The time has come to jump just over 3000 years to a more modern European monarch, Henry VIII of England. In yesterday’s post (under same title) we saw how the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten became embroiled in matters of “religion”, an experience shared by his remote successor. The situation in each country was in some respects different. In Egypt the gods were worshipped on a local/national basis. There were differences of opinion between monarchs and high priests, but other nations and foreign policy would not necessarily come into the picture. In Western Christian Europe at the end of the Middle Ages the situation was very different.
When the Roman Empire dissolved and disintegrated during the Dark Ages a unifying force remained – Christianity as embodied in the Western Catholic Church, under a Pope normally based in Rome. This was a civilizing influence under which the evolving states of Western Europe had their being. In theory such an arrangement could keep states on peaceful terms with one another and provide a means of settling differences under Christian principles. Unfortunately theory and practice do not always coincide. The Church became involved in a more militant role in international politics. The Crusades were an example of how war could become an acceptable policy. The Norman invasion of England had the sanction of the Christian Church, as had the later Norman-English incursion into Ireland. As time went on Popes and monarchs were often related to each other and family ties were important in international policy.
England, being an island, naturally had a strong “go it alone” preference. A feature of th 16th. century was the growing wealth and power of emerging nations. France and Spain were major players. But physically small states like England, the Netherlands, and North German states were taking advantage of new opportunities created by the discovery of America to expand their wealth and power. Manufacture and trade were not an invention of modern times! Henry’s father, Henry VII had in the interests of peace and goodwill with Spain arranged a marriage between his son Arthur and a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon. When Arthur died prematurely his younger brother Henry was expected to inherit his wife as well. (Such were royal marriages – more reminiscent of the cattle market than “Mills and Boone”).
Alongside this international and commercial scene were aspects of the Church. Henry VIII was a devout follower of religious practices. The Pope had awarded him the title of “Defender of the Faith”, which he retained to the end of his life – he was in no way a “Protestant”. But there was one aspect of the Church with which Henry did not agree. This was not theological but more administrative – namely the function of the Church as an international body with influence over international relations. England, like other emerging powers was developing an independent outlook. Matters came to a head when Henry responded to pressure from his advisors to remarry and hopefully produce a male heir, which was felt to be vital for England’s continued existence and safety. Since this would break the marriage-based alliance with Spain this was not acceptable to Church policy – or international policy.
Another aspect of the religious set-up was the monastic system. The enormous benefits brought to Europe by the civilizing influence of the monasteries were beginning to be looked at differently as the system was in a process of decline, no longer so necessary and not performing well. But another factor was that monastic administration rested in the hands of authorities in Rome. This went against the growing independent outlook prevalent in England. A third factor, which we have already mentioned in the case of Akhenaten was that the monastic establishments were wealthy and were endowed with large areas of land, which the monarch could use to buy loyalty from his supporters. This entailed a break with the Pope, as representing the international aspects of the Church.
Here a comparison with Akhenaten is timely. Henry had no major quarrel with the Church’s theology. Akhenaten on the other hand created a new theology, the worship of the Sun – Aten. Henry brought the system of churches, clergy, bishops, under his control, making the religious system in England subject to the Crown.. Akhenaten’s changes were of similar nature except that he abolished the traditional deities and replaced them with one God. The system worked in England – the main clash between Church and State in England which springs to mind is the fall of Archbishop Laud in Charles I’s day to parliamentary pressure. It worked because for years afterwards religious practices remained stable . Eventually in England Protestantism gained ground, and in the 1640’s Puritanism emerged for a time as a religious force. In Egypt a conservative people, while accepting apparently the Pharaoh’s system, returned to traditional practices as soon as the monarchy changed. So “hasten slowly” would appear to be the motto where religious changes were contemplated.
An interesting example of an attempt to introduce a new religion occurred in the course of the French Revolution when the government introduced for a time worship of “The Supreme Being”. The traditional Church had already “fallen from grace” so to speak, and this was a palliative, which was short-lived.
