Saturday, April 5, 2008

Death and Structural Damage

On our brief expeditions around this country, we discovered the depth of commitment to the monarchy. I personally am not overly interested in the monarchy. Yesteryear's monarchs with their pomp and excess, not to mention the ego of someone like Henry VIII can be interesting. Clever monarchs, like Elizabeth I, are fascinating in their approach to politics and recrafting their worlds at times of major change. But while I have no objection to Elizabeth II and think she's done a good job of weathering the entrance of the monarchy into the modern world, I don't really care.

I guess I'm a Sunday monarchist. Praying for (and therefore thinking about) the monarchy is something I only do on Sundays, in church. I might pray for MP's, Prime Ministers and other governing bodies at other times in the week, but it really wouldn't occur to me to put the Queen in that category.

However, I'm in England. Not the same as Australia when it comes to people's approach to things monarchical...

And this began to sink in when we went to York.

Because of my view of the monarchy, I had never given much thought to the way the folk here think about Cromwell and the Civil War in the 17th Century. I always assumed that they would line up with me, more or less. Despotic king looking to scupper the great reforms which had come to England and the people rising up under the leadership of Cromwell and putting an end to this for the good of the country.

Definitely an oversimplification, but if you want to assign black and white hats to a complex situation, I would have given the white hat to Cromwell. (It would be a round hat, of course, but it would be white...)

This view was strengthened by one of our favourite authors - Terry Pratchett. In one of his books he has a thinly disguised version of the Cromwell story, which paints his version of Cromwell as the heroic sacrificial matyr for his country, standing alone and persecuted against a despotic, egotistic, and amoral tyrant. What we passed over when we read the novels was the way his descendant (Samuel Vimes) still suffers from social prejudice for something his anscestor did centuries before. Now we know that Pratchett's take is definitely not the view of the English - it is a bit like an Australian waxing lyrical about the excellent strategy and skills of the English Generals at Gallipoli.

On Anzac Day.

It's a minority view. It couldn't be said to be all that popular.

So, when we went to York we visited the museum there. There was a long, intricate display on the Civil War as it affected York, including a nifty interactive map with lights showing the locations of the different battles and their outcomes. As the display unfolded, however, it became very, very clear that the Yorkshire district was not pro-Cromwell.

At all.

In any way.

Cromwell was the bad guy. The really bad guy.

And as we wandered about York it became clear that this was not merely a view held by some eccentric museum curators. The commentary on the holes in the walls of the city included the damage done by Cromwell. And as we walked home on our last night there we passed the door of the house of the valet who accompanied Charles I on the evening before his death. It wasn't even the house he had lived in but it was the house where he was born. This guy, who no-one had ever really heard of, was a hero for being pro-Charles. He wasn't even a lord or duke. He was the valet.

Well, it's the north. They're like that. We both taught Reformation for long enough to know that the north of England was never exactly for the reforms which swept England over the hundred or so years before the Civil War. It makes sense that Northerners would be pro-Charles and anti-Cromwell.

What we didn't expect was that this strong anti-Cromwell feeling would exist in Cardiff, Wales. Wales, which had to endure so much at the hands of the English monarchy.

But here we have Caerphilly Castle. We visited here on a freezing cold day last year. It was our first castle and we were quite excited. And we were duly impressed. Caerphilly castle, while in ruins had turrets and was definitely stately.

As with most exhibitions, there was a valiant attempt to educate the public so that we could seriously and properly enjoy the castle. Saying, "Wow! Cool castle! Wouldn't it be great if it had a dragon?" doesn't really cut it. What the exhibitors are aiming for is more along the lines of: "Hmmm. Excellent 12th century architecture on this section, as we can see from the sandstone exterior." With a long pause to really savour this at a deep level.

So we learned all sorts of things about the castle. One of these things was that by the 13th Century it was no longer of any strategic value for the area and was not really used by any of the monarchs.

We also learned that part of Caerphilly Castle is warped. It was damaged sometime after it fell out of use. It looks like someone very large has sat on it and squashed it. This is the uneducated view of course. The actual reason, according to the literature is that Cromwell did it. It was Cromwell.

He came and attacked a castle in the seventeenth century that had not been used since the thirteenth century.

The literature also said that it was just possible that this damage could have happened from the soil shifting and resettling in a different way.

But the preferred interpretation was that it was probably Cromwell.

Yes. Of course it was.

Even in Wales he's the bad guy.

Mark and I are pessimists. We see this as just common sense: when things go wrong, you're prepared, and when they go well you get a pleasant surprise. It's a win-win. You can see there are good grounds to be positive about pessimism.

So our criteria for success when involved in events and ventures is fairly basic: if there is no death and no structural damage then it was a success. Everything else is gravy.

I think Cromwell might be the first person I've come across to fail this criteria. I'd known about the death, but it appears he's responsible for all the structural damage in this country as well.

So here's a new criteria of success:
1. If there is neither death nor structural damage unless there is a resident despot to be overthrown.
2. If there is such a despot to be overthrown then any death and structural damage may be justified. However it will certainly be held against you (along with any other incidents for several centuries either side of you) till the end of time.

Sometimes success looks a lot like failure. JMB