In the early hours of Thursday morning, Vladimir Putin announced in a televised broadcast that Russia would launch a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Addressing his nation, Putin said that his aim was to “demilitarise” the country.
Soon after Putin’s speech, explosions were reported on the outskirts of Ukrainian cities, as well as in the country’s capital, Kyiv. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry then announced that Russian troops were crossing the border. “The invasion has begun”, the Ministry said in a statement.
Since then, Ukraine has lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear site, and sustained attacks have been carried out on the eastern city of Kharkiv.
History In Politics Society asked members for their thoughts on the crisis.
I do think we should really focus on the citizens in all of this. For the leaders – Putin, Biden, Johnson – it’s all one chess game, reminiscent of a Cold War proxy and the losers are the citizens of Ukraine who have little idea of what is going to happen next.
Such a shame only voices of reasons come from places unrelated to the whole mess. One thing that is not being is discussed is that Putin explicitly said all former Soviet states leaving was a ‘mistake’. That includes not just Ukrine but Baltic states and the Caucasus. This is a huge concern.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis highlights the power of history and how it can be used as an insidious political weapon to attack the sovereignty of other nations. Furthermore, I personally am very doubtful about the effectiveness of imposing sanctions – in a video posted by the BBC on their website yesterday [Wednesday], it was announced that Russia exports 70% of its goods to China. This means that even if Russia is closed off to Western markets, it will not be as impactful as one might think, since Russia has a keen business partner in China. European sanctions will probably draw Russia and China closer together, based upon both economic interests as well as a mutual antipathy for the West. So long as these two countries are in accord, which I think is fair to say has been consummated by a 30 year gas and oil deal, they will fiercely protect and support each other.
1625 doesn’t sound like a significant year in history, but in fact it is the start of a century of rebellions and revolutions that shaped the political system we have in Britain today.
This is because in1625 Charles I married a Catholic, kicking off a fight against absolutism in Britain.
Religion wasn’t of course the only reason but a key and perhaps the most important reason the country transitioned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
The Stuart dynasty had always been Catholic – but it was something somewhat set aside when Elisabeth I, a devout Protestant, made James I and IV her heir. Scotland adopted Protestantism as its main religion in 1560 so there didn’t seem to be a problem.
But then his son married a Catholic, Henrietta Maria, remained friendly with the Catholic nations such as Spain and became increasingly autocratic in his religious policies, using the Star Chamber to harshly punish religious dissidents.
Moreover, he strongly believed in the Catholic doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. For Charles, he was only answerable to God, as God appoints the monarch.
Unfortunately for Charles, everyone in the Kingdom, particularly parliament and many nobles, expected to hold the King to account, as they had done with his predecessors.
The idea of a monarch who not only had questionable loyalties but refused to be held accountable politically and religiously is a worrisome one.
The English Civil war was sparked due to Charles’s heavy-handed religious policies. First the Scottish in 1639 rebelled after Archbishop Laud attempted to impose the Anglican book of prayer, followed by the Irish two years later. The English lastly took up arms against their King, led by the Puritans.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the Stuarts hadn’t learned from their father’s mistakes. Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Catholic which served to stir up theories amongst disgruntled protestants such as the ‘Popish plot’ – that she had been employed by the Pope to poison Charles so that his Catholic brother James could take the throne.
Moreover, his popularity quickly faded due to his extravagant lifestyle. Many of Charles’ favourites at court were Catholics, who were all expelled after a Test Act passed in 1673 banning Catholics from taking public office. He didn’t produce any legitimate heirs, meaning the throne would fall to his brother.
John Morrill, a historian who has extensively studied religious absolutism as cause for decline of the monarchy, views Charles as a ‘Secret Catholic’, a theory stemming from his close diplomacy with France, a very Catholic nation, and the fact when he died, he was received back into the Catholic Church.
James II’s reign was the final nail in the coffin for religious absolutism. A militant Roman Catholic, according to Morrill, advocating to repeal penal laws asserting Anglicanism was superior to Catholicism, appointed Catholics to public office and allowed the Papal Legate to visit for the first time since Henry VIII’s reign.