Akhenaten’s revolutionary reforms may be a reason why during his reign Egypt was under aggressive pressure from neighbouring states, perhaps not because their religious concepts were being threatened but taking advantage of internal unrest which was bound to exist in Egypt. In the case of England the links between Henry’s break with the Church’s international influence and opposition from the other European states can be easily assumed. Yet too much can be made of “religion” here. Spain’s opposition to England in the years to come, culminating in the Spanish Armada episode in 1588 would have been more due to the clash between England and Spain in the American trade than religious doctrine. Religion is so often a convenient scapegoat for other more mundane issues like trade and commerce.
People tend to be sensitive – and conservative- when it comes to changes in belief and practice being imposed from above – and it does not only apply to religion. Henry and his daughter Elizabeth “kept the brakes on” in matters of religious change. Henry’s son Edward VI, (Tutankhamun’s opposite number), Henry’s daughter Maty Tudor, and later James II forced the pace of change and created serious unrest, as happened in the case of Akenhaten.
Another issue involved could perhaps be best described as sovereignty. We will be looking at that in the third part of this post. This is where international combinations for diplomacy or commerce fit in.
What could these all have to do with one another? Be patient, and you will find out. History is a continuous process, with each event producing consequences which spread far and wide, over time and space. Again, situations arise over the millennia in nations which produce similar responses and consequences. Human response doesn’t vary from age to age. Nor do the basic problems communities face over time and space change much either.
We have all heard of Tutankhamun, the boy-king whose tomb seems to be better known than the young ruler himself today. No doubt the shortness of his reign accounts to some extent for this. Similarly his father Amenhotep IV has been a shadowy figure with reaction to his rule depriving future generations of historians of a source of interesting material. Sometimes there is a reverse reaction to a ruler’s actions Henry VIII performed similar deeds, provoking a stormy reaction which has given “grist to the historian’s mill”ever since. Which is better – obscurity or notoriety? Perhaps Henry was less lucky because now everybody is an “expert”on his deeds, whereas the students of Akhenaten have had to do some hard work over a century or so. If I may be excused a side-step, both monarchs were followed by “boy-kings” of limited survival periods but this is perhaps purely coincidental! Edward VI, Henry’s son, had a weak chest – Tutankhamun on the other hand is still the subject of debate on the question of “Did he fall or was he pushed?”
In the case of both Amenhotep, or Akhenaten as he is probably better known, it was religion which loomed large in his story. Egypt in the period we are looking at – around 2000 BC – had a religious system with a whole range of national, international, provincial, local deities serviced by priests, administrators, servants, tenants, and possessing wealth, temples, hospitals, educational establishments. Many aspects of this would be familiar to folk in Henry VIII’s day too. It could be said that the Pharaoh, as well as being the titular ruler of the state, had a prime responsibility for the army, defence, law and order, taxation, social and economic issues etc. Christian Europe of the sixteenth century was not all that different. In both periods clashes occurred between the religious establishment and the state as embodied in the Pharaoh/King. In Europe there was only Christianity embodied in two main groups – Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Eastern Church. In Egypt there was a vast range of gods and goddesses ranging from powerful gods like Amun to humble household spirits. The temple set-ups of the great gods provided a challenge to temporal authority. Also it could well be felt that such a multiplicity of expressions of religious feelings could well be condensed into a simple faith headed by one supreme Deity.
Such a religious set-up however, greater even than that of Amun, could have immense influence over the state. Amenhotep tackled the problem by establishing himself as the founder of the new faith, its creator. The new religion was to be centered around the Sun, with the Pharaoh as its manifestation, so to speak. The monarch changed his title to Tutankhaten, in honour of the Sun God Aten. Temples of the old gods were closed – no doubt their immense assets “nationalized” (Wonder why Henry VIII springs to mind)? It is a pity that subsequent Egyptian rulers deprived us of much knowledge of how this was done because it sounds virtually unbelievable. Perhaps the traditional gods were losing their ground with the people – perhaps the combined personality of the Pharaoh and the heat of the Sun were deemed to be insuperable – perhaps taxes to one combined religious establishment were lower than hitherto (or am I being cynical)? Anyway the new system was established and survived the rest of Akhenaten’s reign – and he too survived!
