Category Archives: History

Yurrup in York

I’m just returned from a public meeting, held by the Labour MP for York Central.

Rachael Maskell is a decent lass — a physio by trade,  a trade union official by experience. She is doing her best.

Because of the upsets in the parliamentary party, she chose to side with the leadership (pro tem.). As a consequence of being one of the “stickies”, she ended up, over-promoted, with barely a twelve-month Commons experience, as the fully-fledged  Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary. Again: she is clearly doing her best.

Both locally, and in the national press, she has let it be known — or any least not denied — she has difficulties with the Three-line Whip on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote. Equally, in her response to this evening’s meeting, she indicated she felt she needed to huddle close to the centre of what goes for “power” in the parliamentary party.

So to the meeting itself.

Rachael began with a (over-)long account of where she felt we were. I have to admit, try as I could, I had heard it all before. It was largely read from a script — which itself raises certain questions.

The followed a long string of speakers from the floor.

What was evident was:

  • without exception, the tone went beyond regret and remain, into the pain and the angst of the thinking middle-classes;
  • very few “new” points or issues arose;
  • nobody was prepared to come out and defend the “leave” option;
  • there was considerable distaste that the whole #Brexit charade had over-written, and was continuing to expunge the real problems of British life, welfare and economy.

More to the crunch:

  • even the odd speaker who declared “support” for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did so with regret and reluctance;
  • more usually, there was complete scorn  for the present leadership: this was met with more enthusiasm than much else on offer.

If Rachael was assuming there were Brownie-points for loyalty to the current leadership, this alone should have disabused her.

At some personal pain, I remained silent: not my usual posture at such gatherings.

Had I been disposed, my extended thoughts would go on these lines (though, for public consumption, a lot more abbreviated):

A Burkean bit

First I bear the tradition of Dublin University’s College Historical Society. When I was elected as Librarian (a pure honorific), I discovered I had responsibility for a series of well-locked glass cabinets. In there were the minutes and records of the “Hist”, back to its foundation. Which was back to “Burke’s Club” of the 1740s. The “Burke” in this context being none other than Edmund.

I find Burke a rank Tory, and eminently readable. At this juncture, nothing of his is as relevant as his Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3rd November 1774). His opponent had just promised to accept mandates from the electors.

Burke responded:

... government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination …

… authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, — these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

In the core of that great speech is the well-known maxim:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Which is why I feel enormous sympathy — even some pity — for each and every MP who now has to choose a way through this mire.

Which leads into a second thought.

A horror from recent history

On the substantive motion of 18th March 2003, the House of Commons gave authority to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair’s government majority there was 263 (412 to 149). 84 Labour MPs voted against, a further 69 abstained.

Had there been a referendum at that moment — and for months after — the British public would have largely backed Blair: YouGov polling, over 21 samplings, suggested 54-38 in favour of war. After all, the Tory media had told them to do so.

Yet we are now asked unquestioningly to “respect” a 51.9/48.1 Brexit split.

Two conclusions

  1. There are arguments against a “Nay” vote on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote; but they more to do with parliamentary procedures than rights-and-wrongs. To vote “Nay” may apparently inhibit such voters from amending the Bill at a later stage. I’ll accept, too, that such a vote can be construed as a two-finger sign to the “Leavers” — and they have yet to learn the full consequences of their expressed wish.

2. However, to vote “Aye” is more perverse. None of us was clear last June what “Leave” might entail — except the dizzy promises of “£350 million a week for the NHS” and “Take back control”. We are still very much in the dark.

However, Theresa May has helped us to recognise what she expects. It amounts to:

  • either the 26 members of the European Union bow to her will;
  • or she kicks over the table, and walks out;
  • and we are left to pay for the tantrum.

Bottom line:

Abstain. Find an urgent family crisis in Aberystwyth. Be on a reciprocal to central Africa. Whatever.

But abstain. Even at the price of a Shadow Cabinet seat.

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Filed under EU referendum, Europe, History, Labour Party, York

Another op’nin

The 2001 London revival: It was superb. I had already been treated to the production on Broadway. It was already transferring to London, even before 9/11 had devastated New York theatre-attendances. So I paid real money to revisit it at the Victoria Palace

Few musicals beat that opening. But there are only half-a-dozen musicals worthy to start alongside Kiss Me, Kate —and at least one more has Cole Porter’s name over the title.

I can get something of the same thrill opening a new book for the first time.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend…

… Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Thank you, Groucho: don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Buying, on spec, a new book by a  previously-untried, even unknown writer is itself a venture.

I pluck the book from the pile or the shelf — perhaps because the cover or the title means something to me. I flick a few pages. I either return the book whence it came, rejected, or reach for the wallet and the plastic.

I did that last Friday.

iuMy two acquisitions were Ian Sansom’s Westmorland Alone and Tom Blass, The Naked Shore.

