As promised, I’ve put up the questions and answers from our recent episode- if you have any questions, please do submit them and I’ll read them in a future mailbag episode.
Why haven’t you talked much about Scotland and Ireland in all this?
Great question and was hoping this wouldn’t be asked. There’s no excuse to be honest. It’s kind of been a mistake where I haven’t really thought about Scotland and Ireland as I’ve been focussing on giving a grounding to why the role of Prime Minister and the party system started. I’m not saying that they’re not important, but they really don’t play a huge role in this whistle stop tour to our first leader. And that’s really what this first couple of episodes is, a prelude to the main course.
I honestly believe that there is space in the podcast world for more coverage of this era in Ireland and Scotland. I’m not an expert on Scottish and Irish history and although I’ve got a good grounding in British history, it would probably take me a good year to understand the full couple of hundred years back in each area to understand the religion, traditions, politics and the people, in a way that I give the flashes and little dips into the past as I have done so far.
I will try and cover more of Ireland and Scotland, I haven’t been avoiding them on purpose.
If Mary (the one married to William of Orange) was the rightful heir, why didn’t she rule as Queen and William as Prince consort?
You’re right. Mary was invited to take the throne, not William after the glorious revolution. There’s two reasons why:
- Firstly, William outright refused the role of consort. After all, he was the grandchild of King Charles I. he refused to be tied by apron strings in a similar fashion to that of Phillip II.
- Secondly, Mary did not want to rule alone. She didn’t want the crown to be that of conquest, so that their child could be seen as a more accepting Monarch, so they ruled together.
What was Quo Warranto that James used and how did the charter system work?
It’s really complicated, well it was to me when I first started reading about it.
Quo Warranto is medieval latin for “by what warrant?”. It was essentially a writ by which the King questioned the basis of a franchise, privilege or liberty. What James did was find technicalities of how the boroughs had overstepped their charter rights and into rights that the crown had.
So Charles II and James II abandoned the common charter process and forced town corporations to have their charters revoked. Obviously, many of these were ancient and given to cities centuries ago, and there was a lot of blurring between the ancient town charters and the crown’s rights. Both had evolved over time and for necessity. From here, they would then have to surrender the charter to the King for the crown to control.
The Crown then issued a new charter for their existence as a corporation, which was necessary to have certain rights like electing leaders and collecting taxes. The King could then regulate the corporations, remove officers he didn’t like without reason and force the corporations to ask his consent on issues before making decisions.
It was an important way to control certain important towns and cities, by having those who serve you in positions of authority. It would be like the Queen now deposing the Mayor of London, and putting it someone who would do what she said. Which is exactly what James did in London under Quo Warranto in the 1680s.
If James had accepted the forces from France, do you think it would have stopped the revolution?
In short, no. Louis had just committed himself heavily in central Germany to the tune of 30,000 soldiers in order to secure the Rhine in the developing conflict that led to the Nine Years War.
If there was no conflict in Europe for Louis to be involved in, absolutely yes. The French army was stronger in experience and numbers and had already crushed William and the Dutch a number of times whilst he was only Stadtholder.
It’s one of those interesting points in history where we could have seen England as a French Catholic dominion if things had gone differently.
Do you have a favourite historical joke?
My favourite joke comes from the Monty Python song about Oliver Cromwell. And that is:
The most interesting thing about King Charles, the first is that he was 5 foot 6 inches tall at the start of his reign but only 4 foot 8 inches tall at the end of it.
Why do we still celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?
In the words of fiddler on the roof, tradition. Most likely. We burn bonfires now like they did then, but fireworks came later on to where it’s been added now. They celebrated as the King wasn’t blown up, but I think today we’re more fickle- we like pretty fireworks displays. One tradition we seem to have lost in the UK though, is penny for the guy. This was a tradition where children would build replicas of Guy Fawkes and wheel it around neighbours, asking for money, usually so they could go and buy fireworks. The effigies would then be burnt on the night.
Why don’t you have Instagram and Snapchat?
For Instagram, I don’t know what photos I’d put up, except pieces of art from the time and portraits of Prime Ministers- which I don’t think will add anything to anyone’s life. I don’t have a Snapchat as it terrifies me that I’m no longer a young person and am scuttling slowly towards my grave as technology flies past me.
Does the phrase Wigs on the Green refer to the Whig party?
