agincourt.  There were few English dead but amongst the few was Edmund Mortimer. It seemed at least the sun once again smiled on Plantagenet and the House of Lancaster now was secure as houses.

 

 

 

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A Game of Thrones (a rough guide to the wars of the Roses)
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rough guide to the wars of the Roses -

MOU202432Burying King Richard III

Laying to rest the earthly remains of Richard III seems to have dug up a lot of a-historical nonsense long buried by good historical research. In the best of traditions the pantomime image of the hunchbacked Richard III has turned out not to be that far from the physical reality. Richard was indeed a hunchback. We have been breathlessly told this certainty would change history. Unsurprisingly, it has done no such thing. What the blizzard of Media interest did reveal was the depth of the shallows of common knowledge about England’s history.

0000000000000000000richardIII467229860King Richard III remains have been was re-interred in Leicester Cathedral with what passes these days for pomp, circumstance and – as the late Kenny Everett might have said –  ”and all in the best possible taste”.  A royal duke; a royal countess; a Cardinal Archbishop; and, even the Archbishop of Canterbury were present to make history before our eyes. There was a a phalanx of Media historians as learned outriders. Revelations were promised. The circus has left Leicester. Gone and as easily forgotten as these events deservedly may be they have left me wondering whether anyone was really any the wiser from all the juggling of names and dates and all the clowning about in period costume.

As I’ve vociferously  complained about the silly things that have been said on Channel 4 and elsewhere I have asked myself could I do any better?

Best beloved, you must decide that for yourselves – here’s my Rough Guide to those pesky Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet – of whom Richard III was only the last rose of the House of York’s once glorious summer.

Part I: The Wars and the Roses:

The wars in question are more a series of military engagements fought by various cadre of various branches of a single royal family or dynasty –  Plantagenet  - in the last decade of the fourteenth century and again the middle decades of the fifteenth century. They are taken to have ended in Bosworth Field in 1485 and with the death of Richard III and the accession of the first Tudor – Henry VII.

However, as there was no formal beginning to these so-called wars it should be no surprise that their ending was as similarly informal. The end date of 1485 was only formally noted from the lofty retrospect afforded from the theatrical stage in the 1590′s as set by William Shakespeare. By then another sun was setting on the last of another dynasty  - one that had made it largely because of the Wars of the Roses – the Tudors – for by the 1590′s the last Tudor, Elizabeth I, short of hair and long on make-up was long beyond child-bearing. Elizabeth was already making way for the progeny of her longtime rival Mary, Queen of Scots. That is another history….back to the Roses….

As these Wars of the Roses were largely bitter fruits of family feuding in that sense they partly and genuinely resemble the TV series Game of Thrones which took its inspiration from them.

The roses in question are red and white: the red rose is for Lancaster and the white rose is for York. These badges still survive in their respective county emblems to this day. The roses came to represent two cadet branches of the one family – the Plantagenet – for these wars were nothing if not an entirely family affair.

.warsofroseshenryvipayne_rosesTheir choice of roses of two colours as a badge of their conflict went back to a law case and subsequently to a confrontation in Temple Garden between the litigants. Its dull prose are poetically repainted in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I: Act II, scene iv which itself symbolically portrays this occasion as the origin both of of the Wars and of the Roses. Richard Plantagenet (the figure on the left) who eventually became the Duke of York; Lord Protector and legal heir apparent to Henry VI, plucked a white rose as the emblem of his family branch, York; and his adversary, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (the figure on the right), picked a red rose as the badge of the other branch, Lancaster.

In Shakespeare’s play their followers then choose sides by plucking a red or white rose. This dramatic conceit works brilliantly on stage but is clouds a darker dynastic reality – the conflict reignited in Temple Gardens had its origin in an earlier act of regicide, when the son of the Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt’s eldest son) known as Henry Bolingbroke after the castle where he had been born, first had pushed aside Richard II; and then later almost certainly had the king murdered. Henry Bolingbroke succeeded Richard II in 1399 as Henry IV – and he was the first king of the House of Lancaster. His claim was always questionable and had always left many awkward questions of legitimacy unanswered. These questions were decisively but deceptively answered by Henry IV’s son, Henry V, in his victory at Agincourt but they resurfaced after Henry V’s untimely death in the political tensions during long minority of Henry VI.

The Royal Houses of Lancaster and York were therefore both branches of family Plantagenet. They respectively each took their names from the royal duchies of the two principals in this bloody struggle for the throne. Edward III had originally bestowed these titles on his younger sons. This is why they are described as the cadet branches of the same royal house or royal family. They are the junior lines to to the senior established line of succession just as today Prince Andrew and Prince Edward are the juniors to the senior line of their elder brother, Prince Charles. Similarly, Edward III’s eldest son (another Edward) was eldest son and heir to his father. He was nicknamed ‘the Black Prince’ because in battle he wore a black ostrich plume in his helmet. He had taken ostrich feathers or plumes to be part of his coat of arms as Prince of Wales (and heir apparent) when his father created the order of the Knights of the Garter and made his son the premier garter knight. To this day ostrich plumes have remained part of the regalia of any Prince of Wales.

Family Plantagenet

The family name ‘Plantagenet’ like the family name ‘Windsor’ was not originally a family or surname. It was a nickname. It not until the mid-fifteenth century that it was actually adopted as a family name – and then – and initially – only by one of the two principal protagonists: Richard, (3rd) Duke of York. Before then children of the Plantagenet royal dynasty were generally named after the place of their birth: for example – Edward of Woodstock (Prince of Wales – the Black Prince); Lionel of Antwerp; John of Ghent (i.e. Gaunt). Women heiresses by contrast often took the name of their noble house – Eleanor of Aquitaine; Blanche of Lancaster.

