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…..