No, it doesn’t. I thought this myself, as someone whose father used to use it a lot when I was a kid. To fill in listeners unaware of the phrase, Whigs on the Green, means that there will be trouble. So I used to get, ” Christopher, stop that or there’ll be Whigs on the Green!” The wig that is being referred to is an actual wig. It’s an Irish phrase that refers to when men in the 18th century used to have fights, that the blows would normally knock their wigs off, onto the grass, or the green.
Who was the prime minister who fell off his chair and died? How did it kill him?
That would be Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury who served as prime minister three times under Queen Victoria. He was incredibly obese by the end and had trouble breathing, so he took to sleeping in a chair. In August 1903, he fell from the chair and with heart issues and blood poisoning, he died.
What happened to the other guy in the popish plot?
Israel Tonge, the man who had brought the manuscript to the King and presented Titus Oates to the court died in 1680, before the end of the Popish plot. As a raving Anti-Catholic, this was probably for the best; as I don’t think he probably would have wanted to see the end of the trials and persecution. There’s a theory that, according to JP Kenyon, Tonge honestly believed Titus Oates’ claims and that he was somewhat duped into the plot, along with everyone else.
The kingdoms of England and Scotland shared the same monarch. How much power did the Holyrood parliament have?
I reiterate my point earlier on this. Scotland has so much history that it deserves its own podcast for this period. So up until the 1690s, Scotland was run by the three estates. Now anyone who has studied French history, yes, this is the same as that. The first estate was made of high ranking clergy including Bishops and Abbots. The second estate was the nobility, parliamentary peers and tenants-in-chief, who instead of holding land from a bishop or nobility, held the land directly for the King or royal prince. If you’d like to learn more about feudal land tenure, or how land was owned and worked there is a fantastic book by Susan Reynolds called Fiefs and Vassals.
Interestingly some of the feudal land tenure rights weren’t abolished until the year 2000. If anyone is interested, reach out and let me know and I might do an episode on it.
So you have the three estates, although I know some may argue that there was two more estates made up of appointed office holders who were introduced after James I united England and Scotland, and shire commissioners who were elected to vote in Scottish Parliament- these Shire Commissioners were essentially the equivalent of English Members of Parliament. So by the time we get to the late 1600s, these three (or five) estates sat in two chambers, the Scottish Parliament and a sister advisory chamber known as the Convention of Estates to make decisions, although the Convention of Estates lacked legislative power.
Holyrood was able to influence the Crown and did so various times throughout the previous centuries, probably most efficiently when they stopped their King, David II, remember Scotland is its own country still, from seeking unification with England in the 14th century. We see at the point of the Glorious Revolution that the Bishops were removed from the Scottish Parliament in 1690, which further pushed the monarch’s influence out of Holyrood even more so.
Again, apologies about the lack of Scotland, I will try to do more.
What is your favourite Walpole biography?
I have to admit that the biographies out there on Walpole aren’t as amazing as the ones on other popular prime minister such as William Pitt the Younger, Gladstone and Robert Peel. If you’re looking for information on his time as PM, then John Morley’s is quite good and probably the best known . Personally, I’ve been using Betty Kemp’s biography a lot of my preliminary research as it reaches into his early years as well.
You were pretty vocal on the trade union debate. Are you a Tory?
I wasn’t really sure whether I’d answer this question. Not because I’m closeted, but because for me it’s not that simple. I have been a card carrying Tory, and worked hard to get MP James Broken shire, who is now a cabinet minister, to become elected when I was a teenager, but haven’t been a member for about ten years.
I’ve voted Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Party), so it’s not clean cut for me. I’m naturally right leaning because I come from a family of Irish immigrants who worked hard to make everything they have and believe in equal opportunity not equal outcome. I vote on manifesto and remember the mistakes parties have made. The Liberal Democrat university fee increase didn’t affect me, but did affect my friends and will affect my children. The Tories handling of Brexit has made me fall even further out of love with them. I don’t believe Labour is the party of progress or improvement, and would be hard pushed to ever vote for them.
UKIP and the Alt-Right terrify me and I think there’s a dangerous movement that disguises itself as patriotism, but in truth is no more than populism, xenophobia and racism. The last election was tough for me, I looked down at eight political parties on my ballot paper and spent 15 minutes standing in my community hall struggling over who to vote for. Not because I was torn between the two best, I was torn between the eight worst. I won’t tell you how I voted, but I will tell you it was very similar to eating a cold kebab. Disappointing. The fact is, there is no political party that I return to, because I don’t feel any represent me well enough to deserve my loyalty. And I think a lot of people feel like that.