There is a tangential connection between those two.

The first in Sansom’s series was The Norfolk Mystery. Obviously a Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred type would be weak in the head not to snap at that. So I did, and found it wholesome — but not really much more — enough to go for the second in the series, Death in Devon.  Which I found harder going: the arch references to Arthur Mee and all those 1930s “cosy” teccies seemed to be wearing, and wearing a bit thin. Still, I went for this third one; and it went down quite nicely. If nothing else, it overcame the imminent reading-block that was sub-symptom of a winter chill.

So that was a re-visit. The “new” one was —

9781408815496Blass

The connexion with the Tom Blass is also Norfolk (which features very slightly) and East Anglia more generally.

Ir reads very well, rather disconnectedly — but this isn’t a straight narrative. Blass shifts, idiosyncratically, from space to place, topic to topic, encounter to encounter. And then will return whence he came, a hundred pages of more later. The book tends, obviously, to the gossipy. I find little wrong or objectionable about that.

Above all, The Naked Shore is delightfully filled with small and informative detail. Here’s a very early one:

In Whitby once, among the stones of the ‘Dracula’ abbey, I was struck by the starkness of the difference between the accents of a visiting family from Newcastle and those of the natives. Geordie’s origins lies with the Teutonic Angles, hence ‘gan’ — as in ‘gan down toon’, from the German gehen for ‘go’, while their Yorkshire hosts’ linguistic ancestry lay further north (arse, bairn, dollop and flit all have Norse heritage). Some fifteen hundred years after their arrival, fifty miles of English coast still reflect ancient ethnic differences, the origins of which lie on the far side of the North Sea.

Blass returns another half-dozen times to Whitby, at one stage as part of the strange  class-divides between seaside resorts, even (as page 108):

Today the middle classes that seek out the evocative beaches of North Norfolk at Holkham and Blakeney studiously avoid not-dissimilar shorelines close by.

I’ll go with that: Wells is neatly sandwiched between those two “evocative beaches” — indeed, I challenge any in-comer to know where Holkham beach ends and Wells begins. I’d put it around where the old Coastguard look-out was. By the time, heading east, one reaches the beach-huts, one definitively is in Wells. And the reason for the “social” difference (consider, too house prices)? Wells had — before blasted Beaching — a train line. And a bit further back, GER/LNER ‘tripper’ specials all the way from London’s Liverpool Street. That, and the whiff of whelks being loaded into the guard’s van lowered the tone.

Note from the above, that although may dot from topic to topic, the book comes with a useful index for playing dot-to-dot.

A comparator

61ieuy24gfl-_uy250_Yes, we’ve been in these parts quite recently.

Only a couple of years ago, Michael Pye did nicely by, and nicely out of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We AreThat’s an equally subjective account, but organised on more orthodox — even “historical” lines. It’s a “deeper” book, in many respects a “better” book; but one more concerned with — as the title suggests — the anthropology, even sociology, of the North Sea coasts and peoples. So it is more rooted in what we used to be able to term, without apology or explanation, “the Dark Ages”.

I shall be keeping both on my shelves: not as rivals, but as complements.

 

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Filed under Britain, Detective fiction, East Anglia, fiction, History, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

The legend of Black Tam

Tam Dalyell, who died this week, was a kind of Mizen Head: one of those parliamentary markers to navigate by. Which is also to say — stay clear of. He was, for most of his more-than-four-decades in the Commons, individualistic, almost unclubbable, the cat who walks alone.

1962 and All That

Anyone who had the pleasure of that baritone timbre would be wafted back to the Learig Bar, Bo’ness, preferably in the days before the 1962 West Lothian by-election.

Everyone in sight knew that “Black Tam” would take it easily. His worthy Scot Nat opponent — then and for the next six contests — was Billy Wolfe. 1962, though, was the first Scot Nat showing in such parts. Wolfe was the more “lefty” of the two. Since the Communist candidate was Gordon McLennan, then of the mind-set we would later recognise as “unreconstructed tankie”, that might make Wolfe the “vote-as-left as-you-can-get” ticket. Alas! That was also a time when the Scot Nats could be dismissed as “tartan Tories”: 1962 and Wolfe were the moment that changed.

Both men were — in their different ways — noble figures.

They were a crucial decade apart in years.

William Wolfe had a background as an owner and manager in heavy metal-bashing industry. Wolfe had had “a good war”.

Tam was Old Etonian, Cambridge University, would inherit his mother’s family baronetcy, and become Sir Thomas of the Binns. Tam had learned as a squaddie in National Service to relate to the lower orders.

After an evening of canvassing the plebs, all and sundry would gravitate to the Learig Bar. Lesser, lower beings and bag-carriers hugged their pints of heavy and looked on.

If you hunt hard enough, long enough, you may yet find a tattered original of The Rebels’ ceilidh song book, published by the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society.

