[Marxism] The Execution of King Charles I (1649)

Graham M. gkmilner at v-app.com.au
Thu Feb 8 12:44:36 MST 2007


----- Original Message ----- 
From: Graham M. 
To: John Shepherd 
Cc: tony at perthcathedral.org 
Sent: Friday, February 09, 2007 1:12 AM
Subject: Re: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007


Dear John,
               I appreciate very much your comments.   Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the transcripts of the Putney Debates in my library, and I haven't been able to consult the ones in the Reid Library over the last day or so.   I do have Les Morton's edition of Leveller writings: 'Freedom in Arms', but this book does not contain any extracts from the Putney Debates.   I wanted to look at these documents to refresh my memory - I researched and wrote an essay for a first year History unit at UWA on the Levellers in 1975, and I studied those debates quite closely at that time.   

   Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I recall it the debates focused around the Leveller franchise proposals.   The Army grandees, Cromwell and Ireton, argued against the notion that the franchise should be extended to the propertyless, on the grounds that such people had no stake in society.   I don't believe, from my own reading, that it is fair to suggest as you have in your message that Cromwell's stance was dictatorial.   That such a debate took place at all indicates otherwise.   Cromwell was a 'bourgeois' revolutionary, as Trotsky argues in his rather brilliant book 'Where is Britain Going?' (1925), and it is not surprising that Cromwell therefore had the standpoint of the more conservative Army grandees on the franchise question.    But the depth and range of the debates over the constitution and the franchise at this time do demonstrate what an extraordinary period it was - when proposals were being debated seriously which would not reach fruition for centuries to come.   A.D. Lindsay, in his little book 'The Essentials of Democracy', saw the Leveller contribution in the Putney debates as the authentic voice of modern democracy raised for the first time.

   The book by Trotsky I mentioned is worth reading, if you have not already come across it, as he is quite outspoken in defending Cromwell's role as a revolutionary dictator, to be compared with later figures like Robespierre and Lenin.   I respect Trotsky's opinions on this matter, and I think that he is probably correct to say that the Cromwellian dictatorship was in many ways an essential and unavoidable prelude to developments that ensued after the Restoration, including the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the constitutional adjustments made thereafter.   It has been argued very cogently, as you might know, by Barrington Moore, in his book 'Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy', that those countries of the West, such as Britain, France and the United States, that had violent democratic revolutions involving mass mobilisations to confront the old order, established successful bourgeois-democratic political systems that proved stable and enduring.   Moore contrasts these nations with others, such as Germany, Italy and Japan, which experienced 'cold', statist bourgeois transformations that made them vulnerable to right-wing authoritarian regimes in the 20th century.

   But the question remains about Charles I.   It strikes me that he was a stubborn king who refused to accept the will of his subjects.   Anyone who has a commitment to the principle of popular sovereignty must surely agree that Charles was subject to the law like anyone else.   By all reasonable standards he was treated fairly.   There is a study, recently published by the Australian writer Geoffrey Robertson: "The Tyrannicide Brief', that attempts to establish the fairness of Charles' trial and show how that trial contrasted with the rough justice meted out to the 'regicides' at the Restoration.

   Having said that, however, I should tell you that I watched again yesterday a DVD I have of the late 1960s film 'Cromwell', starring Richard Harris as the Lord Protector and Sir Alec Guinness as Charles I.   The film is pretty good as far as historical accuracy is concerned I would say, although some liberties are taken with the facts, but what stands out in the film to my mind is Guinness' presentation of Charles.   One would think that in a film ostensibly concerned with Oliver Cromwell, his nemesis would be depicted in a negative light.   But Charles is presented very fairly, and quite sympathetically, and his predicament at his execution evokes in the viewer respect and goodwill, rather than hostility.   I could imagine that many royalist sympathisers who saw that film would have been quite pleased by Guinness' wonderful recreation on the screen of this historical figure.

    All my very best wishes to you,


                                                Graham
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: John Shepherd 
  To: Graham M. 
  Cc: Tony Murray-Feist 
  Sent: Wednesday, February 07, 2007 9:30 AM
  Subject: RE: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007


  Thanks Graham, for your thoughts.  They are well considered, and very interesting. 
  I would have thought, however,  that the transcripts of the Putney Debates reveal Cromwell as dictatorial, and nervous as to the actual ways the Protectorate could be held together.  My reading is that his thoughts were Utopian, and that he had little idea of how they could be implemented apart from military enforcement, which was by definition oppressive.  And that it was in reaction to his military dictatorship, and by public acclaim that the republic was rejected, and the Stuarts restored.  This is not to say that the development of a more sophisticated understanding of government in the context of a constitutional monarchy was not inappropriate, and that Charles' attitudes were precarious in this context.
  Very best,
  John.

