Friday, 25 May 2018

Admiral Rodney's Pillar

We celebrated  the Royal wedding last week, not by watching television, but by climbing to Rodney's Pillar in its imposing site on the border between Shropshire and Wales.

The meadows below the summit were full of bluebells

When we reached the pillar we were rewarded with magnificent views.

Admiral Sir George Rodney was the only successful British commander in the War of American Independence. After France and Spain joined the war on the side of the American rebels, Rodney defeated a Spanish attempt to seize Gibraltar, but then had to return home because of illness. While he was away, a French army and fleet crossed the Atlantic and trapped General Cornwallis’s forces at Yorktown, forcing his surrender to Washington in 1781 and effectively ending the fighting in America. After this success, the French fleet headed for the West Indies, with the aim of seizing Jamaica and delivering a further blow to the British Empire. But Rodney now returned, and destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes. After this setback, the French were happy to broker a peace treaty between Britain and the Americans. Rodney was rewarded with a peerage, and the column was erected in his honour by “the gentlemen of Montgomeryshire”.
  A good way of annoying Americans is to point out that, without the intervention of the French, they’d never have won their War of Independence!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Brexit and Football

An odd statistic from the Political Betting website: the final league table of the Premier League shows that all the top ten clubs, with the sole exception of Burnley, have their grounds in constituencies which voted Remain, whereas all the bottom five clubs are in constituencies which voted Brexit. A mere coincidence, perhaps; but the American writer P.J. O’Rourke in a recent book assessed both the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as “The revolt of the losers”. Perhaps this applies in football terms too?

Friday, 4 May 2018

John Locke and the Foundations of Whiggism

John Locke was born near Bristol in 1632, the son of a country lawyer and minor landowner. Support from local gentry enabled him to be educated at Westminster school and Christ Church College at Oxford University.
These were turbulent times, with the outbreak of the Civil War while he was still a child. He may even have been present at the execution of King Charles I in Whitehall in January 1649. Christ Church was run by John Owen, a religious Independent and supporter of toleration, when Locke was in 1659 was elected a Student (that is, a Fellow) of Christ Church. He lectured in Greek, Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy, and was also interested in new developments chemistry and physics. College statutes obliged him to be ordained as a minister: he refused, but was able to continue at the college by studying medicine, which did not require ordination. He eventually graduated, but never practiced as a doctor He lectured in Greek, Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy, and was also interested in new developments chemistry and physics. It was at this time that he began to develop his philosophical speculations, which eventually became his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”; one of the most important philosophical writings of all time. But nothing would be published for many years.  