Therein (provided it’s a first edition) you will find The Ballad of the Learig Bar, with the chorus:

Billy Woolf will win, will win,
Billy Woolf will win.

He didn’t. But it was a great effort all round.

Ireland intrudes

I found myself on politics.ie, trying to answer:

Could never understand [Dalyell’s] desire for Ireland to get its freedom but not Scotland.

Apart from the dubious assumption that an interest in the Troubles of Northern Ireland amounts to a desire for Ireland to get its freedom, I tried to say Dalyell’s motivation, above all, was his opposition to colonialism. That’s what radicalised him, at the time of Suez. It was one of the few postures he maintained consistently. Hence — no doubt — being sucked into the “Troops Out Movement”.

The West Lothian Question: still “tricky”

I’m of the view Dalyell was quite sincere about his “nationalism”.

He set out his objections to the Scotland Bill quite clearly, and — as the preface to the Herald Scotland obituary notes:

Tam Dalyell … was … the first to pose the still-tricky West Lothian Question about Scottish representation at Westminster.

The “West Lothian Question” was not Dalyell’s. His own term was “the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem”. It was, however, the term Enoch Powell applied to Dalyell’s reasoned point:

… the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem is not a minor hitch to be overcome by rearranging the seating in the devolutionary coach. On the contrary, the West Lothian-West Bromwich problem pinpoints a basic design fault in the steering of the devolutionary coach which will cause it to crash into the side of the road before it has gone a hundred miles.

For how long will English constituencies and English hon. Members tolerate 123 not just 71 Scots, 36 Welsh and a number of Ulstermen but at least 119 hon. Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Ireland? Such a situation cannot conceivably endure for long.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East [Gordon Wilson] said that members of his party would not vote on English matters, but that does not face up to the problem of the need for a Government to be sustained. The real problem is that of having a subordinate Parliament in part, though only part, of a unitary State.

Out of that comes four thoughts:

  • Had Dalyell the acid wit, quick mind and oratory of Powell, he could have been far more dangerous.
  • Dalyell was complicit in squirrelling into the 1977 Act the 40% clause, which self-detonated and destroyed that limited devolution. It consequentially brought down the Callaghan government in 1979.
  • When devolution did come, Dalyell answered his own “problem” by never voting on exclusively-English matters. To that extent, he was as good a Scottish “nationalist” as any other.
  • Let’s not quickly pass over the Enoch Powell connection. In 1977 how the UUP had given succour to the Tory opposition in 1964-66 was still a thorny matter. Powell (by 1977 the MP for South Down) joyfully exploited that, rubbing Unionist grit in the wounds all the way back to the 1920s.

Where the “West Lothian Question” still festers is the so-called “Sewel convention” (for a full explication see the Peatworrier passim[/I]), which was thought to define the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It was thought the 2016 Scotland Act enshrined these conventions into UK law.

As a concomitant of the Supreme Court judgment of 24th January 2017, those certainties are now much more clouded. In particular there’s paragraph 148 of the judgment, suggesting Westminster — by accident or malign design — has been weaselling:

…the UK Parliament is not seeking to convert the Sewel Convention into a rule which can be interpreted, let alone enforced, by the courts; rather, it is recognising the convention for what it is, namely a political convention, and is effectively declaring that it is a permanent feature of the relevant devolution settlement. That follows from the nature of the content, and is acknowledged by the words (“it is recognised” and “will not normally”), of the relevant subsection. We would have expected UK Parliament to have used other words if it were seeking to convert a convention into a legal rule justiciable by the courts.

Any distant rumble is “Black Tam” having a posthumous chuckle.

Above all, Dalyell (“the only member to own white peacocks”) was supremely individualist and not-to-be-confined by any passing group-loyalty. He was impossible to corral in any political grouping. He was apparently incapable of anything like “humour”. Yet he did his research: when he spoke, he knew his stuff. He gave a hard time to each and every minister dished up for his tormenting: Thatcher in particular.

Belgrano: hunting for truths.

He was against the whole Falklands adventure. He detailed that in his Falklands Polemic for the London Review of Books.

From that developed his ceaseless hounding of Margaret Thatcher, over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano. Dalyell’s dogged persistence was itself the stuff of legend. In retrospect, it seems partly a piece of self-justification. It was, however, much needed: particularly so when he was able to show that the thirty hours while HMS Conqueror trailed the Belgrano proved — rather than the vessel being some naval threat — the delay was political, over Peruvian attempts to cobble peace proposals.

The main event

Then we might usefully read Dalyell’s own “last word”: The Question of Scotland: Devolution and After.

There Dalyell argues what Scotland needs is not “self-government” so much as “good government”, and primarily ” good local government”. There’s a lot of point-scoring in it: Dalyell offers a cogent argument why Labour failed. He is caustic in his treatment of Donald Dewar — the spiralling costs of the new Scottish Parliament building — and Dewar’s denials — being one main grievance. Dalyell won, Dewar nil.

