Objective history

Can we be objective about the British Empire?

The Times complained that the National Trust encouraged children to “lament Britain’s history”. There’s a group of “members, supporters and friends” of the National Trust that wanted “an objective assessment of history”, and thought such denigration wrong.

What does Restore Trust want? To avoid demonizing anyone’s history or heritage. To enjoy the beauty of the stately homes without “intrusive interpretation”. To focus on the property, and the families who created them. To use history as a tool for understanding, not as a weapon.

For the Colonial Countryside project, children wrote poems about Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, and The Times reports that one such poem “has been removed” from the Trust’s website. Children were upset about the uses of animals by the families involved.

I wondered if it were possible to be objective about history, to take a God’s eye view. I do want to demonize Richard Drax MP, who inherited his family’s sugar plantation in Barbados. From 1640 to 1838 the family used slaves on that estate. He has inherited the profits of slavery. He may have breached company law, and has breached House of Commons rules. He voted for a reduction in welfare benefits, and against measures to prevent climate change. From these facts I find Drax to be a bad man.

The Times refers to the “Indian mutiny”, choosing not to use the term “First War of Independence”. I don’t know if objectivity is possible. “Mutiny” calls the Indian soldiers bad. “War of Independence” casts them as heroes. Language might denote the struggles of Imperialists and the local peoples who resisted them, without implying that one side or the other were morally superior, but the language the Imperialists used claimed their superiority in every way- morally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, culturally and technologically. So an objective view requires new language, which conservatives might dislike.

Between 1850 and 1947 the Indian economy grew an average of 0.55% a year, because wealth was taken from India to Britain, and used for the benefit of those wealthy families. At the same time, those families and others in their ruling class exploited British workers, and took common land which previously all could use for their benefit. My political view is that this exploitation is wrong, and should be demonized.

I suppose a political view that exploitation is unavoidable, and we should celebrate those who do it most successfully, is possible, but I don’t think it is objective.

Even if you write an account of wars, conquests and independence victories, with as neutral language as possible, it is a choice to pay attention to that, rather than to technological advances. Whether war produces technological advance better than peace can be assessed objectively with evidence, but does not mean war is preferable.

News reporting is about choices too. That a child’s poem was on a website, and now is not, is not news. That people object to that child’s poem is only news if you want to emphasise what they say. I am pleased that children are learning about slavery, and how intrinsic it was to the Empire and British wealth. I consider abhorrence of slavery and anyone who would defend it a simple moral value which shows the advance of humanity as well as any technological advance.

Looking round a great house and its beautiful gardens, seeing its works of art, seeing the servants’ quarters and kitchens and getting an idea of how they, as well as the family, lived, learning of the careers of theft, exploitation and blackguardry that built its wealth or frittered it away- how any of this is presented is a choice.

It is good to promote human flourishing, the greatest happiness of the greatest number. History which shows how that is achieved or prevented is worthwhile. History that hides it, to make white British people proud of our Empire and its achievements, is bad history. All history is political. I love the politics of Colonial Countryside. That its opponents have to take refuge in calling it “subjective” rather than pointing out anything untrue or immoral in it shows the strength of its position.


Sardanapalus, the last King of the Assyrian empire, lived as a woman. He spent his days with his concubines, in women’s activities, making women’s clothes in purple and soft wool. He dressed as a woman, and used makeup and unguents like a courtesan. So his body was more delicate than the most pampered woman’s. He made his voice like a woman’s, and held great feasts where he had sex with men and women.

This conduct caused the destruction of the Assyrian empire. Sardanapalus’s vassal Arbaces, general of the Medes, bribed his way into the king’s presence, and when he had seen how effeminate the king was he despised him, and conspired to revolt with the Persians.

Sardanapalus led his loyal troops into battle on the plain, defeating the rebels. He chased the remnant to a camp in the mountains, where he defeated them again, then retired to hold a great feast in his camp. But Arbaces persuaded the Bactrians to join the revolt, attacked the badly defended camp in the night, and pursued the remnant back to Nineveh. Sardanapalus appointed his sister’s husband general, and the rebels killed so many the rivers flowed red. All the subject nations now fought for their liberty, and laid siege to Nineveh. The city held out until the Euphrates flooded, breaking down its walls. Sardanapalus killed himself with his concubines and eunuchs in a great conflagration consuming all his gold, silver and rich fabrics.

