St Petersburg – The Morning After (Travel Writing)

I woke up on the banks of the compassionless Neva River with my clothes torn asunder and surrounded by several smashed bottles of Stolichnaya Vodka. I attempted to lift my barely functioning body into a standing position deterred by the vivacious sunlight now pompously making its way into the sky above. Without warning I was ferociously shoved back down onto the jagged tomblike rocks by the butt of an AK-47 Rifle. An incensed Russian Police officer stood before me, clearly unhappy with my sleeping arrangements; I struggled to remember what had happened the night before…

While laying on the cold ruthless concrete floor of the police station my memory began to return but before I could paint a picture of the night before a nauseating image invaded my mind. An absurdly overweight Russian guardsman, not knowing he was being watched, began to climax onto the screen of his security monitor setup; he then rudely collapsed onto the ground smashing his head into the bars of my reticent cell. I seized this opportune opportunity to take his keys and make my emphatic escape through a back door hoping no one noticed.

I made it halfway to Moskovsky railway station before I realised that my clothing was deficient, I had drunk so much Vodka the night before that I was still shitfaced, unable to fully comprehend the world around me, or walk for that matter. I collapsed backwards though a large rotten fence where two Australian sex tourists, Henry and Lois found me lacerated with large splinters protruding from my buttocks, they took me to a nearby hospital to recover. That night my sleep was plagued with flashbacks of my time in Korea, in the agency, I’ve had too many close calls in hospitals and it was the last place I wanted to be. The next day I took the clothes that Henry and Lois had given me and exited the premises via the roof where I commandeered a state helicopter and headed to Finland.

TBC

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Nihilism – An Explanation

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Preface

Nihilism is a complex system of belief and as a Nihilist I believe it’s my duty to discuss what it actually means to be a Nihilist. During this article I will provide a definition for Nihilism and what it means to Nihilists in a post-modern context. I don’t intend this article to be expansive or esoteric; this is for the average Joe Blogs, not a philosophy major. Before I begin I also want to make clear that Nihilism was not created by me but rather by historical figures my academic superior, notably Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

Definitions

Nihilism is ambiguous and it can be difficult to reach an objective definition. Here are some definitions; all of them are relevant to some extent:

  • The complete rejection of human self-importance
  • The belief that the universe operates as a logical complex where ‘meaning’ isn’t applied to anything
  • There is no absolute truth and claimed truths are merely projections of the human ego
  • There is only meaningless reality

Reconciling Nihilism

During debates of philosophy and religion the issue of meaning often comes up. I’m often led to believe that meaning is somehow necessary for human existence. As Nihilists we reject meaning completely. You may then ask what the point of existence is if there is no meaning in the world. As Nihilists we replace meaning with the reality of order and the complete solace and inner peace that accompanies this realisation. Knowing that the universe is a consistent behemoth, something that doesn’t pander to or is defined by the sum of its parts is a peaceful thought and something I can be fully accepting of.  On a subjective note I’ve always seen creating meaning as the easy way out, throughout human history we’ve applied meaning to everything to satisfy our own ego. It’s inherent in the human condition that we have to ‘mean’ something, that’s why Nihilism can be so frightening for many.

I want to talk about how Nihilism interacts with our lives. I must firmly establish that Nihilism is non-confrontational. A Nihilist does not feel the need to convince others to covert to the Nihilist belief system because he/she is at peace with themselves; they have reconciled their being on this earth. Because of this Nihilism very rarely comes into conflict with organised religious belief systems, I fear that in the future though it will due to the fact Nihilism advocates non-belief which is the complete opposite of belief. Nihilist critics often make the mistake of connecting Nihilism with political anarchism, the rejection of morality, and the idea that Nihilists can do whatever the hell they want with a clear conscious, this is an erroneous assumption. Nihilists believe that morality is not set in stone, right and wrong is relative and it changes and responds to the needs of people but it is important for Nihilists to live within the system, that’s because the ‘system’ is logical, it is a causal reality. Furthermore I don’t think anyone would want to live a life ostracized and outcast from society. As animals we have psychological and physiological needs and the best way to fulfil these needs is to live within society surrounded by other human beings, this fulfills our potentialities. Even though we reject value systems (what is important when living), primarily because they are based around the importance of human existence (religious systems are a great example) we do not take action against them because we have nothing to replace those value systems.

On a lighter note I want to talk about human issues. The beauty about Nihilism is that we can look at every issue that arises from the top down and not feel crushed by an unwanted conclusion that may arise out of any issue because it really doesn’t matter in the end. I will use the example of religious issues once again. For thousands of years people have debated the nature of Jesus, of God, and other deities. As Nihilists it’s so comforting knowing that we don’t even have to engage in those issues, philosophically we cannot because we believe that there is no meaningful conclusion to anything. I often feel quite smug when sitting down and listening to or watching someone argue over the existence of God, the place of faith in the world, of morality or any number of different things. I think to myself “that used to be me”. Now religious issues are not even there, they are so insignificant for a Nihilist. We do not even engage with the issue of God because we do not need to. It is a beautiful unburdening feeling.

The final point I want to cover is the metaphysical aspect to Nihilistic belief. Even though we believe in meaninglessness, there is no certainty that meaninglessness is the philosophical endpoint. There is always that ever-present excitement of what lies beyond physical death. For me Nihilism is a pathway to something else, it’s as far as human intelligence and philosophy can proceed now. Whether scientific advancement will change anything in the future is uncertain. There could be a ‘eureka’ moment in human science that will change everything.

In conclusion Nihilism does not bring radical change to human society due to its almost apathetic nature but it does give adherents some measure of peace. The belief in the reality of order is a beautiful feeling; the Nihilist belief system requires nothing of you, you don’t have to apply meaning to anything. For me I find this reality very liberating and having now discovered Nihilism I would never trade it for the rigours of theistic belief and the demands placed upon the lives of theistic adherents. So go and live life on your terms. The reality of savouring the taste of a fine wine, the thrill of zooming around a racetrack, the pleasures human embrace, these things are all more important than what might or might not be waiting for us after death.

