The World Turned Upside Down: A Just and Elected Monarchy?

At the Court of Macbeth: Last Elected King of Scots

At the Court of Macbeth: Last Elected King of Scots

In this, the fourth of my responses in this current blog thread to the LSX Occupy Group’s ‘New Putney Debates’, we look for a second time at the highly contentious issue of the British Monarchy, in relation to the original Leveller Debates of 1647. The institution of Monarchy, and the reaction of the Levellers to it, is dealt with in some detail in Christopher Hill’s ‘Puritanism and Revolution’, a key work on the politics and Republican Spirit of the Age in which they lived; by an author who was himself a major influence on those directly involved in the initiation of the Putney Debates to begin with.

As was previously noted in my last essay, many of the rank and file membership of the Levellers, as a movement, were familiar with a whole host of semi-oral traditions relating to certain aspects of Custom Law and Common Right which were to have a direct bearing on the disdainful view that many of them were to adopt in relation to the English Crown at the time of the First and Second Civil Wars. One of these traditions, that some sort of primitive democracy of sorts had existed before the Norman Conquest, is backed up by direct references in surviving Anglo-Saxon documents that date before the arrival of William the Conqueror: whose own Conquest of England in 1066 was to impose the autocratic rule of the Norman and Plantagenet lines upon the indigenous English people that was to last right down until the establishment of the Commonwealth under the Parliamentary Republic at the end of the 1640s.

Although the earliest Parliaments as we know them date from well after the Norman Conquest, there are direct references to be found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and elsewhere of the direct participation of the so called ‘Burhwaru’, or Free Citizens of London, and others, in the election of the West Saxon Kings: King Alfred the Great’s own dynasty. Indeed, Asser, the Welsh monk responsible for Alfred’s own biography, refers directly to how Alfred could have taken the throne for himself at any time before the death of his brother forced him to accept the Crown reluctantly from his predecessor:

‘Indeed, he could easily have taken it over with the consent of all while his brother Aethelred was alive, had he considered himself worthy to do so….’

These words project a very different image of Monarchy to the one that most of us are used to, and a very different one indeed to the one used by King Charles I, at his own trial, to set out his own personal position in law. In relation to this last point, it is perhaps significant that according to a number of legends circulated by the Stuarts themselves, King James I’s ancestry, and right to the throne of Scotland, as James VI of that country, was rooted in his supposed descent from Banquo; by all accounts one of the heros of the Shakespearean drama ‘Macbeth’; whose death at the hands of the villain, or Anti-Hero of the piece, appears to have been rooted in the supposed prophecy that his own descendants would eventually rule.

Interestingly enough, Macbeth, who was himself a contemporary of the founder of the Anglo-Norman Ascendancy in Britain who had been killed in battle just nine short years before the arrival of the Conqueror on these shores at the head of an army, is remembered in Highland Scottish history and folklore as the last elected King of Scots. In addition to being a wise and just ruler, his supposed usurpation of the Crown appears to have been a later fabrication, like the Stuarts’ supposed descent from Banquo, in order to obscure the electoral origins of the Scottish Crown. Again, a band of Norman mercenaries dispatched by William and led by one of his kinsmen, himself the founder of the Sinclair Dynasty north of the Border, appear to have been the hidden hand behind the suppression of traditional Custom Law and Common Right in Scotland too. And in so doing, appear to have paved the way for the chain of events that was to lead to the English Civil War in the first place.

For those of us who are familiar with the exact chronology of misadventures that were to lead up to the fateful rift between King and Parliament that was to plunge the nation into chaos for the best part of a decade, the spark that was to ignite the fire that eventually became the furnace was an attempt by Bishop Laud, King Charles I’s chief religious adviser, to impose a series of reforms upon the Scottish Church. With the arrival of a Scottish army at Newcastle and no standing military body of any consequence to oppose it, the series of totally unforeseen developments that would lead to the defeat and execution of Charles himself, and the establishment of the first modern Republican State, as we ourselves understand the interpretation of the term, were set in motion in such a way as to be beyond the power of any one individual, other than the King himself, to arrest.

In a future posting we shall look once again at the original concept of monarchy in relation to what we have seen here, with particular reference to the attempted revival of the electoral system by the self styled followers of ‘King Arthur’.  Arthur’s own, albeit comparatively recent, attempt to revive this long lost monarchical tradition is recorded as having taken place in the immediate vicinity of where King Alfred the Great’s own West Saxon Dynasty were themselves traditionally invested: at Kingston in Surrey; in the shadow of St. Mary’s Church: itself located within an ancient ritual landscape generally referred to as ‘The Kingston Zodiac’: an oft visited location during the course of a number of my previous threads; and a place to which we are likely to return.

