Monday, May 12, 2014

Camilla, Her Detractors, and Moving Forward

     A little more than a fortnight following the tragic death of her brother, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall was back on Royal duty last week as she visited military installations in Yorkshire and Staffordshire.

     At RAF Leeming in Yorkshire - of which the Duchess is the Honorary Air Commodore - on May 8th, she opened a new £4.9 million medical center, which provides primary health care as well as rehabilitation to soldiers who have returned from the battlefront.

The Duchess of Cornwall
José Cruz/Agência Brasil
via Wikimedia Commons cc

     From there, she flew via helicopter to Whittington in Staffordshire to officially open the Defence Medical Services facility as well as the Defence College of Healthcare Education and Training. It was Families Day, where the staff and their families who will be working there had a look at the new building and turned out in force to see the Duchess. There, she met leading dignitaries as well as members of the community, and visited stalls showcasing activities and amenities of the surrounding towns and villages. Going before the crowds, she said they should "celebrate with pride" the opening of the facility.

     The next day, she was in Oxfordshire to open the £12million University of Oxford’s Botnar Research Center at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Center in Headington, which conducts research into enhancing the treatment of arthritis, osteoporosis, and other bone and joint diseases. She also headed to Helen and Douglas House Hospice - of which she is Patron - where she unveiled a portrait of herself and met with the staff and residents living there.

     It was great to see Camilla out and about after a two week period of mourning for her brother Mark Shand, who died in New York after slipping and hitting his head on a concrete sidewalk. The Duchess was very close to Mark, and this was evidenced when she was seen shedding a tear as she was accompanied by Prince Charles out of the church where the funeral was being held.

     Throughout this period, there was mostly sympathy and respect toward the Duchess for the great loss she suffered. But, as is usual when Camilla is in the news, there was also some disrespectful and frankly disgusting commentary on the web (especially on Twitter) directed at her from people who still exercise prejudice and hold a grudge for her actions during the marriage between Charles and Diana.

     Now, aside from the fact this is all in the past, what on Earth did any of this have to do with a woman grieving over her beloved brother? What did this have to do with present-day circumstances? Absolutely nothing.

Loving Diana need not also mean hating Camilla.
Crisco 1492 via Wikimedia Commons cc

     But it had everything to do with heaping more criticism on Camilla and having an opportunity to bash her for past actions. Indeed, some people made statements sounding like this: "I'll feel sympathy for her when she apologizes for what she did to Diana." Others were more vile and cruel, but they all had the basic message of directly blaming Camilla for Diana's own tragic death in 1997, and some took it a step further by suggesting that this was some form of revenge.

     Needless to say, such statements and claims of revenge are not going to bring Diana back, and they do nothing to help adjusting the idea that Camilla will be Queen of the United Kingdom.

     I should say that I myself have come a long way in my personal views on Camilla. Like many people, I was hostile towards her, holding her responsible for the failure of the Charles-Diana marriage which led to the Paris car crash. But as time has gone on, I have gradually warmed up to her and believe that she will become Queen, and not the Princess Consort (as the Palace keeps insisting will be the case). She has now become fully integrated into the machinery of monarchy and has earned the respect and affection the people through her own brand of regal warmth and openness. She is not a replacement for Diana - no one can replace her, not even the Duchess of Cambridge - but she certainly coming into her own as an asset for the monarchy.

     Probably more importantly, she has helped to provide some comfort and stability in Prince Charles's personal life after years of chaos which notoriously spilled out into the public realm. After nine years (and going), their marriage appears to be a successful and happy one, and one only needs to see them together to understand how well they get on with each other. They compliment and support each other, and on the day of Mark Shand's funeral, the Prince of Wales was seen being in full support of his wife in her moment of grief. 

     But there will always be people who will look upon Camilla unfavorably, and believe that she should not be Queen. There is not much that can be done about them, except for Camilla to continue to work hard at what she does as a member of the Royal family, and to do it well. And some of us simply need to move on and bury the past.

The future King and Queen of Canada on their 2009 Royal tour of the country. 
Ibagli via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

     In a few weeks time, Charles and Camilla will be head to Canada for a Royal tour, and will continue to earn themselves a place in the hearts and affections of people's across throughout Commonwealth.

     As the Queen gradually hands more of the workload to Charles, he will need Camilla, and we will see more of both of them as time inches forward to his own accession.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Royal Union of England and Scotland into Great Britain

     307 years ago on May 1st, Great Britain was born.

     Of course, the ancient kingdoms of England and Scotland had been in existence on the island of Great Britain for nearly a thousand years, and for a substantial part of that time, the kings, queens, and peoples of each country fought – sometimes with each other, but often against each other in several conflicts.

Queen Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors.