  The Very Reverend Dr. John Shepherd
  Dean of Perth
  St. George's Cathedral
  38 St. George's Terrace, Perth WA 6000
  Phone:  +61 8 9325-5766
  Fax:  +61 8 9325-5242
  Email:  thedean at perthcathedral.org





------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  From: Graham M. [mailto:gkmilner at v-app.com.au] 
  Sent: Tuesday, 6 February 2007 10:00 PM
  To: John Shepherd
  Cc: Tony Murray-Feist
  Subject: Re: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007


  Dear John,
                 Thank you for your reply to my message, and for your informative and perceptive comments.

     I am grateful for your remarks about Christian Socialism.   I had not come across references before to Scott-Holland and Charles Gore, and an internet search provided me with the basic details about each of these Anglican divines.   I was aware of the important contribution to Anglican, and in general Christian, social thought of William Temple, as Rev Vincent Weare, whom you will no doubt recall, strongly recommended to me the writings of this great Archbishop of Canterbury.   In fact I have a copy of Archbishop Temple's 'Christianity and the Social Order' on my bookshelves. 

       I was interested to read about the link between the social Christianity of figures like Scott-Holland and Gore, and the working-class movements and the political struggle for social justice in the later 19th century in England.   My own background is Marxist, or secular socialist, as you know, and I confess that this whole area (the role of religion and the churches) is a blind spot in the way I have looked at the social question in the 19th century.
  I was aware of the contribution of Charles Kingsley and F.D. Maurice in the mid-19th century, and I remember reading a children's edition of 'The Water Babies' when I was a boy.   You probably know that 'The Communist Manifesto' has a scathing section criticising what its authors perceive to be 'Christian Socialism' - this was directed at the 'feudal' and reactionary orientation of  a lot of muddled thinking that was around in the socialist movement at that time, no doubt.   I won't bore you with a long disquisition about Marxism, but what I will say is that Marx's eschatology, as it breaks through in many of his works, including 'Capital' occasionally, is remarkably close to the Judeo-Christian perspective, and I personally believe that the two philosophies are by no means incompatible (Alasdair MacIntyre's 'Marxism and Christianity' is very good on this, I think).   Liberation theologians in Latin America especially have focused on the important contribution that Marxist ideas can make to a general programme of social liberation.   The Venezuelan Revolution unfolding at the moment has opened a new chapter in the development of a revolutionary, Christian socialism for the 21st century, in my opinion.

     I'm not sure that republicanism is rejected by all Christian socialists, as you maintain in your message.   I agree that Kingsley was not a republican; in fact I understand that he himself  was personally very popular with the Royal Family in Victorian England.  Another great Christian socialist, the Irish revolutionary James Connolly, who received the last rites from the Catholic Church before being executed by the British authorities for his role in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, wrote quite a lot on the relationship between socialism, Marxism and Christianity, and was of course a staunch republican.   R.H. Tawney might not have been greatly concerned with the question of the monarchy.   I do regard Tawney as a great writer, by the way, and was greatly influenced in my understanding of early-modern history by a reading of 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism', which spurred me to study works by Weber and Troeltsch on the sociology of religion.   Have you read Raymond Williams' 'Culture and Society', which discusses a whole tradition from Burke onwards, including Kingsley and the Christian Socialists, in terms of the romantic-organicist critique of industrial capitalism that informed so much of English socialist discourse in the 19th and 20th centuries?

     Perhaps you could elaborate further your view that the period of the Commonwealth was more socially repressive than the Stuart regime (Charles I?).   As I understood it, the period of personal rule of Charles was characterised by reactionary and repressive policies at home and abroad.   The regime in the church under Archbishop Laud was noted for its intolerance of Puritan dissenters.   As I understand it, Laud was a hated figure throughout a wide spectrum of English society in the pre-revolutionary era.   Similarly the Earl of Strafford was disliked for his repressive military policies.   One of the first actions of the Long Parliament was to impeach and find guilty of treason these two figures, and execute them.

     We must be relying on completely different sources with respect to the period of the Commonwealth, but my understanding is that this was a period of ferment and widespread debate about the Constitution, religious policy, and indeed just about everything else (see Christopher Hill, 'The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution' [Harmondsworth, 1975]).  It was indeed a revolutionary period.    The numbers of pamphlets, etc. produced during this time is staggering.   Oliver Cromwell himself, if you want to look at the Protector, was a pretty tolerant sort of person, being a Congregationalist (Independent).   It could be argued that the defeat and suppression of the Levellers in the Army after the execution of the king, and Cromwell's Irish policy vitiate the Protector's claim to be a tolerant man, but I think Cromwell really did believe in liberty of conscience.  

      You wouldn't seriously maintain of course that the repressive and extreme policies imposed on the English people by the Restored Stuart Charles II, which the Clarendon Code and other aspects of the counter-revolutionary regime involved, could possibly be compared favourably with the wide degree of freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of religion, prevalent under the Commonwealth and Protectorate?

     Once again thank you for your reply to my message.


