Boris Lloyd George?

The nation was in a state of crisis. Entering through the door of 10 Downing Street as the new Prime Minister was one of the most charismatic politicians Britain had seen for decades. This man was David Lloyd George. A leading Liberal politician, he replaced his party leader Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916 at the height of the First World War. The government then being fiercely divided in the wake of the continued stalemate and the threat of the breakup of the cross-party wartime coalition.

The same description could almost as easily be applied to Boris Johnson’s entry into office as Prime Minister in July 2019. During his time in British politics, he has come to develop his own idiosyncratic brand, which has made him instantly recognisable to the average voter. He too entered Downing Street at a time of nationwide political crisis after Theresa May and Parliament failed to pass a deal for leaving the European Union.

Johnson has made no secret of his penchant for Winston Churchill, even authoring a biography of his political hero, but perhaps his parallels to Churchill’s one time political ally and friend, Lloyd George, are even more striking.

Instantly on a personal level, the similarity is evident. Both men share colourful private lives, with the continued mystery surrounding the number of Johnson’s children and Lloyd George’s affairs with numerous women, most notably his long-time mistress and secretary, Frances Stevenson. A relationship which resulted in two abortions and the birth of an illegitimate daughter. Equally, both during their time in office have faced accusations of ‘sleaze’ from Johnson’s awarding of Covid contracts and life peerages to Lloyd George’s ‘Cash for Honours’ scandal in the 1920s, where knighthoods, baronetcies and peerages were sold for the appropriate contribution to Lloyd George’s personal political fund.

Furthermore, perhaps most potently for us in the aftermath of Covid-19, both served as Prime Minister during the time of a global pandemic. As the First World War neared its close in 1918, Spanish Flu began to rage across Europe. Lloyd George caught the virus in September 1918 in the early stages of the pandemic, at the age of fifty-five. He experienced a weeklong fever, requiring a respirator for breathing. His condition was later described by his valet as ‘touch and go’. Lloyd George would go on to make a full recovery, but the pandemic would cost 228,000 lives in Britain alone. Johnson similarly caught Covid-19 in the pandemic’s early stages , coincidentally also at the age of fifty-five. Requiring treatment in a hospital intensive care unit, he then spent two weeks recuperating at the prime ministerial country retreat, Chequers.

Image: Robert Cutts via Flickr

In political terms, the comparisons also are striking. Both men have changed their political ideologies to suit their agendas. Once seen as a small state liberal, Johnson is now pursuing a policy of state expansion in everything from the NHS and social care to education and other public services, as outlined in the government’s most recent Budget. Taxes, moreover, are set to reach their highest level since the Second World War. It is with this agenda he hopes to continue to hold the support of Red Wall voters in the North. Lloyd George, equally, in the later stages of his political career shifted his views in the hopes of reviving the Liberal Party. Originally as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s government, he spearheaded the introduction of a series of ad hoc social policies, including the establishment of labour exchanges, old age pensions and National Insurance, to help deal with the problems of poverty and unemployment. Yet by the 1929 general election, with the Liberal Party’s fortunes fading, Lloyd George put forward a new, radical campaign, ‘We Can Conquer Unemployment’, in a shift towards the left. In the hope of attracting new voters, he promised to return unemployment to normal levels within one year through a programme of public works using the unemployed to build houses, construct new roads and extend telephone lines.

However, perhaps the most interesting parallel between Johnson and Lloyd George is the latter’s  role in the foundation of the welfare state to tackle poverty and Johnson’s stated aim to raise living standards. Lloyd George was a committed ‘New Liberal’, who led his party to ‘wage implacable warfare on poverty and squalidness’, most notably through his 1909 ‘People’s Budget’. Johnson, equally, is claiming to pursue a similar vision to ‘level up’ standards across the United Kingdom and now after the pandemic to ‘Build Back Better’, a slogan which echoes the spirit of Lloyd George’s 1918 election promise to build ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’ at the end of the First World War. Citing in recent speeches the need to tackle regional differences in key issues like life expectancy, Johnson’s aim is beginning to emerge through his plans for greater investment in local communities, the creation of a ‘National Skills Fund’, the introduction of Free Ports and support for major infrastructure projects like HS2. Though yet to be seen in practice, it is in this stated ambition to ‘level up’ and ‘Build Back Better’ that the parallel between Boris Johnson and Lloyd George’s government policies  are perhaps most interesting and unusual.

Thomas Hewitt

The Dangers of Marriage for a Queen Regnant in the Sixteenth Century

Marriage among the monarchies of sixteenth-century Europe was usually a means to produce a male heir who would accede to the throne and make alliances between countries, usually with the daughter of a king being offered as a potential wife to the young male heir of another country. For kings, a successful marriage was essential in order to ensure the continuation of their dynasty. When it came to a Queen Regnant, a woman who was able to rule in her own right, a marriage could be potentially disastrous and result in the Queen having her power undermined because, once married, a woman became the property of her husband because of a lack of legal protection for women. There were concerns that, if a Queen were to marry a foreign prince, it would mean foreign interference in a way that could not happen if a king had married a foreign princess or noblewoman. These concerns could not be circumvented by marrying a noble, either, because that could be seen among the nobility as ‘favouring’ one family over the other, and as the monarchy still relied on the noble classes to provide an army in times of war it was in their best interest to keep as much of them on side as possible.