Now both Billy Wolfe and Black Tam are gone. Both were imperfect. We shall not see their likes again.

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

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Filed under Herald Scotland, History, Labour Party, Law, leftist politics., London Review of Books, nationalism, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP

Books and Bokes of the year

Boke? Or do you prefer Boak? Look it up!

One of the many aspects of the “festive season” (Bah! Humbug!) that I sincerely, utterly, quiveringly loath is the lists of “best books of the year”.

The New York Times one is up already, so I know what will puff out the “Culture” pages of the weekend papers and magazines.

My reasons for this dyspepsia are:

  • the lists prove what an illiterate, narrow-minded swine I am;
  • are usually full of stuff I see as detritus;
  • induce guilt that I didn’t read the one or two worthy items on the list;
  • and I’ve not caught up with the last century, let alone the last twelve months.

Taking the NYT as an example, I see just the one there that I intend to read: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway.

My own list?

Well, it would have to include:

  • Ian Rankin’s latest, and 21st, Rebus: published on 3rd November, arrived, courtesy of Amazon Prime, a day early, read and shelved within a couple of days. One of the very few “newly-published” novels I’ve bought this year, along with the latest Donna Leon and Philip Kerr.
  • Under “military history”, Trevor Royle’s Culloden. Royle did a synopsis for The Scotsman, and that sold it to me.
  • A weekend in Belfast coincided with the Linen Hall Library pop-up second-hand shop, filled with cart-loads of rubbish. Still, I rescued a (apparently unopened) biography of Joseph Walshe and a couple of other items. Nolan on Walshe is a decent effort, not without faults, but it helps to join the dots. Across Fountain Street, a couple of doors down from the Linen Hall itself, is Waterstones. Any large “provincial” Waterstones is always worth a rummage, to see what the locals are keeping to themselves: there, three years late, I found Roger Courtney’s Dissenting Voices.
  • My expensive habit of buying exhibition catalogues means I now own You Say You Want a Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966-1970 from the Victoria and Albert. The whole exhibition seems to spring from the record collection of the late John Peel, padded out with ephemera. If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there, of course. I was, and I do. Nice to meet old friends (and sing along with Country Joe).
  • Theatre: as age affects the hearing (and the Siemens earpieces help only a little) I tend to buy play-scripts. Confession time: I had never tackled Fletcher and Bill Shagsper’s Two Noble Kinsmen until a weekend in Stratford. Yeah, but nowhere near the exuberance and sheer fun of Aphra Benn’s The Rover in the afternoon matinee (my copy of that script goes back to the RSC production of 1986).
  • Oh, and two real goodies, thieved from one of those pubs which decorate with aged and crumbling books. Also always worth a rummage: there are treasures among the Farmers’ Handbooks for 1922 and the discarded law manuals. One was Anthony Hope’s wry, charming The Dolly Dialogues (a first edition, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) and RLS’s St Ives.

Eccentric. Eclectic. Pompous. Guilty as charged (even of those last two slight volumes).

Only then do I start to wonder what I’ve missed.

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Filed under History, Literature, New York Times, Northern Ireland, reading, Uncategorized

Getting there: the generation game

This Poo Beresford continues to hang in the air, bear down on my mind, and burden my conscience, as it has now for a couple of weeks. I tried sneaking up on it, through the start of the Plantation of Ulster. Now I’ll try to move on and up the line of descent.

What I hope will show is how the Beresfords climbed the social ladder, with a speed and success that outran the other planters.

The pain now arriving at platform one …

iu

Don’t rush past the map of newly-minted County Londonderry, by Thomas Raven (and there’s one of greater definition on-line here). It shows how the twelve great liveried companies found themselves lumbered with swathes of countryside, about which they had little knowledge, but which they were committed to pacify and populate.

So, in 1610 two thrusting chancers arrived as the advance party: John Rowley and Tristram Beresford. The former was the overseer at Derry, deputed by the Goldsmiths; the latter by the Clothworkers at Coleraine. On paper, it might seem Rowley had the better prospects … but watch and learn.

A bit of begatting

And Tristram Beresford (about 1574-1666) begat Sir Tristram Beresford, 1st Baronet of Coleraine.

baronetsAnd Sir Tristram Beresford (?-1673) married Anne Rowley, daughter of aforesaid John. He thereby begat a son (Randal) and two daughters. He was MP for the County of Londonderry in the Irish Parliament in 1634, 1656-58 and 1661-1666. By his second marriage to Sarah Sackville he begat a further three sons and three daughters. The baronetage dates from 1665.

And Sir Randal Beresford (?-1681), 2nd Baronet of Coleraine, married Catherine Annesley, daughter of Francis Annesley, 1st Viscount Valentia.