This is the story told by Diodorus Siculus, in his “Library of History”, a history of the world written in the first century BCE. Diodorus was a Stoic, who made of this history a morality tale. He got the story from Ctesias, whose book is lost.

Nineveh fell in 612 BC under siege by the Medes and Babylonians, who had rebelled against Assyria, when Sinsharishkun was king. The siege took three months, not the three years Diodorus claimed. Sardanapalus may be a corruption of the name Ashurbanipal. Ashurbanipal ruled from 668 to 631 BCE, defeated Babylon and created the first systematic library in the world, a collection of over 30,000 clay tablets. He and Sinsharishkun are depicted like all Assyrian rulers with long, full beards, and there is no suggestion either was trans in contemporaneous sources. Ashurbanipal ruled the largest empire the world had ever seen, and Nineveh, with a population of about 120,000, was probably the largest city in the world.

The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal, relief sculptures from his palace, is in the British Museum. Lions were a symbol of the enemies of the people, and kings made ritual lion hunts.

Sinsharishkun probably died defending Nineveh, and was succeeded by his son. Ashur-uballit II ruled from Harran in modern Turkey, in alliance with Egypt, until 610 when the Babylonians seized that city. He attempted to retake the city in 609 but failed.

So, why the legend? Diodorus tells his story for our moral edification. Sensual indulgence is Bad. The steadfast man can recover from apparently crippling defeat. The man who celebrates prematurely loses. The historian shows men showing Stoic virtue winning, and men showing Epicurean vice losing.

The symbol of vice is dressing as a woman. It is the worst way to be unmanly, but also the clearest way to show unmanliness.

However, the moral lesson could be imparted merely by saying the King neglected his duties, and spent his time indulging his desires. Look at the detail. Sardanapalus has a woman’s voice, and makes his body soft like a woman’s. He paints his face and wears soft clothing. He spends his days with women, in women’s activities, and his nights feasting and having sex. It is a fantasy. Despite Diodorus’s reiterated contempt and condemnation, he finds it tempting, and knows some of his readers will too. He cannot bear to acknowledge it, but feminisation is his secret delight. The story has a 1400 word Wikipedia article which gets around 100 views a day: it has delighted readers ever since Diodorus, and continues to do so.

Sabina, known as Sporus

Great trans women in history: Nero castrated Sporus, gave her the name Sabina, and married her as his Empress.

The historian Dio Chrysostom (it means “golden mouthed”, or eloquent) says that she wore her hair parted in a feminine style, wore women’s clothes, and young women attended her when she went for a walk. Nero offered riches and honours to anyone who could make Sabina a woman. Dio comments this is as impossible as flying, another miracle of the 20th century.

Suetonius records that Nero too enjoyed dressing as a woman in public, appearing in operatic tragedies in the parts of heroines and goddesses, wearing masks modelled on the face of his mistresses.

At their wedding, attended by the whole court, Nero treated Sabina as his empress, with a dowry and bridal veil, dressed in the clothes and the jewels of the empress. They rode together in a litter to every Greek assize and fair, and through the Street of Images at Rome, amorously kissing.

I wondered what the Street of Images was. Was it one of the great streets of the city, one of temples perhaps? But the only references I can find to the Street of Images refer to this story.

David Wood suggests that Nero married her because she resembled his former wife, Poppaea Sabina, whom he had kicked to death. Wood suggests he thought Sabina (Sporus) was descended from the emperor Tiberius, so marriage to her strengthened his claim to the throne. Nero dominated the descendants of previous emperors, in the same way as he had sexually assaulted Britannicus, Claudius’ son. However, Suetonius appears to believe Nero loved Sporus. Wood quotes M. Griffin suggesting that Nero had loved Poppaea so much that Sporus was an art project or dramatic conceit, so that Nero had the image of Poppaea in his palace, acting and appearing like the original. Griffin claims that Nero ‘may only ever have pretended to have sex with his Poppaea-substitute’.