In 1660 the monarchy was restored, and a series of laws, known as the Clarendon Code, purged both church and state of religious nonconformists and subjected them to persecution. But Locke survived, and maintained his links with Christ Church another 20 years.
Like many talented intellectuals at the time, Locke was soon involved on the fringes of politics. In 1665 he was appointed the secretary to a diplomatic mission to Brandenburg, in Germany, and on return entered the service of Lord Ashley, who later became Earl of Shaftesbury. This was to be a seminal link in Locke’s life, and when in 1672 Shaftesbury became Chancellor of the Exchequer, he appointed Locke secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. , Locke also drew up a constitution for the new colony of Carolina in America. Soon, however, the ministry in which Shaftesbury served collapsed, and Locke retired to Oxford, and then to France, where he remained until 1680.
In autumn 1678 England became engulfed in a panic known as the “Popish Plot”, based on sensational allegations from a certain Titus Oates that a great conspiracy was in train, led by Catholic priests and prominent Catholic laymen, to murder the King and restore England to the Catholic faith. Hysteria reigned, and on Oates’s evidence a number of entirely innocent people were condemned and executed. But there was a political element to this, because the King, Charles II, had no legitimate children, and the heir to the throne; his brother, James Duke of York; was known to be a Catholic. Furthermore, James’s secretary, Edward Coleman, was discovered to be in treasonable correspondence with France, and was duly executed. Shaftesbury seized the opportunity to press for an Exclusion Act, to bar James from accession to the throne. He was opposed by royalists. As often happens, both sides coined rude nicknames for their opponents which soon became common currency. Exclusionists portrayed the Royalists as being secret Catholics, and named them after Catholic rebels in Ireland: the Tories. Royalists linked the Exclusionists with Calvinist rebels in western Scotland: the Whiggamores, or Whigs for short. (It’s odd to think that present-day Tories takes their name from the 17th century equivalent of the I.R.A.!). The names and the traditions survived, with the Tories as the party of the monarchy and the Anglican church; the Whigs quasi-republican and linked with religious nonconformity.
Locke’s contribution was ideological, as he began to write his famous “Two Treatises of Government”. The first part consisted of a refutation by ridicule of Filmer’s postulation of the “Divine Right of Kings”. But if political authority did not emanate from God, whence came it? Locke’s answer, in the second part of the book, was that authority originated in a social contract between government and the governed. The people consented to obey government provided that their natural rights were respected. Locke summarised these rights as being life, liberty and the possession of property. If these were illegitimately infringed by government, the social contract had been broken, and the people could justifiably overthrow the existing government and form a new one. In answer to the fundamental question; who decides whether government has wrongfully infringed the people’s natural rights; Locke had a radical answer: the people shall decide! This was incendiary stuff; and a century later it was adapted wholesale by Thomas Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence.
Locke also wrote three “Letters on Toleration”, which argued that government should not persecute people for their religious beliefs. However, he made an exception for Moslems, who could not be tolerated. This appears very strange, since there would have been practically no Moslems in Britain at the time; but everything suggests that Locke was using “Moslems” as a code-word for “Catholics”.

In the end, the furore over the “Popish Plot” diminished and the Exclusionists lost the political initiative. In 1683 a mysterious episode known as the “Rye House Plot”, an alleged attempt to kidnap the King and the Duke of York, led to a counterattack. Shaftesbury fled abroad to avoid arrest and died soon after; one Whig aristocrat, Algernon Sidney, was executed, and another, the Earl of Essex, committed suicide. London, which was strongly Whiggish, had its charter revoked and rewritten to bring the city under Royalist control. Oxford University formally condemned many republican doctrines, and conducted a public burning of offending books; the last public book-burning in Britain. It included many volumes from Locke’s own library, and he was obliged to attend the ceremony. In 1684 he was ejected from his Christ Church studentship. He never set foot in Oxford again.

Charles II died in 1685 and his brother James duly succeeded. He faced an immediate revolt by the Duke of Monmouth, Charles’s illegitimate son, which was duly crushed. Many rebels were executed, and Locke might well have felt his own life was in danger. He took refuge in Holland.
Despite this strong start, in just three years James had managed to alienate almost everyone with his Catholic policies. In November 1688 his son-in-law, William of Orange, landed near Torquay with a Dutch army and advanced towards London. James’s army commander, the future Duke of Marlborough, deserted and changed sides, James lost his nerve and fled abroad, and William and his wife, Mary, were proclaimed joint sovereigns in the “Glorious Revolution”. The initiative now lay with the Whigs, who wanted a clear statement that James had been justifiably deposed, with a written constitution defining the limitations of a monarch’s power. In the end there was a compromise: James was proclaimed to have “abdicated” by running away, and the hoped-for constitution amounted to little more than vague hopes expressed in the Bill of Rights. The most solid achievement was an Act of Toleration that ended persecution of Protestant nonconformist sects, though they were still excluded from participation in Parliament or government.

Locke was now able to return to England. His “Two Treatises of Government” was now published. It was for a long time assumed that he wrote it to justify the events of 1688, but it is now accepted that it was composed a decade earlier, at the time of the Exclusion crisis, as were the “Letters on Toleration”. There was also an essay “On the Reasonableness of Christianity”, which was denounced by all sides. He remains a seminal figure in the history of political philosophy. The party names, Whig and Tory, survived; though when the Whigs were permanently in government for 40 years after 1714 they naturally played down their quasi-republican credentials, and these only resurfaced with the American revolution. Locke’s critics have pointed out that he was somehow able to reconcile his theory of the Social Contract with his defence of slavery in Carolina, but this dichotomy was also conveniently overlooked by the American Founding Fathers.          