Image Credit: Maia C via Flickr

Female heirs to the throne were aware of the potential danger of losing agency and authority, and this is likely why both Mary I and Elizabeth I were hesitant to marry. In a letter written by Charles V’s ambassador, Simon Renard, he says that Mary told him that she had not intended on marrying once she became Queen as she wanted to ‘end her days in chastity’, but she understood it was her duty to do so and to try to produce a Catholic heir to continue her counter-reformation work. However, Mary did ensure that she protected her rights in the marriage agreement, and Philip II had no actual power in England, Mary was an independent leader despite her status as a wife. The fact that this protection was necessary demonstrates how threatening marriage could be for a Queen’s authority if the correct precautions were not taken. Elizabeth chose never to marry, and Susan Brigden, who specialises in the English Reformation, attributes this to there being no real advantage to marrying any of the available suitors. This is because marrying an Englishman would only create issues within the nobility and Brigden suggests that Elizabeth preferred to pretend to entertain marriage proposals from foreign princes in order to gain support from them without any real commitment that could have limited her ability to make alliances with other European powers. For female monarchs, getting married almost required a cost-benefit analysis wherein the Queen would have to consider whether the risks involved in getting married were worth it. In the case of Mary, it was beneficial to her at the time she married because she needed the support of another Catholic monarch and to produce a Catholic heir, whereas Elizabeth’s prospects were not as powerful as an alliance with Spain and offered little extra security in comparison to Mary’s marriage to Philip II.

Female monarchs had unique problems in relation to producing an heir, which was a vital part of a successful marriage in early modern England, because death in childbirth was common, and in the case of Mary and Elizabeth, this would have led to a minor inheriting the throne again, which would have caused the political turmoil that was seen during Edward VI’s short reign. Alternatively, there may have been a situation where both the mother and baby died, leaving no heir to the throne, which could have caused issues for the stability of the government. However, producing a child who could succeed the throne was one of the key aspects of being a monarch as they needed to secure the dynasty. Mary and Elizabeth had differing approaches to this problem. Mary had a husband and she wanted to have a child with him so that her child could inherit the throne, but she was unable to have a child. It was reported that Mary even experienced phantom pregnancies because there was so much pressure for her to have a child who would grow up to be the next Catholic monarch of England. On the other hand, Elizabeth never tried to have a child, instead choosing to name an heir from the existing line of succession, although she constantly delayed naming an heir. This may have been a way of protecting herself, though, as she had seen that in Scotland Mary Queen of Scots had been deposed within a year of her having a son, and Elizabeth did not want that to happen to her. As women, both Mary and Elizabeth were constantly at risk of losing their throne to male claimants, even if it was their own hypothetical child.

Lauren Gannon

The Forgotten Medici

The Medici were one of the most infamous families in Italian and Renaissance history, a family of bankers who rose to rule Florence. They became patrons of the arts, backing the likes of Da Vinci and Galileo and produced four popes and two queens of France.

However, there is one member of the family who has been erased from history and has only recently been more widely spoken about in historical and media circles.

Alessandro de’ Medici was the only recognised illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici. It is believed that his mother was a servant in the Medici household. Her name was Simonetta da Collevecchio, who was believed to be of African descent by multiple historians such as Christopher Hibbert and John Brackett.

For the most part, he was disliked less for his skin colour than his mother’s status as a freed slave. He was seen as ‘false royalty’ throughout his life due his mother’s low birth.

He was given the nickname Il Moro, ‘The Moor’ by others, due to his dark skin and curly hair.

His half-sister, Catherine, Lorenzo’s only legitimate child would go on to be Queen consort to Henry II of France after their father’s death in 1519.

They were both raised under the guidance of the Medici pope Leo X (until his death in 1512) and cardinal Giuliano de’ Medici (later made Pope Clement VII). In 1522, he was given the title Duke of Penne from his uncle. Clement apparently favoured Alessandro, often taking his side in disputes he had with his cousin, Ippolito. This favour also fuelled rumours over who Alessandro’s father was or if Giuliano may have been his father.

According to one historian, Alessandro was morose, passionate and could be cruel. His manners were marked by ‘vulgarity and abruptness,’ something that was unexpected of a man of his class and upbringing. This attitude translated into his political life, making him many enemies.

Political Life

After the siege of Florence ended in 1530, he was made Duke of Florence, after an agreement between the Pope and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor in 1531. He was also later made Hereditary Duke in 1532, ending the Florentine republic, and making him the first Medici to rule Florence, starting a monarchy that would last just over 200 years.

Alessandro was married to Charles V’s illegitimate daughter, Margherita. His noble birth, being a direct descendent of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ‘Magnificent’, was an attractive feature and helped establish him as a genuine noble.

Descriptions of his rule vary. Positively, he was seen as a champion of the poor and helpless. He was also, like many in his family before him, a patron of the arts, commissioning pieces from notable artists at the time such as Ponto Moro. Duke Alessandro acted with the advice of elected councils and took their advice whilst ruling.

Florence’s vocal exile community judged his rule as harsh, depraved, and incompetent. In 1535, the exiles asked his cousin Ippolito to meet with Charles V to denounce Alessandro’s rule. They described him as a tyrant and accused him of every crime imaginable, but Charles ignored these, particularly after hearing from one of Alessandro’s advisors, who told a more favourable story of his rule.

Ippolito then died in questionable circumstances, which some believe Alessandro arranged. This helped prove to some of his contemporaries that he was a tyrant.