All of this culminated in the Bill of Rights of 1689, effectively banned Catholics from taking the throne, as it served to criticise the former King’s religious policies, stating he, “ … did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom”, whilst “By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without the consent of Parliament”. It is this Bill of Rights that began our transition to a constitutional monarchy.
The focus on Stuart Dynasty isn’t their Catholicism, more their wilful ignorance of and their desire for absolute power. Catholicism at the time was very much associated with absolute power and the unwillingness to govern fairly and properly.
Their marriages to non-Anglicans as shown with Charles I and both of his sons further increased distrust by MPs who assumed these Catholic spouses would endeavour to continue a Catholic dynasty in which the country was ruled by the Divine Right of the monarch.
Every generation seemed to look back and assume they could achieve what the one before could not – absolute control over the Kingdom using a Catholic doctrine in a Protestant nation.
Their inability to evolve strategically or religiously meant the ultimate decline of absolutism.
Morrill, John, The Nature of the English Revolution: Studies in Religion and Politics, 1603-42 (1992)
China is familiar to westerners , but also unknown— the sleeping giant has awoken and has been appearing in thousands of headlines. Some say that it is the enemy of the western world, some say that its rise benefits the global economy—despite what has been said about it, the public may generally gain an impression that it is a historical powerbase. Nevertheless, half of its history reads like a stuck record—there is no substantial changes throughout centuries. More precisely China is indeed a country which has a rich history and extraordinary culture, but its impressive intellectual evolution all but came to an abrupt halt two thousand years ago, and only started to develop again in the 19th century. To examine how it all began, we have to go back to 4000 years ago—the emergence of the Xia dynasty (the first dynasty in China).
Since the Xia dynasty, China has experienced the rise and fall of several dynasties, including the Shang and the Zhou. The Zhou dynasty established a system where the King divided the land between his relatives, namely zhuhou, then these relatives passed on their fiefs to their descendants. Within their own fiefs, these zhuhou were able to take control over military power, governmental power and legislative power. Nevertheless, the King still had power over them. After centuries of prosperity, this great empire suffered from turmoil in which the King (You of Zhou) was killed. Consequently, the rest of the Zhou nobles withdrew from the original capital to the east—the old capital of Chengzhou. Starting from this point, the Zhou dynasty entered the start of the Eastern Zhou period (770 -256 BC), leading to the Spring and Summer Period and the Warring States Period—centuries of chaos and casualties, but also the greatest and brightest period of Chinese Philosophy.
Ever since the Zhou nobles moved to the East, the King no longer had power over those regional rulers. As a result, those regional rules started to disobey the orders from the central government and attack each other. The period from then on can be further divided into the Spring and Summer period (722 -481 BC), and the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Noticeably, the last King of Zhou Dynasty was killed amidst the Warring States Period, which is the end of the Zhou Dynasty.More broadly, during the Warring States Period, the conflicts between states reached their peak, with only around 7 states left, compared to hundreds of states during the Spring and Summer Period. ultimately led to the rise of Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) who conquered the rest of its competitors.
It is doubtless true that these periods were dark ages—millions were killed, and the collapse of states becamea daily occurrence. Nevertheless, the greatest intellectual movement occurred asa wide range of Chinese schools of thoughts emerged. It is these ideologies which shaped the core values of the Chinese, it is the greatest leap of Chinese philosophy, it is, you might say, the enlightenment age of China—without these ideologies, China would be longer be China. It is so unique due to the diversity of the different schools of thought, such as Taoism, Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, Yangism, etc. Though they all differ, they are the reflection of humanity of the world, and through learning from each other, new ideologies arise and bring out a better interpretation of the world. Unfortunately, there was a great leap and then nothing — for the next two thousand years, Chinese adapted the same ideology, which shaped the historical cycle of China, molded the values of Chinese—but no significant breakthroughs came about since then.