Pause for thought: Annesley was an intimate of Lord Deputy Chichester (who was, in turn, no great fan of the Ulster Planation — in large part because he was not a prime beneficiary). So: two generations on, the Kentish Beresfords are in close proximity with the on-the-spot rulers of Ireland, who via Annesley have control of the Irish exchequer.

And Sir Randal, with Catherine, begat Tristram, the third baronet, two other sons, and two daughters.

And Sir Tristram Beresford (1669-1701), 3rd Baronet of Coleraine, married the eccentric Nichola Sophia Hamilton (she had all kinds of spiritual traumas with the Earl of Tyrone), daughter of the Baron Hamilton of Glenawly, and by her begat four daughters and a single son. This Sir Tristram was “out” with the Williamites, attainted by James II, and “restored” after the Glorious Revolution. He knew which side his bread was buttered; and we might notice how the Beresfords are now, most assuredly, in good odour and deep with the Ascendancy … and with the Whigs now running the show in Westminster.

If you were with me in that preceding paragraph, you’ll have notice that the bold Sir Tristram pegged it, aged just 32. His heir, Sir Marcus Beresford (1694-1763) now the 4th baronet, was still barely an infant. His “guardians” were the Viscount and then Viscountess Dungannon (i.e. the Trevor family). I’m feeling the urge to post on how the Dungannon title was rapidly resurrected after Marcus Trevor’s death (8th November 1706): and it bodes to be on the salacious side.

Anyway, back to the begatting.

tyroneAnd Sir Marcus Beresford, 4th Baronet of Coleraine, scored all the jackpots. Barely of age, he became MP for Coleraine: though Lodge’s  Peerage of Ireland (page 302) puts it, somewhat drily (long ∬s and all):

… before he attained his full age, was cho∫en to parliament for the borough of Coleraine, which he continued to repre∫ent, until K. George I was plea∫ed to advance him to the peerage by privy ∫eal, dated at St Jame∫’s 11 June, and by patent at Dublin 4 November 1720.

In 1717 he married Lady Catharine Power, the only child and heiress of the last and 8th Earl of Tyrone.

The Powers descended from the Anglo-Normans who arrived with Strongbow. The surname “Power” was anglicised from “le Poer”, and now was as good a moment to revert to the Frenchified, poncified form. From the “le Poer” side, the match with a warranted Williamite (now Hanoverian) Whig happily expunged any hang-over from the messy business involving the execution (for being a Jacobite colonel) of the 6th Earl.

The bold Sir Marcus, now making his mark in London society and being a bit of a weighty number in Anglo-Irish politics, deserved his Hanoverian  silver balls and ermine — so, on 4th November 1720, he was advanced to Earl of Tyrone, Viscount Tyrone, and Baron Beresford. And all that before his 27th year was completed.

And the Earl of Tyrone, with the Baroness-le-Poer-in-her-own-right, begat three sons, who all died young, before the fourth, George de la Poer Beresford (born January 1735) would survive and inherit. A fifth, John, followed the money, became a barrister, a commissioner of the revenue, MP for Waterford and member of both UK and Irish Privy Councils. As well as taster of wines for the port of Dublin. A seventh son (#6 also died an infant) went into the church, became Bishop of Ossory and spawned a total of ten sons and six daughters.

And Sir George de la Poer Beresford succeeded to the Earldom, 4th April 1763. His first appointment was as Governor and Keeper of the Customs of Waterford (that’s the de la Poor connection). He took his place as a member of the Irish Privy Council and became a knight of the Order of St Patrick. All of that signified he was a heavy hitter, at the apex of the Irish Ascendancy.

Troubled times

Let’s lift our eyes from Irish simplicities, where the divisions (and opportunities for divide-and-rule) were clearly defined. Things across the water were complicated by the accession of George III and the congealing of the British parliamentary two-party system. Basil Williams, for the Oxford History of England, had it like this:

On 25 October 1760 the old king, George II, died. A choleric, obstinate little man with violent prejudices and a great sense of his own importance … For the last six years of his reign he was bewildered by the intrigues and incompetence of Newcastle and still more by the masterful assuredness of Pitt. But, though vastly preferring his gemültlich little electorate [Hanover], where he had no worries and everybody was deferential, he was a good constitutional king in always recognizing, after much preliminary blustering, his own limitations and the necessity of acceptin[g] the advice of ministers supported by ‘that d____d House of Commons’…

The new king, George III, in his first public act showed his anxiety for peace and his antagonism to Pitt’s bellicose humour. In his declaration to the privy council on his accession he spoke of ‘this bloody and expensive war’, softened down, it is true, on Pitt’s demand, in the published version, to ‘expensive but just and necessary war’. [pages 367-368]

So the diplomatic card-game began, with Pitt holding the trumps (not just the Canadian and Caribbean conquest, but even Belle Île, a fraction of France itself) but marked cards (the French negotiator was Castelnau, who had been one of Newcastle bought informants).