By the time the Yorkist branch adopted the family name Plantagenet in 1450 the struggle between Plantagenet royal cousins and their kindred already had been underway on and off for almost sixty years.

Plantagenet the Name

..0000plante geneste6f6b8e288c35108dd108fe533da6549ePlantegenest (Plante Genest) had been a 12th-century nickname of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou who commonly wore the flower on his hat or coat. Count Geoffrey married (Empress) Matilda who was the only child of the last Norman King of England, Henry I, who was himself the fourth son of the William the Conqueror (William I).

Count Geoffrey was Matilda’s second husband. Matilda’s first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V had been childless. Hers was a title therefore above all titles and her children by Geoffrey bore the nickname ‘FitzEmpress’ (son of the Empress). Their eldest, Henry FitzEmpress, had another nickname Curtmantel (short coat) from the cut of his coat. However, generally, he is simply known as Henry II of England.

In addition to England and Normandy from his mother Henry II inherited Anjou, Touraine and Maine from his father Geoffrey; and shortly thereafter he acquired by marriage the lands of the duchy of  Aquitaine by marrying its heiress, Eleanor, Duke of Aquitaine in her own right and sometime Queen of France.  Altogether these lands in England and France – to which Henry II in due course added parts of Ireland, Brittany, the Vexin and parts of Southern France –  comprised the Angevin Empire.

Therefore, Henry II (1154-1189) is England’s first Plantagenet king.

The Plantagenet Dynasty:

The Plantagenet kings are commonly taken to compose four different houses or dynasties in history’s book: The Angevin; The Plantagenet; The House of Lancaster; The House of York.

Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine; foreground Richard I. In the same abbey at Fontevraud are buried the hearts both of King John and his son Henry III.

Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine; foreground Richard I. In the same abbey at Fontevraud are buried the hearts both of King John and his son Henry III.

1. The House of Angevin: the Angevin kings are Henry II – and his sons, King Richard I (the Lionhearted) and King John. After the death of Henry II Kings Richard and John embarked on high risk, high tax polices which duly lost the family of most of its French possessions and as Henry II’s Empire collapsed, the barons became ever resentful of royal demands on their incomes. The stand off between crown and nobility was nominally settled by Magna Carta but even after making all these concessions King John struggled to hold on to the English throne. His sudden death accidentally secured the realm for his infant son, Henry III.

2. The House of  Plantagenet: this is the main line of the succession of English kings which runs from King John’s baby son and heir Henry III (1216-72); to Edward I (1272- 1307); to Edward II (1307- deposed Feb 1327 d. Sept. 1327 ); and gloriously to Edward III (1327 -1377); and finally to his grandson Richard II (1377- deposed 1399 d.1400).

3. The House of Lancaster: there are as we have seen three kings of the House of Lancaster: Henry IV ( Henry (of) Bolingbroke 1399-1413); Henry V (1413-1422) and famously the victor of Agincourt and King of France; and his son by Katherine of France, Henry VI (1422 -1461) (1470-1471 – imprisoned in the Tower d.1471).These three kings are the central figures in the Shakespeare history plays named for them and they played a very important part in shaping the political imagination of England’s governing class from Tudor times onward.

4. The House of York: there are three kings of the House of York: Edward IV; Edward V; Richard III. These too feature prominently in Shakespeare’s history – mainly in Henry VI Parts II & III and naturally enough in King Richard III, famously (over)played by Lawrence Olivier on film.

The Rival Claims:

The House of Lancaster and the House of York were as aforementioned both cadet branches of the main Plantagenet line of succession. The dynasty as can be seen from above already had had its troubles from time to time – with King John and then more notoriously with Edward II. However, everything had seemed to come good and heaven smiled on the monarchy of Edward III.

.000000000000000000Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)Edward III in his long reign re-made the Plantagenet dynasty afresh. he gave it a distinctly English image. Edward III was shrewd in marriage and politics: cautioned as he was by his father’s homosexual foibles; tutored as he was by his father’s failures; and later schooled as he was under the the presumptions of his mother’s lover – Roger Mortimer, Earl of March – the very man supposed to have arranged his father’s (Edward II) death with the infamous red hot poker, Edward III understood the rules of the game of thrones better than any of his family.

Edward III set aside tutelage of his mother and her upstart lover and despite his mother’s plea “fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer” Edward had gentle Mortimer ignominiously hanged at Tyburn. Edward III was not a prince to be sentimental about old family friends and ties of blood.

Edward III made a sound marriage to Phillipa of Hainault. His wars with France regained territories long lost to the Plantagenet dynasty. But Edward III reconquered those lost lands in France as King of England. This was an English Empire not an Angevin Empire restored. The wars he thus initiated became known as ‘The Hundred Years War’. The booty and the lands in France made the English nobility rich and by this means Edward III kept them engaged in his foreign enterprises – much as Louis XIV was later to do in France. It also gave the king a free hand to do as he wished in England.

By his marriage to Phillipa of Hainault Edward had a string of children most of whom unusually survived to adulthood. His eldest son, “the Black Prince” Edward, Prince of Wales became the principal agent of the dynasty’s political project in France. His chivalrous image as a knight of the garter; as the hero of Crecy, Poitier and Reims; disguised the fact he was something of a brutal thug. In France “the Black Prince” fought a string of military campaigns as notable for their violent savagery and as their strategic brilliance. He married his cousin Joan of Kent – herself a direct descendant of Edward I – by whom he had two sons Edward of Angoulême and Richard of Bordeaux. All then seemed set fair when the young Edward of Angoulême died suddenly in 1375. As so often in royal history, one dynastic tragedy was followed by another.

.0000blackprinceeffigybigBy 1375 the Black Prince himself had long been plagued by what may have been recurrent bouts of amoebic dysentery acquired on campaign in Portugal. The Black Prince died in 1376. He was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. His effigy and tomb have become an archetype for his age. Then in 1377 Black Prince’s father Edward III as suddenly quickly followed his eldest son to the grave.

