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The Great Historical Sandwich

by Dr. D. M. Stevens


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A frame-work of reference for students of history
(* indicates a "link": see end)

History is one of the most difficult subjects to grasp. There is so much material, so many dates and facts and people. However, once a frame-work is established, you can relate other pieces of history to it.

Now - on with the sandwich!

A sandwich is two slices of bread (with butter on them, if you are lucky) and something different between them. It need not be one thing: my favourite sandwich is raspberry jam and cheese. So, we are looking for something different in English history: when England was different from what it was before and what it was after.

Since England is a monarchy because it has a king of a queen, we look for a period of history when it wasn't a monarchy.

In the middle of the 17th century, England was a Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell - a republic. Here is the middle of our sandwich. Easy to remember: Cromwell + Commonwealth.

However, what is not always known is that there were two Cromwells*: Oliver and his son Richard. OR. So, when someone says "Cromwell", you reply: Which Cromwell, Oliver OR Richard?

When you learn a name on history, you should learn something about that name, whether it's a person or a place. So:

Cromwell was the general who never lost a battle. (Actually, there were some drawn battles - but none lost.) His Secretary of State was John Milton*, the poet who wrote Paradise Lost, and who wrote the most elegant Latin. Latin was the international language of the time, and Milton's correspondence was so well written that it impressed everyone on the Continent. It was at this time that England became known as a great nation. It must be, with a head of state who won all his battles, and a Secretary of State who wrote better Latin than anyone else!

Richard Cromwell lasted only a few months, when the monarchy was restored*. He was known as "Tumbledown Dick" as he was tumbled down from his high position easily.

That's the middle of the sandwich. The "bread" either side must be a king or a queen.

Before the Commonwealth was Charles I; after the Commonwealth, came Charles II. A wealth of Cs: two Cromwells sandwiched by two kings called Charles.

Charles I was the "accident-prone" king. If there was a mistake to be made, he made it. When he set up his standard to fight Cromwell, it promptly fell down. When he addressed his troops, his voice was so weak that only those closest to him could hear what he said. Not a good way to start a war. He was also stubborn: he believed firmly in the Divine Right of Kings - whatever the king did was right, even when it was wrong. When he was captured, he was well treated. He was held in Carisbrooke Castle (on the Isle of Wight) and was fed so well that, when he tried to escape, he couldn't get through the window. He was eventually beheaded: the first time that a monarch had been executed by the people (as represented by parliament)*.

Charles II, the "Merry Monarch" was brave, but not good. When the Great Plague* came to London in 1665, he refused to leave the capital. The next year (1666) saw the Great Fire of London, when the centre of London was burnt out. London had to be rebuilt, and several architects submitted plans, including Sir Christopher Wren. His plan was of a new, continental-style city, with large squares and broad avenues. A story is told that he ignored the Thames River, and so his plan was rejected. Be that as it may, London was rebuilt as before, but with stone or brick buildings this time - not wood. Wren was given the job of rebuilding the churches, including the new St. Pauls.

Thus far we have:

Charles I - Commonwealth: The Cromwells - Charles II

On either side of this came a James, I and II.

James I was Scottish, or the Stuart (or Stewart*) family. He was responsible for commissioning the Authorised Version of the Bible. But why should England have a Scottish king? The monarch before was Elizabeth, who never married and had no children. So it was necessary to find a king from somewhere, and her Scottish cousin was chosen. James was called by a Frenchman "the wisest fool in Christendom", and opinions are divided as whether he was wise or a fool. It was in his reign that the Pilgrim Fathers left on the "Mayflower" for America. The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt to blow up king and parliament and replace them by a Catholic government.

James II (the brother of Charles II) was the last Stuart king (but see later, Queen Anne), and was suspected of intending to make England a Catholic country. The Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion against him, but was defeated and executed. The next attempt was successful, by William of Orange, from Holland. James II fled, but attempted to fight back by landing in Ireland. Here again he was defeated by William, and this gave rise to the Orangemen (named after William of Orange) and Orange Day Parades in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

So now we have:

James I - Charles I - Commonwealth - Charles II - James II

Before James I was Elizabeth. She was the last of the Tudors.

The Tudors began with Henry VII, who won the Battle of Bosworth in 1485*. This was the last battle in that complicated piece of history called the Wars of the Roses, between the Houses of Lancaster and York. The important thing about the Tudors was that they all died in their beds. That is, they neither were executed or assassinated, nor died in battle. They gave stability and continuity to the country. This is why they all had popular support: even Queen Mary, although a Catholic, was preferred to her rivals, because she was a Tudor. It also explains the haste with which James I was brought from Scotland on the death of Elizabeth: they didn't want another Civil War like the War of the Roses.

Henry VII was of the House of Lancaster (the red rose of the Wars of the Roses, which is why the red rose is the symbol of England). He married Margaret of York (the Yorkist symbol was a white rose) and so united both sides of the Wars of the Roses. He was very careful about money, and there are Royal Accounts still in existence with a straggly H at the bottom of the page, where Henry made sure that the sums had been added up correctly. He had two sons: Arthur and Henry.

Henry VIII inherited the kingdom with a problem. His elder brother, Arthur, had been married to Catherine of Aragon, because Henry VII wanted an alliance with Spain against France, the most powerful country in Western Europe, and England's traditional enemy in the Hundred Years War. Henry VII had his son, Henry, marry Catherine of Aragon after Arthur's death. Henry and Catherine had a daughter, Mary. Centuries before, England had had a queen (instead of a king), Mathilda, and it had been a disaster, with one of the worst civil wars in our history. A queen, therefore, was likely to prove a bad monarch; a son was needed. This is the basic reason for Henry VIII's six wives*. The problem of Catherine of Aragon created the break with the Catholic Church as the Pope refused to grant a divorce*. Anne Boleyn gave Henry yet another daughter, Elizabeth. Eventually a son Edward, was born, and the succession was secure.

Edward VI was young when his father died. Therefore the country was run by two Protectors: The Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland. Under Henry VIII, England had broken with Rome, but not yet truly Protestant. This happened under Edward. Unfortunately, Edward died when he was sixteen.

Lady Jane Grey was put forward as the next queen, but she was not a Tudor and had little popular support. Mary was the next Tudor, and became queen.

Mary was a devout Catholic, and married Philip II of Spain.* Spain had colonised Central and Southern America, was a very powerful and rich country. It was also a very Catholic country, and the Inquisition put down, often by burning, all Protestants, real or suspected. Mary introduced this method into England, and Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, as well as others, including many poor people, were burnt at the stake. Philip of Spain, stayed only a short time in England for the wedding, and Mary was left to rule the country by herself. She hoped for a son, who would continue the work of bringing England back to Rome, but she had no children.

When she died, her sister Elizabeth became queen, and began one of the longest reigns in history, taking her into the 17th century. This was the age of great writers: Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney. Also England became fully independent from foreign influence, and developed a great navy, defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. Because she never married, she had a number of suitors. When the Polish ambassador suggested that she might like to marry the King of Poland*, she not only rejected the suggestion by telling him that she was a real ruler, not an elected king like the King of Poland, but she also corrected his Latin. The Emperor of Russia, Ivan the Terrible*, wanted to marry one of her maids-in-waiting, who was terrified of the idea. (Ivan had fits of ungovernable temper, in one of which he actually killed his own son), but Elizabeth refused to allow the marriage.

The Tudors:

Henry VII - Henry VIII, who had three children: Mary, Elizabeth, Edward. The son always inherited in preference to any elder sisters. So:


The three Tudor kings: 6, 7, 8. Edward VI, Henry VII, Henry VIII.

Now to the other end of the sandwich.

After James II came William III, as mentioned above. William's claim to the throne was through his wife, Mary, the eldest daughter of James II. Therefore, they became joint sovereigns: William and Mary. It was at this time that the rule was made that the monarch of England must be Protestant.

Queen Anne, the next ruler, was the last of the Stuarts. She was daughter of James II, and sister to Mary. She married Prince George of Denmark. The situation is the same as our present Queen Elizabeth married to Prince Philip. Anne had 17 children, all of whom died young. Therefore, like Elizabeth I, when she died, there was no heir, and the next king was a cousin from Hanover in Germany: George. If it is puzzling why George of Denmark or Prince Philip (or Queen Victoria's husband, Albert) did not become king, the explanation is that their wives out-ranked them: the wives are queens, and the husbands are only dukes.

Queen Anne reigned over the turn of the century: so for all but a few years at the beginning, in the eighteenth century we have kings of the House of Hanover, all of them called George.

George I was German, and spoke English badly. One of the features of his reign was the two Georges: George the king, and George the composer. Both came from Hanover. At this time, England was a very musical country, and the second George (George Frederick Handel*) visited England, liked it, and settled here. However, he was really the employee of the other George, and ought to have returned to Hanover. When his employer became king of England, Handel was worried. What would the new king say? So Handel wrote two pieces of music for his old employer, now king: The Water Music, to be played on the king's barges on the Thames, and the Royal Fireworks Music. George I enjoyed the music, and George the musician was back in favour. In 1715, the Stuarts, under the Old Pretender (James) tried unsuccessfully to regain the throne. This was the first Jacobite rebellion. (James is the same name as Jacob.)

George II is noted for being the last English king to lead his army into battle at Dettingen*. In 1745, under the Young Pretender "Bonnie Prince Charlie"), there was another more serious Jacobite Rebellion, but it failed. Neither rebellion had much chance of success: both Pretenders were barred from the throne because they were Catholics, and England by this time was a very Protestant country.

George III is well known for his bouts of madness and because his government lost the American Colonies. He was also known as "Farmer George" because of his genuine interest in farming, and his habit of wandering about incognito and visiting the poorer farms on his estates. His reign takes us into the 19th century.

George IV, the Prince Regent (known as "Prinny" - from "Prince"), was a dissolute man, although one has to admit that he was in a difficult situation He was Prince Regent during his father's bouts of madness, but had to relinquish his position each time his father regained his sanity. His virtue was that he was a very good judge of art, and the National Gallery owes its existence, and many of its excellent paintings to George IV.

This is far enough to give a broad frame-work from the late 15th century to the early 19th century, about three and a half centuries.

In summary:

Henry VII - Henry VIII: Edward, Mary, Elizabeth.
1485d. 1603
James I Charles I Commonwealth Charles II James II
These cover most of the 17th century
William & Mary - Anne
George I George II George III George IV
These four cover most of the 18th century go and into the early 19th century

Below are links (marked * above) that contain more details and links with other parts of history.

*Cromwell. The other British general who is said never to have lost a battle is Wellington, who fought, first in India and then in Europe against Napoleon. His most famous battle was Waterloo (1815). Unfortunately, there is another Cromwell, not Oliver, but Thomas. Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII's minister who supervised the Dissolution (= nationalisation) of the Monasteries.
The Civil War was fought between Charles I and the Cavaliers on one side, and the Roundheads (so called because they had short hair) under Cromwell and Fairfax.

*Milton is a very great poet. His Paradise Lost is a long poem (twenty-four "books" = sections). It begins in Hell with Satan and his fellow devils, moves to heaven, and finally arrives on Earth where it tells the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. However, the poem does not end sadly, for Eve, in a dream, has had the promise of the coming of Christ. It has many famous quotations, including the Satan's motto: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." Milton wrote it when he was blind, dictating it to his wife and daughters, during the reign of Charles II. Previously, during a tour of the Continent, he met Galileo, who was one of the fist astronomers to say that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth.

*The execution of Charles I is a landmark. He died very bravely, and some considered him (and still consider him today) as a martyr. His death was used as a justification for the French guillotining their King about 150 years afterwards, and for the murder of Csar Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks in the early 20th century.

*The Restoration (1660) was mainly peaceful. "Tumbledown Dick" obviously could not manage the situation, and England is a "natural" monarchy. The people were also tired of the restrictions of Puritanism, like the abolition of Christmas. The Restoration also brought a curious regulation, which is still in force. Charles II, while in exile in France, had noticed that the French traffic was much better regulated than that of his own country, because the French always drove on the left, whereas in England you drove where you wanted to, and therefore there were plenty o accidents. When he became king, he made it a rule that everyone should drive on the left. Napoleon, who hated everything English, made France (and all the countries it invaded or conquered) drive on the right because the English drove on the left. In the Far East, traffic goes on the left. The left is the logical side, because most people are right-handed; going of the left, it is easier to shake hands with someone you meet, or to fight them with your sword. Charles II had long, curly, dark hair and a swarthy coimplexion. Any public house called The Black Boy is named after Charles II.

*The Great Plague was the last outbreak of the Black Death that came to England in the 14th century. It travelled by ship, and was worst in ports. Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) had only one death. It came from the East and was carried from the Black Sea by Genoese ships to the ports of the Mediterranean. Then it moved up the Atlantic coast and arrive din England near Weymouth. From there it spread rapidly, and in a few years one third of the population had died from it. At the height of the summer of 1666, one thousand people were dying every week. The end of the plague was in Algiers (North Africa) in the early 18th century. It is also called the Bubonic Plague, and there are still small outbreaks of it, mainly in Asia.

*The Stewarts were originally stewards of the king of Scotland. When the royal line came to an end, a Stewart became the next king. James I was also James VI of Scotland. Charles I did not need another number because there had been no Charles who was king of Scotland. When James became king of England, the two countries had been united for nearly a century. Strictly speaking, Elizabeth, our present queen is Elizabeth II of England and Wales, but only Elizabeth of Scotland, since the first Elizabeth was not queen of Scotland.

*The Old Pretender was the only son of James II, and styled himself James III. He landed in Scotland, but soon left again. His son, Charles Edward Stewart was the Young Pretender, raised a formidable army, and marched into England. However, disagreements among the members of his staff, the failure of the French to invade, and the obvious reluctance of the English to support his cause, caused him to lose heart and retreat. His last battle was at Culloden, in Scotland, and he escaped to the Continent. Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped gives an accurate picture of Scotland a few years after Culloden.

*The Battle of Bosworth is the beginning of modern history in this country (as opposed to mediaeval history). Henry Tudor won the battle, and therefore became king, as some historians say, because all the other possible kings had been killed during the Wars of the Roses.

*Henry VIII's six wives were: Catherine of Aragon (Spanish), Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour (mother of Edward IV), Anne of Cleves ("German"), Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr.
Divorced , beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
Catherine Parr, a most devout woman, was mainly responsible for bringing up the young Edward.
The Tudors all died "in their beds"; that is they were not killed in battle or assassinated. This is a great contrast to the previous century when death in battle or assassination was the normal end of a king.

*The divorce of Catherine of Aragon was "The King's Great Matter". Much depended on whether it was legal to marry his brother's wife. Universities in England and on the Continent were consulted, and most were in favour of the divorce. The Pope, however, was not, although he had previously granted a divorce to the King of Portugal. The situation was not only the problem of having a male heir, but who was going to rule England, and Henry, a very popular king, had the support of the English people. The Pope's position had been weakened by the Continental Reformation under Luther. Moreover, even most of the universities in Italy agreed with Henry.

*Philip of Spain ruled the largest empire in the western world: Sapin, Portugal, The Netherlands (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg). It had been even larger, including Germany, Austria, and parts of Italy. This was the famous Hapsburg Empire, the one empire that was not acquired by war, but by marriage, and also by the right people dying at the right time by natural deaths. Charles V, a Fleming (from the non-french speaking part of Belgium), found himself heir to this enormous territory. It was too large to survive. Before his death it had broken in two: the western part going to his son, Philip, and the eastern part to his brother, Ferdinand. This eastern part became the "Holy Roman Empire", which lasted up to the time of Napoleon.
The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was elected by rulers of certain parts of the Empire; these were called "Electors" and the George who became George I of England was the Elector of Hanover. This system of election was a great advantage to Luther, because the Emperor had to have the support of his Electors, and some refused to support him if he imprisoned Luther, who was thus left more or less free to complete the work of the Reformation in Germany.
Either Charles V had a speech impediment or his Flemish accent prevented him from speaking Spanish properly. As King of Spain, he lisped. What the king does, everybody does. The nobles imitated the king, and to this day, a soft "c" or "z" in Spanish is pronounced "th". (izquierda - "left": ithkee-airda)

*The King of Poland was elected by the nobles, and had so little power that one o fhte kings, Henry, when his brother Charles, King of France died (1574), eagerly become Henry III of France, leaving Poland to choose another king.
Poland's difficulty is that it has no natural boundaries - no large rivers or mountains. In east, it is sometimes impossible for the people even to-day to know whether they are in Poland or in Russia. Thus, it is an easy country to invade.

*Ivan the Terrible reigned for over fifty years, being a young child when he became emperor. The connection with England was trade, and the offer to Elizabeth of marriage by the King of Poland was to counteract her interest in trading with Russia. Ivan's later years were an orgy of mass and individual murder, from peasant to high church officials, and it is not surprising that Lady Mary Hastings, Elizabeth's maid-in-waiting, was terrified by the prospect of marrying such a monster. After his death began in Russia what historians call "The Time of Troubles", with several popele claiming to be the rightful emperor. This period did not end until Peter the Great became Emperor of Russia in the same year that William and Mary became joint sovereigns of Britain (1689).

*Handel was born in the same year as Bach. His best-known work is Messiah, which has remained popular ever since. Both were sincere Protestants, and both went blind in later years. They came at the end of the Baroque period of music, which was followed by the rococo style of Haydn and Mozart.

*Dettingen. At first, it seems strange that England should have been involved in a war that mainly was about who should be Emperor (or Empress) of Austria. What must be remembered is that the King of England was also the ruler of Hanover in northern Germany, and the first two Georges were often more interested in Hanover than in England. As far as Hanover was concerned, the two dangers were France (to the south) and Prussia (to the east). Therefore, when Austria was threatened by either (or both), it was natural for the Elector of Hanover to side with Austria. The Battle of Dettingen was with the French, and was won by the personal bravery of George II and by the discipline of his troops.

The Great Historical Sandwich
by Dr. Donald Stevens
01st April 2004


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