Church Effect

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The World Turned Upside Down: Towards a Parliamentary Republic?

Clemence 1

In this, the third of my responses to the LSX Occupy Group’s ‘New Putney Debates’, we look at the highly contentious issue of the British Monarchy, in relation to the original Leveller Debates of 1647. With questions being asked on a number of different levels with regard to the Monarchy’s relevance and future in a modern, and increasingly more secular society, what sort of institution should replace it? And what sort of a Republic should we set up in the event of its possible future abolition?

The last British Republic, itself to all intents and purposes the first modern European republic, and the first republic outside of Italy since the old Senatorial Republic of Rome had been superseded by the Dictatorship of the Caesars, had come into being the year after the original Putney Debates; its original foundation having culminated in the trial and execution, for High Treason, of King Charles the First. At his trial King, whose own knowledge of the law and of legal process was indeed extensive, argued his own case before the Court as follows:

‘A King cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth. But it is not my case alone- it is the freedom and liberty of the people of England. And do you pretend what you will, I stand more for their liberties- for if power without law may make laws, may alter the fundamental laws of the kingdom, I do not know what that subject he is in England that can be sure of his life or anything that he calls his own. Therefore, when that I came here I did not expect particular reasons to know by what law, what authority, you did proceed against me here…..’

These words, taken from the Court transcript of the trial itself in 1649, are illustrative of the ambiguities involved in any attempt to take a British Monarch before a Court of Law. The corner stone of Charles Stuart’s defence, when taken before those legal minds who had previously been selected by Parliament as those best suited to passing judgement over him, was that under the then present system prevalant at the time at which the trial had taken place, in which the so called ‘Royal Prerogative’ made him the ultimate legal power in the land, it was legally impossible for anyone to bring him before a court at all.

‘Remember, I am your King- your lawful King and what sins you bring upon your heads and the Judgement of God upon this land, think well upon it!’ was the King’s response to his captors after the principal charge of High Treason was read out to him before those assembled. The response of President John Bradshaw, the most senior of those involved in the proceedings, was as follows:

‘Sir, you spoke very well of a precious thing you call peace, and it had much to be wished that God had put it into your heart that you had as effectively and really endeavoured and studied the peace of the Kingdom as now in words you seem to pretend. But, as you were told the other day, actions must expound intentions, your actions have been clean contrary…..For, sir, as you have held yourself and let fall such language as if you had been no ways subject to the law, or that the law had not been your superior. Sir- the court is very well sensible of it- and I hope so are all the understanding people of England- that the law is your superior, that you ought to have ruled according to the law- you ought to have done so…..’

President Bradshaw’s words can be shown conclusively to  have been derived directly from many of the original ideas expounded by the Levellers at the Leveller Debates of 1647. And, as has been noted during the course of an earlier posting, amongst the other ideas originally expounded by the Levellers and their supporters at the Putney Debates was the idea of a Parliamentary system based on one man, one vote. When speaking about these ideas before those assembled at Putney Church on 28th October 1647, General Henry Ireton, a senior Parliamentary leader, described their intended implementation, with respect to individual Parliamentary votes, by those who had first proposed them, as follows:

‘The exception that lies in it is this: it is said they are to be distributed according to the number of inhabitants. ‘The People of England’, etc. And this does make me think that the meaning is that every man that is an inhabitant is to be equally considered, and to have an equal voice in the election of those representatives, the persons that are for the general representative, and if that be the meaning then I have something to say against it, but if it be only that those people that by the civil constitution of this kingdom which is original and fundamental, and beyond which I am sure no memory of record does go….’

At this point in the proceedings there appears to have been an interjection from an unknown member of the crowd:

‘Not before the Conquest!’;

to which Ireton’s response was as follows:

‘But before the Conquest it was so. If it be intended that those that by that constitution that was before the Conquest, that has been beyond memory, such persons that have been under that constitution should be electors, I have no more to say…..’

In the next posting in this ongoing thread we shall look at those ideas being expounded by the Levellers, in relation to the constitution that existed before the Norman Conquest, as referred to here, and its possible place in a future Parliamentary Republic, in more depth: with particular reference to the Parliamentary Commonwealth of Cromwell and the subsequent creation of the limited ‘Constitutional Monarchy’ under which we currently live. And, in the course of so doing, we shall see that the idea of a truly elected Head of State is not, as those who are opposed to it would have us believe, some modern notion arrived at during the Age of Enlightenment, but a concept hundreds of years older than the so called ‘Mother of Parliaments’ itself.