Problems with Nihilism and Rebuttal

  1. Issue: Dealing with the nature of universal order. Nihilist’s Answer: Order can be proven through scientific principles such as natural selection. Science is excellent proof of order, the realisation that we’re nothing but a product of scientific order and not grand design.
  1. Issue: There is no right and wrong, just cause and effect. Nihilist’s Answer: What we perceive as morality and ethics are inevitable consequences of human interaction. Nihilists don’t necessarily reject morality; they simply rebrand it into something more logical. Nihilists don’t think it’s ok to go around killing people because that behaviour isn’t the ‘logical’ cause and effect conclusion of human interaction. Nihilists live by a moral code as logical consequence not divine authority or anything else.
  1. Issue: Saying nothing of value is a paradox because it is in itself a value statement. Nihilist’s Answer: The best argument against that is that it is not a value statement but rather a factual statement therefore negating the notion of a paradox.
  1. Issue: What is the point of anything? Nihilist’s Answer: “The universe may be pointless when measured using human values but this is because the universe didn’t come into existence for human enjoyment. Rather, human life adapted to fit pre-existing conditions that the universe already contained. The universe exists independently of human life – the natural order is not anthropocentric. Many times we get the ‘wrong’ answer because we ask the ‘wrong’ question. We shouldn’t ask “why is everything pointless” but instead “why do we believe it’s pointless?”[1]

Glossary

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – German philosopher of the 19th Century critical of religion, morality, culture and philosophy

Esoteric – Meant for a specific academic audience

Anarchism – Abolition of order e.g. Government

Philosophy – Study of the nature of knowledge, reality and existence

Apathetic – Showing no interest or concern for anything

Theistic – Believing in God or Gods, higher powers

Paradox – Self-contradictory or false proposition

Endnote

I have bolded certain phrases that are important and also included a glossary for a few words and names that are academic. This article is not expansive and could be a lot more complicated but I wouldn’t achieve much more by saying the same thing again in a more complicated way. I have drawn on the ideas of others to compliment and amalgamate with my own ideas; I have referenced my influences at the bottom. Nihilism is extremely difficult to reconcile and define so I will be continuously in the pursuit of new ways of explaining Nihilism. This article will not be set in stone; as arguments, issues and criticisms about Nihilism arise I will try my best to rebuttal and discuss these.

Influences

Centre for Nihilism and Nihilist studies, updated 2011, <http:www.nihil.org> [accessed 12 April 2012]

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885)

Welcome to More about Nihilism, updated 2011, <http:www.nihilists.net> [accessed 12 April 2012]

Freydis, The Guide to Nihilism, updated 2012, < http://www.counterorder.com&gt; [accessed 13 April 2012]


[1] Freydis, The Guide to Nihilism, updated 2012, < http://www.counterorder.com&gt;

M Spake

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World War Two, Why?

Abstract

The years 1939 – 1945 bore witness to the worst of humanity, cruelty on an epic scale, something unheard of before this time. The cruelty though was of another sort, it was a racial and ethnic hatred born out of fierce competition between imperialist nations. To get definitive causes for World War Two we have to move beyond this, to examine the nature of human competition and struggle at its source, ourselves and more specifically the workings of human societies.

This article will attempt to prove that World War Two was about more than just imperialist tension, but human need, ambition, hatred and pride. The Japanese Empire, unable to resource their growing population decided to take what they needed from Manchuria, they began to hate the Manchurian populace, if only to justify their actions to themselves. Nazi Germany, completely swept away by pride and drunk on the machinations of a despotic madman found itself at the throat of 20th Century Europe.

Technological Explosion

The Industrial Revolution was a double sided coin in many respects. It allowed nations to finally realise their desires for expansion, steam powered ships and new methods of warfare allowed the imperial nations of Europe to expand outwards and ‘colonise’ large parts of the world in a way that was never before possible. There were of course consequences; a large overseas empire requires vast resources to sustain and keeping those vital trade routes open are more important than ever. The inevitable outcome of all this is fierce competition between nations and empires, this is in large part what led to the outbreak of World War I. World War II was very much a continuation of that ‘imperialist conflict’ but the second great war of the 20th Century would be fought over ideologies. Where dreams of expansion previously took precedence, the popularization of class struggle, racial homogeneity and domination were now becoming the flavour of mid 20th Century thinking. It’s important to note at this point that World War II, despite being driven by these new ideals was still very much at the mercy of imperialist tensions left over from World War I.

The interregnum of 1918 – 1939

This period is often seen as one of relative growth, harmony and consolidation. Perhaps on the surface this may be true but to maintain this view on closer inspection would demonstrate ignorance. The once great British Empire was in decline, allowing other nations to fill its place in the world. The onset of World War II would finish the British completely and begin the Suez Syndrome that would ultimately consume the entire British Empire. What’s interesting about the British involvement in World War II was that their involvement was not motivated by a racial hatred like the Japanese and German factions. I would put this down to the fact that they were scrambling to secure what they already had, which was a lot. Racial hatred had already been spilled during the four hundred years of British racial dominance and to repeat the mistakes of the past would have been unwise. Japan and Germany however with growing resource demands and equally exuberant ambitions looked scornfully over at those who they saw as squatting on the fuels of empire, Jews, Chinese and anyone else who got in their way. For the Japanese it began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria. The invasion of Manchuria saw some of the most brutal war crimes in human history, most notably the Rape of Nanking where Japanese soldiers raped every woman in the city including girls and elderly, no-one was spared. The whole invasion was in itself a demonstration of how ineffective the League of Nations was in its attempts to stall Japanese aggression.

German racial hatred was to come next, driven by Adolf Hitler a man with an insatiable dislike of Jews, a race of people he saw as the root of all problems for the world and for Germany. By 1939 and the outbreak of World War II in proper this had translated into the Holocaust an event that would see seven million Jews put to death over the next five years. Hitler’s hatred extended not only to Jews but also to Eastern Europeans, Poles in particular who he saw as usurpers that were living on Prussian land. The German policy of Lebensraum was the practical arm of this hatred which aimed to displace Eastern Europeans to free up space for Germans.