To clarify, I am not suggesting that ever since so no changes in China have taken place, many have: the improvement in technology, the emergence of different types of poems, the new scholars in Confucianism are several examples. I am trying to justify is that in the root of Chinese core values, the same ideology has dominated the whole country, it controls their minds and their wills which bind them into a united collective, which is why the following history of China is merely a cycle until the Opium War. As such, there are no leaps in terms of intellectual movement on a large scale—it is trapped at that point.
It all began after the downfall of the Qin dynasty where the Han dynasty took over. Emperor Wu of Han, one of the greatest Emperors in Chinese history, decided to enact the ideas of Dong Zhong Shu on Confucianism as the basis of the state’s political philosophy. The ideas of Confucianism are rtoo sophisticated to be examined in this essay, but in general, it rests on the basis that humans are fundamentally good, and individuals should aim to become “jun zi”, a respectable gentleman who acts according to proper conduct. To achieve this, there are multiple concepts that have been discussed, in particular, the five Constants “Wuchang”, including humaneness “ren”, justice “yi”, propriety” li”, wisdom “zhi” and trustworthiness “xin”. Through practicing these values, Confucianism believes that individuals will be able to become better people—children will treat their parents well, neighbors helping others, and people respecting elders. These morality and ethics then build up from the individual level to the relationship with other individuals, ultimately forming a peaceful society, and then finally, it is applied in political aspect—in the blueprint of Confucianism, the Emperor himself must be a “jun zi” who is a morally respectable person first, ensuring that the one who has power also conforms to this set of ethics value. Then, he will rule its people in a humane way, creating a benevolent utopia. Yet, if the Emperor was found to be morally unworthy, the people should subvert him and bring peace to the collective. From one perspective, it can be argued that what Confucianism tried to do is to establish a certain set of values among all individuals. If they successfully make the individuals treat it as their core values, it shapes their actions and thoughts which will ideally lead to a peaceful society as all individuals believe the same set of rules, even the rulers conform to them, thereby creating a humane world. What is so special about it is that Confucianism despises using strict law but instead, using “li” to promote and implement their ideas across the country. “Li’ itself is but a set of actions, it is only vital if other values are moderated into it such as ren”. While practicing these actions, these regulated norms will always remind people about its core and why they are doing what they are doing, hencereinforcing the idea of “ren” in their mind and strengthening the control over the people. To do so, they always promote it through education and music. After generations, they will ideally develop a mainstream ideology where all people conform to it.
Whether we agree with it or not, it is no doubt a challenge to create a peaceful society. However, Dong Zhon Shu ended up turning these ideals to his own ends, becoming a tyrant. He added the idea of divine rights of Kings to Confucianism, suggesting that the emperor appears to rule due to the order of God, it was his rightful place which significantly strengthened monarchical power—but remember that this idea does not come from Confucianism, according to which people can always overthrow an emperor if he is morally underqualified. Furthermore, he suggested that no other ideologies should be promoted but his Confucianism; for example, one must study Confucianism in order to be a civil officer. Yet, the price was that this ideology would remain dominant as other ideologies would be marginalsied, hindering the intellectual development of China. The emperor was obviously pleased with this outcome in which his people remained gentle and respectful to each other whilestrengthening his power and maintaining his dictatorship. He even further introduced the idea of legalism into it— for those who failed to conform, strict punishment and laws would be used. Hitherto, a distorted political philosophy emerged which only served the goal of the emperor,, and with it brought about the demise of other ideologies. In the following years, the worship and fear of the emperor have become the greatest goals of the people. A subject follows the emperor till the very end, even if he is obviously a terrible ruler who would but destroy the country. The result was a dearth of intellectual development as the general public became lambs who only learned to fear and worship their emperor.
