Wednesday, March 30, 2011

History of England Part Four

Before moving on in English history, another side trip.  And, yes, it has not escaped my attention that all my side trips seem to involve rocks.

Since you might visit Westminster Abbey, a brief note on what is not there anymore.

Edward I, the ol’ Hammer of the Scots, conquered Scotland as much as it is possible to actually do so.  As part of the process he went to the monastery of Scone where there was a hunk of rock called the Stone of Destiny.  Supposedly this had been hauled over from Ireland (remember, the folks who came over from there to Scotland in Roman times were the Scoti), and ever since had been used in the coronation of Scottish kings.  So, Edward swipes the Stone in order to lessen the legitimacy of any future Scottish rulers.

And, to add insult to injury, has it built into the bottom half of his throne.  This throne, the Coronation Chair, appears in the recent Academy Award winner, The King’s Speech, where Lionel is lounging rather insolently in it.

Anyway, the polite version is that Edward did this to demonstrate how he was ruling “over” the Scots.  But, domestic plumbing not varying much from age to age, the resemblance to a commode was not accidental, and Edward himself sometimes referred to the Stone of Scone as “the turd”.  See why I suggest not mentioning him around Scots?

The Coronation Chair has been used in the crowning of British Monarchs ever since.

Now, as to the Stone.

Some say the monks swapped a fake in before it was confiscated.  Then hid the original too well, as later Scottish rulers never found it.  Back in the 1950s it was stolen by some Scottish university students who managed to evade the authorities for quite a while.  Some again claim a copy was made and the original hidden.

But for sure the Stone is now in Scotland somewhere, a few years back it was officially returned there in recognition of the partial autonomy of Scotland.  They have now you see their own Parliament where they can gab on at tedious length on local issues among people who care about such and who can actually understand what they are saying.

OK, glad we have that all taken care of.

When we last visited England Edward III had just died.  This was also kind of the end of medieval England.  The constant drain of war in France and then the major crisis of The
Black Death was just too much.  For the Feudal system to work everyone had to know their place and to stay in it.  Well, the plague carried off the swell and the humble alike, so you had manors with no peasants and peasants with no manors.  Or manners either, likely.

Old estates went fallow, the surviving workers wandered off to who knows where.  In a world suddenly short of labor of all sorts there was a great deal of upward mobility and individuals were, shockingly, able to demand more for their labors.  The whole unitary world view where the church and nobility working together kept all right with the world looked increasingly like a crock when at times it looked as if the world was actually coming to an end.

In any case, the world circa 1400 was a very different place.

By this time the Norman monarchy, now known as the Plantagenets, had pretty well run out of gas. 

Politically I can sum up roughly the next century in very short order.

Edward III had a lot of kids.  None of them seemed to hold a candle to him as a monarch, but they in turn also had a lot of kids.  This generated a very large cadre of political schemers who eventually split up into two factions, the Lancasters and the Yorks.

Each of these factions had a badge or symbol, featuring a rose.  One was white the other red.  The all out warfare that eventually ensued between these two factions was The Wars of the Roses.  It is one of those events that even history junkies, of which I consider myself one, find impenetrable.

Eventually a guy named Henry Tudor, who was a shirt tail relative of the existing royal line, was victorious.  He being a Lancaster decided that it would be a good idea to make peace by marrying a daughter of one of the defeated Yorkist party.  Thus in 1485 Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor dynasty.

So adios to the Norman/Plantagenet line of kings, they had a pretty good run.  Within a decade the entire European world view would be changing.  The Age of Discovery was already underway, and Columbus was waiting in the wings.

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