Hitler’s personal contribution to the outbreak of World War II is also very important. His innate ability to capture the admiration of a nation in a weakened state, burdened by war debt and crushing shame almost ensured some sort of ideological and physical confrontation. History shows this to be true as all attempts to appease Hitler failed miserably, men like Neville Chamberlain tried to slow Hitler’s expansion during the Munich conference of 1938 but it was indeed false hope. Hitler’s aggression slowly began to break down European stability. From the re-occupation of the Rhineland to the deployment of the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil war and the occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia the outbreak of War became ever more likely. Hitler is an interesting figure in that he doesn’t conform to other likely causes of World War II; he was quite simply a sociopath, a man who fell victim to his own prejudices and then took advantage of a nation in need of strong leadership.

This period also gave birth to another type of hatred, ideological hatred. One rivalry in particular stands out to me, that of Fascism and Communism. Communism in Germany had been suppressed by Hitler’s fascists but in the Soviet Union Communism was alive and well, the latter being rather debatable. In any case a rivalry existed and propaganda defacing one and promoting the other was rife. Despite an uneasy truce, tensions exploded in 1941 and a fight to the death ensued leading to the downfall of fascism, a unique system of national pride which I don’t think has been sufficiently exploited. Communism however, the victor of the great rivalry was put to the test, a test which it failed miserably taking Eastern Europe down with it. I think it’s also important not to discount the impact Fascism and Communism had on World War II and the causes thereof.

Fascism, National Pride and Dominance

I mentioned earlier how I thought Fascism could be exploited further; it was by any standards an impeccable economic system however 21st Century enlightenment would be quick to denounce its social convictions. This is because Fascism derives its power from national pride; pride of course is one of humanities most destructive sins which led to the Holocaust and various other lamentations of racial and global dominance. This also leads to economic dominance; people feel so good about their country that they want to work, they are motivated to help their nation succeed which isn’t necessarily a good thing. National pride leads to aggression and was a large instigator for World War II and there are a few examples during the 1930’s in particular, Mussolini who wanted to create a new Roman Empire (from which the term evolved during the 1920s), Franco’s Spanish Civil War and of course Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. In saying that, if there was ever a way to emulate the economic success of Fascism, absent of the social disadvantages then I would recommend an amended version of Fascism to any government. With that in mind you also have to combat the stigma and association between Fascism and the Holocaust which isn’t entirely fair but holds some truth if we deal with Fascism in its barest and corrupted form.

In any case Fascism’s contribution to the outbreak of World War II cannot be denied; Fascism managed something that historical dictators had been trying to achieve for thousands of years. That was to magnify national convictions and beliefs to a point where the said nation was a force to be reckoned with. The issue with this new found strength is that it burns itself out rather quickly, ambition, a product of Fascism is a dangerous thing and World War II is the perfect metaphor for the dangers of national ambition.

Communism, War on affluence

The brainchild of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 manifesto, Communism advocated class warfare. Communist utopia would be a world where initially the proletariat waged war on the wealthier classes, a world where everyone is paid according to their labour and need. Visionaries such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky tried and failed to create a Communist utopia and their successors such as Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and later Leonid Brezhnev had even less success. Communism would lose the confidence of the Soviet Union and crumble in 1989 but in the years leading up to World War II this was a very different story. During the 1930s Communism, or at least the more corrupted form of Communism, Stalinism, held the confidence of the Soviet populace. This confidence would be desperately needed during World War II itself when the people of the Soviet Union would rally so readily to the call to war.

The problem was that Communism was inherently violent as well; after all it did advocate class warfare. I have a book in my personal collection that details the extensive military writings and theories of Mao Tse Tung from about 1928 onwards. He advocates a very aggressive military policy against the white (the class) landowners throughout. Fascism was of course a complete abomination in the eyes of true Communists and Stalinists despite sharing some similarities which I won’t cover here.

M Spake

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James I and associated divers

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ames VI of Scotland was exactly the kind of stability England needed, someone that could step into the shoes of his predecessor Elizabeth I, a monarch who had placed great emphasis on the stability of her realm. Any less from James and the results could be disastrous. Even so James met competition from only one person, Arabella Stuart, someone with no support bar the Elizabethan adventurer Walter Raleigh. Arabella’s claim was defeated and Raleigh sent to the tower. James’ claim to the throne was secured. His rule was to be defined by the pursuit of peace, his motto ‘Beati Pacific’ (Blessed are the peacemakers) is distinct to James and was a considerable hint to the populace of his intentions.

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he King James Bible of 1611 has become synonymous with James and his reign due to its significant impact on England and the world in general, even to the present day the King James Bible arouses great admiration. James deserves more though, simply because his achievements both bravura and forgettable cover all facets of his reign. On ascending to the throne James, through his chief minister Robert Cecil, signed the Treaty of London ending the Armada war with Spain that had placed great demands on England’s finances leaving James with a £300, 000 deficit to deal with.

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ames, with the view that England was the land of milk and honey got a rude shock when faced by a strong English Parliament that was unenthusiastic about funding James’ enormous expenditure on seemingly frivolous things such as the double supper. An invention of the Earl of Carlisle, James Hay, the double supper consisted of laying out an extraordinary twenty courses which were simply thrown away before they could be eaten and replaced by an even greater meal. This kind of image was propagated among the political nation and did a lot to destroy the careful image of monarchy that Elizabeth had built up throughout her reign; she would have been turning in her grave. James idolized splendour and opulence; it was the opium of the Jacobean court.

T

he Lord Treasurer Thomas Sackville (Fill – Sack) who built a reputation of corruption completely failed to reign in James’ spending and his successor Robert Cecil was the only one during the early stages of James’ reign who gained at least limited success in this facet government. Cecil managed to raise a further £200, 000 for the royal treasury through unpopular means such as the Court of Wards. Cecil also made the unwise decision to sell off crown assets and land worth £600, 000, this short term fix wiped out rents from crown lands which would be sorely needed during the reign of Charles I. It highlights the dangers of selling income earning assets for governments in the modern age.

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he first fifteen years of James’ reign is dominated by issues of finance and the ‘Great Contract’ of 1610 would be the pinnacle of Cecil’s ministerial life. It was revolutionary in many ways, most notably for its capacity to transform royal finance and the nature of English monarchy itself. Cecil proposed that the monarch would give up the right to ‘Feudal Dues’ (Purveyance and Wardship) in exchange for a lump sum to pay off Royal Debt, additionally the Commons would pay the King a regular sum of £200, 000 per year to cover the loss of Feudal Dues. The plan fell through and ended Cecil’s career when the chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Julius Caesar claimed that Cecil had his ‘sums wrong’. James lost confidence and demanded another £2oo, 000 from Parliament which they flatly refused. In 1612 Cecil died, a man whose talents had been squandered by James and made fun of due to his hunched over posture, “My little beagle that sits by the fire”.