After the fall of the Han dynasty, we can see lots of dynasties—Jin dynasty, Tang dynasty, Ming dynasty—all of them rise at the very beginning, then fall after hundreds of years when the people can no longer withstand the emperors. Since the King has all the power, so long as the King lacks intelligence, the situation rapidly deteriorates. And yet, no one would have ever thought of ending this loop—all of the people would only fight against these tyrants when they could not stand the mess caused by the rulers, then return the power to the new King and start a new cycle, but no individuals will come up with a new intellectual movement, suggesting we may have to forfeit monarchy, or at least weaken the power of the emperor. This only starts to change with the outbreak of the Opium War, where the modern western society defeats the aging Chinese Monarchy, indicating that China needs to awake from its own prison.
When we think about conquistadors, the first thought we would have is probably of a typical Spanish man with spikes daring to enter the new world. And when we imagine a samurai, we would imagine a Japanese man with his katana. While these general concepts would be the majority, even in such unexpected places we could find footsteps of Africans.
Juan Garrido (1487~ 1547) was a member of the Hernan Cortes Conquistador expedition, Famous for causing the downfall of the Aztec empire. While records are scarce about his origins, he is said to have originated from the Kingdom of Congo or one of the southern Sahara’s Berber tribes. It is said he moved in his youth to Lisbon. Considering slavery was still active at the time, Historian Ricardo Alegira suspects Juan came from a powerful African Tribal leader or king whom the Portuguese have traded with. Other historians such as Peter Gerhard suspect he was a freedman ergo a former slave who has earned his freedom. This suspicion is due to one of the other Conquistadors, Pedro Garrido.
In 1508 Garrido joined in his first expedition with Ponse de Leon and his conquest of Puerto Rico, making him the officially first African ever to fight a native of the new world. It is said he fought against the native revolt in 1511 and in 1513 after Ponce de Leon had been forced to step down in place of Diego Columbus.They even visited and found Florida despite being ill-prepared to conquer the land. By the time Cortes came into the picture Garrido was a veteran conquistador and one of the few that survived the Law Noche Triste (The Night of sorrows where Cortes had lost 2/3 of his army) and Battle of Otumba. (1) He was honoured as a veteran and given land by Cortes. He became wealthy as many did at the time in the New World through a use of slave labour. However, he was always looking for new adventures and participated in the expeditions to the North of Mexico and California where he spent an exorbitant amount of wealth leaving him destitute. In 1547 the man who saw the rise of the Spanish colonial empire in Americans had passed away after a lifetime of expeditions.
Yasuke (?~?) was a samurai during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring states period). It is unknown which part of African he had come from, but most agree he was probably from Mozambique. It is unclear if Missionary Alessandro Valiganano has bought him as a slave in Mozambique or in India. In 1581 when Valiganano met with Oda Nobunaga who took an interest in him. (2) Not believing there can be a black-skinned person Nobunaga is said to have ordered him washed but after seeing the skin colour hadn’t changed, intrigued Nobunaga requested to have him as one of his vassals in court and advanced Yasuke from a humble servant to a Samurai and bestowing the name Yasuke. Yasuke learned Japanese and the culture in just a short 2 years and impressed Nobunaga further through the fact he was recorded to be 188cm tall, making him a massive giant for the time period.. He served under Nobunaga until June 1582 when the infamous Honoji incident occurred where Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga. In some literary sources it is said before committing seppuku (Ritual suicide) Nobunaga asked Yasuke to kill him for him. After Nobunaga’s death, Yasuke joined Oda Nobutada as he rallied all his fathers’ men and fought to avenge Nobunaga, but he lost and was imprisoned for his efforts. But being foreign he was banished away instead of being killed. Some sources claim he was sent away back to the Christian church and afterwards this unlikely story end.However, some sources indicate he became a Ronin (A samurai without a master) and a record of a black gunman who fought for the Arima clan suggests perhaps it was the same Yasuke that did so. Considering gunman is a lower position in the feudal hierarchy and the fact Yasuke was recorded as having met many influential men during his stay with Nobunaga yet this man is only of a passing mention, it is unlikely this was the same African who ended up becoming a samurai. This wasn’t the end of Japanese interaction with Africans as during the Imjin War (Japanese invasion of Korea 1592~1598) when the Chinese reinforcement entered Korea there were 4 Africans who was introduced as Sea Ghosts (海鬼), that was set as a form of a special force that could hide under the sea at night time and attack the vessels effectively. While unfortunately there are no records of these 4 men being effective, there are records of the Japanese fearing the news of the fact Africans showed up on the other side which might indicate memory of Yasuke the giant who served under Nobunaga was still fresh in the minds of some Japanese.