Apparently there was an immense freeing-up of art and culture during this period. Akhenaten established a new capital city – Amarna – and there must have been a great “breath of fresh air” in what had been a stuffy and traditionalist Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that Akhenaten was acquainted with Moses, who was also an exponent of the concept of One God. There is however a lack of evidence to this effect. It could well be that there was an underlying feeling that the multiplicity of deities was becoming too complex generally. Akhenaten was less successful in areas like foreign policy and Egypt’s territories and influence shrank during his reign. His son Tutankhaten on inheriting power changed his title to Tutankhamun – an indication that his counsellors had restored the old religion headed by the great god Amun. Not surprisingly political chaos reigned supreme for years as the old ways were restored. The great new capital Amarna was literally razed to the ground, with the foundations only being discovered in recent years. (It would almost seem that one “modern”king, Louis XIV knew all this. He called himself the Sun King and images of the sun dominated Versailles as they had dominated Amarna all those years earlier).
TO BE CONTINUED———
In a recent post (Jan. 3rd.) we looked at the role ideals have played in historical events. Ideals evolve – they can be the culmination of the efforts of thinkers over thousands of years. We mentioned the concepts behind the English Civil War as being particularly significant in modern history, and not just in Europe. It was during this period (mid 1600’s) that the North American colonies were growing apace, and fretting under the heavy hand (relatively) of the mother country. So it is not surprising that in America by the mid 1700’s concepts of greater political freedom, less arbitrary rule, independence, were emerging. Philosophers abounded in the 18th. century – the “Century of Enlightenment”. Voltaire and Rousseau in France, Tom Paine in England were but a few examples. Concepts such as the Rights of Man, civil liberties, etc. were being thrashed out. By the 1770’s in America the die was cast and political discussion of ideals culminated in the use of force. Sad this – it is such fun to argue round the table over ideals – but there is another serious side of the coin when the ideals are taken seriously, and meet determined opposition. The resultant independent United States of America still broadcasts its ideals of that age to the world.
At the period in question France had a long-standing feud with England over trade, colonies and related matters, and somewhat perversely decided to throw in its weight with the American colonists, sending over armies to support the colonists, under such leaders as Lafayette. There was already in France a strong idealistic movement triggered by the writings of such thinkers as Rousseau and Tom Paine. Seemingly arbitrary royal rule, ill-treatment of the “lower orders” by nobility and Church, a desire for change, were opposed by a large element of “the powers that be”. Both officers and men who had sailed from France to support the American colonists often returned to France wondering what all the fuss was about in America – the situation was so much worse in France!
There is a romantic idea that the French Revolution occurred on July 14th. 1789 with the assault on the Bastille. In fact that event gained a lot of publicity in the media of the day. (You couldn’t trust the media then either!) The English poet Wordsworth reacted along the lines of – “WHAT BLISS IT WAS THAT DAY TO BE ALIVE – WHEN TO BE YOUNG WAS VERY HEAVEN”. But revolutions are not made nor are ideals achieved in a single day. As in England in the 1640’s it took several years before it had to be finally decided that the King was not going to reign as a constitutional monarch, and trial and execution proved the only alternative. As in England 150-odd years earlier internal dissent made strong government on military lines necessary to hold the country together, but in France the situation was exacerbated by the development of a concerted attack on the country by its neighbours, determined to reverse the spread of revolutionary ideals. Hence the rise of Napoleon, like Cromwell, the strong military man.
So “bye-bye” to high-flown ideals? Perhaps not – There is still hope. In both France (1815) and in England (1660) “Kings” were restored. But things were never the same again – England first and later France progressed to Parliamentary democracies, the latter emulating the former. The system spread and for all its defects is accepted by mature political societies world-wide.
Other countries have passed through parallel circumstances. Sometimes ideals flare up and fizzle out under outside force. In 1798 Ireland looked to be raising the French revolutionary banner of “Liberty, Equality. Fraternity” under French inspiration and support, but the movement died. Was America luckier than England and France in maintaining the momentum of its revolution? I think not – there was a form of delayed action until the American Civil War erupted in the 19th. century when issues connected with working out a “federal” system came ta head.