I’m pretty much what Britain is on average, naturally right leaning with a love of our public sector and irritated by incompetent politicians who don’t serve their constituents as well as they should. What I will say is that I’m not here to put a spin on the history, I’m here to tell you what happened in as much detail as I can.
You mentioned last episode about a Grand Tour? What was that?
Yes, apologies for the lack of context on this. I can tell you to start it doesn’t involve Jeremy Clarkson.
If you were a rich young European man (although a smaller number of women took part) , you would take a trip, usually with a chaperone of a family member, or priests in some incidence. These chaperones were known as bear leaders, and were supposed to act as a teacher, protector, guide and friend on the journey. It was popular in the 1600 and 1700s and was seen as a rite of passage or a cultural awakening, usually through France, Italy and other central European countries. Grand Tourists were looking to visit the centre of the Renaissance that was coming to an end in Europe.
John Locke was a big fan of travel as a way of broadening your horizons and travelling to see new things and experience new cultures began to really take prominence in the 17th century. There was a rough standard route followed for both Catholic and Protestant travellers which was from Dover to Calais, France and then to Paris or Basel in Switzerland where you would then travel to Geneva. Both routes then followed the road to Italy where you would see Turin, Milan, Florence , Piza, Bologna and Venice. From Venice, the young elite would go to Rome seeing the Colosseum and glorious baroque architecture. The journey would usually conclude in Naples.
That was the tour for the 1600s, but later on trips to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius were sometimes included; as well as a boating journey to Sicily, Malta and Greece. Holland, Flanders, Austria and Germany also features on some Grand Tours.
Why did the Anglo Dutch wars happen?
Ok, so this all stems from control of seas and trade. It started in the 1650s where the English banned the Dutch from involvement in English Sea Trade. We’re seeing the beginning of the British Empire and colonies in this time and both the Dutch and English were made for it. The Dutch East India, Dutch West India and British East India companies were the two biggest joint stock trading companies and their nations essentially fought throughout the second half of the seventeenth century for control of the trade routes and waterways to the New World and Mughal Empire in India.
After the third Anglo Dutch War, the English and Dutch Republic became allied for over a century, before the start of the fourth Anglo Dutch wars in 1780. But I won’t say any more than that until we get to the infamous Lord Frederick North.
What happened to Judge Jeffreys?
Judge Jeffrey’s the infamous Chief Justice who oversaw the Bloody Assizes was captured whilst trying to escape during the Glorious Revolution. He was recognised by a survivor of the slayings and the mob arrested him. He was locked up in the Tower of London and died of kidney failure whilst residing in the tower in 1689.
Who do you think has been the most effective prime minister in regards to actually doing long-term good for non-nobility?
Great question. I’m torn on this one. So I’ll mention a few. There’s Robert Peel who created the police force and repealed the corn laws that had starved many poor and contributed to the death toll of the Irish Potato famine. He also repealed the last laws on Catholic discrimination and if you can’t wait until we get there- The Age of Victoria Podcast are doing it right now in their political focussed episodes of the early 19th century.
Clement Attlee has to be up there. The creation of the NHS is probably one of the greatest gifts that a Prime Minister has given to the United Kingdom. I’d argue Margaret Thatcher is up there too, giving a generation of lower and middle class people the ability to buy their own houses. Free markets allowed for privatisation of a number of companies that overall drove competition and prices down for the average person. Of course, that is a very contentious point.
I’d love to hear our viewers on who they think would make it to the top of the list.
Do you think the system of MPs and one prime minister is currently useful or outdated?
Is the system perfect? No. Is it better than most other systems around the world? I’d say so. The idea of a single figurehead to lead the country, I think is important. MPs in theory, represent the area they come from and come to Parliament to represent their needs and their views. A parliamentary member has four masters, the country, his constituents, his party and his conscience. I think far too many don’t think enough about their constituents and don’t value the model of trusteeship that Edmund Burke wrote about in the 1700s.
I think Brexit has shone a light on the flaws of our system, where we cannot agree in our elected house how to proceed. I mean, if we didn’t have Boris and his plan, would we have a direction right now? Over the last 3 years, no vote has been successfully passed on the EU with a convincing majority. MPs have in many cases disregarded their constituents vote to leave in the referendum and voted against the European Union Exit at every turn. Now there’s something the average Briton hates, is someone in a suit and a position of authority who thinks they know better than you.