Justin Kim, History in Politics Contributor
(1) As a side note at the same period a female conquistadora by the name of Maria de Estrada was also present for both battles being referred to by Bernal Diaz del Castillo who recorded the battles as the sole female combatant. And as part of the 23 cavalry that was instrumental in turning the battle in the Spanish favour. She like Garrido was recognized by Cortes for her valour and given land and lived a wealthy life before her death in 1537
(2) Oda Nobunaga was one of the Three leaders (三英傑) who is set to represent the Sengoku Jidai period. To understand each character’s significance, the poem at the time illustrates each individual beautifully.
Only 33 countries worldwide (and the European Parliament) have formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide despite the consensus among historians and other academics outside Turkey being that the actions of the Ottoman Empire (now the Republic of Turkey) were genocidal. The UN defined genocide in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Article II also includes a list of actions committed against a group that would be considered genocidal: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately infliction on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Based on this, there should be no doubt that the massacres should be considered a genocide as approximately 1.5 Armenians were killed by the Ottomans between 1915 and 1917, many of them killed on the death marches or as a result of deportation. It has been over a century since the Armenian Genocide, so why is the UK government still so hesitant to acknowledge it as such?
The Republic of Turkey acknowledge that a significant number of Armenians were massacred, but they do not accept that a genocide occurred and have adopted a policy of genocide denial, with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, claiming that there is no ‘stain or a shadow like genocide’ in Turkey’s past. In April this year Joe Biden became the first US president to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide even though there had been warnings from the Turkish foreign minister that this would further damage the relationship between the two countries. The relationship between Turkey and the US is very different to the relationship between Turkey and the UK, and this may explain why one leader has been able to recognise the genocide for what it is while one of them has not yet acknowledged it. Turkey and the UK generally have a good trading relationship, with 6% of exports from Turkey going to the UK. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK’s direct investment in Turkey in 2011 reached $917 million (c. £679 million) and there are 2,362 companies with UK capital operating in Turkey. This means that potentially ruining the relationship between the UK and Turkey could have a significant economic impact on the UK.
In the context of a post-Brexit United Kingdom where Turkey is a potentially very important ally economically, this gives Turkey significant power over the UK in terms of dictating whether the Armenian Genocide can be officially recognised. The UK government has struggled somewhat when it comes to trade agreements post-Brexit with most of the current agreements just rolled over agreements with countries that had trade agreements with the EU that now apply to the UK individually as well. However, Turkey is one of the few countries that has negotiated a trade deal with the UK that does not just have the same terms as their agreement with the EU. It is evident that the current UK government has placed a great deal of value on this deal, not least because Boris Johnson, who previously championed the Turkish attempts to join the EU, now believes that it would be best for Turkey to remain outside of the EU. Given that the EU negotiates trade deals for all member states, if Turkey were to join the EU it would render the new trade deal with the UK void and the UK would lose an important trading partner that, based on the actions of the government, it cannot afford to lose.
Earlier this year the Armenian Genocide (Recognition) Bill was introduced to parliament and, if successful, would require that the UK government formally acknowledge the massacres of Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as a genocide. However, this is not the first time that a Bill like this has been introduced to parliament, there have been 17 previous attempts since 1995 to force the UK government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, none of which were successful. If the UK government was not confident enough that they could acknowledge the massacres as a genocide without there being significant economic consequences while a part of the largest trading bloc in the world at the time, it is not likely that the new Bill will be successful now that the UK has left the security of that trading bloc.