Suddenly the dynasty was left in the insecure hands of the ten year old Richard of Bordeaux. He succeeded his grandfather Edward III in 1377 as Richard II. By culture and education and outlook the boy-king was a product of Edward’s new monarchy. Unfortunately the boy-king Richard II combined the lofty royal condescension of Edward III’s kingship with another less desirable Plantagenet character trait – he had that same strong stubborn streak the Plantagenet kings manifested most often in their overbearing irrational affections – blind loyalty to flawed friends and irrational hatred of supposed enemies.

The family tree that led to a family at war with itself...

The family tree that led to a family at war with itself…

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Democracy fizzles out as Parliament Dissolves.
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Parliament is dissolved – we’re off

alogosdownload (1)The word ‘historic’ is so overused as to make me over-wrought. It has become a synonym for noteworthy. That’s life. Nevertheless this Dissolution of Parliament is historic in its true sense – since this is the first time that a UK general election and the subsequent aftermath of forming a government will no longer be bound by unwritten ‘conventions’. Until this election the Prime minister has effectively exercised the prerogative powers of the crown; determining not only the date of the election but the protocols surrounding the meeting of the next parliament. Instead for the future all Prime Ministers will act by under the aegis of statute – that is the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

So, perhaps, it might be best to start the day after the last  election day.

Last time Gordon Brown faced a ‘hung’ parliament he had two powers he could choose to exercise as he was still the Prime Minister: first he could choose the meet Parliament either with a confidence vote or with his own Queen’s Speech and let the the House of Commons vote it down; secondly, as PM, in theory, he had the first bite of the coalition-forming cherry. There was recent precedent for use of both these powers – the former by Stanley Baldwin in 1924 leading to the first Labour government; and the latter, by Ted Heath in 1974 when, although a few seats less than Labour and a few popular votes more, he first tried to make a coalition with the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe. Only when that failed did Heath resign and ask the Queen to call Harold Wilson to form a government. These procedures were important – as any PM then still held a third power – the right to ‘request’ the Queen to dissolve parliament. Therefore, whomsoever the crown asked to form a government, he or she did so with the preserved right to request a dissolution. Wilson exercised this right in October 1974; Ramsey McDonald was defeated in the Commons on a confidence motion and similarly asked the king to dissolve Parliament in November 1924.

alogosdownload (1)If there is another hung Parliament – this is not what will happen after this election. This time Mr Cameron or any other party leader who can put together a majority in the House of Commons will be asked by the Queen to form a government. For this purpose, the Queen’s Private Secretary will have an desk in the Cabinet Office – behind no 10. He and the Cabinet Secretary will arbiter the politicians and keep the Queen clear of the party leaders and the party politics of coalition. The Queen is no longer formally involved; she is no longer reliant on the ‘advice’ of her Prime Minster; and no longer informally bound to accept that advice. Whoever gets to the magic number of 326 MP’s –  or can make a stable majority by another route –  will get the nod from the Cabinet Secretary and the Queen’s Private Secretary and will be then formally be asked to form a government. In this struggle to assemble enough votes Cameron and Miliband are now equal. Neither being the incumbent PM nor being the party with the largest number of MP’s – or even a plurality of votes –  is sufficient of itself – to obtain the right to form or lead government; or to enjoy the privilege of getting the first chance to assemble a coalition. Whoever assembles a working majority will govern.

Clearly if any party wins 326 seats outright then de facto it has a majority and will form of government.

alogosdownload (1)However, that is at least as unlikely an outcome as it was at this stage of the last election – indeed more unlikely – since last time at this stage the Conservatives held a 7-8% advantage over Labour in the polls – 37% to 29%.  Of the latest polls two have Labour ahead by 2-4%; and one a Conservative lead of 4% but frankly these leads between the two larger parties have flowed and ebbed for the better part of nine months. In the time left it seems unlikely either Labour or Conservatives will break into a decisive lead. The best assumption is the next Parliament will be hung – and most probably more hung than the last.These are the working assumptions of the Civil Service.

This time it is also highly unlikely that one large party and alone with one other will together command a decisive majority. Last time the Conservatives 307 MP’s combined with the LibDem 57 MP’s to created a coalition with an very effective working majority – and in both Houses of Parliament. This time it will be different. First, the SNP is likely to take about 40-50 seats. Secondly, the LibDems have slumped from 23% to 8% and therefore will loose at least half or more of their seats. Thirdly, even the modest rise of Labour into percentages in the low to mid thirties  - a rise of say 4% on its last election performance – will put a good number of Conservative marginals at risk. The Conservatives could loose up to 40-50 seats to Labour whilst picking up 15 or more Liberal seats. Then we have both UKip and the Greens – who remain unlikely to win many but who may have 6 seats between them. Finally there will be the Irish Unionists (12-15); 2 Irish SDLP and perhaps 3 Sinn Fein MP’s – the latter have previously never taken their seats in the UK Parliament.  Shaking this political kaleidoscope will not necessarily throw up a government composed from party colours in any possible pattern. Metaphorically speaking the parliamentary politics works rather more like dice, loaded in Labour’s favour. How so, you ask? The answer is easy enough to divine.

alogosdownload (1)Given the Labour Party, the Scots and Welsh Nationalists; the Irish SDLP; and any Green Party MP(s) would actively vote down any Conservative government,  the road to assembling a Conservative led coalition or a Conservative minority government is filled with potholes. For Mr Cameron to be able to pursue such a course his party would need to win upwards of 290 MP’s and probably nearer to 300. He would then need to find thirty votes from the Irish Unionists and the LibDems. If Mr Clegg loses his seat or loses the LibDem leadership getting LibDem support might prove harder than last time round. Indeed signs are the risk averse in the LibDem leadership are already thinking only in terms if supply and confidence. Even the NI Unionists are talking in terms of supply and confidence.