Hopefully mankind will never cease to have ideals. Achieving them can be a painful process. Perhaps it can be made less painful if we learn from the lessons of History – BUT WHO EVER “LEARNED FROM HISTORY?” (Now that could be a theme of its own).
In the course of history we are overwhelmed by chains of events. These events are generated by a wide variety of sources. Not a few have their origin in the emergence of ideals, springing from new conceptions of life – what it is – whether it could be changed – how it should be changed. A feeling of malcontent can produce a negative and destructive reaction. Such a reaction can be short-lived and easily put down. It can be a different story however when thinkers come forward and start working out exactly how and under what guiding principles changes can be made. It is here where ideas evolve into ideals, which need to be well ahead of action in order for an agreed unified thinking to precede action.
Half- formed ideals can be non-productive. Actions resulting from them can be inconsistent, and affairs can be in a state of flux and confusing change. This has been the case in many political upheavals over the centuries. Often issues are not simple, but embrace political, social, religious, economic and other aspects of life. Several sets of ideals juggling for space together can be, to say the least, confusing.
One such event was the English Civil War of the 1640’s. On the political front ideas were emerging that arbitrary rule by a non-representative few was not an perfect situation when actions were being taken which could be detrimental to many. Again, it was felt that an already-existing body, Parliament, was better equipped to manage affairs. It could be said that this concept had become an ideal. It was felt, by the way, that there was nothing inconsistent with this ideal working alongside a cooperative monarch.
However, when we create one ideal which affects an important area of life, parallel ideals will emerge to accompany it. Thus in England the ideal of political reform was accompanied in many peoples’ minds by long-standing thoughts of religious reform. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had evolved a centrally/nationally organised English Church still carrying features of the preceding externally controlled “Roman” Church. There was now a growing feeling among Protestants/Puritans that a more ideal religious system should be more democratic, non-hierarchical, not centrally organised, and not under control of the King. It is interesting we see a merging if both political and religious ideals. It is also worth keeping in mind that many people would favour retaining the religious system and changing the political one. Others would have thought the other way.
The next few years, with evolving ideals and concepts, were a nightmare in retrospect. The King failed to mould his ideals to the prevailing climate, suffering dethronement and execution. The existing Republic failed to become our modern concept of a “Parliamentary Democracy”. The Puritan system of thinking favoured “disintegration” of political authority rather than integration and central control – Democracy if you like but Democracy run riot. Cromwell, proponent of the ideal of Parliamentary Democracy, found it impossible to run the country consistently with a Parliament where every man had a voice – and used it. Cromwell eventually, finding things unworkable, had to sink his ideals and run the country without Parliament. Virtual military dictatorship followed – this is a very important point. In such situations where a chaotic system of ideas/ideals clash firm rule has to be imposed for the general welfare. A break-down in self-discipline leads to the imposition of external discipline. This is not an opinion so much as a statement of historical fact.
One fact I should mention here since it will emerge here in different form is that England was allowed to struggle through its mess without foreign invasion. The nations of Europe were dedicated to the Divine Right of Kings. Parliamentary control was unthinkable. Louis XIV of France was a major follower of the doctrine of Royal Prerogative. Yet he left England alone and seems to have accepted his “brother” Cromwell as England’s Head of State. There was no invasion of England by the massed armies of France, Austria, Spain, Italy etc. to restore the political and religious system. Contrast that with France after its Revolution some 150 years later. One may presume Louis had “other fish to fry” – and the English navy was never far away.
I don’t think it is fully realised how significant the English Civil War was in the history of Europe and indeed of the world. Ideals were evolved, which led to modern systems of Parliamentary Democracy. It certainly led to more examples of “History Repeats Itself”.
Subsequent examples we will look at briefly will include America, Ireland, Russia, with main emphasis on France and Napoleon The theme will be “ideals” – Are they good? Do they work? Can they be made effective? Ideals exist in the mind of man – how successfully can they be translated into reality – and action? A policy is described as “too unrealistic” – How do we correct that?