Locke died in 1704. He never married.

It is clear that Locke was not a courageous man, since even after 1688 he strove to conceal his identity in his most controversial writings. His Letters on Toleration were published anonymously, and in Latin; and his “Two Treatises” was catalogued as anonymously written even in his own library! He was only acknowledged as the author from 1693. Peter Laslett calls Locke “a timid, introverted man”; but in view of the violent, dangerous times in which he lived, his timidity may be forgiven.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Memories: Round the Horne

Nostalgia time! From that great radio series, “Round the Horne”, 50 years ago:-

Kenneth Horne: “First, the answers to last week’s quiz, “Complete the proverb”. The first proverb was “It’s a long lane which has no …” The answer was, of course, “turning”, but thank you for your very detailed letter of complaint, Mr Gruntfuttock; and if your lane is really as long as you say and it hasn’t got one, I can only suggest that you petition your local council. The second proverb was “Look before you …” Now you all agreed this was complete in itself. In your case, Mr Gruntfuttock, you’d better watch out for the prevailing wind as well”.

Mr Gruntfuttock featured in several episodes of this kind: for instance :-
Kenneth Horne: "Last week we asked you, "Can be seen in Hyde Park". The answer we wanted was "The Serpentine"; but thank you for the very detailed description of what you saw there, Mr Gruntfuttock. I didn't know you were watching".

Occasionally he appeared in person (played by Kenneth Williams):-
"On your last programme, Mr Horne, you insulted a minority group in the community, of which I am a respected member".
"What group is that, Mr Gruntfuttock?"
"Dirty old men!"

Ahh: they don’t write scripts like that any more!    

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Wales: Tenby

Tenby is a pleasant little town on the coast of south Wales, which was once a prosperous fishing and trading port, and was developed in Victorian times as a seaside resort.
   Some of the old fortifications survive 
and a few old buildings; notably the mediaeval Merchant's House.

There is a charming little harbour, which nowadays houses pleasure-craft.

The church of St. Mary has a number of  splendid tombs and monuments

A promenade of hotels now overlooks the broad sandy beach.

Prince Albert presides over all.

We enjoyed our stay there.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Byzantine Mosaic Tradition in Italy

Mosaic artists from Constantinople were active in Italy over several centuries, leaving marvellous works which have survived the turmoil of the times.
Here is the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora with her court; created in Ravenna in the sixth century

Then, half a millenium later; King Roger of Sicily is portrayed crowned by Christ. This is in Palermo, from the early twelfth century.

Justinian's generals succeeded in reconquering Italy from the Goths, in an attempt to restore the Roman Empire, but this came at enormous cost in the devastation of the country. In later centuries, the Lombards occupied northern Italy, and the holy Roman Empire was established by Charlemagne and his successors. 
    Meanwhile Arab forces conquered Sicily. Roger overran the island and established a spectacular but short-lived kingdom which combined Greek, Arab, Norman and Jewish elements. 

In fact, both of these monarchs' families were flagrant interlopers. Justinian succeeded to the Imperial title on the death of his uncle, Justin, a peasant soldier from the Balkans who had risen to the throne through the army. Roger was from the second generation of a family of Norman knights, the de Hauteville brothers, who terrorised sounthern Italy in the 11th century.

Sunday, 25 March 2018


The great batsman K. S. Ranjitsinhji, known to all and sundry simply as "Ranji", was born to an extensive family of princely Rajputs in 1872. His birthplace, Jamnagar, was a city in Nawangar; one of a cluster of native-ruled states on the north-west coast of India, towards what is now the frontier with Pakistan. The situation of these native-ruled states was anomalous: they were seen as part of Britain's Indian Empire, but were technically sovereign states in alliance with the British Crown. Ranji's home state contained about a third of a million inhabitants, and its princes lived extremely lavishly in vast palaces, but the land was arid, liable to droughts and subsequent famines; it was economically backward and riven with typhoid and cholera. One oddity was that its ruling princes, despite having extensive harems, often failed to father male heirs, thus leading to confusion over the succession. The Rajputs were traditionally ferocious warriors, and by Ranji's day supplied soldiers for the British army in India. 
   The British Viceroy in India kept a careful eye on the native states: British representatives "advised" their rulers, and the young princes were encouraged to attend special schools where they would learn English ways; sport being an essential part of the curriculum. Accordingly Ranji, at the age of 8, entered Rajkumar College in the town of Rajkot. (This began an odd coincidence, which endured throughout Ranji's life, with Gandhi, just three years older, whose father had been chief minister there for several years. Gandhi also received an English-style education, though not at Rajkumar). Here Ranji gained his first experience of cricket. By the age of 16 he was excelling at the sport, and also at gymnastics, tennis and racquets; and he won prizes for his recitation of English poetry. It was therefore no great surprise that in 1888 he and two other young Kumars (princes) were selected to be taken to England to further their education at Cambridge University.
   Ranji was at first educated by a private tutor, before matriculating at Trinity College in 1892. At Cambridge he was, from the start, determined to improve his cricket. Apart from playing in matches as often as he could (sometimes two in a day!) he hired some of England's leading Test Match players, like Richardson, Lockwood and Hearne, to bowl endlessly at him in the nets. (Imagine any undergraduate doing that nowadays!). Ranji was fast on his feet and was blessed with good eyesight and strong, supple wrists; and because he had never been formally coached as a youth, was willing to attempt shots no-one had ever seen before; particularly deflecting straight balls behind square on either side of the wicket.
  He duly achieved his "blue" for playing in the annual match against Oxford in 1893. He did not score many runs in that match, but, more importantly, he made the acquaintance of C. B. Fry, a member of the Oxford team, who was to have a tremendous influence on Ranji's life. Fry was one of Britain's greatest sportsmen of all time: he played in an F.A. Cup Final, broke the world record for the long jump, and was unlucky not to get to play rugby for England; but cricket was his greatest love. Unlike Ranji, who played by instinct, Fry had a scientific, analytical approach to the game. When Ranji produced the "Jubilee Book of Cricket" in 1897, it seems that much of the book was in fact the work of Fry. 

It was largely because Sussex was Fry's county that Ranji decided to make it his cricketing home, for he had no previous connections there. Although he never took up permanent residence there, dividing his time between a hotel in Brighton and the rooms he retained in Cambridge, he played full seasons for the county every year from 1895 to 1908. Although, like all cricketers, he had the ocasional failure, his batting average for each season never fell below 45, and his rate of scoring was always very fast. In all first-class cricket he amassed 72 centuries. He was also an excellent slip field, and could bowl off-breaks when required. Keen and knowledgeable followers of cricket who watched him bat were amazed. The more literary among them indulged in metaphors about the mysteries of the Orient, the bat as a wand, Ranji springing like a panther on a loose delivery, and so forth; whereas the old professional Tom Wainwright was reduced to saying, "Ranji? He never made a Christian stroke in his life!"

   It came as no surprise that in 1896 Ranji was selected for the England team against the touring Australians. After having been surprisingly omitted from the first test, he was called up for the second, at Old Trafford, and although England lost, he enjoyed a sensational debut in an exciting match. Coming in at number 3, he scored 62, and then, as England were forced to follow on, dominated the second innings by hitting 154 not out in a little over three hours. The England total of 305 left the Australians needing just 125 to win the match, and although Tom Richardson then bowled 43 overs unchanged, taking 6 for 76, they sneaked home by 3 wickets. The press were loud in Ranji's praise. 
  Ranji toured Australia with Maclaren's team in 1897-8, and was personally successful, though the team was not; but his Test career was to be brief. He scored more runs against Australia, but then in 1902 only once reached double figures in four innings, and was never selected again. Nevertheless, an enduring legend had been established. (Gandhi was in England at the same time, studying to become a barrister, but it seems certain that he and Ranji never met)

  In his career in England, Ranji never encountered any serious racial prejudice or discrimination; and indeed spent two years as captain of his county. He was, after all, a prince, he had been to Cambridge, he was an excellent host, always very generous to guests and friends, a good speaker (described as "unaccented"), and loved the traditional country sports of shooting and salmon-fishing. In consequence he was always in demand socially, and was at ease in all company, up to and including members of the royal family. 

Ranji's county career came to an abrupt end in 1908, though he did return for a full season in 1912. The reason was simple: after the death of a cousin he became the ruler of his state, with the approval of the British Raj, and was now officially the Jam Saheb of Nawangar. He threw himself into improving his impoverished state; clearing slums, building roads and railways, establishing irrigation schemes and creating a port for the pearl-fishing industry. This was how the British expected native princes to behave; though he also lived in great spendour and spent vast sums entertaining visiting dignitaries, including many of his old cricketing friends.
   He never married. He always enjoyed the company of attractive ladies, and it was said that he had a discreet relationship with an English girl, but as an Indian Hindu prince he could never marry her. All this was very different from his princely predecessors, who had numerous wives as well as the usual harem stock of eunuchs and dancing girls. Ranji dismissed all of these on his accession.

When war came in 1914, Ranji, in common with almost all the Indian ruling princes, immediately offered the services of his state to the British government. He provided soldiers and paid for medical facilities and transport, and was commissioned as an honorary Major, but, much to his disgust, was never allowed to go anywhere near the front line. He did, ironically, suffer a serious wound unconnected with the war, because in summer 1915, whilst with a shooting party in Yorkshire, he was blinded in the right eye by a clumsy friend. For the rest of Ranji's life he wore a glass eye, and a doctor had to bathe the eye socket every day.

   In 1920 there came a completely new development, when he was chosen to be one of three representatives of India at the Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva. He took C.B. Fry along as an advisor, and when nominated to the Finance Committee, asked Fry to act as his Substitute Delegate. A crisis arose when Mussolini occupied the island of Corfu, and the former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour asked Ranji to deliver a speech in response. Fry wrote an appropriate speech which Ranji read out, and Mussolini withdrew.  It was at this time that Fry was approached by a delegation from Albania who offered to make him King of their impoverished mountain country; an offer which Fry, probably wisely, turned down. Ranji also turned down an invitation to become a member of the Permanent Council of the League.

Ranji's cricketing days were now behind him, but he found consolation in the success of his nephew Duleepsinhji, who by 1929 was playing, like Ranji before him, for Cambridge University and Sussex. Duleep was a more orthodox batsman than his uncle, but equally effective. Ranji was proud to be present at the second Test against the Australians in 1930, when Duleep scored 173 on the first day. As it happened, this innings was eclipsed by the young Don Bradman, who made 254, and Australia won the match comfortably. Bradman remarked that Duleep's off-driving was so powerful that, after fielding at cover and mid-off to him, he was obliged to get his hands bandaged. But, as with Ranji, Duleep's career was sadly cut short. His health broke down and he was unable to go on the 1932-3 tour of Australia (the infamous "bodyline tour"). His place was taken by another Indian nobleman, the Nawab of Pataudi, who duly maintained the tradition by scoring a century in his first Test. 

Ranji's world, the world of the Indian princes, was changing beyond recall. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms opened up senior ranks in the Indian civil service to native Indians, and the aim of the British government was clearly to bring a degree of self-government in India. Ranji attended the Round Table Conference, but so did Gandhi, who had abandoned his career as a barrister and now wore just a loincloth and cloak, and brought along a goat to supply him with milk. Winston Churchill was disgusted. Caught between the British moves towards democracy and Gandhi's call for a boycott of British goods, what place was there for the independent princes? None at all, it would seem. Ranji had always been a strong supporter of the British Empire in India, but in 1933, in his capacity as Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, he had to endure a public rebuke from the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon. It saddened him very deeply. In 1947, Mountbatten forced the princes to merge their states in an independent India, whether they wanted it or not.

Ranji did not live to see this. All his life he had suffered from athsma attaks and other respiratory problems, and in spring 1934 he fell seriously ill. After several days of violent coughing, he died on April 2nd. He was given lavish obituaries. The Ranji Trophy, the most prestigious contest in Indian cricket, is named after him.