The converse is true for Mr Miliband – since he starts off with the Scots and Welsh Nationalists; the Irish SDLP; and any Green Party MP(s) on side. Therefore were he to tempt either the Irish unionists into a supply and confidence arrangement or indeed the LibDems into a similar arrangement - as they did with Callaghan’s Labour minority government in 1976-8 Miliband could form a government and govern as a minority government for at least a stable period of three or four years or even five years.

If Mr Cameron were to insist on meeting the new Parliament it is certain the crown would not attend a state opening. There would be and could be no Queen’s Speech setting out the government program. Instead legislation rather suggests the government would first need to put down or table and carry a confidence motion just in order to establish it had the votes to command the business in the two houses of Parliament – and only then could it form a government. If Labour the Nationalists and the Greens together have over 305-10 votes – the Conservatives would be very unlikely to be able to create a stable government. indeed the LibDems might be just as likely to join the larger more representative coalition as to one narrowly based, even if Mr Clegg wanted to continue as deputy Prime Minister.

The hill for the Conservatives to climb back to power is steeper but it far from impossible. there are now so many local imponderables that local campaigns may make all the difference. most elections throw up a handful of odd results this one might throw up twenty or thirty. That throws any psephologists predictions completely out. It will be a long night.

Meanwhile we have the debates. Thus far both Sky’s Ms Burley and  freelance conservative supporter Paxman felt able to ask in excusably rude questions to the Labour leader. Strangely, Ed survived the kicking they tried to administer in rather better shape than many expected. Miliband in the only leader who will participate in all the ‘debates’. He turns out to be rather better than many hoped or feared – hence the reason Cameron has gone very personal very early.In that sense Cameron’s announcement of not serving a Third term is not only lifted straight from the Tony Blair election book but it has left hostages to fortune.

alogosdownload (1) The problem for Cameron is the same problem he faced in 2010 – the Conservative Party divided over Europe and culturally at war with itself, has failed to win a general election since 1992. Even the unelectable Ted Heath managed to do better. In fact Mrs Thatcher was believed pretty unelectable in 1979. The thrones of kings and seats of power have been filled many times by men and women everyone believed should not have made it. Mr Cameron should note – born to rule doesn’t mean the rules can’t be changed.

 

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Lady Day – the Eve of Eve’s recall

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  Lady Day – the Eve of Eve’s recall

This night can’t hold or keep the angel lights

Who come the dawn, must peep about the Sun

As skylarks rise to sing with seraphim

To Him made man today; a tale begun

When Heaven cast its orders down to earth

And Gabriel’s flight outran day’s risen light.

“All Hail!” He said; as glory had its birth

And Eternal day cast off our endless night.

When Grace’s maid, made to embrace the light,

Let Light embrace a lightless Virgin’s womb.

Then Earth outshone the light of every star

And Death itself was buried in its tomb.

Recall with grace on Lady’s Day that dawn;

And blest be they that on this day are born.

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Globe: Farinelli & the King
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Farinelli c. 1755Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli (1705-82), is known as one of the most famous castrati. Obviously, there survives no recording of this unique voice save for the last castrato in the Western World died in 1922. He was Alessandro Moreschi and he recorded less than one hour’s worth of singing on wax cylinders between 1902 and 1904. The technical quality of this historical recording is poor and he was not the greatest of singers – nothing like the eighteenth century forbears – but its odd survival at least is some indicator of the general aesthetic qualities of the voice.

Castrati were virtuoso musicians; their voices were already notable when the castration was carried out. As exceptionally talented their continued intensive vocal training produced exceptional quality of singers – with both range, timbre and technique. Composers wrote specifically for their voice. In the eighteenth century it was this voice rather than the tenor – which was popularly regarded as heroic. Consequently castrati were often found in aristocratic salons and royal courts where women notoriously fainted in their concert performances.  Almost nothing in their repertoire can be performed nowadays.Castrati were particularly known for their unique timbre: because of the surgery performed on them, their voice did not change with puberty. Upon adulthood, the size of their thoracic cage, their lung capacity, their physical stamina and their strength were usually above that of most men. They had, as a consequence, great vocal power, and some were able to sing notes for a minute or more. Finally, a small and flexible larynx, and relatively short vocal chords allowed them to vocalize over a rather wide range – some over 3 and a half octaves –  and capacity to sing with great agility (they could control wide intervals, long cascades and trills).

This new play featuring Iestyn Davies as the singing Farinelli and Mark Rylance is the King. The play by Claire van Kampen essays the broad subject matters better suited to the recent film – which by extension was better able to using computer technology to engineer a vocal sound perhaps nearer to that of a castrato. that is not to complain about using counter tenors in this place for after all the contemporary counter tenor has turned into one of the most glorious additions to the vocal range available for performance in my life time. Alas with his welcome arrival the great contralto has passed from fashion a voice which no doubt in time will come into its own again..

Any play about castrati means there were low hanging fruits to be plucked and plucked they were tonight. There allusions galore to testes and cuts and if there had to be any cuts – the occasional – shit and fuck might usefully have been excised as they were dropped to cause a giggle and not to add to anything in the way of characterisation. In addition to the well received jokes about balls and men not being all the parts they play and such there was a cast of characters who remain elusive and un developed. They were but foils to the King ( Mark Rylance). Rylance himself gave an insinuating and slightly knowing performance which was true to the words but left me wondering whether it was not too carefully crafted to the particular skills of a single actor.

0000000000000farinelliimagesOn the subject of men playing parts; not quite being the part they play; and kings being made-up men – I’m not sure this play has added much that Hamlet has not said on this subject at greater length and more concisely. To this dramatic conceit there was of course the an added attraction singing – which was quite beautiful – and it was a pleasure to see Iestyn Davies in court dress…yet as it was the singing was not wholly integrated into the play itself. It was an add-on that might have been as usefully left off.  that said, the costume for Farinelli was to die for….