With the Peace of Paris, Bute and Fox departed the political arena. Fox had run the national exchequer as an adjunct to his own; and it would take twenty years to settle scores. Grenville was a clean skin, but prickly about his reputation, and suspected — with reason — that Bute had open channels to the king. Grenville attempted to impose himself, and crack down: Wilkes was the prime target. While Greville was stabilising the national finances, the partisan cleavage was widening.

A bit more begatting

For the Beresfords (now Poer Beresfords) to rise higher, George de la Poer Beresford needed a good political marriage. He found it in Elizabeth Monck, daughter of Henry Monck and Lady Anne-Isabella Bentinck (herself daughter of the Duke of Portland). Note those surnames: the Poor Beresfords had chosen sides in the developing political trench-fighting. The marriage produced four sons and four daughters.

Thus we arrive at Poo Beresford and his equally-remarkable brother: neither of whom were legitimate. But that’s another story …

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Filed under History, Ireland, Irish politics, Northern Ireland

Ulster’s “New Men”, 1610

Here I am again, slip-sliding gently towards a promise on Sir John Poo Beresford, (1766–1844).

Getting there involves getting my mind around the Beresford family, and that was where I was starting.

New Men

What was in my mind was how the Ulster Plantation represents another dimension of the “New Men” of the Renaissance and its aftermath.

The conceit starts in ancient Rome. A novus homo would be, precisely, the individual, the first person in a previously-undistinguished family, elected to the Senate.  Seneca, in Epistle XLIV, laid down the rules (or lack of them):

… who is well-born?  He who is by nature well fitted for virtue. That is the one point to be considered; otherwise, if you hark back to antiquity, every one traces back to a date before which there is nothing. From the earliest beginnings of the universe to the present time, we have been led forward out of origins that were alternately illustrious and ignoble. A hall full of smoke- begrimed busts does not make the nobleman.  No past life has been lived to lend us glory, and that which has existed before us is not ours; the soul alone renders us noble, and it may rise superior to Fortune out of any earlier condition, no matter what that condition has been.

The notion was serially revisited by Boethius (a civil servant under Theodoric), Dante (whose background is cloudy), Petrarch (son of a lawyer), and Chaucer (a background from Ipswich shoe-makers). It regains currency in the Italian fifteenth-century, and the ideas are current in Elizabethan England.

Enter the Beresfords

Another point of departure was John Lodge, The Peerage of Ireland, revised by Mervyn Archdall, vol 2, pages 296-7:

Tristram Beresford, Esq., the third son, was born before the year 1574, and coming into Ireland as manager for the corporation of Londoners, known by the name of the society of the New-Plantation in Ulster, at the time they made the plantation in county of Derry, in the reign of James I, settled at Coleraine in the coiunty of Londonderry, having issue by the daughter of _____ Brooke [*] of London, two sons and three daughters, viz:

(1) Sir Tristram, his successor.

(2) Michael of Dungarvan and of Coleraine, Esq., who was constituted, with his brother, and others, commissioners in the precinct of Derry, for examining the delinquency of the Irish, in order so the distinguishing of their qualifications for transplantion; and in 1654 he was sheriff of the counties of Derry, Donegall, and Tyrone, of which he was also a commissioner of the civil survey and revenue. He married Mary, daughter of Sir John Leake, Knt. and by his will, dated 5 July 1660, directed his body to be buried in the church of Coleraine, in his father’s sepulchre, which was done accordingly; and he had issue by her, who was buried at Temple-Patrick in the county of Antrim, one son Tristram, who died young; and four daughters his coheirs, viz: Anne, married to Thomas Whyte, of Redhills in county of Cavan, Esq.; Olive, first to _____ Thornton, and secondly to Sir Oliver St George, of Headford in Galway, Bart.; Elizabeth to captain Robert Shields; and _____ to Arthur Upton of Temple-Patrick, Esq.

(1) Daughter Anne was first married to Sir Edward Doddington, and secondly to Sir Francis Cooke, Knt, and was buried at Coleraine.

(2) Jane, to George Cary of Redcastle in the county of Donegall (descended from the Carys of Clonelly in Devonshire) and by him, who died 22 April 1640, had five sons and four daughters, viz. Francis of Redcastle (who married Avice, sister to Captain Henry Vaughan, and they both lie buried in the church of Redcastle, having had issue Francis; Chichester, who died unmarried; Margaret; Avice; and Letitia); George; Edward of Dungiven in the county of Derry, (who died 4 June 1686, leaving issue Edward, George; Tristram; Elizabeth; Mary; Anee and Jaen); Robert of Whitecastle in the county of Donegall, (who died in March 1681, leaving Robert; George; Edward; Tristram; William; Anne; Letitia and Mary);

(3) Susanna, married to _____ Ellis.