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arliament was dismissed in 1610 and not called again until 1614, it came to be known as the ‘Addled Parliament’ due to the fact it achieved nothing. The Parliament conducted some disorganized attacks on James’ court and also presented some petitions against James’ new impositions. James’ attitude was summed up in his conversation to the Spanish Ambassador Count Gondomar:

 “The House of Commons is a body without a head. The members gave their opinions in a disorderly manner… I am surprised my ancestors should have ever permitted such an institution to come into existence. I am a stranger [here] and found it when I arrived, so I am obliged to put up with what I cannot get rid of.”

T

he Addled Parliament was dissolved and James didn’t summon another one until 1621, in the meantime two significant events would take precedence over everything else, the Cockayne Project of 1615 – 17 and the Overbury scandal of 1615 – 16. In short the Overbury scandal was an affair between the favourite Robert Carr and Lady Essex the wife of the son of Robert Devereaux who would later become a Parliamentary general in the civil war. Sir Thomas Overbury who had been happy to arrange the affair was not enthused about the proposed marriage of the two. James himself was also implicated as he rigged the courts so that the Essex’s could be divorced. Overbury, threatening to release the details of the affair was offered an ambassadorship abroad by James, he refused. Overbury was imprisoned and then poisoned by Lady Essex. She was found out; the new happy couple were imprisoned and charged with murder however they were both pardoned by James. Rochester however lost favour with James and faded into the background, replaced by George Abbott’s George Villiers. The whole image of the Royal Court was also further degraded.

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t this time the Lord Treasure Suffolk who was woefully incompetent oversaw the deficit on ordinary income grow to £160, 000 by 1616. Alderman Cockayne had a solution. Cloth was England’s biggest export and Cockayne proposed finishing the cloth in England and then exporting it for a greater profit. The Englishman lacked the skills to finish the cloth and the entire cloth trade had been decimated by 1618, just as the thirty years war was beginning to get going. James, who had endorsed the Cockayne project was never trusted by the City of London merchants ever again and would find his requests for loans falling on deaf ears.

1618 saw the beginning of George Villiers’ (Duke of Buckingham) control of the Royal Court. He was so powerful that everyone had to defer to him and gain his affection to get anywhere. He was also in complete control of patronage, titles, honours and offices of profit were handed out by Villiers to those in his favour.  There are several scandals surrounding Villiers including the suspicion that he was James’ secret lover. During Charles’ reign he was targeted by Parliament but Charles shielded him by dismissing several Parliaments.

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ionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, became the Lord Treasurer in 1621, in many ways he was the most efficient and realistically minded of James’ ministers. He knew that James’ expenditure needed to be cut in order for the crown to live within its means, he also opposed war with Spain, mindful of the costs of war, because of this stance he would lose his position in 1624.

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n 1623 James’ son Charles and his sole favourite the Duke of Buckingham journeyed to Spain to secure the marriage of Charles to the Spanish Infanta. The whole idea was unpopular with both the English and the Spanish; Charles was detested by the Infanta and the talks quickly broke down, Buckingham was hated by the Spanish authorities who petitioned for his executed and James was taken aback by the £100, 000 cost of the expedition. Charles and Buckingham with damaged egos were gunning for war with Spain; the wise King James saw the weaknesses in Charles’ foreign policy and his concerns would be confirmed when Charles conducted an unsuccessful war against the Spanish during his early reign.

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n 1624 James died at his huge manor of Theobalds, his early reign had been defined by religious upheaval and paranoia but overwhelmingly James watched over a stable kingdom that vehemently opposed the restlessness and destruction of war. There is also an unfortunate side to James, his massive expenditure in spite of trying economic conditions and attempts to sure up James’ finances ended in failure, the Cockayne project irreparably damaged the English economy. This shows a man, not appointed by the divines but a mere man, with the same failures and weaknesses as you and me.

M Spake

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Charles I and associated divers

The Reign of Charles Stuart (Super Condensed edition)

Abstract

Charles Stuart may often be written off as a wasted monarch but in reality he made a much more significant impact on English politics than what anyone of the period could have predicted. We often separate the human aspect of historical figures from their actions and I believe that this phenomenon has been continued with Charles. It is easy to elaborate on the actions of men and woman and thus judge from that precedent but it makes for poor historical literature. Charles Stuart was a man, no less than any one of us and to do his life story justice we must treat him as one.

1: The Early Years (1612 – 1625)

The second monarch of the Stuart era was ‘supposed’ to be Henry IX Charles’ older brother, but Henry’s death in 1612 changed everything; Charles was now thrust into the public spotlight knowing that one day he was going to have to pick up the reigns of the kingdom. It wasn’t going to be easy. Throughout his childhood he had always been treated secondary to his brother Henry by James and this never ceased, even after Henry’s death. For example Charles was struck by James for squirting water at George Villiers (later the Duke of Buckingham) who was James’ royal favourite up until his death. In 1623 it would be Villiers that accompanies Charles to Spain in an effort to secure the ‘Spanish Match’, a marriage between Charles and the Habsburg Infanta. The venture would end in failure and cost the frail James £100,000. As we know Buckingham secured a marriage with the Bourbon Henrietta Maria, daughter of the King of France, instead with the hope of allying with the French against the Spanish and German Habsburgs.

James I by Daniel Mytens.

2: The Crisis of the 1620s (1625 – 1629)

When James died in 1624 it was Charles that took the place of monarch with George Villiers (now the Duke of Buckingham) at his side as royal favourite. Charles immediately got off on a bad footing with Parliament, there was plague in London and Parliament refused to sit under the circumstances. Henrietta Maria Bourbon, Charles’ French wife also arrived at her own pace. Both Charles and Henrietta had similar ideologies on what monarchy should be and what everyone else should be. They believed that the monarch’s word was absolute law and that his or her prerogative extends above and beyond any other force in the kingdom bar that of God. Speaking of God a common claim by contemporaries of this period was that “God is on our side”. Charles believed that the Arminian church he would eventually favour was supported by the divine, Cromwell, who would be the downfall of Charles, was also religiously motivated.