The play is really a one man show. The man in question being Mark Rylance – Cromwell in Wolf Hall- although the play’s subject is Philip V of Spain – the younger grandson of Louis XIV and the Bourbon successor to the Hapsburg Charles II. The consequent Wars of the Spanish Succession were therefore essentially a family matter which neatly finds its distant theatrical echo in the fact that Claire van Kampen is Mark Rylance’s wife.

It is for court historians to note the coincidence of family connection self-promoting its kin.The stage is one world where this royal practice endures. It is for others to sing its praise or wail its lament.

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Election: from Paradise postponed to Paradise lost…

alogosdownload (1)Some votes may mean more than others:

Last week Labour retook a council seat in Harlow it had lost to UKIP. Council elections are not predictive in any sense and for the moment wise heads like You Gov’s Peter Kellner see Cameron’s Conservatives emerging with around 290 seats Labour far, far behind on 260.  Kellner knows an awful lot about polls and polling and his prognostications are not to be lightly dismissed.

What does seem to be happening is that here is a slow squeeze on the UKIP and Green vote…but then that is rather how things might be expected to be in this phoney war before the election begins and the main TV Media have to report on a more equal basis. We also have to debates to consider which will doubtless bring some headlines the way of the minority parties which includes for the present the LibDems.

alogosdownload (1)However, only the LibDems, the Northern Ireland Unionists and the SNP of all the minor parties seem to have any certain chance of emerging from the General Election with a sizable bloc of MPs. The obvious political question is whether or not a Nationalist group might equitably support a Union government – the answer is that the NI Unionists supported the Conservative Party until the troubles of the late 1960′s and until 1969 the Conservative Party was itself a coalition of two parties  - the Conservatives in England and Wales and the Unionists in Ireland and Scotland. The unionists were themselves relics of that earlier fight for Irish Home Rule. From the time of Parnell,  the Liberal Party regularly relied upon the votes of Irish Nationalist MP’s and continued to so do until 1921 and Irish partition. There is therefore no reason to assume that the SNP which lies to the left of Labour would not properly wish to lend parliamentary support to a government of the left in Westminster. If the Conservatives are over 300 seats there is nothing to suppose the NI unionists might not perform the same role in sustaining a government led from the right. The question of the EU is the thorn in the side of any such coalition for it is now hard to see the NI unionists would want separation from the EU anymore than the SNP want Scotland out of Europe. The problem for the Conservatives is that a failure of the referendum to take us out of Europe might take the die-hards out of the Conservative party. good riddance many might think but these would doubtless take with them many conservatives in local party associations. For Mr Cameron the referendum might change Paradise postponed into Paradise lost.

Meanwhile Mr Miliband endures – the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have given this brother of a David a couple of  free slingshots at the Goliath of the Media – that’s David Cameron. Last week Ed hit home even if he didn’t slay the giant. The HSBC scandal – yet another from the augean stable that is our banking institutions – highlighted once more a weakness of the Prime Minister  - his frank lack of curiosity about the background of his favourites when it comes to appointmenting them to his government. In that sense the real story was less about bank accounts in Switzerland and more about the Andy Coulson narrative. Cameron has long argued it was nothing to do with him when things went badly wrong – he asked all the right questions – but then along comes Lord Green who cannot but have known about the potential for money laundering in the Swiss arm of HSBC over which as Chairman he had governance and oversight. It perhaps serves as a timely reminder that Ed Miliband’s unique insight into politics in 2010 was that the Financial Crisis  of 2007-2009 forever had changed the rules of the political game. We are about to find out if this insight amounted to foresight.

alogosdownload (1)The Conservatives were pretty gung-ho in January that all their ducks were lining up nicely for an easy victory in May. This seems to be the received wisdom but the polls continue to tell a slightly different story. The marginals polling shows Labour doing better than nationally. The Lib Dem/Conservative marginals show the Lib Dems holding on despite their horrible national polling results. The polling in Scotland shows the SNP will sweep the board…but if their support goes to Labour that may not make the outcome very different. Thus far February has been kinder to Labour than January. This is a long, long campaign. Mr Osborne will be pulling rabbits from his budget hat next month – though many of his choicest bunnies may not run far it is highly unlikely the Finance Act will get through parliament before dissolution. Perhaps the most interesting sign of these times was at the BCC Conference. Mr Cameron pleaded for businesses to increase wages – slightly reminiscent of Labour leaders long past pleading for wage restraint at a Union Conferences. Mr Miliband has also taken to being interviewed on his right side profile…a trick that Mrs Thatcher once was taught too by her Media gurus.

In all of this I cannot help but think of Mitt Romney and 2012. To the end the GOP and news Media gurus believed they’d won the argument; that the Electoral votes were in the bag; that the polls were going to turn in their favour at the last minute. Obama still won after fighting a dogged if uninspired re-election campaign. Things sometimes do not turn out how the wise believe they should.

Below – the result from that byelection – no more than a straw poll but maybe a straw in the wind? Some one will surely emerge a winner – and maybe the misunderestimated Ed Miliband against the odds will oddly be the one whose Paradise is regained – who knows? Like so much in this election the latest polls are helpfully contradictory…

alogosdownload (1)Mark Hall on Harlow (UKIP Defence)
Danny Purton (Lab) 586 (43% +8% on 2014)
Mark Gough (UKIP) 353 (26% -12% on 2014)
Jane Steer (Con) 334 (24% +4% on 2014)
Murray Sackwild (Green) 55 (3% no candidate in 2014)
Lesley Rideout (Lib Dem) 47 (3% -5% on 2014)
Labour GAIN from UKIP with a majority of 233 (17%) on a swing of 10% from UKIP to Lab

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Reported speech – Pope Francis – what he said and what he didn’t say….
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Popes speaking…..

