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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Heirs and Spares
In a recent post I mused on the lack of stories about "bad" true heirs trying to oust "good" usurpers. A few literary examples were mentioned in the comments, and also a couple of historical candidates that could be seen that way if you were politically so inclined: Richard III (if you were a Ricardian) and Cromwell (if you were a Cromwellian). But though each has his supporters, the dominant narrative of British history has been fairly hostile to both men, and it struck me that within literature too such stories go against the grain of conventional narrative. You can tell a story against the grain for effect, or for novelty, but it takes a lot to have a permanent effect on such deeply entrenched habits of understanding.

What I didn't think of till much later was that there's a glaring example in British history that no one mentioned: namely, the successful usurpation that was the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent stories of the Old and Young Pretenders. There the "official" narrative has had to be that William's usurpation was indeed a Good Thing, and the Hanoverian succession too, while the Jacobite "true heirs" have to be made illegitimate - a narrative that could only be maintained (and that barely) by affirming Parliament's sovereignty over the monarch. (For those of us who prefer democracy to monarchy that's quite a sop, of course.)

Not that this has stopped romance attaching to the Jacobite cause - obviously. But even before Scott turned his genius to the matter in Waverley it was romantic as a lost cause, and it was increasingly in the lostness that its value resided.

Still, while William III has glamour for some on religious grounds that may be said to trump national ones, there are few less charismatic runs of monarchs than Anne and Georges I and II. Despite the crucial events of their reigns, still so relevant to the world as we inhabit it, to say nothing of the Revolution itself, they are muted in our National Story. Many young children learn the names of Henry VIII's six wives, but what do they know of Walpole or the Treaty of Utrecht? I feel fairly confident in saying that in 99% of cases the answer is "Nothing". I've often wondered why this was the case, but now I'm thinking that it may be because stories of "good" usurpers run counter to the narrative conventions that we assent to. There's a cognitive dissonance, and our eye slides over it rather than acknowledge the discomfort.

Joan Aiken, of course, in writing her Dido Twite books, had to imagine a Britain where history proceeded on conventional narrative principles, with the "good" Stuarts still in power and the "bad" Hanoverians as unsuccessful usurpers.

In America, at least some people are aware of the Ku Klux Klan's early work in trying to restore the power of slaveowners and their political Party.

I'm afraid I'm one of those who have never heard of the Treaty of Utrecht and have only a vague idea of who Walpole is - and I LOVE history! I guess it depends where you are as to what history you get taught.We weren't taught much about British history in my school when I was a child and even now you only hear a bit about it while studying The Middle Ages in Year 8. Terry Deary's Horrible Histories have done a lot for kids' general knowledge of history!

It's the period in which the United Kingdom was founded and the British Empire got up and properly running - yet it's totally ignored in favour of some fat despot's dubious marital choices...

PS I'm a firm Ricardian!

I loved the Dido Twite world. In fact I return to it every few years even now.

And wouldn't it have been less appealing had she been helping the Hanoverians out against Jacobite uprisings?

Years of studying the late Stewarts leaves me with the unshakeable belief that we were well rid of the grisly bunch and regretting that the English Republic didn't stick!

I do see your point, though it can't have been much fun living in the Republic with the Puritans cancelling Christmas and fun in general. ;-) On the other hand, as a Jew I do cheer just a bit for Cromwell, who knew how useful they could be and let them back into England.

The true Republic came before the Cromwellian dictatorship.

We have one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country here as a result!

So a quick cheer for Mannaseh ben Israel too! :o)

And for Rembrandt, who painted him. :-)

So he did! :o)