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The World Turned Upside Down: Ancient Sites and Bardic Rights

The vanished prehistoric earthwork on Kennington Common: focus for the Chartists’ Meeting of 1848: the forerunner of the 1990 Anti-Poll Tax Rally and the 2012 Student Protests.

Just over a month before Christmas 2012 participants in the latest round of national student protests converged unexpectedly on Kennington Park in South London, having been redirected from Westminster by senior Metropolitan Police officers anxious about possible disturbances; in the event of the March getting too close to the Houses of Parliament. It is unlikely that many of those present on the March, which culminated in the throwing of eggs and fruit at a Student Union leadership viewed by many of its rank and file membership as being too weak and ineffectual to deal with the politicians in control, remembered, if they ever knew, that Kennington Park was the starting point, on March 31st 1990, for the great Anti-Poll Tax Rally; that was to bring Margaret Thatcher’s evil, wicked and despotic rule to its ultimate end.

Fewer still would have known, if any at all, that Kennington Park, before its nineteenth century enclosure, when it was still known as Kennington Common, was the also the site of the great Chartist Meeting of 1848: after which participants had marched on the Houses of Parliament; ushering in the great series of events that was to lead to the inevitably snail’s pace reform of both Houses and the long hard trodden road towards what passes for a Parliamentary Democracy, however nominal, that many of us still attempt to participate in today. And, it is also doubtful if any of those on the March would ever have realized that the original impetus behind the convening of so many people on that fateful day in question was rooted in the Ancient British Radical Tradition of Custom Law and Common Right. The now vanished prehistoric earthwork on Kennington Common that had acted as a focus for the Chartists’ Meeting itself having been known to have been an ancient Moot Hill; or centre for traditional Folk Moots or primitive parliaments.

In the first installment of this newly reactivated thread I looked at the role of the Levellers and the Diggers in preserving and reviving many of the ideas and traditions of the Medieval radicals who had preceded them. In this posting I intend to look at some of those who could perhaps be described as their lineal descendants in many ways; on account of their enactment of many of the same traditional folk customs that had previously experienced a revival of interest during the English Civil Wars.

Although it has been largely forgotten by most conventional  English historians, Oliver Cromwell, the some would say infamous Lord Protector, was himself of Welsh descent: his family having arrived in London with the army of King Henry VII at the end of the Wars of the Roses. Originally carrying the traditional Cymric patronym of ‘ap Gwillim’, or Williams, Old Noll’s direct ancestor had adopted the surname Cromwell after marrying into the family of the equally infamous Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex.

This considered, it is perhaps significant that on the Summer Solstice of 1792, on Primrose Hill of all places, another Welshman by the name of Williams, better known under his nom de plume of Iolo Morgannwg, successfully attempted to restore the Ancient Druidic Gorsedd in a revived eighteenth century ritual which can rightly be claimed as the direct ancestor of many of the modern Bardic and Druidic rituals enacted right the way across Britain today. Of further significance, in view of that we have previously noted in relation to Kennington Common above, is that not only was Iolo Morgannwg himself a major influence upon the revival of Welsh Nationalism, he was also an outspoken opponent of the Slave Trade and a major player in a Europe wide radical movement of little lost peoples, including Basques, Catalans, Slovaks and others, whose espousal of many of the ideas and ideals of Thomas Paine and the French Revolutionary Enlightenment, had seen them become radically opposed to the old social order of the day.

Of particular significance too, in view of the influence of Enlightenment Revolutionary principals upon Iolo’s, some would say curious, even eccentric, Welsh Bardic Revivalism,  was the impetus that Iolo himself was to pass on to the Chartists and others; whose later attempts to re-invoke the ancient traditions of Custom Law and Common Right, in the true spirit of the Diggers and the Levellers, was to manifest itself around what are known to have originally been prehistoric centres of gathering and convention at places such as Parliament Hill and Kennington Common; as a direct result of his original Bardic  inspiration. These self same ideas were to make a lasting impression upon the young William Blake, whose sporting of the French ‘Bonnet Rouge’ was to single him out as among the most uniquely radical of his own contemporaries; in addition to inspiring the Bardic theme of some of the most visionary of his poetical writings.

Eleven years previously, in an ancient tavern in Poland Street, just off Oxford Street, known as the King’s Arms, an organization generally known as the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781. And, just as the revived interest in Custom Law and Common Right that had been espoused by the Levellers at the Putney Debates had taken place at a time of great political turmoil and social unrest, the eighteenth century revival of Druidism was to take place under not dissimilar circumstances. In 1781 the disastrous American War of Independence was finally coming to an end, as the Revolutionary New World Colonists’ successful bid to cut their ties with the Mother Country was finally bearing fruit.