Wikipedia goes further, suggesting that Sporus was fictional. Suetonius wrote during the reign of Hadrian, and Mary Beard has suggested his work is propaganda rather than history, written to discredit earlier emperors. However Hadrian was gay, so might object to Suetonius making up an allegation of sex with a “man” being uniquely defamatory. Suetonius was Hadrian’s chief secretary.

Wikipedia suggests that the name Sporus is intentional mockery, meaning “seed”, which can be used to mean semen. The name is an insult Alexander Pope used to mock Lord Hervey. Nero called her Sabina, so I will too.

We have no idea what Sabina looked like. This portrait bust was formerly identified with the original AFAB Poppaea Sabina, but her hair is worn curled.

The Praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus persuaded the Praetorian guard to forsake Nero, and took Sabina to wife, calling her Poppaea. He tried to become emperor but was killed by his own guards. Nero was succeeded in the year of four emperors by Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian. Otho had been married to the AFAB Poppaea, and now took care of Sabina. Vitellius wanted to kill Sabina in a gladiatorial show, so Sabina committed suicide, perhaps before her twentieth birthday.

Three men loved Sabina. They saw her as a woman. See also Elagabala, proclaimed as Roman Emperor, who proclaimed herself Empress.

What were those regalia of an empress? Roman women would wear a sleeveless tunic, then a stola, like the one the Statue of Liberty wears. Over this they would wear a palla, a woollen shawl up to 11×5’, fastened by a brooch. Livia Drusilla here wears a stola and palla.

Foot binding

Foot binding was abominably cruel, deforming the whole body as walking put pressure on the pelvis. Sometimes the flesh of the foot was encouraged to rot away, by sharp objects within the binding. Why would people do this? How would they rationalise it? The practice lasted a thousand years, and women bound their daughters’ feet. How could you see your daughter in the pain of having her bones broken, and necrotic tissue on the foot? As a way to control her? As a way of gaining some advantage for her?

John Mao, who has a photograph of a bare foot which made me gasp in horror, writes, The most common reason is that foot binding is often thought of as a prerequisite for marriage. The second reason is family honour. Families with a great reputation, families wanting to maintain their goods reputation, bind their daughter’s feet. For upholding this tradition for so long, the motive was for men to be able to dominate women. He explains the Qing dynasty sought to eradicate the practice intermittently from 1645, and foreign missionaries in the 19th century worked against it. Perhaps that made reactionary Chinese do it defiantly, as their thing. It was a way for poorer families to marry their daughter into money; the wealthiest Han families all bound their daughters’ feet.

Kwame Anthony Appiah: The tiniest feet — three-inch “golden lotuses,” as they were known — were important as a sign of status for women who could afford not to work in the fields or walk to market; the bound foot was a sign and instrument of chastity too, by limiting the movements of women. And you can’t overstate the force of convention: Chinese families bound their daughters’ feet because that was the normal thing to do.

Amanda Foreman: From the start, foot-binding was imbued with erotic overtones. Women, unable to resist or escape. For women, Neo-Confucianism placed extra emphasis on chastity, obedience and diligence. A good wife should have no desire other than to serve her husband, no ambition other than to produce a son, and no interest beyond subjugating herself to her husband’s family…The act of foot-binding—the pain involved and the physical limitations it created—became a woman’s daily demonstration of her own commitment to Confucian values.

Shiye Fu seeks to hear the women. One may feel revulsion at the practice while seeking to understand and respect the women themselves. Saying this is a way to make women docile might be imposing “the rhetoric of modernity”. In reaction to that, a feminist view might see it as “a voluntary ordeal undertaken by mothers to inform their daughters of how to succeed in a world authored by men”, or a practice where women show their agency and their control over their own bodies. Human beings use our bodies as tools, and the way we do this is controlled by culture: Based on this argument, I will then move on to discuss footbinding at the level of body technique, and to shed light on how bodily pain works to reflect the complicated relationship between body and self in the Chinese context.

In other words, I can’t know.