     Then on March 24, 1603, Elizabeth I of England and Ireland died without an heir, and her closest blood relation was her cousin – James VI of Scotland, who journeyed from Edinburgh to London to peacefully – and amid much celebration – take his place as James I of England and Ireland. With Wales having been annexed into the Kingdom of England during the reign of Henry VIII, King James was now the first person to rule over all Britain in an arrangement that has become known as the Union of the Crowns.

King James.

     But the kingdoms over which he reigned remained separate and distinct from each other, and they had their own parliaments, along with their own national interests. James VI & I sought to change that by attempting to persuade the parliaments of England and Scotland to agree to a full political and economic union, which would create a new kingdom under the name of Great Britain.

     Indeed, King James was a passionate supporter of the concept. In his Accession speech to his first English Parliament, James made references to his great-great grandfather, Henry VII of England, who united the warring royal houses of York and Lancaster under the Tudor dynasty, which had brought peace to England following the Wars of the Roses. He went on the say that “union of these two princely houses is nothing comparable to the union of two ancient and famous kingdoms, which is the other inward peace annexed to my person.” 

St. Andrew's Saltire

     With this message, he saw himself and his Stuart dynasty as bringing peace to the whole of Britain by ending the ancient Anglo-Scottish feuding. He also emphasized the similarities between the English and Scots “in language, religion, and similitude of manners”, and believed that God had meant for the kingdoms to be united in such a way as to make the border between the two indistinguishable. (“What God has conjoined then, let no man separate.”) Persons opposed to bringing the countries together were “blinded with ignorance, or else transported with malice.” 

Cross of St. George
     James continued on his theme of a destiny towards union by reminding his audience that England was once divided into seven kingdoms (known as the Heptarchy) and Wales, and that Scotland was also an amalgamation of Picts, Scots, Gaels, and others.

     With unification to become Great Britain, the peoples of this new country would become part of a stronger entity, where they could work with a common purpose and toward a common cause. In other words, they were better together.

English Coat of Arms under James VI & I
Photo Credit: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons cc
     This was all very well, but on both sides of the border, there was lukewarm reaction as well as outright hostility to the concept of union – some of it driven by xenophobia. There was already some consternation amongst the English political elite at the fact that they were now being ruled over by a Scot, whilst some in Scotland were fearful of their country being annexed into England as a mere province. In addition, there were other nagging questions on trade, commerce, religion, and political representation.
Scottish Coat of Arms under James VI & I
Image Credit: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons cc

     During remainder of James’ reign, the differences and fears between the two kingdoms proved insurmountable and the union did not come to pass. However, he did enact the merger symbolically by using his powers under the Royal Prerogative to proclaim himself as “King of Great Britain”, combine the royal arms of England and Scotland (with the English lion balancing the Scottish unicorn), and to mesh the flags of St. George (England) and St. Andrew (Scotland) into a new Union Flag.

     Over the next hundred years, there were other attempts to create an official union, but one country or the other had reasons to resist.

Queen Anne

     Then in 1702, Queen Anne ascended to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, succeeding her childless brother-in-law, William III & II.

     Like her predecessors going back to James VI & I, Anne was a believer in the political integration of Britain, but what finally made the circumstances favorable to union on both sides during her reign was a mixture of religion, monarchical succession, politics, and economics.

     For starters, it had been nearly fourteen years since Anne’s father – James VII & II, a Catholic – had been deposed in the Protestant-led Glorious Revolution, in which the Dutch prince, William of Orange, invaded Britain. William, along with his wife (and Anne’s older sister) Mary were eventually declared joint monarchs of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but they failed to produce a healthy heir to the throne by the time Mary died in 1694.

     Then in 1700, Anne’s only child to survive infancy – Prince William, Duke of Gloucester – died aged eleven. This meant that loyalty to the House of Stuart could only lead to one thing – the return of the Stuart male line, embodied by the ex-King James, and following his death in 1701, his son (and also Anne's half-brother) James Francis Edward Stuart, who were living in exile in France.

The Act of Settlement, which largely governs succession to the British Crown to this day.
Image Credit:
Torsten Bätge via Wikimedia Commons cc

     In England, parliamentarians were determined not to have a Catholic back on the throne, so they passed – and King William granted Royal Assent to – the Act of Settlement in 1701, which barred Catholics from the succession, and handed it to Sophia of Hanover in Germany. She was a granddaughter of James VI & I, and though there were about 50 other claimants ahead of her, she was the first Protestant on the list.

     Meanwhile in Scotland, there were similar feelings towards having a Catholic king, but there was also a sense of loyalty to the Stuart family, who had originated from Scotland and reigned in that country since 1371.

     In response to the English, the Scots Parliament passed – and Queen Anne granted Royal Assent to – the Act of Security in 1703, which declared that the next monarch of Scotland should be Protestant and of the royal line, but should not be the same person who succeeded Anne to the Crown of England (probably in the hope that James Stuart would convert), unless the English granted freedom of trade to Scottish merchants within England, Ireland, and the overseas colonies.