Alessandro was assassinated in 1537 by his distant cousin Lorenzino de’ Medici. This was an attempt to bring back the Florentine Republic. Power was passed on to Cosimo I de’ Medici from the junior line of the Medici family, marking the end of the senior family’s line and their rule in Florence.

Opacity via Flickr

Afterlife

Images of Alessandro vary amongst his contemporaries and historians.

No one was more determined to establish the worthiness of Alessandro as a good leader than his successor Cosimo I, who went on to be successful in his rule of Florence. Cosimo assumed responsibility for raising Alessandro’s two illegitimate children and avenged his death by assassinating Lorenzino.

For his contemporaries, as previously mentioned, his blackness was not why they hated him. To them, he was an arrogant tyrant, murderer and above all, a Medici. His race was perhaps the last objection they would have had about him.

His image as a tyrant however did prevail over time presenting him as the prince who started Florence’s ruin.

Historians, trying to take a more impartial view have argued back and forth as to what sort of man he really was with some concluding that he was a much better ruler than his detractors have claimed, pointing to his kindness to the poor and helpless.

Until recently, he has mostly been ignored within historian circles and mainstream representations of the Medici family or representations of Renaissance Italy. This is odd, considering his short and extraordinary life seems the kind of story one should tell in a period drama: from his womanising to his rule as the first Prince of Florence and the last of the original Medici line.

The story of Alessandro de’ Medici is part of a wider conversation around the erasure of Afro-Europeans from history books and the role they played in shaping Europe’s political history.

It is important for historical integrity and diversity to tell such stories and recognise the impact men and women like Alessandro had.

Michaela Makusha, History in Politics Writer

How the UK Shaped Hong Kong’s Unique Democratic Sensitivity

Many look at Hong Kong’s politics now and wonder how Hong Kong got into such a mess. As some may know, in addition to it being a shopping and cuisine paradise, Hong Kong is a has a special political and legal status . Alongside Macau, Hong Kong is run under the principles of ‘one country, two systems’. In other words, though Hong Kong is a part of socialist China, it operates under a capitalist system. This is a compromise agreed between the British Colonial Government and China in 1997 when the British control of Hong Kong ended. Whether the Chinese government is maintaining the principle well is not the question to be discussed here). Instead, this article will  explore the British Colonial government’s impact on shaping Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity, which has certainly contributed to the recent clash between the Hong Kong government and its people. 

The impact of shaping Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity can first be explored by the British Colonial government’s localisation policies. In 1967, there was a very serious riot throughout Hong Kong. This was a wake-up call to the British Colonial government that they had to change their way of administration by catering to the local people’s needs better. The British Colonial government thus started to implement a series of socio-economic policies, such as providing affordable housing and free and compulsory education. With a better living environment, Hong Kong people were able to spend more on learning instead of merely focusing on escaping poverty. Generations of improvement in education led to a Hong Kong population with a very high level of education. As a result, more locals were capable and eligible to work in the government. There was rapid localisation of governmental personnel including an increase of over 50% of Hong Kong civil servants from 1980 to 1990. There was an increased number of Hong Kong Administrative Officers. Similarly, more Hong Kong people were promoted to senior and even top governmental positions. For example, Anson Chan Fang On Sang became the first Chinese Chief Secretary and Donald Tsang Yam Kuen became the first Chinese Financial Secretary in the 1980s and 90s. Over the years towards the transfer of Hong Kong, more Chinese ‘secretaries’ emerged. More Hong Kong people learned the British democratic way of governance and were trained in this way. 

The Pro-Beijing government forces facing protestors, 1967. (Credit: Hong Kong Free Press)

As the transfer approached , the British Colonial government implemented an even more significant attempt at ‘localisation’: increasing  Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity. Towards the second half of the twentieth century, China had emerged as a stronger nation running under a socialist system. The British Colonial government feared that Hong Kong would become a socialist city under the CCP. As a result, in the 1990s, it greatly localised the government by promoting more locals into the administration. The British colonial government hoped that by doing so, these Hong Kong people would already be trained to manage their government in a democratic way when the transfer happens. Also, the fact that these capable Hong Kong people are already occupying government positions means that there would not be many vacancies when the British Colonial government was ‘out’ in 1997. The Chinese government would not, the thought went, send their own personnel (who are trained and worked under a socialist system) to manage the government. 

The impacts of the localisation measures had been effective in realising the British Colonial government’s democratic intentions. For example, in the early years of the twenty-first century, many Hong Kong people trained under the British democratic system still occupied most government positions. They pushed for further democratic reform after the transfer to ensure  democratic education to the new generations. The creation of the secondary school subject ‘Liberal Studies’, which educated youngsters on the ‘one country, two systems’ and one’s political rights, is a clear illustration of these efforts. These in turn trained a new generation of millennials who had lived and known democracy their whole life. These generations of youngsters clearly know what their political rights are and are willing to participate in defending their rights or pushing for democratic reforms. Under the education of liberal ideas, they are also capable of critically challenging government actions. Thus, it is not hard to understand why these democratically sensitive generations of youngsters felt threatened and protested when more pro-China politicians are taking up government positions and more pro-China policies are implemented in recent years. 

Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity can also be explored by another policy of the British Colonial government: the creation of representative governance. The China government’s autocratic rule during the Cultural Revolution really ‘freaked out’ the British Colonial government. It was determined to build Hong Kong a steadfast democratic foundation through increasing the electoral elements in Hong Kong’s political structure. In the Legislative Council, the first indirect election in 1985 marked the start of a gradual change, and was soon followed by the first direct election for 18 seats by the method of ‘one person, one vote’ in 1991 and the abolition of all official seats in 1995 by Governor Chris Patten. At last, the president of the Legislative council was no longer the Governor but elected among the Legislative council’s elected counsellors. In the District Council, the first direct election was held in 1982 and all official seats were abolished in 1985. All appointed seats were abolished in 1994 and the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years old. More people were eligible to participate in voicing their opinions by being able to vote for politicians that represent their views. In the Urban and Regional Councils, there were gradual elections and the abolishment of appointed seats. More people could vote and more were eligible to stand in elections. 

As Hong Kong moved into the twenty-first century, these elections were already present. The current  generations are used to having their say and participating in politics by voting and choosing their representatives. On the other side, more young people choose to participate in community affairs by standing in District Councilors’ elections, which are open to voting to everyone aged above 18. Some other young people choose to become a Legislative Councilor to have their opinions regarding the future development of Hong Kong valued. Thus, it is not hard to understand why youngsters are willing to protest, even resolve to radical actions, in face of the narrowing of electoral choices and rights in recent years. 

Chan Stephanie Sheena

Home Ownership: is it the key in Britain’s inequality crisis?

Housing reform is necessary. That, as a statement, is perhaps one of the few things undisputed between the major parties in Westminster. Not enough affordable homes are accessible, leaving many within a rent trap, never quite managing to make it onto the housing ladder. Yet under the surface issue of getting the next generation onto the housing ladder lies an issue of greater concern. If left unchecked, the imbalance within the housing market, coupled with long-time economic woe for lenders, could be Britain’s next ticking time bomb and have disastrous socio-political consequences.

The catalyst of this socio-political crisis that is beginning to brew is economic. Following the 2008 Financial Crash, economic growth in the UK has struggled to get back onto its feet. Productivity remains stagnant and lags behind other G7 nations. Attempting to stimulate economic growth, the central bank has, throughout the decade, maintained low interest rates to persuade people to spend rather than save. The rationale is straightforward enough. More gets produced if money is being spent, and not sitting in current accounts accruing interest. Yet, so far, such a strategy is yet to bear fruit.

A house left derelict in Brixton, London. Mercury Press & Media (Credit: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/crumbling-home-abandoned-30-years-22352062)

There is, however, a further, longer-term issue with the central bank’s policy on interest rates which is of greater concern. Ever since the UK government brought in inflation targeting in 1992, an economic policy where the central bank targets a certain inflation rate, interest rates have trended consistently downwards. Whilst great for home-owners with mortgages, for young people looking to save it is increasingly difficult to build up the finances required for the deposit to a house.

What does this have to do with an impending socio-political catastrophe? Simply put, right now there is no way for young people to reach the housing ladder, being perpetually stuck within the renting market. This, by itself, is not damaging to the socio-political situation within the UK. Other developed European countries across the continent have renting cultures and, if anything, dismantling the constructed expectation to house-own would likely be an improvement to British culture.

However, it is not certain that the impending economic change will achieve such a culture shift, and the consequences of retaining a house owning culture within a renting society are worrying.

Even ignoring, momentarily, the short-term recorrection of the market that would occur when demand for houses is outstripped by supply as a largely property-owning baby boomer generation passes away, unattainably expensive houses for the generations following will still remain. Instead, the most worrying concern is the impact it could have on an already expanding inequality within the UK.

This is because the gap between those who have and those who have not will become unbridgeable. With an inability to save for that deposit, those with parents who already own houses may find that inheritance is the only way onto the property ladder. Owning a house will become a sign of significant family wealth and concentrate privilege to an ever-decreasing minority, whilst those stuck with the financial pressures of paying rent will fall further and further behind.

And, as history points out repeatedly, such unsustainable inequality leads to increased political extremism and conflict. It would be naïve of us to assume that we would not be subjected to the same increase in political extremism that defined the French Revolution, the formation of the Soviet Union, and 1930s Germany. Indeed, in the 19th century there was a fear that Britain would follow a similar path to the examples listed above, as events such as the Peterloo Massacre and the Hyde Park Riots threatened to be the UK’s own Storming of the Bastille, as protestors demonstrated against the inequality within Victorian Britain.

Disraeli and Gladstone can be largely applauded for quelling such extremist politics with their reformative platforms. So what ,then, do we do about our modern conundrum? Well, were we to copy from the economist’s textbook, there would be one of two options: change the government’s fiscal policy or change its monetary policy. Either the government could go down a monetary route, scrapping inflation targeting and artificially raising interest rates. Or it could go down the fiscal route of greater spending, through the building of more affordable homes.

Yet, whilst the causes of this crisis may be down to our economic history, we must take a more socio-political approach in attempting to prevent such a crisis.

In contrast to the Victorian reformists Disraeli and Gladstone, who both passed Reform Acts focused on expanding suffrage within the UK, political reform should be prioritised in an act of preparation for, rather than reaction to, this crisis. Focus should, instead, be placed in two directions. Firstly, upon making central government contracts more transparent and meritocratic, the result of this being greater political pressure for a larger percentage of housing developments to be affordable. Secondly, the remit of local governments should be altered, increasing control over the rewarding of contracts, whilst simultaneously completing the shift towards housing associations owning social housing. Such a move would give councils and metropolitan areas greater control of how much housing is built, whilst protecting them from the unaffordable and uneconomical costs which come from development.