Illustration showing Yaoniang (窅娘) binding her own feet, Qing Dynasty woodblock print from Hundred Poems of Beautiful Women (Bai Mei Xin Yong Tu Zhuan 百美新詠圖傳)

Illustration showing Yaoniang (窅娘) binding her own feet, Qing Dynasty woodblock print from Hundred Poems of Beautiful Women (Bai Mei Xin Yong Tu Zhuan 百美新詠圖傳)

The Descent of Inanna

Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, wants Gilgamesh, King of the city of Uruk, as her lover, but he spurns her. Your lovers have found you like a brazier which smoulders in the cold, a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm. In a rage, she calls on her father god Anu to give her Gugulanna the Bull of Heaven to take revenge on Gilgamesh. He refuses, but when she threatens to break open the doors of the Underworld so that the dead shall eat food like the living, he relents. The bull snorts and the Earth opens, and the warriors of Uruk are killed; but Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull. Inanna curses Enkidu, who throws the bull’s right thigh at her. For this, the Gods kill Enkidu.

Inanna arrays herself as the Goddess, in royal robe and crown, and the breastplate called “Come, man, come”, then descends into the underworld to attend the funeral of Gugulanna, whose husband is her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dead. She leaves behind Ninshubur, her servant, with instructions if she does not return. She pushes aggressively at the door of the Underworld, and Ereshkigal commands the doorman to open the seven doors a crack, letting her through but removing her royal garments. “Let the holy priestess of heaven enter bowed low.” When her garments are removed, Inanna protests: “What is this?”

“Be satisfied, Inana, a divine power of the underworld has been fulfilled. Inana, you must not open your mouth against the rites of the underworld.” Or,
“Quiet, Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect,
They may not be questioned.”
(The first comes from this prose translation, the second from this verse translation.) Inanna makes Ereshkigal stand, and takes her throne, but the seven judges shout her guilt, and she is turned to a corpse, hung on a hook.

When she does not return, as instructed Ninshubur petitions Inanna’s father-Gods Enlil, Nanna and Enki to rescue her. Enlil and Nanna refuse, saying “Inana craved the great heaven and she craved the great below as well. The divine powers of the underworld are divine powers which should not be craved, for whoever gets them must remain in the underworld. Who, having got to that place, could then expect to come up again?”

Enki creates two demons to rescue Inanna. He gives them the life-giving water. They go to the underworld and find Ereshkigal sick and in mourning, her unwashed hair “bunched up as if it were leeks”. They sympathise, and she offers them a river of water. They demand the corpse, sprinkle the life-giving water on it, and bring Inanna to life.

When Inanna returns, she is escorted by demons who will accept no sacrifice, but afflict humanity- “tear the wife from a man’s embrace”- without pity. She must bring back a substitute, for no-one has ascended unscathed from the Underworld. She finds Ninshubur in mourning, and will not send her, but her husband Dumuzid is dressed magnificently and seated on a throne, so she chooses him. The demons seize him. He escapes briefly, and his sister asks to share his fate: each will spend six months each year in the Underworld.

Stone bowl offered to Inanna


What does the story of Inanna mean?

It is incantatory and repetitive. You would hear it as a story, and the repetitions would please you like the returning themes of a symphony.

The Jungian interpretation is clear. Jesus said, When you strip naked without being ashamed, you will become children of God and have no more fear. Inanna’s finery is mere pretence, masks so she might look good- though Isaiah 64:6 sees them differently: we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Our pretences are stripped away, and we are free.

The individual garments may have individual interpretations:

With the me in her possession, she has prepared herself:
On her head she wears the shugurra, the crown of the steppe.
Across her forehead her dark locks of hair are carefully arranged.
Around her neck she wears the small lapis beads.
At her breast she wears the double strand of beads.
Her body is wrapped with the royal robe. [or, She covered her body with a pala dress, the garment of ladyship.]
Her eyes are dabbed with the ointment called, “let him come, let him come.”
Around her chest she wears the breastplate called “come, man, come.”
On her wrist she wears the gold ring.
In her hand she carries the lapis measuring rod and line.

What could each mean? Comment! Knock yourself out!

Joshua J Mark, in the Ancient History Encyclopaedia, eschews the Jungian interpretation: the tale shows how self-centred and unfair a Goddess may be, and humanity suffers. Also the change of Dumuzid and his sister explains the seasons. Though myths may pass through many hands, and have meanings added. He thinks Ereshkigal is praised at the end of the poem-

Holy Ereshkigal! Great is your renown!
Holy Ereshkigal! I sing your praises!