If Charles had any opportunity to build a relationship with the political nation, the period 1625 – 1629 was the best time.  The political atmosphere was tense after James’ death and any wrong move by Charles at this point may have precipitated a crisis. Charles’ foreign policy, often driven by Buckingham got off to a bad start. He attacked the Spanish port of Cadiz in 1625 which ended in failure, the significant cost of these attacks made Buckingham unpopular with Parliament. Considerable onus was placed on Buckingham who was already defaulting on his duties as Lord High Admiral of the Navy; pirates were becoming a substantial nuisance under Buckingham’s watch. Tunnage and Poundage which was meant for the upkeep of the navy was disappearing into a black hole, Parliament in its infinite wisdom decided to vote Charles Tunnage and Poundage for only one year. Charles was a poor communicator by nature and his entrenched views about absolute monarchy contributed to a personality that could never work with a Parliament beginning to assert itself and find its own feet. After Charles’ license to collect Tunnage and Poundage expired he ingenuously continued collecting it. Parliament was beginning to talk itself into a whirl over issues such as the toleration of Roman Catholics so Charles dismissed Parliament.

Typically in times of war Parliament would grant the monarchy a ‘help’, a subsidy to aid in the war effort. Parliament though was vehemently opposed to the kind of war Charles and Buckingham were fighting and refused to commit funds to a land war. By late 1626 Charles was desperate for money so he tried ‘benevolence’, in theory Charles requested the subsidy payers to give Charles the money directly without Parliamentary consent. Charles garnered little empathy through this act and even less financial support. In the face of this Charles issued a forced loan, he essentially twisted the arm of the political nation, forcing them to pay up or face the ‘consequences’. Ironically Thomas Wentworth (later the Earl of Strafford) refused to pay the forced loan even though he would go on to be one of the King’s most loyal ministers.

George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham


3: Personal Rule (1629 – 1640)

In 1627 England turned on France and found itself at war with both Spain and France, military disaster after military disaster left men like John Felton festering with contempt. In 1628 at Portsmouth he assassinated Buckingham and in the process becoming a hero of the people. Throughout the last two years of the 1620s a constitutional crisis developed, there is nothing better than the five knights’ case to typify this crisis. While imprisoned these five knights applied for the right of Habeas Corpus, the right to a trial, and it was given. Before any more challenges to Charles’ prerogative could materialise, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1629 effectively heralding the beginning of the eleven years of personal rule.

There would be several positive and negative elements to personal rule; certainly from a constitutional standpoint personal rule was the beginning of absolutism, the worst case scenario for English republicans and constitutionalists. But was it really that bad in real terms? Looking back at personal rule from the interregnum era many have called it the golden age of prosperity and peace, whereas others have claimed that it was nothing more than ‘eleven years of tyranny’. There is substance for both claims, indeed it was a period of peace and increased trade but any fathom of democracy was non-existent, this was raw despotism, no questions asked. But it was never going to be as simple as that, questions were raised, and they became more pressing as personal rule dragged on.

Charles from three angles.

By 1630 war with France and Spain had come to an end but Charles was still in phenomenal debt. He had to find some way to stay solvent but still allow for an eccentric lifestyle. This is where the crisis of the 1620s was magnified through unpopular religious changes and dubiously legal taxes. In 1633 William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury; he was a stoic character from a modest background, everything the restless gentry despised, unfortunately for them he wasn’t going anywhere. Laud, without regard for anything bar the King’s authority introduced a raft of new reforms including the Book of Sports (1633) which stipulated that sports and games can be played after services on the Sabbath (Sunday). This upset Puritans who placed great emphasis on the sanctity of the Sabbath, for them, Sunday’s were a time of reflection not frivolity. Guard rails returned to Churches, the gentry’s pews were removed and icons emphasising the beauty of worship appeared in Churches all around the multiple kingdoms.

Laud’s reforms weren’t the only change. Nuisances, Forest fines, Purveyance, Wardship, Forced Loans and Ship Money all came into effect to replace traditional Parliamentary approved incomes. Nuisance fines were levied on those that built outside the walls of London, royal forest fines were resurrected. Royal forest was declared to be that if Edward I’s reign of 1292, this included half of Essex. The Earl of Salisbury was fined an incredible £20,000 for encroaching on royal forest. Ship Money was by far the most hated of all taxes. In theory ship money could only be collected during times of emergency for use by the navy, furthermore it should have only been levied on coastal counties. There was no possible way that ship money would noticeably contribute to Charles’ solvency if it was levied in the traditional way, so it was expanded. Charles extended ship money to the inland counties, and began collecting it perpetually despite the apparent lack of danger to England and its people. Another constitutional crisis arose when John Hampden, a major landowner, refused to pay ship money in 1637. Even though Hampden was eventually forced to pay up, Charles’ financial policies were already on a downward slide. It was becoming increasingly difficult to collect ship money and by 1638 receipts were beginning to drop off.

Meanwhile Archbishop Laud was busy inflaming the situation as much as he possibly could. There was a profound case where Laud placed three gentry in the stocks, Prynne, Bastwick and Burton. This kind of humiliation was unprecedented for the gentry, what made it worse was that Laud was a commoner himself. This action came at the worst possible time when the gentry were already at wits end over the many legally dubious taxes that they had to pay.

In 1639 the first Bishop’s war broke out which ended up in complete failure for Charles, his commander the Earl of Arundel did not have the resources to launch a successful counteroffensive against the Scots. Additionally the English militia were in a poor state; Charles’ plan for perfect militias had gone awfully wrong. Charles raised forced loans at several points throughout his reign and even into the 1630’s was collecting hundreds of thousands of pounds, 1637 however saw a change to this. Charles’ credit with the London merchants had expired and he was now resorting to fraudulent methods of raising money. Charles kept £30,000 of London merchant money in the tower for ‘safe keeping’ intending to use it to deal with the impending Scottish invasion force. £30,000 was not enough considering that Charles’ military costs were estimated to be much higher, in the millions of pounds. By locking this money away Charles lost all credibility with his creditors and gained nothing and by the time of the second bishop’s war Charles had no leverage.