Much attention surrounding devolution and independence within the United Kingdom is focused on Scotland – the 2014 referendum combined with the growing support for the Scottish National Party in the country has established a resentment towards England due to its disregard for other countries within the Union. Northern Ireland and Wales have growing independence movements, with Cornwall adding to this, and surprisingly for some– the north of England.
For many, the physical divide between north and south is hard to discern. Some say it is just above Watford, others exclude counties such as Lancashire and Lincolnshire in favour of Tyne and Wear and Yorkshire, whilst others believe the Midlands are in the region.
The recently formed Northern Independence Party defines the north as the ancient region of Northumbria. A leading voice for northern independence, this seems to be the clear definition of the ‘north’; they gained 50,000 members in less than a year and even ran for office in the Hartlepool by-election. But, what is it that unites these counties under this umbrella term?
Historians argue that two key periods have helped shape the northern identity: the Industrial Revolution and the economic struggle of the 1980s, creating an identity remarkably separate from the rest of England.
The north of England has been historically oppressed since 1069 under William the Conqueror, with the ‘harrying of the north’ in which he brutally suppressed northern rebellions against his rule, and systematically destroyed northern towns. The region experienced famine with much of the areas deserted.
More rebellions followed throughout the next 1000 years, and to this day socio-economic disparities are still evident. Mortality rates are higher in the north than in the south– 15% higher. Education and transport standards are majorly different to the south.
The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the many pressures adding to the calls for independence. Manchester seemed to be the centre of this, with Andy Burnham’s anger towards the government for their lack of funding given to the city. This lack of COVID-19 relief– in comparison to southern cities– added to the growing concerns over the survival of the northern industries, after it was placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions against the advice of scientific advisors.
Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister, remarked that in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the psychological glue holding the country together has come unstuck. ‘Not only do you have the Scottish minister but you’ve got regional ministers saying they are not consulted or listened to… you’ve got no mechanism or forum for co-ordinating the regions and nations’. Not only is the Scottish-English divide strong, but the north-south divide is growing stronger– and it’s not just due to decades of Tory rule but perhaps, the political system. Could independence or devolution be the answer?
Under Tony Blair, arguments and motions for devolution were brought forward. Devolved assemblies were created in Scotland and Wales. However, the 2004 referendum on northern devolution failed– with 78% voting against it.
To gain power in the north, Northumberland-born Alex Niven, author of ‘New Model Island: How to Build a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England’ argues that it will take a radical left-wing government to bring about devolution for the north. But rather than a completely autonomous and independent north, Niven argues for constitutional changes to challenge the ‘imperialistic’ Britain. Devolution is the answer, not total independence. A centralised approach to policy and politics in Westminster only ruins the local communities and creates a greater distrust in the government.
However, the Northern Independence Party’s manifesto states that it is London that ‘gobbles up’ the industry. They declare that London-based journalists ‘pick out the worst of us’ by perpetuating stereotypes of the north that adds to its general oppression. With independence, they claim they will join with an independent Scotland in alliances.
It poses many questions. Is Derby included? What will be the capital? The historic capital of England was York and, as Yorkshire is the biggest county in Northumbria, could it be York– or will the economic powerhouses of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool become the capital due to their resources? If so, will a feeling of resentment grow in certain regions, with perhaps a divide in opinion much like the north-south divide already prevalent? Also, structural inequality– if the capital does become one of these powerhouses, will employment be focused here rather than across the region?
Big questions include economic stability and the presence of an army. Decades of structural inequalities have led to the wish for an independent north due to the neglect of Westminster. But, this structural inequality creates a complex issue: with no real employment available already, how will jobs be created in a new country?
I believe that for now, devolution is the answer to the crises in the north. Whilst the 2004 referendum did not show much support for this, in recent years and especially with the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the northern independence party– the time is ripe. Could independence happen? Possibly, with the aid of Scotland. But for a truly Free North to fruition, for now, devolution will aid the cause to true independence. It’s been a long time coming and whilst under Tory, Westminster rule, the north will continue to perish.
Aoifke Madeleine, History in Politics Summer Writer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.