And it’s because of this, that we’re going to see some real punishment handed out in the next election. We saw it in European Election and we’ll see it where it actually matters at the next General election. There’s an alternative school of thought that MPs should be delegates, bringing the view and the vote of their constituency to parliament, instead of their own thoughts.
Why was it called the great fire and great plague?
Well mainly because of their size. 13,000 houses were destroyed in London during the fire and London lost 15% of its population during the Plague. Most of the dead were buried in a town not far from where I was born called Blackheath. So aptly named, as the commons outside the main town, are filled with the buried corpses of victims of Black Death.
Interestingly I was doing some reading and thought I’d add some more information as to why it spread so far:
- Wooden houses- lots of flammables stored close to each other
- Wood frame houses collapse outward, spreading fire
- Middle of the night, so not many people realised
- Blowing up of houses delayed by mayor of London
Did Samuel Pepys House burn down?
Not in the great fire of London 1666. I can’t give you a source because I read it somewhere and lost it, but I’m sure I read that the house did burn down in the 1680s in an unrelated fire. Don’t trust me on it, as I spent ages looking for the source and couldn’t find it. If you can find this, please let me know- it’s driven me crazy!
Have you watched the mini-series “The First Churchills” and “Charles II: The Power and the Passion”? Do they present a faithful image of the period?
I have to admit I hadn’t seen them before you mentioned them. I’ve watched a few episodes of the First Churchills and to be honest, it’s probably the best show that’s been made about John and Sarah Churchill. If you want to know the facts, this is a good series. It’s quite low budget, and I think is probably a bit too favourable of John Churchill. I prefer the Favourite as a look into their character and hunger for power- but even then, we need to take that with a pinch of salt.
Charles II: The Power and the Passion is an OK representation of the time in my opinion. I think Parliament is a lot more tame than it would have been, especially when Charles II dissolved Parliament for trying to remove James II as his heir. If you’ve ever seen the Borgias or the Tudors, they’re as accurate a portrayal as those shows.
Could you please give a brief overview of who was eligible to serve in the House of Commons and how they were elected? How broad was the franchise at this time? Were there competitive elections?
Brilliant question to end on. So to be an MP, as far as I’m aware, backed up by a lot of research, could be any British male at the time. It was circumstance that would hold you back. If you were poor, you were unlikely to have th e means to take a few weeks off from you small holding and campaign your constituency. He haven’t really talked about it yet, but most seats were controlled by the landed gentry, who basically told their tenants to vote for them. We talk about rotten boroughs when we start looking at Walpole. So competitive elections? No not really. We don’t really start to see these until the Reform Acts on the 1800s.
It wasn’t really until the actions of John Wilkes that we will get to at the later part of the 1700s, that anyone suggested parliamentary reform. He’s the first real commoner without a station that is elected to Parliament. I mean there were soldiers who became MPs, but they’d been promoted up the social class and generally behaved in front of the majority of landed gentry in parliament.
Interestingly, if you are a lord now, you must renounce your lord title to serve in the house of commons- this happened due to the actions of Tony Benn that we will get to in… about 250 years. Conservative Peer Baroness Mobarik has been disqualified from the House of Lords as she’s currently serving as a Member of European Parliament. So essentially, one at a time.
In regards to the franchise, which refers to who could vote, this was complicated and before the Reform Act hadn’t really changed since the medieval period. Women of course, are nowhere near getting the vote, however at this point they could technically vote if they met the male criteria, but this was rare. Hilariously, the 1832 Reform Act actually took the vote away from women for the first time in history, legally.
Each country had different election qualifications, as to did counties and boroughs. You didn’t register to vote either, you had to prove you had the right to vote and this wasn’t by secret ballot either- they don’t come in until 1872. So if you were a tenant farmer and voted against the lord owning your land… well, you’d probably looking at relocation soon after the election.
A lot of elections were uncontested as well, as many nobles saw them as family property and would be passed down the family lineage. As I said, many boroughs and counties had ancient ways of voting MPs, much like the corporations we talked about earlier and to vote, where you were allowed to in a contested election, you needed to have a certain value of property, but this varied between boroughs and constituencies. We will be talking about this more very soon.