To try and salvage the situation Charles had but one choice, to call Parliament. All of this had been set in motion by Laud’s introduction of the Prayer Book to Scotland in 1637, a decision that aroused great unrest among the Calvinist and Presbyterian Scots. In any case the damage was done and now Charles had to deal with the consequences, an uncompromising Scottish invasion force on one side and a Parliament trying to reduce Charles to a rubber stamp monarch on the other. It was at this point that Charles made the most damaging decision of his entire reign; encouraged by men like Thomas Wentworth he dismissed the Short – Parliament in May 1640. When Charles’ general Thomas Wentworth was defeated he called the Long – Parliament of November 1640 which would prove to be his end.

4: Crisis and Civil War (1640 – 1649)

A man that had begun making a name for himself in the 1629 Parliament began to re-emerge; his name was John Pym, often referred to as King Pym for his vehement opposition to the King’s policies. He became the progenitor of something called the anti-court consensus. The aim of this consensus was to oppose the prerogative courts that had been so hated during personal rule. Pym had great political skill in keeping a factional and agitated Parliament unified against the King’s prerogative courts and his ministers. Even though the anti-court consensus would eventually break up in 1642 it had already achieved its goals.

The anti-court consensus was the bane of Charles’ monarchy, it was unique because it’s members, notably Pym, were utterly convinced of the Catholics at court conspiracy which was in part, seen as the evil behind many of Charles’ unpopular policies. The Grand Remonstrance of 1641 was the first affirmative action taken against the Catholics in England; it strengthened anti-Catholic laws that were already in place such as the anti-recusancy laws. Over the course of the next year Charles was forced to concede to radical constitutional changes such as the triennial act and the act of attainder which made the conviction and trial of Charles’ evil ministers much easier. By doing this though Parliament was already beginning to corrupt itself, becoming the very evil that it was hoping to destroy. In face of the ten propositions in 1642 and the riotous London mob Charles chose to leave London in March of 1642 after his unsuccessful attempted arrest of the ‘five’ ministers. London was awash with anti-Charles sentiment, war was now inevitable.

In August of 1642 Charles raised his standard at Nottingham in the north. Both Parliament and Charles began raising forces. The Militia Ordinance and the Commission of Array were issued to raise armed forces by Parliament and Charles respectively. From the outset of the war Charles was in a worse military position than Parliament, he controlled the poorer North and West, opposing Charles was the much wealthier South – East in Parliamentary control. The opening shots of the war were placed on the 24th October 1642 at Edgehill, each army was about 13, 500 strong but the Royalists had something the Parliamentarians didn’t, a powerful cavalry force under Prince Rupert. Rupert proved instrumental in defeating the Parliamentary cavalry which effectively won the battle for the Royalists whose infantry were fighting to a rather typical stalemate. Charles, who proved to be a competent military leader later in the war, then, threw away an advantage by capturing Oxford rather than marching on London with moderate opposition. In the wasted time Essex built up formidable defences at London and 24, 000 men.

The war would drag on for three more years with the tide turning firmly in Parliaments favour by July 2, 1644 and the Battle of Marston Moor, where 27, 000 Scots and Parliamentarians faced down 18, 000 Royalists. For the first time Oliver Cromwell’s Ironsides repulsed Rupert’s cavaliers ending his undefeated reputation. It would be a year later that the war would finally be lost for Charles at the Battle of Naseby, Rupert broke the Parliamentary left wing but the charge was carried too far and Cromwell broke the Royalist right demoralising the infantry and overwhelming them. The new model army that Cromwell and Fairfax had been the creators of had finally won through. What made it so effective was the idea of promoting on merit rather than social status, men like Manchester and Essex (who carried his own coffin into battle) with little talent for command were replaced by officers with a passion for command, men who wanted to be there.

Oliver Cromwell.

Despite a conclusion to the war there was still an air of uncertainty about England, in fact that is an understatement, the civil war was defined by definite objectives, to defeat the King, but now the King had escaped and surrendered to the Scots, there was no clear way forward. To save many thousands of words the period of 1645 – 1649 can be summed up by Charles sallying between the custody of the Scots, Parliament and the New Model Army which became increasingly politicised as its upkeep became challenged by a Parliament eager for its dissolution. Charles hoped to bide his time, eager for an opportunity to take his place on the throne once again. When Cromwell realised this a special Parliamentary court was set up to try Charles, his death warrant was signed by the ‘regicides’.

In 1649 he was executed with the severing of the head from the body, this made Charles a martyr of monarchy, reinforced by his speech from the scaffold where he unerring stated “A subject and sovereign are clean different things”. He wasn’t a bad man in any capacity, he had a unique set of values to trust and to abide by, values that were simply incompatible with the emerging views of the time. Unable to change, Charles’ stoicism cost him his life.

M Spake

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King Lear – A complete analysis

King Lear is one of those masterpieces of human frailty, weakness and redemption; it is a journey, not just into the fictional imaginings of a literature heavyweight but into our own minds as well. Throughout the plot King Lear himself sets in motion a realm changing series of events which culminates in a sad but hard fought journey of redemption from the fires of betrayal and immorality. By reading King Lear you are compelled to concede the limitations of the human person while also gaining an insight into the day to day relationships of our own world, it is enthralling.

The play is set in a world of despotic monarchy in what would seem to be pre-medieval England. King Lear has ruled autocratically over his kingdom for most of his life, but he is old and frail and uncertain of the future. In a selfish but intentionally innocent decision Lear splits his kingdom up into three with the view that his three daughters will rule equally in his stead. His plan gets off to a bad start when Cordelia, his youngest and most favoured daughter refuses to partake in Lear’s ‘love test’. A test designed to reward the daughter most adept at flattery. Cordelia is an exceptional Shakespearean character, she defines human innocence, providing an insight into a humanity absent of the corrupting influences found in society. Her father Lear is the complete opposite, a walking bastion of corruption and despotism, strung up in the failings of an oligarch he constructed. Yet for all his failings there still remains a glimmer of hope, that he may yet overcome his weaknesses and lead a better life.