-because she sought justice against Inanna; but the Goddess of the Dead should be propitiated, especially after portraying her as outsmarted by her sister.

For me, a myth speaks to the unconscious. I can explain the meaning that we lose our pretences, our identities, when we find our unconscious, because I have become conscious of that. There may be other meanings in the story.

I have been at thirdwaytrans again. He finds the identity “a trans woman” a prison, because it means we can no longer present male. A commenter brought up Inanna. First I tried to please the World with my hyper-manly persona (from Greek for mask) then, more truly me, with “Clare”. After descending into Hell, or reaching rock bottom, I learn how valueless the masks are. Before I transitioned, I thought that in five years’ time I might be trying to present male, but transitioning was the only way to get to that place. My identity as trans liberated aspects of myself I could not express otherwise.

Unilantern, commenting, claims masculine and feminine are patriarchal oppression. She produces a great long screed arguing masculinity is seen as instrumental, femininity as expressive. If a man is expressive he is seen as feminine. But composers, painters, poets, philosophers, even writers, were until recently overwhelmingly male.

Healing-stars Goddessastrology compares the removal of the seven garments to the purification of the seven chakras, though chakras are understandings from a different culture. Hooray for eclecticism!


The Equant point

Ptolemy was wrong. The Sun does not go round the Earth. Why did his view dominate our understanding for over 1300 years? Why was it so hard to change our minds?

Through the mediaeval period, Ptolemy superseded Aristotle’s understanding of celestial motion because he was more accurate. His theory could be used to predict where a planet would appear at future times. He was not only wrong about the Sun going round the Earth, but also about the celestial spheres: the planets were fixed to spheres, made of the etherial fifth element quintessence, and nesting within each other, else, how would they not fall to Earth? He was also wrong in holding to an Aristotelian idea, that because the Heavens are perfect, the planets must move in circles, because the circle is perfect.

The planets do not appear to move in perfect circles. They speed up and slow down, which is not perfect. Ptolemy’s answer was the Equant point. The Earth was not thought to be at the centre of the sphere on which the planet moved, but off-set. The equant point was also not at the centre: it was that place from which the planet would appear to move at a constant rate in its circle.

Ptolemy was right that Mars was closest to Earth, then Jupiter, then Saturn, because he decided that the slower moving planets were further away: but he had no reason for deciding that order.

He was a practical scientist, making new instruments for measuring the precise position of the planets more accurately than before. He was a mathematician, devising the mathematical models which enabled astronomers for centuries after to predict where the planets would appear.

Why would astronomers follow this false scheme? Because predicting the courses of the planets was a complex task. The student would learn the accumulated knowledge of humanity in making those predictions, the practical skills of observing and the mathematics, and so would have Ptolemy’s views inculcated. It was how it was. The observations slowly became more accurate with better instruments, diverging from Ptolemy’s mathematics; and it was important to measure the Heavens, because Easter fell on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal Equinox: we must therefore know when the Equinox is.

Copernicus placed the Sun at the centre, but retained the Greek idea that orbits were circular. Tycho Brahe had the Sun moving round the Earth, but Mercury and Venus moving round the Sun: the spheres, then, could not be, as they would be moving through each other. Johannes Kepler theorised that the planets moved in ellipses rather than circles, and Newton calculated how gravity affected their movement. But Mercury does not fit Newton’s laws, and this could be observed by the 19th century: it was theorised that there was another planet, Vulcan, within the orbit of Mercury whose gravity influenced it. Einstein’s theory explained the orbit of Mercury without need for another planet.

Ptolemy and the muse Astronomia

The Tao of war

Here is Boris, Prince Drubetskoy, the coming man who makes himself indispensable, who marries for money knowing that means he can never have Love, attached to the staff of Bagration. He knows that whatever happens at the battle of Borodino, he will gain for his master: if the battle is lost, it is the fault of Kutusov, Commander in Chief, and if won, it is the achievement of Bagration. So many men anticipate their own gain, of medals and advancement.

Bennigsen despises Kutusov. He sees an elementary error which will lead to slaughter: men at the base of a hill, from which they might be attacked. He orders them to the top of the hill, not thinking that they had been where they were for any reason- such as, to be concealed in ambush.