The English rose and Scottish thistle growing from the same stem.
Photo Credit: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons cc
     With the ball back in England’s court, it then passed – with Anne’s assent – the Alien’s Act of 1705, which declared that all Scots were to treated as aliens in England (save for those already living there) unless Scotland either repealed the Act of Security or agreed to a union with England. The Scots chose the latter option, and a set of commissioners from both countries were appointed by the Queen, who met in London to hash out an agreement.

     From April to July 1706 at the Palace of Whitehall, the commissioners worked out a Treaty of Union, which contained the following key provisions:

  • That from May 1, 1707, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were to be “united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain”, with the flags of St. George and St. Andrew to be combined,

  • That the succession to the monarchy of Great Britain would be vested in the House of Hanover, and to the exclusion of Catholics, as well as people marrying Catholics, and

  • That the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain were to be represented by one and the same parliament, known as the Parliament of Great Britain.

     These were main objectives of the English commissioners. On the other side, the Scots replied that they would agree to them in exchange for free trade throughout the United Kingdom and access to the combined colonies of a British Empire. The English promptly accepted this on the principle that such free trade - including a customs and monetary union - was necessary for a full and complete union.

The Scottish copy of the Articles of Union.
Image Credit: Scottish Parliament (Public Domain)

     There were other provisions as well, including ones for Scottish representation in the House of Commons and the House of Lords within the new British Parliament, where MP’s and peers from both sides of the border were afforded equal rights and privileges.

     Language was eventually added in the parliamentary debates on both sides of the border which guaranteed the independence of the Scottish legal system, education system, as well as the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (the Kirk), and the Scottish Crown Jewels were to remain in Edinburgh. Similar language would also protect the independence and status of the Church of England.

     On July 23, 1706, the articles of the Treaty were presented to Queen Anne at St. James’s Palace, and from there, they had be ratified by the Parliament of England in London and the Parliament of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Illustration of the Opening of the original Scottish Parliament.
Image Credit: Atlas Historique (Public Domain-US)

     The Scottish Parliament took up the Treaty first in October, and clause-by-clause debates were held through the rest of year and into January when the last article was approved, and a formal bill was presented to the assembly. That bill, known as the Union with England Act, was passed by a healthy majority of 110 to 67 on January 16th.

     To this day, there has been debate on the extent to which members of the parliament were bribed in order to ensure passage of the Act. It is known that the Treaty and the Act basically provided for the compensation of losses in the Darien scheme, which was Scotland’s failed attempt to establish a colony in Central America. 

     But there were also some back-room deals regarding pensions, honors, titles, and appointments which has given rise to the idea that Scotland was "sold out" by its own politicians at a time when there was considerable opposition amongst Scots toward the Union, and it is a debate which may never fully be settled.

The original Palace of Westminster, home to the houses of the parliament for England and Great Britain.
Image Credit: HJ Brewer - 1884 (Public Domain-US)

     With the Scots Parliament having done its work, the English Parliament took up the issue of the Union in February 1707, where the Commons required only two sessions to pass the articles.

     But in the House of Lords, some members of the Tory Party held up the proceedings by voicing concerns over some provisions, especially with regard to the status of the Church of England, and they also had issues with the confirmation of the Scottish Kirk. Objections were raised on every article, but the opposition did not gain much traction, and the articles were approved at the end of February.

     The Commons then drafted and passed the Union with Scotland Act, which was passed by the Lords and received Royal Assent from Queen Anne in the Lords’ chamber on March 6, 1707.

Statue of Queen Anne, the first monarch of a unified Britain, outside of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Image Credit: Peter Weis via Wikimedia Commons cc

     Almost two months later, the date of April 30, 1707 marked the last day of England and Scotland being separate and independent sovereign states. On the following day of May 1st, Anne came to St. Paul’s Cathedral to attend a service of thanksgiving in honor of the Acts of Union that had taken effect.

The original Union Flag of Great Britain

     It was a grand celebration involving 400 horse-drawn coaches, and the Queen herself wore the combined honors of the English Order of the Garter and the Scottish Order of the Thistle. A Scottish nobleman who attended the service wrote: "nobody on this occasion appeared more sincerely devout and thankful than the Queen herself."

     Indeed, she told her cheering subjects that this day marked the true happiness of her reign – the day that England and Scotland became the UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN.

     To this day, England and Scotland have remained together as part of a country that has proudly spread its wings far and wide over the last 307 years, and the monarchy is a living symbol of the unity that has made Britain what it is today. Indeed, it is better to be together. Long may this Union continue.

The current flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with St. Patrick's Cross added for Northern Ireland.