[*] Elsewhere there ‘s “genealogist” gossip which identifies her as Susannah Brooke or Elizabeth Brookes. Note the naming of the third daughter, which may help.

tree1

Already we can outline four generations, and we haven’t ventured beyond the seventeenth century.

We can start to draw some “conclusions”

The most obvious is that the leading Ulster planters were — very definitely — young men (typically younger sons) on the make.

[1] Many were sprung, like Tristram Beresford, from the London guildsmen. This again makes perfect sense. The London liveried companies were not over-pleased by having the whole plantation scheme descended on them:

When the embryo project was unveiled to the liveried companies in July 1609, and individuals invited to adventure, there was a marked lack of enthusiasm. The Mercers were perhaps the frankest. While thanking the king for his offer, they pointed out that ‘they are for the most part men that live by merchandise and therefore are very inexperienced in managing business of that nature and withal want means and ability for the accomplishment thereof. [So] this company are not willing to have a hand or intermeddle in the same’. The Ironmongers expressed their ‘desire with our best means to help the state and commonwealth, but what we would we cannot in respect of weakness’. When it came to attempts to generate subscriptions, members were curiously absent or unavailable because they were dwelling out of the city. Of the 46 men on the Ironmongers’ subscription list, 9 were absen, 10out of the city, and 2 allegedly ‘not of ability’. The story was much the same elsewhere.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 82]

Hence any overseers put in place by the London companies would be hungry young thrusters, hard of complexion and temperament.

[2] This was a new, a frontier society. The blueprint was already well-defined. It was a society of incorporated cities and boroughs, which is a prime reason why the liveried companies of London were the chosen means of delivery:

This use of urbanity for colonial purposes was not the mere product of over-ripe imaginations. Rather it was borne of experience and practice. Just as corporations were a crucial dynamic in the plantation of Ulster after 1610, so they had figured prominently in the wide-ranging social and economic reforms initiated in England since the 1540s. The origins of these reforms were many, complex and varied. However, in terms of sanction by central government, the driving force — including urban incorporation — was [Sir Thomas] Smith, [William] Cecil and other members of their sprawling Cambridge mafia who dominated the higher echelons of royal power for much of the Edwardian and Elizabeth eras. More to the point, one of the outcomes by the turn of the seventeenth century was a discernible ‘corporate system’ by which cities and boroughs — or ‘little commonwealths’, as contemporaries described them – had filled the topography of provincial England.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 69]

Consequently a main requirement imposed on the planters was the establishment of boroughs: 25 corporate towns (though by 1613 only 14 had been established — and only 16 were to happen) across the plantation. Derry was to have 200 houses, and room for 300 more; Coleraine to have 100 and room for 200 more (that came down to a quibble over what constituted a “house”) [see Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú, pages 84-85].

[3] The success (and failure) of the plantation was this focus on ‘urbanity’. Derry and Coleraine (the third largest borough was Strabane) may have been puny in global terms; but they were all that the planted territory could boast. Not that they didn’t do well enough:

… although they didn’t become the thriving metropoloi envisaged by the propaganda of 1609-10, they did enjoy a significant mercantile presence. Merchants from Scotland, Chester and London were soon frequenting the two ports, while as early as 1614-15 a merchant fleet of seven ships accounted for 18.5% of Londonderry’s exports. London derry boasted urban amenities not available elsewhere. Its street were paved: it had a town hall costing between £500 and £1,000; its school was founded by the London merchant Matthew Springham, its master receiving a salary of 20 marks per annum through the London Society; its cathedral church of St Columba, the first purposely built Protestant cathedral in the three kingdoms, costing at least £3,800 opened in 1633 with a capacity of 1,000 people. True, Londonderry lacked other key features found in Englishtowns: there was still no bridge; a recommendation that a bridewell should be built was resisted; and there were no almshouses: indeed there was little sign of any charitable activity at all. A key variable in determining the relative success of Londonderry and Coleraine was the fact that the landlord was directly involved in building whereas elsewhere in the plantation urban development was promoted through the granting of building leases. Urban settlements elsewhere were terribly under-capitalised.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 85]

In passing, I suffer a slight cringe over the attempt there to apply anachronistic and economic-history evaluations: “18.5%”, “a capacity of 1,000 people”, “key variable”, “under-capitalised”.

One could — in a more romantic spirit — extrapolate into group psychology. This is the earliest seventeen-century. The minds involved are still accustomed to think of social advance in terms of acquiring lands, rather than anything ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘proto-capitalist’. Just as in Virginia and the Carolinas, a century later, that kind of social position is going to be found, carving out estates in the countryside.

[4] These interlopers efficiently established themselves, and built networks — those daughters seem to have been seeded very effectively to generate a nexus of power and possession.