Solzhenitsyn pictures similar generals in August 1914, despising their commander so marching their own way, each in turn enveloped and annihilated by the Axis. In 1917, the Germans marched into Russia, as fast as they would in peacetime.

Clausewitz- whose concept of “friction” I remember, how any plan is worn away by Events, walks past, in animated conversation in German. War must be extended in space. I cannot put too high a price on this view. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky despises German thinking and analysis. Barclay de Tolly- despite his Scottish ancestry he is seen as a German, as all foreigners are called “German”- thinks things through, and loses. Bolkonsky knows he will die tomorrow. What matters in war is not theory, but spirit. The men who wish most to kill will do it. Barclay retreated at the moment to attack, when the fatherland had been besmirched by the invader, when Russian blood was up. No prisoners should be taken. War is murder, and chivalry makes it bearable, noble, possible; chivalry, the make-up on a pig, permits people to lie it is beautiful.

No-one understands. Napoleon wishes to advance, though that is what destroyed his army; the Russians want to hold him back. After, military historians try to find Causes: but causes are inaccessible to the human mind. The need to seek causes has been put into the soul of man. And the human mind, without grasping in their countlessness and complexity the conditions of phenomena, takes hold of the first, most comprehensible approximation and says, here is the cause. And claim the generals are geniuses, for intending the outcome achieved.

Kutuzov, who sleeps in staff meetings considering battle plans, is reading a French Gothic novel, Les Chevaliers du Cygne. Andrei, without knowing how, trusts him. The more he saw the absence of anything personal in this old man, in whom there seemed to remain only the habit of passions, and instead of intelligence (which groups events and draws conclusions) only the ability to calmly contemplate the course of events, the more calmed he felt over everything being as it had to be. “He won’t invent, won’t undertake anything, but he’ll listen to everything, remember everything, put everything in its place, won’t hinder anything or allow anything harmful. He understands that there is something stronger and more significant than his will- the inevitable course of events… and is able to renounce his personal will.”

Peter von Hess, the Battle of Borodino

George Fox

For man and woman were helpsmeet in the image of God … in the dominion before they fell; but after the Fall … the man was to rule over his wife; but in the restoration by Christ, into the image of God … in that they are helpsmeet, man and woman, as they were in before the Fall. You could read this as a statement for Equality of men and women, but it is not: as “helpsmeet”, men and women have different and complementary roles. Fox was a man of his time. Yet this is revolutionary: we are restored by Christ into the image of God. The Church of England required belief in Original Sin, saying that man is inclined to evil, and the infection of nature remains even in those regenerated by faith in Christ. The Westminster confession said that man could be sanctified, yet remain in part corrupt.

But we, Quakers, are restored to our glory, in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful. I don’t think that is unBiblical, particularly, though probably some Evangelicals would, and I am not Marcus J Borg to bandy proof-texts with them. Fox knew and used the Bible as he preached.

I wondered, what are we to make of the Letter to the Governor of Barbadoes, which was in our book of discipline in the 19th century and is still regarded in Evangelical Quaker circles. Much of it is a statement of belief about God, Jesus and scripture. As a liberal-liberal 21st century Quaker, I can say simply, he was a man of his time, and when he calls the Bible the Word of God, whose writers spoke as moved by the Holy Spirit, he spoke the ideas of his time. In following him, I am not to accept his 17th century ideas as a whole, but his way of being with them. So he writes that masters should “pray with and for, teach, instruct and admonish” their slaves about Christian truth: not release them, but treat them as human beings, fellow-servants of Christ. That might mitigate the masters’ bestial treatment.

I love this quote too, the way the words build and dance round the idea, the strength of it.

I must read the Journal again. I want to know this man. And now, an Iris Murdoch quote:

I live in long times, not in sudden present moments. I’ve got to go back to where I am… You don’t understand people like me, like us, the other ones. You’re like a bird that flies in the air, a fish that swims in the sea. You move, you look about you, you want things. There are others who live on Earth and move just a little and don’t look-

Monet, en bateau

Canons Ashby

The man pressed us to ride in his golf buggy, complete with perspex walls against the rain, though it was only two hundred yards from the car park. He was very friendly and chatty. I guessed South African for his accent, a softer version of the Afrikaans accent, but actually it is from “Rhodesia, a country which no longer exists”. He pressed us to ask the receptionist to call for him to come up, but we walked. Having volunteered for this task, he wants to be used.

In the entrance hall, there are  swords displayed- nothing like Blair Castle, home of the Dukes of Atholl, a lineage which predates the union of Scotland around 900, but a large display for England. There is also a strange looking flintlock, its barrel encased in wood, with a long iron spike below it which I took for a trigger. What is that? It’s a poachers gun. It was set up with a trip wire to frighten the poachers. It dates from the mid 19th century. Given that man-traps from that period could crush a leg and cripple a man- possibly kill him, if he was far from help and could not get to shelter- it may have done more than frighten.

The house was a farm house in 1500, built up shortly after. The study, now a bedroom, was panelled, but when the panelling came down line drawings on the walls were revealed. I am fascinated. There is a donkey prominent in one. It is the story of Jeroboam, says the room-guide. Because they pick it up as they go along, and do some research, I am unsure of this, but don’t know enough about the first king of Israel divided from Judah to say.

Here is a bedroom with dark hanging tapestries round the bed. They cover over the mullioned windows. So soon after the new rooms were built, mullioned windows were out of fashion, and sash windows with wooden frames were in. Some of the stone framed mullioned windows were replaced with sashes, even though the wood was unable to support the roof: so that when the National Trust took over the property in 1980, the front wall was leaning 13° from vertical, and might have fallen down.

What would it be like to sleep in such a place, the dark hangings, the dark curtains hanging from the four poster bed- did people draw those curtains? The large room, an 18th century settee and two chairs with so little wear to the covering- did people use those chairs? Stories, half-remembered, passed on…

I liked the drawing room, though I would paint the whole crenellated ceiling in different colours rather than white. I don’t know if that large family portrait, the children are girls, or boys not yet breached. Strange that the man is in the background, in shadow, off to one side, the woman surrounded by her children. Perhaps the guide has a story, it is less reliable still for me to use my own knowledge.

Canons Ashby

Lawful authority

BAL72314In proposing to limit EU migration, and withhold the additional payment of £1.7bn now due, Mr Cameron is like a drunk, refused entry to a nightclub by a bouncer, who decides to “make something of it”. He is already past the point where he might avoid loss of face: his choice is between looking a fool, and complete humiliation. Surely someone in his government has some understanding of international law: we obey international treaties, freely entered, because they are better than going to war.

That was a way of putting it, not satisfactory but very satisfying. I am sure you can sense the warm, self-righteous glow I feel, pontificating like that. At one time, to make such pronouncements would have made me a pub bore, but now I am a blogger, and can do it from my own living room. Whatever. I was wondering why in 1660 some invited the King back, and others acquiesced. It is all to do with how we avoid killing each other. I love blogging, I can play with such grand topics if I wish.

On the flimsy basis of Peter Ackroyd’s book, I would say that the army, having installed Oliver Cromwell practically as king, with regal powers, needed a single strong figure for the loyalty of the nation. Oliver’s son Richard was not it, and he did not want to be. There was no legitimate authority other than the King. All law is based upon force- I am a legal positivist, more Kelsen than Austin, seeing that the basis for law in any country is force, Queen Anneeither revolution or conquest, and that law has no value without policemen and bailiffs; but where the initial force was applied long ago, people come to obey out of habit, consent and the desire for a quiet life, which is more comfortable for all concerned.

Um. Social contract. I don’t have to have planned this, or made it consistent- it is a blog- so will just drop that in. And I feel I can break the law, either as some theoretical supreme act of martyrdom to moral principle, or breaking speed limits etc.

Why invite the King back? It was the only way to achieve stable government. One might hope that the King, remembering his father’s vicissitudes, would not behave like a tyrant- this was a forlorn hope in the case of James VII/II, but we got rid of him. The people believed that the King was bound by law, needing Parliament’s consent for taxation.

After 268 years of increasing internal peace since the last mainland battle (except for the Troubles) we are, more or less and on the whole, governed by consent. I waffle because it’s a blog, and because a definite statement eludes me. The Government can do what the people don’t want, but not too much. Being a republic would symbolise that. The last vestige of our Grundnorm– the Norman Conquest- would melt away, and we would be a free people, governing ourselves.