The housing crisis, although economically caused, must rely on contemporary political solutions to prevent socio-political catastrophe. We cannot be lulled into either thinking the UK is immune from the multiple historical examples of political extremism that accompany greater inequality, or that implementing the same economic policies repeatedly will provide a different result. Without expansive political reforms to housing, transferring power towards local governments, and increasing transparency in government, the UK will only step closer towards socio-political disaster.

Matthew Lambert, Summer Writer

Temporal over Spiritual Power in the Medieval Church? Part III: Dissent and the Call for Reform

The Great Papal Schism ultimately had devastating ramifications for both the papacy and the Catholic Church as a whole. Dissent was on the rise, as discontent with the actions and behaviour of the papacy, and the harm that it had inflicted upon the institution of the Church, began to cause wider problems. As the conflict within the papacy raged, theologians who opposed this state of affairs made themselves known, putting forward their own interpretations of the scripture, many of which laid the foundations for what would later be termed Protestantism. Men such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus argued against the extravagancies of the Church, whereas wider movements such as conciliarism sought to challenge the supremacy of the papacy over all other ecclesiastical bodies, and bring about a more democratic era for the Church. Despite its internal strife, the Church was determined to brook no challenge to the authority of the Pope, and sought to quash all hints of dissent, though its efficacy in this gave the lie to its apparent strength.

Painting of Jan Hus in the Council of Constance by Václav Brožík (1851-1901) © Wikipedia Commons https://museeprotestant.org/en/notice/jan-hus-1369-1415-and-the-hussite-wars-1419-1436/

Initially gaining traction during the fourteenth century with the discontent arising from the Avignon Papacy, and later the papal schism, the movement known as conciliarism opposed the supremacy of the papacy, arguing that as the pope was not infallible, and that as the pope was chosen by a council, this council should hold power over him and be able to act if the pope was unfit for office. This stood in stark contrast to the policy of papal supremacy, which argued that as the inheritor of the mantle of the Bishop of Rome, as handed down by Saint Peter, the Pope’s decree was sacrosanct and could not be overruled by others. It cited many of the Church’s most important decisions having been made in council, such as the defining council at Nicaea in 325, and thus, there was precedent and logic behind such a move. Rising high in the early fifteenth century, conciliarism was buoyed by its success at the Council of Constance, which ended the papal schism, as this proved to them that the council of cardinals was capable of effecting change in the stead of the pope. However, the subsequent lack of reform from the papal curia convinced many of them that this that their efforts were not working, with the Council of Basel seeing a radicalisation within the movement that, although initially popular, swiftly caused it to fall from favour, and by the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was a dying movement, with its condemnation at the Fifth Lateran Council of 1512-1517 serving as its final death knell. Although the doctrine of papal infallibility would only be formally codified centuries later in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, this was merely the continuation and culmination of the centuries-long belief in papal supremacy that was already very much in effect even in this early period. Therefore, this demonstrates how this concern over the temporal power of the pope continued to occupy a place of concern in the Church’s mind long after this period.

One of the earlier figures in the wider movement for reform within the Catholic Church was Jan Hus, a Czech whose opposition to the Church in Bohemia led him to preach a creed that stood against many of the excesses of the priesthood, such as indulgences and simony. These ideas incorporated many of the criticisms previously propagated by Wycliffe in England.  Although Hus was burned at the stake for heresy in 1415, this only served to martyr him in the eyes of his followers, who continued to propagate his beliefs rapidly through the Czech population of Bohemia, despite attempts at suppression by Wenceslaus IV, the King of Bohemia at the time. Following the death of Wenceslaus in 1419, tensions escalated between the Hussites and the wider Catholic population as Wenceslaus’ brother and successor Sigismund decided to take decisive action. The Hussite Wars, as the conflict became known, raged for fifteen years from 1419 to 1434, and were not only a civil conflict, but also incorporated a series of five papal crusades that lasted from 1420-1431, each ending in defeat for the papal forces. Despite some setbacks for the Hussite forces, they consistently managed to retake lost ground, taking advantage of the disunity of the papal forces. However, in the end, the wars only reached a conclusion following a schism within the Hussites themselves that saw the radical Taborites purged by the moderate Ultraquists, who were then able to reach an accommodation with the Catholic Church. The fact that the papacy was forced to agree to terms with the moderate Hussites and permit them to practice their own rites in return for their submission, rather than continuing efforts to hunt them to extinction as had previously been done to heretical groups, emphasises the truth by this point that the Catholic Church had been weakened, and was no longer able to exert the same level of temporal power that it had previously been able to.

Dissent against the Catholic Church in the late medieval period largely revolved around the words of learned theologians, many of whom believed that the extravagant trappings that the priesthood had surrounded themselves with rendered them unfit to tend to the faithful, focussing on their own temporal power over spiritual concerns. Alongside this came the doubt cast on the pope’s capability as the leader of the Church after the actions of the cardinals in the Schism. The Church’s response to this, while heavy-handed in places, was more moderate than it would have been in preceding centuries – showing that its temporal power had been severely weakened by both internal and external conflicts. These concerns left an indelible mark on the Church that would eventually pave the way towards the Reformation, which challenged both the temporal and spiritual authority of the Church and led to a schism within Christianity itself on a scale that had not been seen since the split of Catholicism and Orthodoxy centuries prior. This shows that although the Church may have prized the temporal power that its spiritual authority afforded it, it was ironically this misguided priority and the neglect of its spiritual power that ultimately led to the diminishment of its temporal power.