Note, though, as far as Beresford genealogy goes, that it is a “west” Ulster concentration: Derry, Donegal, Cavan and Galway. There is not, as yet, a social top-tier: distinctions and titles beyond mere baronet or knight are not yet present. That will come a generation or two still further on.

We can look to a precise contemporary, the glove-maker’s son from Stratford, for the definition of the “new men”. He puts the words into the mouth of Brutus, the old republican patrician, somewhat scornful of the arriviste Caesar — but they could easily apply to himself, his generation, and the aspiring and arriving Ulster ascendancy:

But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.

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The not-so-great and the not-so-good, revisited: an extended intro

A while back I attempted a succession of these: blog-efforts on rediscovered and overlooked characters, mainly from Irish history. Many of them were scions and by-products of the Ascendancy.

But first the prologue (the main event is the next post):

The Tory-people-friendly UK government press offices put out a couple of images of the Chancellor:

cx8rag4weaaauib-jpg-large cx8ze-pxaaa_mfd

Th estimable @JohnRentoul nailed one of the portraits:

William Pitt the Younger on the left, I think. Who’s on the right?

While I was rootling madly through the Government’s Art collection, the answer came from elsewhere:

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the 'Edinburgh Review'; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-george-cornewall-lewis-18061863-2nd-bt-chancellor-of-the-exchequer-editor-of-the-edinburgh-review-28284

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’.

Not a “well-known” name, but Lewis deserves a bit of a boost — around 1862 — stone-walling the ultras who wanted the UK to go for the Confederates in the American Civil War.

His origins were in the Welsh Marches, but his Irish connection was a worthy one.

As  a young, rising, and talented lawyer, freshly-minted by the Middle Temple, with an interest in the “public service”, in 1833 Lewis  became “an assistant commissioner of the inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of Ireland”. He spent some time in 1834 researching the problems among the Irish diaspora across the developing industrial towns of England. Then he turned to the state of Irish education, which took him into heavy reading on the land question and on the Irish established church.

Out of that, in 1836, came a substantial document:  On Local Disturbances in Ireland; and on the Irish Church Question:

title-page

Don’t rush past that: note the dedication. Charles Sumner was in England in 1838, as part of a European tour. Sumner would go on to be a potent force in American politics, as an abolitionist, founding member of the Republican Party, and Radical during the Reconstruction.

Lewis’s book was seminal in looking to balance the ecclesiastical situation in Ireland, by ‘concurrent endowment’ (he invented the term), and in advocating ‘a legal provision for the poor’, which amounted to applying to Ireland the principles of the 1834 English poor law. It doesn’t need a genius to spot where that one would go adrift in the Great Famine, particularly as Lewis was also rejecting ‘the principle that it is the duty of the state to find employment for the people’.

Rapid promotion

lewisLewis became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a wholly mid-Victorian manner.

His father died in January 1855, and Lewis inherited the baronetcy and, on 8th February 1855, unopposed, the seat as MP for the Radnorshire boroughs. On 22nd February he became Gladstone’s successor at the Treasury, and on 28th February a Privy Councillor.

We might wonder at Phillip Hammond’s choice of such a figure, to look over his shoulder in the study of Number 11, Downing Street.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, am I wholly adrift in seeing some facial similarities between the image on the right, and Hammond, himself?

Second, Lewis came to the Chancellorship in a moment of financial crisis — how to pay for the Crimean War. Hammond has even greater problems, in the aftermath of the #Brexit vote.

Allow me to filch from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Lewis remained chancellor until the government was defeated in February 1858. Gladstone at first was helpfulness incarnate to his successor, but Lewis deviated from Gladstone’s canons of financial rectitude, especially with respect to the question of whether to finance the Crimean War by taxation or by loans. Lewis faced a severe crisis in the nation’s finances, brought on by a war more prolonged and expensive than anyone had expected. His first budget, on 20 April 1855, had to meet a deficit of £23 million. Lewis raised £16 million by a loan, £3 million by exchequer bills (later increased to £7 million), and the remaining £4 million by raising income tax from the already high 14d. to 16d. in the pound and by raising indirect taxes. The £68 million thus raised was easily the largest sum raised up to this time by a British government. Lewis’s budget set aside the Gladstonian view that war abroad should be met by corresponding taxation-pain at home but, in terms of practical politics, financing by loans (to which Lewis resorted again in his second budget of 19 May 1856) was probably unavoidable if Palmerston’s government was to survive. In 1855 Lewis carried through the Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, an inheritance from Gladstone and an important step in repealing the ‘taxes on knowledge’ (as the duties on newspapers and paper were called). Lewis’s policy of loans meant excellent commissions and profits for the City of London, which greatly preferred him to Gladstone.

Such parallel: almost uncanny.

 

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, History, Ireland, John Rentoul, Tories., United States