The papacy has a long history of speaking its mind and saying things which do not meet with much favour. It can defend itself. it does not need me to argue its case. It could pay for a better defence.

There was a bit of a media storm over what Pope Francis  is reported to have said in his interview. I give the whole transcript of the interview below and offer no commentary. All I will offer is that there is more than the famous quote that has bounced about social media. As that comment came in a context of a series of questions I provide the full exchange leading up to the controversial comments. There were questions before the one where I have begin but these were specifically about global warming and about the Pope’s forthcoming Encyclical on that subject.

Before the transcript I want to leave you with these words as they pretty much summarise my own thoughts. They were first published on 11th April ,1963:

….Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.  Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and  -within the limits of the moral order and the common good – to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill. Also among man’s rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. 

Transcript of an impromptu interview given by Pope Francis between Sri Lanka and Philippines:

Juan Vicente Boo (ABC): Holy Father, first of all I must say that for someone who is tired, you look well. I want to ask you on behalf of the Spanish group, about the history of Sri Lanka and contemporary history. During the years of the war in Sri Lanka, there were over 300 suicide attacks, by men, women and young boys and girls. Now we are seeing suicide attacks on the part of young men and women and even children. What do you think of this method of waging war?
Pope Francis: Maybe I am being disrespectful, but I feel that behind every suicide attack there is something unbalanced, a lack of human equilibrium. I am not sure if it is mental, but it is human. Something that is wrong with that person, who does not have true equilibrium regarding the meaning of his own life and that of others. He fights, he gives his life, but he does not give it well. Many people who work – for example missionaries – give their lives, but to build. Here life is given to self-destruct and to destroy. There is something not right, no? I advised on a thesis on Japanese kamikaze pilots written by an Alitalia pilot. I checked the part about methodology, but it is not understandable. This is not something that happens only in the East. There are investigations going on right now on a proposal which arrived during the Second World War in Italy, a proposal to the fascists in Italy. There is no proof, but there is an investigation, there is something there which is very connected to totalitarian systems, it is very linked. The totalitarian system kills, if not life then possibilities, kills the future, many things. This problem is not over, and it is not only a problem in the East. It is important. I cannot really say anything else. The use of children: children are exploited for many things. They are exploited for work, as slaves, also sexually abused. Some years ago, with some members of the Argentine senate, we wanted to run a campaign in the most important hotels, to publicly say that children must not be exploited to serve tourists, but we could not do it. There are hidden resistences. I don’t know whether these things are faced or not, it was a preventive measure; then, other things: when I was in Germany and saw newspapers, I read about tourism in southeast Asia, and there was sex tourism, and there were children … children are exploited, the slave work of children is terrible, they are exploited for this, too. I can’t say more.

Ignazio Ingrao (Panorama): Holiness, there is much worry in the world for your safety. According to Israeli and American security services, The Vatican may be even a target of Islamic terrorists. On fundamentalist web sites the Muslim flag has been depicted flying from St. Peter’s. There are worries for your security when you go abroad.. We know that you don’t want to lose contact with the people. At this point, is it necessary to change something in your behaviour, in your plans? Is there also fear for the security of faithful who take part to your celebrations. Are you worried about this? And more in general, what is the best way to respond to this threat of fundamentalist Muslims?

Pope Francis: ”The best way to respond is always meekness — being meek, humble. Like bread, no? Without being aggressive – I feel this way. There are some who do not understand this. And I am concerned for the faithful, truly. I have spoken with Vatican security about this: here on flight there is (the chief of Vatican police) Mr. Giani who is charged with solving this, he is updated about this problem. This concerns me, no? It concerns me enough. I have fear, but I you know I have a defect, a good dose of unawareness. I am unaware of these things.
Some times I ask myself: what if it happened to me? I have said to the Lord, ‘I only want to ask you one grace. Don’t let me come to harm, because I am not courageous in the face of pain, I am very, very fearful’ … But they can take security measures that are prudent, but secure. Then, we will see.

Christoph (Germany): Holy Father, good morning. Could you tell us about your time at the Buddhist temple yesterday, which was a big surprise? Which was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit? And then, are you inspired by this religion? We know that Christian missionaries had the conviction until the 20th century that Buddhism was a fake and a religion of the devil. The third (question), what could be the relevance of Buddhism for the future of Asia?

Pope Francis: How was the visit and why did I go? The head of this Buddhist temple was able to get himself invited by the government to go to the airport and there – he is a very good friend of Cardinal Ranjith – he greeted me and asked me to visit the temple, also he told Ranjith to take me there. And then speaking with the cardinal – there was a bit of time because when I arrived I had to cancel the meeting with the bishops because I wasn’t feeling well, I was tired from the 29 kilometers of greeting people. I was worn out. And there wasn’t time; and yesterday returning from Madhu there was the possibility, and we called and went. In that temple, there are the relics of some disciples of Buddha, of two of them. They are very important to them, and these relics were in England and they were able to have them given back. This is how: he came to visit me at the airport, and I went to visit him at his home.
Yesterday, I saw something that I would have never imagined in Madhu. They weren’t all Catholics, not even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and all of them go there to pray and they say that they receive graces. There is in the people, who never err, something that unites them; and if they are so naturally united so as to go together and pray in a church, which is Christian but it is more than Christian because everyone wants it. How could I not go to the temple of the Buddhists to greet them, no? And this testimony yesterday in Madhu was very important. It makes us understand the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. Respect among them. There are fundamentalist groups, but they are not with the people. They are ideological elites, but they are not with the people.
Then, (the question) that they will go to Hell. But people said the same of Protestants, when I was a child. At that time, 70 years ago, all of the Protestants were going to Hell, all of them – that’s what we were told. But then, I remember the first experience I had of ecumenism. And I told this the other day to the heads of the Salvation Army. I was 4 or 5 years old but I remember and I can still see it. I remember I was walking down the street with my grandma hand-in-hand and on the other sidewalk, two women from the Salvation Army were coming down the street with those big hats on that they used to wear with the ribbon. It was a special thing, but now they don’t wear them anymore. But, I asked my grandma, but tell me are they sisters? And she told me this: “No, they are Protestants but they are good people. That was the first time that I heard someone speak well of someone from another religion, of Protestants. At that time, in catechesis they told us that everyone was going to Hell. But I think that the Church has grown so much in its awareness, in respect – as I told them in the religious meeting there in Colombo – in values – when we read what the Second Vatican Council says to us about the values in the other religions. The respect of the Church has grown a lot in this respect, no? And, yes, there are dark times in the history of the Church. We need to say so without embarrassment because also we are on a path of continuous conversion always from sin to grace. And, this inter-religiosity as brothers always respecting each other is a grace.

Sebastien Maynard (La Croix): Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

Pope Francis: Thanks for the question, that is smart, it is good. I think that both are fundamental human rights, religious liberty and liberty of expression. You can’t … Let’s think, are you French? Let’s go to Paris. Let’s speak clearly. You cannot hide a truth. Everyone has the right to practice their religion, their own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.
Secondly, you cannot offend or make war, kill in the name of your religion, in the name of God. What has happened now astonishes us. But always, let’s think to our history, how many religious wars we have had. Think of St Bartholomew’s night (when Catholics massacred Huguenots during the French wars of religion in 1572, editors note). How can we understand this? Also we were sinners in this. But you cannot kill in the name of God, this is an aberration. Killing in the name of God is an aberration against God. I think this is the main thing with freedom of religion. You can practice with freedom without offending but without imposing or killing.
The freedom of expression… Every one of us has not just the freedom, the right, but also the obligation to say what he thinks to help build the common good. The obligation. If we think of a congressman, a senator, if he doesn’t say what he thinks is the true path, he doesn’t collaborate in the common good. We have the obligation to freely have this liberty, but without offending. It’s true that you cannot react violently. But, if Dr. Gasbarri, my great friend, says something against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith. Pope Benedict, in a speech, I don’t remember which, he spoke of this post-positivist mentality, of the post-positivist metaphysics that brought people to believe that religions or religious expressions are a type of lower culture: that they are tolerated but that there’s not much to them, that they are in not part of an enlightened culture. And this is a lecacy of the Enlightenment. So many people speak against others’ religions. They make fun of them. Let’s say they “giocatalizzano” (make a playng out of) the religion of others. But they are provoking, and what can happen is what I said about Dr. Gasbarri if he says something about my mother. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity; I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person. And this is a limit. I’ve used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother. I don’t know if I was able to respond to the question. Thanks.

Conclusions -

I offer none – he speaks for himself and he should be heard for what he said and not was he was reported to have said. As for the piece in italics above – that is from a document called Pacem In Terris - it is written by one Angelo Roncalli – AKA Pope John XXIII. He was in his last weeks and it was composed during the final stages of his intestinal cancer.

Final thoughts serve all of us as last testaments and these are not ignoble thoughts to have harvested from a life’s time…

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2016 – the grounds for optimism….
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Democrats versus Republicans…..

U.S.A. FlagIn the last hundred years or so there have only been three occasions when an incumbent Party has won three Presidential elections on the trot – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover for the Republican Party (GOP) between 1920 and 1932;  FDR for the Democrats  - winning four elections from 1932 to 1944 and then Truman winning in 1948 to make it five in a row. and G. H Bush winning in 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan who served two full terms from 1980 to 1988.  Al Gore almost did it in 2000 winning the popular vote but not winning where it mattered in the Electoral College.  And G. W. Bush’s presidency possibly owed more to that Republican dominance from of the White House  from 1968 to 1992 which had firmly tipped the balance in the Supreme Court towards conservative legists who refused to permit the rerun of the election in Florida which the Florida Supreme Court had ordered.

If the Midterm elections are any guide to anything – then the coming election should be a Republican victory. The GOP controls both Houses of Congress – picking up 9 seats in the Senate – and holding on firmly to its majority in the House of Representatives. Additionally, it also controls a majority of the state governorships and a good number of the State Houses across the nation. The victory is November 2014 was easy and convincing – except – except in the febrile state of US party politics old certainties no longer seem very certain.

The Republicans have no obvious candidates. Instead they have a string of flawed options. First is Governor Chris Christie who masterminded the victory in last November having won reelection as governor in a traditionally ‘blue’ (Democrat voting) state. Since that election Christie has struggled – there was a furore over events of the Washinton Bridge between NYC and NJ which has tainted the Governor’s reputation. Worse, all the polling within the state shows him trailing Hilary Clinton by 20 percentage points. The argument for Christie – he could win where no other Republicans can win – has evaporated. Under pressure of events the Governor’s notoriously short fuse has already blown a couple of times in public. Into this void have stepped two other ‘mainstream’ GOP favourites- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Their problems speak for themselves- Romney was a terribly wooden losing candidate in 2012. He still is as wooden as ever in the unforgiving Media gaze where Obama is so comfortable. Jeb Bush would be the third scion of the dynasty to reach for the highest office. In many ways a much more subtle intelligent politician than either his brother or his father – Jeb might well deserve to win – but he carries the Bush brand name and it is hard to see that baggage winning over the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He has half announced and immediately claimed the front of the crowded field – on a meagre 17% of the poll. These are not the numbers of a sure fire nomination winner.