Henry Miller, Summer Writer

Weaponising ‘safety’: Laws of displacement and the crisis faced by Syrian Refugees in Denmark

In March 2021 the government of Denmark announced that the Damascus region of Syria, a state still gripped by the civil war which broke out in 2011, was ‘safe’ for human habitation. The claim not only shows Denmark’s support for Assad’s regime which now controls the territory but has enormous implications on the status of the 35,000 Syrians who fled to the Scandinavian state to restart their lives in the wake of the violence. In lieu of the capital’s ‘safety’ Denmark is revoking the residency of many Syrians and embarking on schemes of deportation and repatriation, generating outcries from global charities advocating for the rights of the displaced. As of early October 2021, stories are appearing in Middle Eastern newspapers claiming that those fearful of being sent back to Syria are fleeing Denmark for the Netherlands and becoming, once again, displaced. As claims to asylum are reportedly being made against Denmark itself due to the verdict, the situation raises questions which those concerned in the histories of international migration and human rights law must address; is the host-state’s right to declare a refugee’s homeland ‘safe’ ever appropriate? Does current legislation confine refugees to a permanent state of flux? 

Firstly, it has been claimed that the Danish government’s decision defies the principle of non-Refoulement embedded in international human rights law. Following the drafting and implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, international legislation forbids states from deporting refugees to countries in which the ‘danger of persecution’ would still pose a threat to their life. Under Denmark’s claim that Assad’s Damascus is ‘safe’, such a principle would not apply, but activists within the Syrian diaspora and global rights agencies are denying that this ‘safety’ is a material reality on the ground. UK-based international justice chamber’s Guernica 37, for example, released a statement in July which claimed that Syrians forcibly sent to Syria would no doubt face scrutiny and even violent punishment from the ruling powers. They also worriedly noted the ‘precedent’ of acceptability  such deportations may set and the implications that this would have on all of those displaced globally. 

A sculpture named “The Refugee Ship” by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt. Credit: Jens Galschiøt via Wikimedia Commons

We must therefore acknowledge that the crisis faced by Syrians in Denmark is reflective of the possibilities for misuse allowed for within current international rights legislation. The Danish government’s ability to declare a region ‘safe’ and deport residents accordingly, despite said ‘safety’ not being accepted on the international stage, shows the worrying potential for a weaponised notion of ‘safety’ in state’s dealings with asylum claims. 

It is important to consider the theoretical issues raised by the deportation of Syrian residents from a state in which their presence had previously been accepted. If those with accepted claims to asylum who have built livelihoods, raised families and become members of vibrant communities can have their right to remain in their new home stripped away so easily, the question remains as to whether international legislation is really doing enough to protect them. The act of deportation is a conscious distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’, but to suggest that Danish Syrians had not viewed themselves as part of the same community as their fellow Danes is a reductive view of national identity. Their status as legal Danish residents went from being unquestionably accepted to being stripped at the whim of a declaration of their previous place of residence’s ‘safety’ by the state in which they made their new home. One cannot imagine the emotional turmoil caused by such a situation, and the proactive conversations which centre Syrian voices emerging across the diaspora must be taken into consideration by those considering the legality of the situation. 

By George R. Evans, Summer Contributor

Cornish Independence: dream or future political force?

‘You wouldn’t want to mention it in the pub, for a start.’ By this, Cornwall-born Johnny refers to Cornish nationalism, a highly contested topic that has drastically shaped how Cornwall views its place on the map. Though dismissed by some as little more than a political farce, Cornish support for its independence has deeply historic roots, predating Roman times. Demonstrated by those who fly St Piran’s flag, nationalist dreams of sovereignty permeate Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, reflecting its original Celtic culture.

Known politically as the ‘Case for Cornwall’, full Cornish independence from England would likely entail the creation of a devolved Cornish Assembly, harking back to the original Stannary Parliament and holding the same powers as in Wales or in Northern Ireland. The closest Cornwall has come to this status so far is the 2015 ‘Devolution Deal’, authorising Cornish control over its health and social care services, transport, and enterprise and skills funding policies. However, for nationalists, this is not enough. Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party, argues for future amendments to the elements overlooked in the Deal such as housing and planning. His demands also include more Cornish autonomy over its governance, comparable to the contemporary political independence debates within Scotland. His critique  demonstrates the ongoing tussle for Cornwall’s national status to be recognised.

Moreover, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent ’Levelling Up’ speech announced the revival of Cornish and other County Deals, sparking debate over whether Cornwall should have an elected Mayor as a further sign of devolved political power de jure. Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives, argued for Cornwall’s deal to be named a ‘Duchy Deal’, referring to Cornwall’s constitutional ‘Duchy’ status, thereby reminding the government of Cornwall’s legal authority to veto Westminster legislation. Thus, in his adamant conviction for this ‘Levelling Up’ policy to be beneficial for Cornish nationalism, Thomas poses a stark challenge to the English government.

Portloe, Cornwall. Credit: Edward Webb via Wikimedia

However, today’s reality is still far from Cornish nationalists’ dream of independence. Even by accommodating this County Deal, Cornwall implicitly accepts the authority of the English government over its own. Importantly, where does this dream of independence stem from?