Goneril and Regan who came into their own during the love test quickly begin to turn away from their now powerless father Lear who is becoming nothing more than a cantankerous burden. It may seem that Lear is becoming the victim of his daughters Goneril and Regan but in fact it is the complete opposite. Lear had made his favouritism of Cordelia known to his court for some time and this would have undoubtedly marginalised Goneril and Regan. The contempt within them grew until they had nothing left but pure deep-seated hatred, not just for Lear but for everything. Their incurable want of power, control and lust would lead them on a path to destruction. Goneril and Regan did not commit immoralities against Lear and everyone else intentionally; they had been bound to this fate for some time, damaged, scarred and broken by the very man they had looked for, for love and patronage. For Goneril and Regan, destruction was instinct.

As Lear descends into madness his retinue begins to expire save two divinely loyal subjects, Kent and the Fool. From the beginning Kent acts as a voice of reason, I may even be so bold as to say the voice of God, or some substitute for God. Everything Kent does throughout the play is for the benefit of his master, Lear “See better, Lear; and let me still remain the true blank of thine eye”. From disguising himself as Caius in order to avoid execution, to striking down Oswald Goneril’s insidious messenger, Kent has Lear’s best interests in mind, whether Lear realises that or not.

Historically the fools and court jesters have been afforded the right to ‘tell it how it is’ to the King, this is generally because fools talk a whole load of bollocks anyway but the fool present in King Lear is radically different. He (or sometimes she) has a tendency to speak simple wisdom “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen”. The fool was exactly right, as Lear’s good conscious continues to descend into the darkest recesses of his mind. Lear’s rage begins to boil over, passing blame on the world unfairly. He calls for the human race to be sterilized and encourages unbridled sexual activity, claiming that bastards are superior to legitimate children. Lear perhaps begins to realise around this point in the play that this whole unfortunate series of events was actually his fault, evens so he lies to himself, refusing to confront the truth of things. As we know Lear would not regain his sanity until Cordelia’s return.

The sub-plot involving Gloucester and his sons also mirror that of Lear’s plot. Edgar, an archetypal noble son with damning innocence is implicated in the attempted murder of his brother Edmund, the very man who is responsible for masterminding the incident. In examining why Edmund would want to do this exposes the failings of hierarchical society, but also the basest human desire for power. For his whole life Gloucester had made fun Edmund’s very existence, stating that “I had much fun in his making”. This reduces Edmund to worthlessness in his mind and creates a vacuum that needs to be filled. He tries to fill this with the pursuit of power, taking a similar path to Goneril and Regan. They are so similar in fact that he bonds with both Goneril and Regan, becoming the object of their sexual desires. Edmund doesn’t stop after exiling Edgar; he eventually usurps his father’s position as the Earl of Gloucester, his shortcomings made up for. By doing this he subjects his father to extreme torture at the hands of the brute Cornwall and his wife Regan.

Cordelia returns in Act 4 at the head of a French army, metaphorical for the forces of good, even though they are defeated in battle, Albany who realises the sins of his wife Goneril begins to side with the forces of moral reconciliation. An epic battle between good and evil ensues when all characters are brought together near the end. Edgar strikes down Edmund, who would eventually die but redeem himself with one last act of good, attempting to save the life of Lear and Cordelia. Goneril and Regan poison each other, entrapped by their desires of the flesh.  Cordelia is hung before Edmund could intervene in his dying breaths. Cordelia’s death absolutely devastates Lear who enters carrying her dead body and spouting abuses about everyone present “O, you are men of stones!” shortly after he literally dies from a broken heart. Kent has great insight from the beginning of the play, affirming this with his statement to a broken hearted Lear “That from your first of difference and decay, Have follow’d your sad steps, -“ The final piece we see in the play is Edgar’s final statement, and a lesson to all of us “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long”.

M Spake

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Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana or Pretender?

From the outset of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558 questions arose concerning the stability of the realm of England and whether Elizabeth as a young twenty-five year old would be able to contribute to the stability of England. Many contemporaries were still wary of such events as the War of the Roses and wished to avoid a return to such chaos. Even today passionate arguments still rage as to whether Elizabeth was completely in control of England’s destiny or whether in fact there were other forces at play such as Elizabeth’s ministers. Was Elizabeth the greatest Gloriana, or a fortunate monarch saved by the conviction of her environment?

Historians today often spar over the nature of Elizabeth’s reign, to quote Tudor historian David Starkey, “Elizabeth is extraordinary. She looks extraordinary. She behaves in an extraordinary way. And as a woman moving effortlessly in a man’s world, she is doubly extraordinary”. To make things easier lets place Starkey in the pro-Elizabeth faction. Without further ado it should be noted that Starkey has often been criticised as a revisionist and third-rate historian, something which detracts from the impact of his professional opinion. In addition to the pro-Elizabeth faction we see a neutral and in my opinion more objective faction appearing that is less impressed by Elizabeth, often referring to her as a fortunate monarch but definitely not a pitiable monarch. A number of woefully unfair interpretations of Elizabeth still exist.

Alan Axelrod in source A2 is right on the mark when he states that Elizabeth had formidable intellect. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth’s tutor commented on her linguistic abilities: “French and Italian she speaks like English, Latin, with fluency, propriety and judgement; she spoke Greek with me, frequently, willingly and moderately well…”  Historian David Starkey’s high opinion of Elizabeth certainly wins through in this category. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign we see this intellect put to efficient use in several matters ranging from religious, domestic and foreign policy, notably her instances of seemingly well planned indecision.

From the beginning Elizabeth needed a strong right arm and she found that in William Cecil (later Lord Burleigh). Burleigh was an efficient, loyal and Machiavelli character who carried out his duties with the best interests of Elizabeth’s government in mind. In one instance he starved English sailors to death after the defeat of the Spanish Armada; his intention was to save money by not having to pay as many sailors. It may be argued that it was men such as Cecil that made Elizabeth’s reign so great; Norman Jones in source D alludes to this idea but maintains that Elizabeth was definitely not bossed around, merely advised. In fact Elizabeth often rejected advice much to the dismay of her advisers who sometimes commented that they could not do their jobs effectively. If not making for a contentious court atmosphere it certainly did a lot for a Queen trying to affirm her independence from men who thought of Elizabeth as a weak woman who required a guiding male hand.