                                                  Best regards,


                                                                  Graham


                                             
    ----- Original Message ----- 
    From: John Shepherd 
    To: gkmilner at v-app.com.au 
    Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:46 AM
    Subject: FW: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007


    Dear Graham,
    Thank you for your thoughtful letter. It is good to know you are keeping alert to the coming of the Kingdom, when all things will be united in Christ.  
    Have you read any of the writings of the Christian Socialists Scott Holland, Charles Gore and William Temple?  And then, of course, there is Charles Kingsley and R.H.Tawney. It is impossible to understand Christian Socialism without taking their works into account.
    It is interesting to note that their very profound understanding of Christian Socialism did not countenance or require republicanism.  It is also worth noting that the period of the Commonwealth was more socially repressive than it had been under the Stuarts.
    Thank you again for your correspondence.  I encourage you to keep reading in this very important area of study.
    Best wishes,
    John.


    -----Original Message-----
    From: Graham M. [mailto:gkmilner at v-app.com.au] 
    Sent: Tuesday, 6 February 2007 00:20
    To: StGeorge'sCathedral
    Subject: Fw: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007



    Rev Dr John Shepherd,



    Dean,



    St George's Cathedral,



    Perth, W.A., 6000





    Dear Dean,

                    Last week I wrote to the Precentor, Rev Tony Murray-Feist, about my concern regarding the Cathedral's scheduling of a service commemorating the English king Charles I, who was executed in 1649 by the authorities represented in the English parliament.   This service, the title of which heads this message, offended me deeply, and I had intended to be there, but I misread the notice in the pew sheet and arrived there an hour late.   I did however write a letter expressing my concern to 'The Anglican Messenger', which I have attached.



       The Precentor assured me that the practice in this instance of St George's was entirely in accordance with Anglican policy since at least the 19th century.   If this is so, then I suggest strongly that the Anglican Church should reverse its royalist perspective, and adopt a republican position.   This should in my view be held as a general perspective, effective contemporaneously and historically.   My own view of the Kingdom of God was nicely summed up by the Lutheran pastor at St John's in Northbridge, just before last Christmas.   The pastor's interpretation of 'kingship' under the reign of Christ was much closer to a (socialist) republican-democratic concept, rather than a monarchist one, and he put forward the example of Nelson Mandela's presidency in post-apartheid South Africa as an illustration of what would be required.   But I doubt myself whether a titular 'head of state' would be necessary for the Kingdom of God - a federation of socialist republics could be quite satisfactory in my opinion.   But the political apparatus of capitalist rule would have to go.   As I understand it, the Church's task is to prepare for the Kingdom of God (socialism), and that must clearly now be an urgent consideration in the light of the ecological catastrophe staring humanity in the face.



       I believe that, with respect to the execution of Charles I, it is essential for the Church of England in Australia to distance itself from the Stuart cause, which attempted to defeat the English Revolution of the 17th century, and for our church to firmly commit itself instead to support for the democratic, republican and progressive politics of the English common people in that era, and since.





                                            Yours sincerely,





                                                         Graham Milner



       

    ----- Original Message ----- 

    From: Graham M. 

    To: Anglican Messenger Editorial 

    Sent: Sunday, January 28, 2007 10:28 PM

    Subject: 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' Jan 28, 2007



    15/216 Cambridge St.,

    Wembley, W.A., 6014



    TO: The Editor,

    'Anglican Messenger',

    Perth, W.A., 6000



    Dear Editor,

                     I was outraged upon returning home from the 8am eucharist at St. George's Cathedral on Sunday 28th January to read on the pew sheet distributed at the service a notice for a 'Solemn Evensong of King Charles the Martyr' that day in the Cathedral.   I headed into the city to attend the evensong, with every intention of making a verbal protest at what I assumed to be a commemorative service for the brutal tyrant who attempted to impose on the English people, in the 17th century, an absolutist regime on the continental model.   However, I had misread the schedule, and arrived at 6.20pm, to find the Cathedral locked up.



       The defeat and execution of King Charles I was a salutary lesson to the English ruling classes that the ordinary people of England would not condone tyranny.   I believe that the development of modern democracy in England, and much of the rest of the world, stems in large part from the struggles of the English common people against Stuart tyranny in the 17th century, and that the Christian churches, including the Church of England in Australia, should have no truck with celebrating the lives of tyrants and despots like Charles I.





                                                Yours sincerely,





                                                            Graham Milner



----------------------------------------------------------------------------


    No virus found in this incoming message.
    Checked by AVG Free Edition.
    Version: 7.1.411 / Virus Database: 268.17.27/671 - Release Date: 2/5/07



------------------------------------------------------------------------------


  No virus found in this incoming message.
  Checked by AVG Free Edition.
  Version: 7.1.411 / Virus Database: 268.17.29/673 - Release Date: 2/6/07



More information about the Marxism mailing list