Cornish nationalism majorly relies upon the recognition of a distinctly Celtic identity, originating from early first century Dumnonii Celtic populations. This cultural and political identity was threatened by Roman rule, until their retreat back across the Channel in the 410s. Though far from fellow Celtic nations like Brittany, the renewal of Celtic culture and Cornish political sovereignty after the Romans left illustrates the determination and individualistic natures of the Cornish people at that time. As John Reuben Davis argues, Cornwall ‘remained as an independent British territory in the face of pressure from Wessex,’ over the next several hundred years. This subsequent revival of Celtic culture into the sixth century draws parallels with the contemporary Cornish struggle against controlling governance.

Cornish political alliances made with ‘othered’ fighting forces, including Scandinavian raiding parties, highlight their struggle for political sovereignty when facing the most powerful governing force of this time, Wessex. Most notably, the 838 Battle of Hingston Down, where a Viking ship of men aided the Cornish in their final recorded battle against Wessex, parallels modern Cornish alliances with smaller forces, in order to challenge centralised political systems. One example of this is its celebrated place among the Six Celtic Nations as a recognised Celtic political and cultural polity.

Interestingly, the fight for modern Cornish nationalism also subtly materialises within alternative portrayals of the ninth-century subduing of Cornwall, after Hingston Down. In spite of the 927 expulsion of Cornish forces from Exeter, as described by William of Malmesbury, Davis argues for the continuation of a distinctive Cornish identity with the subsequent creation of a separate bishopric for Cornwall as well as a fixed Cornish border at the Tamar. Furthermore, Davis’s championing of the underdog reflects a modern historiographical trend toward studying the Cornish revolt as part of Cornish cultural and political identity in itself. As Mark Stoyle identifies, Cornish revolts are now seen as ‘part of a continuum,’ that goes on long past medieval times, into the Tudor period and beyond. Thus, this historic and unique Cornish identity perseveres across history.In short, contemporary nationalist demands echo the distinct and rebellious nature of the Cornish identity. Their independent streak may continue to be revealed through the sui generis nature of the local governance of the Isles of Scilly. Scilly’s partial devolution from Cornwall, recognised as a separate local authority under the 1930 Isles of Scilly Order, with its own county council to match,bypasses Cornish removal of English authority, thereby moving towards a different kind of independence. Like Scilly then, Cornwall may look to more creative methods to reinstate local governance. Cornwall’s dreams of reinstating its sovereignty may never come to fruition. Yet, the echoes of its recalcitrant past undoubtedly remain key to its fight for independence today.

By Sophie Bodenham, Summer Writer

Belarus: A Conflict of Histories

The summer of 2020 marked the beginning of the largest anti-government protests in Belarusian history. Fuelled by the clear rigging of the 2020 presidential election, these protests have rocked Alexander Lukashenko’s regime and terrified him with the possibility of his overthrow . And so, the President has cracked down heavily on these protestors, leading to numerous arrests, violence, extraditions and deaths. At the same time, Russian influence within the country has been ramped up, as reports of Russian government personnel clashing with protestors have emerged, and recently, Russia and Belarus have participated in continuous, joint military exercises that have effectively established a permanent Russian military presence in the country.

This increased Russian presence could be said to have been somewhat of an inevitability. The 1999 Union State Treaty was signed between Russia and Belarus with the final aim of integrating both countries into a political union. Or, more realistically, to integrate Belarus into Russia. Alexander Lukashenko, one of the original signatories, has remained in power ever since then. Lukashenko and Russia have sought to achieve this union in the past two decades through creeping economic integration. Russian businesses operate extensively within Belarus, Russia is the biggest buyer of Belarusian goods and Belarus can purchase essentials, such as Russian oil, at a lower price than the rest of the world. Such privileges are threatened to be revoked by the Kremlin should Belarus ever dare to step out of line. 

An interesting aspect of Russian integration efforts however, is the cultural part Russia aims not only to integrate Belarus economically and politically, but also culturally. Russian propaganda outlets espouse a narrative of Belarusian history which suggests that integration is natural. According to this narrative, Belarusians are simply Russians who have been artificially separated from the motherland. Any differences in culture and language are simply aberrations brought about by the subjugation of the Belarusians by foreign powers while  the Belarusian state itself is seen as an artificial creation from the Soviet era. However, messages to promote integration are mingled with Soviet nostalgia; they tap into some of the older generations’ desire to once again be part of a superpower and their general longing for things to be as they were before. 

Lukashenko has naturally been complicit in promoting this narrative. During his presidency, he has suppressed the Belarusian language to the extent that reportedly only 4% of Belarusians use Belarusian in everyday speech. He has also reinstated the old Byelorussian SSR’s flag and anthem. The whole tone of Lukashenko’s administration has been one of Soviet nostalgia and close ties to Russia. In erasing distinctive Belarusian identity, Lukashenko and Russia are slowly eroding  any arguments against integration.

Nonetheless, only 7.7% of Belarusians support a full union with Russia, and 77% have a positive or neutral image of the European Union. It is clear that the propaganda campaign of Lukashenko and Russia has failed to have a significant effect on the Belarusian people. In fact, a contrary narrative of Belarusian history has emerged among the opponents of Lukashenko and the younger generation as a whole.