‘Always the same’, was Elizabeth’s motto translated into English. This provides us some insight into her personality, someone who would always persevere for the Status Quo, for stability in the realm of England. Source E details the Act of Uniformity 1559, this act laid down the foundations of the Elizabethan church, of which she was supreme governor. In keeping the Elizabeth’s motto she combined elements of the 1552 Mary Prayer Book with that of the Edwardian 1549 Prayer Book. This was tactful on Elizabeth’s part as it ensured stability within her realm by creating a broad tolerant church that was difficult to fault save for the most devout Catholics and Puritans. This is yet another demonstration of Elizabeth’s intelligence but not of any sort of heroism or grandeur.

Sir Robert Naunton in source B presents a unique insight into Elizabeth’s court as a contemporary with experience of Stuart courts. He comments that Robert Dudley, referred to as Lord Leicester, was not in Elizabeth’s graces all the time. As we know, Dudley fell in and out of favour many times, Naunton makes a good point. I also want to comment on the reliability of the source itself. The source is useful in that it is a contemporary source, written only a short time after Elizabeth’s reign (1634). Additionally the source is reliable as it has no considerable bias; Naunton comes from an objective viewpoint. Just to top it off he displays a modesty becoming of a fine historian, “and though I come short of knowledge of those times, yet (that I might not rove and shoot at random)”. This admission however, despite being honourable, tells us that he had incomplete knowledge which may devalue his judgements somewhat.

Much of Elizabeth’s reign is indifferent to how she is perceived by outside forces, notably I, but there are still many defining moments of leadership that typify Elizabeth’s person. Perhaps her greatest moment which gained her the title of the ‘Greatest Gloriana’ was the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Even though it was Drake and Howard that ultimately defeated the Spanish Fleet, it was Elizabeth that sowed the seeds of the Armada’s destruction in the hearts of her English subjects. The Tilbury speech of 1588 was perhaps one of Elizabeth’s greatest. In it she said that she had the “heart of a King, and of a King of England too”. Additionally she spoke while adorned in magnificent body armour portraying herself as a soldier, ready to defend England on the battlefield. Gloriana for a day?

The way Elizabeth connected with the nation is best represented in source M, the ‘Ditchley Portrait’. The portrait represents Elizabeth standing on top of the earth, specifically above Oxfordshire. This is because Elizabeth had recently visited Sir Henry Lee’s manor in Oxfordshire on one of her progresses. She had obviously made an impression on Lee who otherwise wouldn’t have commissioned such a grand painting. This trait certainly separates Elizabeth from the Stuart monarchs James and Charles I who kept themselves rather guarded from their subjects with the exception of Charles II who often took long walks through common London unaccompanied.

Whether all of this is justification enough to call Elizabeth a great monarch is still unresolved. One of Elizabeth’s courtiers maintained that Elizabeth was greatest for what she didn’t do rather than what she did do. Sir Walter Raleigh, another one of Elizabeth’s courtiers held an opposing view stating that “her majesty does all by halves”. I’m beginning to see a pattern appearing regarding Elizabeth’s status among both contemporaries and the modern historical community. A division of opinion exists as to whether Elizabeth should be regarded as Gloriana, or a monarch supported by a unique set of ministers and courtiers that took advantage of coincidental foreign and domestic situations. The Spanish Armada is a good example, a mere change in wind direction might have meant a Spanish victory, and how would we view Elizabeth then? England may have been occupied by Spain or at least ceased to be the same England we know and love today.

The progenitor to the Spanish Armada can be found in another section of Elizabeth’s foreign policy, the Dutch wars. The lowlands had been in Spanish hands for some time and even Elizabeth recognised them as Philip of Spain’s legitimate territory. The issue for Elizabeth was that if she lent a hand to the Dutch rebels she would in essence be supporting rebels against someone of royal blood. Source F vividly portrays Elizabeth’s decision to ‘feed the Dutch cow’ as it were. The source depicts Elizabeth feeding a cow (the Dutch) that is being ridden by Philip of Spain. William of Orange (or William the ‘Silent’) is depicted holding the cow’s horns and the Duke of Anjou who was working with Elizabeth to evict the Spanish from the lowlands is seen tugging at the cow’s tail. Elizabeth’s involvement in the lowlands was pivotal for Dutch independence but can we really call this heroic when Elizabeth invaded for her own ends. The lowlands were a steppingstone for a Spanish army into England and also a vital trading port, an invasion of the lowlands was nothing less than a necessity.

Prominent Tudor historian J. E Neale who appears in source G presents an argument concerning the ability of Elizabeth to hold her own against fervent opposition, both from her Privy Council, and Parliament. Neale cites several examples including an instance in 1572 where Elizabeth essentially saved the life of Mary, Queen of Scots when her councillors and Parliament were pleading for her death. This doesn’t necessarily justify Elizabeth as a great monarch, what may be perceived as altruistic behaviour (Elizabeth sacrificing her own image for the life of Mary) may have actually been Elizabeth fearing divine consequences of a Queen killing another Queen, causing damage to the celestial hierarchy itself.

Throughout the entirety of her reign Elizabeth spent £4,500,000 on military operations, that is an innumerable sum of money by today’s standards, most of which was spent on operations trying to subdue Ireland. Even though she succeeded in the short term, Elizabeth contributed to the long term degradation of relations between Ireland and England, relations that are still strained to the present day. In this respect Elizabeth seems weak, a mere girl trying to fulfil the dreams of her long dead father (source H). In general Elizabeth’s foreign policy is unremarkable; save the war with the Spanish stability is the word of the day concerning all facets of Elizabethan policy. There were some pronounced poor decisions such as choosing to subdue Ireland by force which detracts from the overall morality of Elizabethan foreign policy.

I have deduced that Elizabeth’s rule was not one of upheaval, religious unrest, total war, or anything overtly negative, on the contrary there is nothing that makes Elizabeth exceptional. Her greatest achievement may have been the preservation of stability in the realm of England. I conclude that gloriana did not exist; perhaps only in the minds of a people longing for some sort of idolatry. Elizabeth was that idolatry, and she contributed to it, wooing the people of England with jewellery and fanfare. Perhaps this is why we have for so long been compelled to admire the greatest gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor. I however see nothing but a person, handed a most favourable political atmosphere and a license to rule. It would be difficult for even the most inept monarch to stray far from the path of success.

M Spake

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