Bearing this in mind, it is therefore perhaps significant that those who are on record as having been initiated into the Ancient Order of Druids, not so very long after its foundation, in 1783 to be precise, are known to have included Charles James Fox; himself soon to become the outspoken opponent of war with Revolutionary France: a conflict that was to break out in the self same year of Iolo’s fateful Solstice ceremony; which is still recognized today as the principal foundation date of the revived British Gorsedd among practicing pagans world wide. Once again, we find evidence for the renewed interest in ancient rights and practices, relating to archaic forms of government in particular, rising to the surface at times of unrest and social upheaval. The revival of Druidism coinciding approximately with the foundation of the newly independent North America and the revival of the Bardic Gorsedd amid the turmoil and conflict of the onset of the Great French War: which had been intended to thwart the expansion of the newly created French Republic as far as its natural border on the Rhine.

Of particular interest then, to star gazers and Astrologers of all kinds, given the Astrological basis of much of Druidic and Bardic Pagan belief, is that our present decade sees the transit of the all powerful planet Pluto through the sign of Capricorn in exactly the same manner as it was transiting then. Thus, the new political consciousness and the revival of Custom Law and Common Right seems destined to provoke a similar global political reorganization to that occasioned by the American and French Revolutions more than two centuries ago: albeit in a completely different and socially renewed manifestation. In a future posting we shall look at some of the implications of this particular transit in depth. With the arrival of a new comet in the skies above us in the months to come it is perhaps worth considering how the seventeenth century Levellers would have viewed such an Astronomical phenomenon; taking into account their uniquely millenarian world view; so it will be with this purpose in mind that I shall update this posting in the days and weeks to come…..

Kennington

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The World Turned Upside Down: Custom Law and Common Right

Book Burning and Iconoclasm: 1643

Book Burning and Iconoclasm: 1643

In recognition of the 365th Anniversary of the Leveller Debates at the end of the First English Civil War Occupy London held a series of events inspired by the seventeenth century Levellers and Diggers: two radical forward thinking groups that were to grow out of the forment of revolutionary ideas spawned by the momentous events of the English Civil Wars. The collective title under which these discussions were to be promoted across the internet, both on WordPress, Facebook and elsewhere, was ‘The New Putney Debates’: a name that was to be inspired by the original venue where the Levellers themselves were to participate in a series of discussions of their own, at the Church of St. Mary, in what was at that time the village of Putney.

As well as attempting to redress certain grievances then prevalent among the rank and file of the Army, in relation to pay, conditions, and the crimes and atrocities that they themselves had been ordered to carry out, often under duress, during the course of the War, by their superiors, the purpose of the original Putney Debates was as a forum of discussion in relation to a number of key issues centred on political reform. These were to include the introduction of universal sufferage, something that we ourselves view as one of our principal democratic rights in our present day society, but which in the seventeenth century was an idea totally at odds with the then Established Order of Monarchy, National Church and House of Lords. The three pillars of Seventeenth Century English Society.

In addition to the Monarchy, which many of the Levellers wanted to see abolished, in view of the King’s role in the series of events that were to bring about the Civil War in the first place, another key issue was that of land rights in relation to Common Land, as well as the re-establishment of Custom Law and Common Right; as it had existed before the Norman Conquest. This particular issue was possibly one of the most contentious under discussion during the course of the original Putney Debates which took place in Putney Church between the Levellers, their representatives, and prominent members of the Parliamentary Army Council generally referred to as ‘the Grandees’.

The idea that some primitive form of democracy had existed in England before the Norman Conquest did not just filter down to the Levellers, but appears in the writings of Milton. It can also be found in Langland’s ‘Piers Ploughman’, a major influence upon the leaders of the Fourteenth Century Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The surviving transcript of the supposed negotiations between King Richard II and Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish Rebels, which took place in London’s Smithfield shortly before the latter’s death at the hands of Sir William de Walworth, at that time Lord Mayor of London, makes direct reference to a series of early legal tracts; referred to by Tyler himself as ‘The Laws of Winchester’.

According to one set of traditions, these so called ‘Laws of Winchester’ were based on the original Pre-Roman Druidic Laws of the Dark Age Welsh Kings; who had succeeded Arthur and his Knights as the inheritors of an even earlier legal system which can be traced right the way back into the misty primordial roots of Prehistoric Civilization. It is fact that many ancient Mediaeval Welsh legal tracts, which date from a time when much of Wales was still a distinct and independent principality free of the domination of the English Crown, are generally referred to as constituting the fragmentary remnants of just such a system. It is also fact that King Alfred the Great, whose capital was at Winchester and who is himself accredited with codifying these so called ‘Laws of Winchester’ into the form in which they are referred to by Tyler, was possessed of a Welsh mentor and adviser; in the person of Asser, his biographer.

We can therefore conclude from this that there was indeed some legal basis for the assertions made by both the Levellers themselves and their Mediaeval predecessors alike; that some sort of primitive democracy did exist before the advent of the Norman Conquest. And, from the sources that are still available to us, these ancient customs are known to have been the primordial antecendents of what are generally referred to as Mediaeval Folk Moots. Gatherings of local dignitaries, and others, before assemblies of the Common People.

Besides ‘Choir Gavr’, or Stonehenge, one of the principal traditional places where such gatherings are believed to have taken place is on Kennnington Common. And, it was to be here, on a long since demolished, but undoubtedly prehistoric, earthwork, or Moot Hill, in 1848, that the leader of the Chartists, O’Connor, addressed his assembled supporters; before their historic march on Parliament in the pursuit of political reform. In a future posting we shall look at the implications of this event in relation to our own present democracy and its possible influence on events that are to come…..

The Chartists’ Meeting on Kennington Common

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Mutoid Waste at the PFF Video Cafe

As promised earlier in the month this blogspot will host excerpts of Jonathan ‘JB’ Barnett’s soon to be reissued showreel throughout this year’s Portobello Film Festival. So here it is, the original digitized Youtube upload of Jonathan’s 1988 Mutoid Waste video.
 
For those interested in seeing a big screen showing of this, perhaps the first ever genuine underground DIY Culture video, check out the Video Cafe at Portobello’s Westbourne Studios September 14th-17th or the forthcoming Joe Rush Art Exhibition.
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Portobello Pirate TV….

Back in the blogosphere after a bit too long, but with a good excuse for not having picked up the thread where the Zodiac left us off a few months back….Next month sees the start (and indeed finish) of this year’s Portobello Film Festival: another landmark event from the team that brought you the world’s first ever internet film festival back in 1996 (or so it said on the flyer).
 
Originally the brainchild of Jonathan ‘JB’ Barnett, himself the long term collaborator of Kingston Zodiac discoverer and Glastonbury Zodiac documentor Mary Caine, Jonathan’s ideas of setting up his own pirate television station, Portobello Pirate TV, back in the nineteen nineties, were to lay the foundations for what was eventually to become the film festival; through the development of his own unique style of underground film making. As a tribute to his pioneering work as an underground film maker, my own independent film production outfit, Merlinhedd Films, has put together an accessible dvd video showcase of his work, some of which will be viewable during the course of the Festival both on my Youtube channel and at:
 
 
In the coming weeks, when the Festival is over, we’ll be back on track along the Road to Whiteleafed Cross……  
  ‘JB Gets Blown Out’ from the ‘Melody Maker’ article on his ‘Rough Guide to the Warwick’ series of videos shot in and around Portobello’s Warwick Castle Pub during the late nineteen eighties and early nineteen nineties. 
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‘The Road to Whiteleaf Cross’

 
Greetings From the Lord of Misrule!

 

Friday 29th May marked the passing of the traditional English festival of Oak Apple Day, and so, as we move out of the Lunar Hawthorn Tree Calendar Month and into that of the Oak we find the Gay Gordon Brown Trousers looking more and more like the Lord of Misrule who originally presided over so many of the May Month traditional revels that were once part of the indigenous pagan ritual calendar.
 
As we ourselves shall very soon see, as this sometimes and occasional blog moves on with a new theme, this time taking us on a magical mystery tour along ‘The Road to Whiteleaf Cross’, the fact that Chequers, the Gay Gordon’s all expenses paid Prime Ministerial weekend retreat, is itself located in the midst of an ancient ritual landscape directly tapped in to the world famous Great Dragon Line may well have something to do with it. A fact which would come as little surprise to radical English Civil War Parliamentarians such as John Hampden. Himself a one time resident of nearby Hampden House.
 
In part one of our journey, which begins next month, we set out from a similarly ancient ritual landscape, itself just a few miles down the road from Tony Blair’s one time party political stomping ground. The first stage of a countrywide journey across the land in search of the hidden greenwood bowers in which the Oak King still
holds sway….. 
 
 
         
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