This narrative sees the formative years of the Belarusian nation when it was part of the medieval Duchy of Polotsk and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Polotsk was a Rus (not to be confused with Russian) realm that was somewhat distinct from Kievan Rus (the medieval Rus confederation centred in Ukraine from which Eastern Slavic groups claim cultural descent). Polotsk later became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, under which Belarusian language, culture, and literature developed and flourished. This continued under the relatively tolerant Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. At the same time, Muscovy, which would become the Russian heartland, fell under the control of the Mongols. And so, the Rus of Belarus and Muscovy further diverged culturally and politically.

The ongoing Belarusian national revival began in the nineteenth century while Belarus was ruled by the Russian Empire. Nationalists harnessed the heritage of medieval and early modern Belarusians and the distinctiveness their culture had from Russian culture. This growing nationalism influenced the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR) in 1918, which many opposition members view as an inspiration for an alternate Belarusian state.

Historical view of Karl Marx street in Belarus’ capital, Minsk. (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

The opponents to Lukashenko’s regime harness this narrative of Belarusian history to create an attractive ideology behind their movement and a counter-narrative to resist integration and reject Russian and state propaganda. Symbols of Belarusian history are ubiquitous among the protestors. The emblem of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Vytis or the Pahonia) is regularly flown along with the red-striped flag of the BPR. Patriotic songs written in the 1910, such as Pahonia and the BPR national anthem Vajacki marš are sung at demonstrations, the former of which to the tune of revolutionary anthem La Marseillaise. The protestors feel pride at their nation’s distinctiveness from Russia, and see their time under Lithuanian and Polish rule as a time for the emergence of a distinct and unique culture, rather than a tragic separation from a ‘greater Slavic people’.

Regimes are often upheld by the confidence of their people. The government is therefore required to maintain a popular and believable ideology to justify their rule and prevent their overthrow. The ideological basis for Lukashenko’s government and Russian integration, espoused by propaganda networks, is not in tune with  most Belarusians, and which contrasts starkly with the dynamic and distinct national identity many derive from their history and which the opposition promotes. 

As in Russia itself, the old Soviet tropes of longing for empire, and a fear of the West, have little effect on younger generations who have never experienced life under the USSR. While brutal crackdowns and Russian intervention may stymie the demise of Europe’s last dictator, popular support for it has crumbled, and thus the only way it can be maintained is through fear.

Jonas Balkus, Summer Writer

Is Russia’s Foreign Agent Law Destroying Russian Journalism?

Life as a journalist or within the media in Russia has historically been far from easy. With Putin’s highly centralised authoritarian regime, any formation of media outlets are strictly limited. Over 20 journalists are estimated to have been murdered since 2000 for reporting on events or topics that in any way cross the blurred line of what Putin’s government sees fit to be circulated. Within the past month, however, the government has chosen to elevate this media crackdown further. Some of Russia’s pre-eminent media outlets have now either been banned outright or have been pinned as ‘foreign agents’, detaching them from the country and coining them to the likes of being the ‘enemy’.

Restrictions and hostility towards journalists and the media can be traced back across the last ten years and beyond. The Russian government has been after the independent media for a while, with many independent journalists critical of the regime being eradicated by state owners. Journalists such as these had no choice but to find new jobs and try to continue their careers under ever tightening policing.

Vladimir Putin. (Credit: theglobalpanorama via Creative Commons.)

Recent hostility towards the media, however, has only continued from this, with a recent crackdown across the past year making lives for journalists even more of a struggle. Particularly significant is Russia’s law on foreign agents, of which was adopted in 2012 and has been frequently modified since , repeatedly broadening the scope of who should be defined as a foreign agent. It has been looming as an indefinite threat over Russian journalists since. When it was initially introduced in 2012, it was targeted at suppressing human rights work, or those involved in sharing details of civic information. However, this changed in 2017 when the legislation was amended to include the phrase ‘foreign agent media’, alongside creating a blacklist of foreign agents. It requires non-profit organisations that partake in ‘political activity’ to both register and declare themselves as foreign agents. Essentially, the Ministry of Justice assumes journalists are engaged with some form of political activity within their journalism, be it foreign intelligence or other. This means that every small action and move made under this law is closely monitored, even including spending. Roman Anin, a veteran investigative journalist and founder of a Russian media outlet expressed how “this is a law that basically bans the profession. It’s not a law about foreign agents, it’s a ban on independent journalism”.

The consequences of this law become most evident, however, when considered alongside its penalties of non-compliance, and these are what have amplified alongside changes made to the law this year. As of March 2021, journalists who fail to submit their reports to the Ministry of Justice can look to face five years imprisonment.

However, Russia’s authoritarian regime has not prevented media outlets from using their platforms to protest against these restrictions, and the recent crackdowns in particular. Over twelve independent media platforms have recently signed an open letter, demanding a demise to the designating of journalists and outlets as ‘foreign agents’. The letter read that the outlets are collectively “convinced that these events are part of a coordinated campaign to destroy independent Russian media”. Equally, Radio Liberty, one of the media outlets which has been faced with 520 violations and over $2 million in fines, has also argued against the crackdowns. The company appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in April this year, arguing that Russia’s actions violate freedom of speech highlighted in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Nothing, however, has come from this protest in terms of the law changing in any way.

Subsequently, it can be questioned what the future holds for Russia’s independent media. Despite urges fired at Putin to stop these crackdowns, the nature and reputation of his government does not make the ceasing of these measures likely. Only time will tell if freedom of press and speech will ever truly be allowed for journalists in Russia.

Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer