Many years ago, whilst sitting behind a small wooden desk, listening to history being dispensed by ‘gods’ in the guise of teachers, I was told about the ‘golden days’ of Elizabethan England. The tales were full of heroes who fought the Spanish and robbed them of their gold. These heroes were the stuff of Hollywood films, and were all, or so it seemed, played by Erol Flynn wearing tights. Evidently, my teachers had not consulted the archives of the Tower and the State Paper Office; the journals of the Lords and Commons; the rolls of Parliament, and the mass of original letters that survived, when forming their opinions. They taught history as if it were a romantic story. The historian Lingard gives an all too different account:
‘The nation was divided into opposite parties – the oppressors and the oppressed. Many ancient and honourable families had been ground to the dust; new families had sprung up in their places; and these, as they shared the plunder, naturally eulogised the system to which they owed their wealth and their ascendancy. But their prosperity was not the prosperity of the nation, it was that of one half obtained at the expense of the other’. Lingard’s comments can be aptly applied to today – a world divided between oppressors and oppressed; those who benefit from ‘the rule of the market’, and those who are exploited by it.
The Elizabethan Council had used religion as an excuse to enrich its members and their followers, who professed to be Protestant, by appropriating the property of rich Catholics. Catholic martyrs went to their death in Elizabethan times for sheltering Catholic priests, who were seen as potential traitors during a time of hostility between England and ‘Catholic’ Spain – the bogeyman that is now Russia.
Divisions in Elizabethan society were, however, not solely fronted by feigned religious allegiance. There was only a small proportion of Protestant society who could afford to wear the starched ruffs, padded doublets, and farthingales (framed hoops worn under the skirt), as featured in Hollywood history – the Elizabethan designer clothes of ‘success’. Abject poverty, armed gangs, murders, and rapes were part of everyday life. A servant could be raped (men or women, adult or child), and then accused of the sin of fornication. Queen Elizabeth was in the habit of being ‘surprised’ in her underwear when male ambassadors were admitted to her presence, such scenes obviously not making the Cate Blanchett enactment of Hollywood history.
Despite the acquisition of Church lands, the treasury was empty, depleted by war expenditure and the extravagant lifestyles of the ruling elite. The currency had been debased, and all over the country there was seething discontent on the issue of enclosures. Not content with stealing land, and attracted by the profits to be made by the sale of wool, the aristocracy were turning ploughland into pasture; and as sheep needed less labour than tillage, there was an army of unemployed. Riots erupted in the Northern and Eastern counties, where a squire named Robert Ket took the lead of a mob which pulled down enclosures and tried unpopular landlords. (The modern state would employ its well-financed riot squads). An example of how worried the ruling class were at this time is given in a sermon preached in all English Churches in 1547:
‘Almighty God hath created and appointed all things in heaven, earth, and waters, in a most excellent and perfect order. In heaven he hath appointed distinct or several orders and slates of archangels and angels. In earth he hath aligned and appointed kings, princes, with other governors under them, in all good and necessary order.’ This sounds as an apologia for The New World Order, thus read: In earth he hath aligned and appointed the American President, Middle Eastern puppet princes, with other EU mouthpiece governors under them, in all good and necessary order to shackle the masses with the leg-irons of corporate capitalism.
Courtiers (government ministers) were parasites of the king, who surrounded him, like vultures, gorging themselves on the fallen carcass of the Catholic Church. The result of such redistribution of wealth was mass poverty and homelessness (ring any bells?), for many relied on the monasteries for their living. The new land-grabbing Protestant aristocracy were hated. Northern riots severely threatened the power of the regime, whose response was drastic. Defeated rioters were hanged and disemboweled, their bodies being left to hang in their villages as a warning to others. The rioters hatred did not abate, however, for they were under the yoke of one of the most despotic rulers that ever lived. To merely disagree with Henry VIII. was to invite unpleasant death. Sir Walter Raleigh said: ‘If all the patterns of a merciless tyrant had been lost to the world, they might have been found in this prince’. He was the first King of England that brought women to the block, and caused them to be tortured and burned. He was the only king who sought consolation for the imagined offences of his wives by plundering their relatives of their money. Not content with this, as any true tyrant, he sought to control opinions. He declared that the bible should not be read in public, and could only be read in private by people of noble or gentle birth. There was a common belief in a natural order in society, as the 16th century poet, Thomas Nashe, commented: ‘In London the rich disdaineth the poor. The courtier the citizen. One occupation disdaineth another. The merchant the retailer. The retailer the craftsman. The better sort of craftsman the baser. The shoemaker the cobler’.
The same Hollywood history is at play when it is said that Queen Elizabeth agonised over signing the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth told the French Ambassador that she had been in tears over the ‘unfortunate affair’. Elizabeth was not concerned about having Mary killed – she just didn’t want to sign the order herself, suggesting that Mary could be murdered by her jailors, a letter requesting this being sent Sir Amyas Paulet, Mary’s prison governor. Paulet replied to Sir Francis Walsingham: ‘I am so unhappy to have liven to see this unhappy day, in the which I am required, by direction from my most gracious Sovereign, to do an act which God and the law forbiddeth … God forbid that I should make so fowle a shipwracke of my conscience, or leave so great a blot to my posteritie, or shed blood without law and warrant… thus I commit you to the mercy of the Almightie’.
I ask history teachers to question why they are singing from the ‘Govian’ Ministry of Truth hymn sheet, making children learn rhymes to remember the wives of Henry VIII., as if such trivia informs of the plight of English people trampled under the jackboot of asset strippers. Have you, too, not conducted original research; not read the archives of the Tower and the State Paper Office; the journals of the Lords and Commons; the rolls of Parliament, and the mass of original letters that survived? I suspect not, but either way, you make a foul shipwreck of your conscience.
You demean the children you indoctrinate, and may the judgment of Robert Ket be visited on you. Become a historian, rather than a paid presenter of history as propaganda.
Lenin Nightingale 2014.