The rest of the GOP field is strewn in wannabes like Mick Huckabee and Senator Marco Rubio – who have  a broad appeal in the party but no appeal beyond the already reddest states and Tea Party favourites like Ron Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Outside this group stands Governor Scott Walker who has charisma but lacks a broader base in the party and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has Asian ethnicity and a glib way with words but also a way of making enemies from friends. These look more like Vice Presidential hopefuls but many men can look themselves in the mirror and see the next President of the United States. One of those who is fond of mirrors is Mitt Romney’s erstwhile running mate gym giant Paul Ryan – right wing, Catholic with an edgy whiff of the narcissist. He has counted himself out if he is to be believed.

Here we ago again

Here we ago again

Against this wide field the Democrats have a field of one and she has yet to speak. This nomination is Hillary’s to loose but then in 2008 many wise saws saw the same thing and she lost. Mrs Clinton has all the virtues of being the obvious candidate but has yet to make the case for being the inevitable choice. Her ambition to be the first women president is undiminished but like Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney Mrs Clinton is uncomfortable in the eye of the TV camera. It is said in private she is witty and amusing. The same things were once said of Gordon Brown. In 2008 bill clinton proved to be a drag on her candidacy – perhaps this time he can offer her something she lacks – a warmth.  Her daughter Chelsea will also add another dimension to her mother’s candidacy – not least the evergreen of all politicians in all times – the baby –  but perhaps the greatest persuader will be none other than her sometime rival – President Obama.

The State of the Union address is historically the moment when Presidents rally the country to their party. Popular presidents can launch themselves into the political ground of their opponents. It shows how quickly things can change –  just 10 weeks ago President Obama looked like a lame duck dead in the water. He was hopelessly unpopular. Since then his numbers have rallied dramatically. He has carefully crafted this speech to claim party credit for the uptick in the US economy. We are early is the days of political and economic recovery – but sometimes confidence is everything. Above all – he can now hold the Republican Congress to account for all the falings to come and the Republicans in the House look as if they might yet rise to the partisan occasion. There are those on Capitol Hill who would like to impeach Obama. There are those who say if the repeal bill for what is disparagingly called “Obama Care” is vetoed by the President – as it would be – it might give them the occasion to impeach. There are other cooler heads who say they will collapse the government by threatening to shut it down by refusing it supply.

Mrs Clinton will calculate her advantage in all this but one thing is certain – the Democrats may be down but they’re not yet out of the game in 2016. The blue map still holds and if Obama is as popular as Bill Clinton in 2000 – or even Ronald Reagan was in 1988 –  then the Republicans might already be on the back foot in the 2016 election – that’s before they elect to shoot themselves in the other foot by doing something very stupid.

They forget at heir peril that the President had learned an awful lot about politics in Washington in his six years there….

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A matter of debate
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The end of January and still the fog persists:

alogosdownload (1)There are lots of sights that will give the latest polling figures for the forthcoming election. There are many more that provide a forecast of the election result. I cannot compete with their expertise on either front. There are an awful lot of polls. We seem to have almost as many now as in presidential elections in the USA. And thanks to Lord Ashcroft we now have polls in a breadth of constituencies on a scale we’ve never before seen. Whether these will enable anyone to divine more than might otherwise be divined is very hard to say.

What can be said with certainty - if the polls are to be believed  - is that definitive moment of clarity which the pundits promised would arrive with autumn and the party Conferences has yet to arrive. The defining moment may be the fall in oil prices which have put some genuine money into folks’ pockets at just the right time. Whether Osborne and Cameron deserve credit they are only human and only politicians and like all of their kind – they’ll take the credit – whether or not it’s their due. It is for the voters to decide whether their claims are credible and in that battle my voice and vote are mine alone. One voice credible or incredible and carries no weight.

That said the rest of the evidence is that neither of the larger parties seems likely to break loose now and in the anniversary year of the start of World War I it is apt that it looks like stalemate will govern us for the next four years or so.The shape the stalemate is to take is just as uncertain. There is now a discernible rise in the Green vote in the polls.This has chipped more votes from Labour. UKip meanwhile refuses to deflate and no matter how slight or silly they are portrayed to be by wise pundity their Teflon coating is in tact. Thus if their numbers are on a gentle decline once they get the oxygen of publicity in the campaign the numbers may once again be on the rise.

alogosdownload (1)The LibDems are similarly becalmed somewhere in the region of 10% but the SNP looms large over their Scots seats – as it does even more devastatingly for Labour – and thus it seems likely that they can hold no more than around 30 pf their current seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, the debates that were such a novelty in 2010 look less likely to happen in 2015. Again, politicians are bound to calculate to their party advantage and if Cameron can find a safe way to avoid the debates there is honestly plenty of advantage to be gained. It will be the broadcasters who most likely determine that outcome. However, the rising % for the Greens in the polls would make it easier for all those involved to include the Greens but that will itself not really resolve the problem because the SNP – like Banquo’s ghost – is very likely to intrude upon proceedings. Essentially, Cameron has probably decided on his tactic and will stick to it and that is now going to make this a very different election. If he wins or gets to be PM after May 7th it will be seen as a stroke of political genius – if however he loses – like Heath’s ‘who governs Britain election – it will be seen to have been a big mistake. if he is seen to have been forced to the debating table in the larger debate forum that comes before the head to head – Cameron may be beset and that will not look good on TV.

All this said the balance of political advantage has surely turned towards the coalition government – money in pockets helps every incumbent government –  but whether that is just to the advantage of the Conservatives alone – is another debatable point.

However, unless Labour picks up in Scotland it is hard to see how they will emerge as the largest party in any election that is this close. The great things is we have only three months left before we know the answers ….

The latest calculation shows Labour 280 Conservatives 279 SNP 38 LibDems 25 UKIP 5 Greens I Others 22….that path leads I’d say to Labour but truth told who knows?

 

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