Friday, April 17, 2009

History 112: English Civil War (Q&A)

1. What do you think about Nostradamus' predictions? Wasn't Marie de' Medici the slightest bit angry/suspicious when he predicted her husband and son's death? Are these predictions simply vague enough that they could have applied to anything? Also how did he not get put to death for this kind of stuff?

Predicting the death of ruler was a common practice in astrology and prophecy. Many rulers, such as Urban VIII (the Pope who went after Galileo), had laws against predicting his death. This was part of the political culture of the day. If you are interested in the topic I suggest you look at Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic. The idea that astrological predictions are vague can easily be worked into the system of astrology itself. Astrology deals with the motion of the planets so it makes sense that it should only effect things in a very general way and that other factors (such as free will, prayer, or divine intercession) can play a role. A “scientific” astrologer will thus be very “skeptical” of the power of astrology and openly admit its limitations.

2. Having previously read "Leviathan" for a Political Theory class, both times I read the work, I got the sense that Hobbes considers the social contract to be all but completely necessary for human existence. How then is it said that he is an important architect of the social contract? One of the main features of social contract theory is the ability to void the contract by either party, government or people, and live by other means, as I have understood it.

Hobbes does not deny that people are physically capable of breaking the social contract. Hobbes could point to the English Civil as an example of the social contract breaking down. Hobbes would likely tell you that much of the world lives in barbarism without the social contract. While one could live without the social contract a person who chose not to would have to be insane, wicked or unbearably ignorant to do so. Wouldn’t you rather live under a Hobbesian police state than in 1994 Rwanda?

3. In Davies' book, it says that the Welsh had a much easier transition to becoming part of the greater British empire, and it makes no mention of opposition from the Welsh, so why was it so much easier for the nation of Wales to merge with England than it was for Ireland or Scotland to merge with England?

To this day Wales remains culturally very distinct from England. There is a Welsh language (it is part of the Celtic family of languages and is related to Gaelic, which is spoken in Ireland.) that is still in use, particularly in the rural parts of Wales. This culture clash goes all the way back to the early Middle Ages. The ancestors of the present day Welsh were the Britons, the ancient inhabitants of the land. Starting around the sixth century or so, Briton was invaded by a group of Germanic tribes known as the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons chased the Britons out of the eastern parts of the Island. From the Anglo-Saxons we get the name England (Anglo-land) and the Anglo-Saxon language became the ancestor of our English language. For more about Wales see John Davies’ Wales: a History.
Why did Wales not cause the same sort of problems for England that Ireland or even Scotland caused? The main reason for this is that Wales had no history of self government. Unlike Ireland and Scotland, there never was a country called Wales. Also Wales did not have the sort of religious clash with England that Ireland and Scotland had. Scotland was Presbyterian (Calvinist) so they had some difficulties with the Church of England and even fought some wars with it. Ireland is Catholic so they have been fighting the English up until the present day.

4. In sum, what were the major outcomes of the Glorious Revolution? I found Davies answers a little confusing.

The Glorious Revolution brought William and Mary to the throne and removed Mary’s father James II. Parliament did not like James II, mainly because he was Catholic, so they contacted James’ daughter, Mary, and son in law, the very Protestant Duke William of Orange and essentially told them that if they so chose to invade England from the Netherlands they would not object. William and Mary showed up in England with their army. (If you look on a map you will see that the Netherlands are just across the English Channel. You can get there in a row boat in good weather.) Parliament welcomed their Protestant saviors from the Netherlands. James II took a good look at the situation and fled to France where he died in exile. (I imagine that the family did not have too many Christmas get togethers after this.) William and Mary rule as king and queen though parliament has set a danger precedent; they have shown that they can and will remove monarchs as it suits their purpose. So, in essence, the true victor of the Glorious Revolution was Parliament.

5. The booked talked about the Glorious Revolution as being not so glorious and revolutionary. If that is the case then why is it called the Glorious Revolution?

The important question to ask is not whether the Glorious Revolution was glorious and revolutionary or not but who thought it was glorious and revolutionary and who did not. James II certainly did not think that this was glorious; he was betrayed by his own daughter and had his throne usurped from him. Catholics in England did not think that this was glorious; just when it seemed that a new dawn was breaking for them and they would finally be treated equally a new government has violently seized power on the platform of persecuting them. (Imagine how homosexuals in this country would feel if the Republicans were to run in 2010 on a platform of banning sodomy and win.) Of course if you are an English Protestant and a supporter of Parliament this is certainly a very Glorious Revolution. Things have “revolved” back to how they are “supposed” to be. Parliament is in power, there is a pair of Protestants on the throne and Catholics are having to flee back into the closet.
The dominant view that has come down to us has been that of the English Protestants hence we are in the habit of calling it the Glorious Revolution. As historians we have to recognize that the opinions of Catholics have equal validity. So when we talk about the Glorious Revolution we have to recognize that it was a “Glorious Revolution;” glorious for some people. Norman Davies, as a responsible historian, is bending over backwards to make sure that readers get the other side that has been neglected in traditional history.

6. In the Davies book it mentions the 'Whiteboy' gangs, what exactly where the Whiteboy gangs?

They were Irish radical groups in the eighteenth century, who defended rural farmers. The situation in Ireland is not good; the English are openly trying to stick to the Catholic majority and keep them down in every way possible.

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