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ENGLISH SUSPICION OF A STANDING ARMY

The historical period when the Industrial revolution was in its gestation or its infancy can for convenience be regarded as the

eighteenth

century.

Almost

all

European

states

kept

large

standing

armies.

Prussia,

indeed,

may

be

regarded

as

an

ex-

treme example of why this was. way of defensible frontiers, it had

Because it had little in the no real alternative to be other

in

arms,

of

lesser

organized

for

war,

extent

this

was

so

than

a

state

To

a

greater

offensive

or

for

all

states

defensive.

with

land

frontiers.

An

exception

to

this

European

rule

was

Britain,

for

two

mutually

reinforcing

reasons.

Any

invader

would

have

to

tranship his army, and the best counter to this was navy rather than a strong army. In tandem, as it were,

a strong members

of the English House of century, grown paranoid

Commons had, on the subject

during the previous of a standing army.

There was a nicely ruler and ruled: how

balanced simplicity about this, can the one get the money from

between the other

to pay the soldiers? In a practical sense it was seen as lem with a potential one-off solution; once the ruler soldiers, he could use them to get the money — and not

a prob- got the just for

an army. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, tinental governments (i.e. monarchs — “l’Etat c’est achieved this position.

most con- moi”) had

PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT TRIUMPHS OVER ABSOLUTE MONARCHY

It was such a position that the House of Commons feared, con- sciously or unconsciously, in the run-up to the Civil War of 1642-49, when Charles I attempted to tax without Parliamen- tary legislation. Charles II, more cautious after the Restoration of 1660, probably had the same idea when he took money from Louis XIV, and one of the precipitating causes of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was James II’s placing such army as he had outside London, in an attempt to overawe it. It was a last-ditch effort to establish an absolute monarchy in England;4 from then on Parliament (and the Commons at that) held the purse- strings. It even became a little readier to find money for an army, though this was kept for much of its time abroad, on the Continent, in India or in the colonies. Paradoxically, as if to prove history’s lessons are rarely learnt, Parliament tried to use its North American army to collect taxes imposed without con- sent, bringing about the American Revolution.

THE NAVAL SOLUTION — PROTECTION WITHOUT TYRANNY

The beauty of the situation, as it developed, was that Britain could have a Navy as strong as any monarch could wish, but this could hardly be used to collect taxes or, indeed, as a means for internal coercion of any kind. Perhaps that is why the fa- mous “ship money” was collected by Charles I without protest for four years before Hampden, and others, suspected it was going to be used for something other than ships. A navy pro- tected commerce, which pleased Parliament, and taxes could be levied on exports and imports, which pleased the monarch. The seamen who manned the merchant shipping, could, in one way or another, be transferred to the Royal Navy at need (per- haps the most famous such transfer — a voluntary one — be- came Captain Cook). By-products of this naval policy were the acquisition of colonies and those of other powers during a war, together with the destruction of their commerce, and, here and there in peacetime, the suppression of piracy.

BRITAIN’S POLITICAL STABILITY

By the middle of the eighteenth century the British political system was stable, and this was a stability that had been evolved, not devised.5 This is merely to state the obvious, yet to modern observers its ramshackle nature has perhaps not been

2

sufficiently associated with its strength. For the only way for a political system to attain stability is by endurance and conti- nuity. The commonsense aphorism “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can be paralleled by the political maxim, nowadays more honoured in the breach than in the observance “When it it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”.6

... AND ITS ENGLISH ORIGIN

It has to be pointed out that the ancestry of this mid-eighteenth century British constitution is certainly wholly English and that its development is associated with the undoubtedly fortunate course of English history which, in hindsight, manifests an extraordinary linearity, as if the country in some strange way knew where it was heading — a “pathetic fallacy”, of course, if ever there was one. This manifestation (or illusion, if one w o u l d r a t h e r p u t i t t h a t w a y ) o f p o l i t i c a l p r o g r e s s i s t h e f a - m o u s W h i g I n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f H i s t o r y 7 n o w s o v e r y m u c h n o t in vogue. We can, of course, smile at (but not forget) even earlier Interpretations, such as Milton’s “When God is decree- ing some great work of reformation to be done, what does he t h e n b u t r e v e a l H i m s e l f , a s H i s m a n n e r i s , f i r s t t o H i s E n g l i s h - men?” 8

ENGLAND’S “LUCK”

For us, however, to understand this “progress” it is necessary to remember the extremely good fortune England had, firstly in being a country difficult to invade, and secondly that by the thirteenth century a working Parliament had been established, recognizable in structure and more important in continuity, as the same as that of the eighteenth century and indeed of the one we have today.

ENGLAND’S MONARCHY AND ENGLAND’S PARLIAMENT

All political systems have their difficulties, and monarchy is no exception. Its assets are nowadays perhaps less well known than its liabilities, which may be as well as it is these — weak kings, mad kings, bad kings, child kings — which we must remember when we consider crises in government. All these, when they occur, pose the threat of anarchy; rivals fight for the throne and over-mighty subjects attempt to grab more power than they should. Into this situation there now intrudes another element: Parliament. Though to trace its origins back to the Saxon Witangemote or even to the Magna Carta may seem somewhat fanciful, the assemblies set up as a result of the acti- vities of Simon de Montfort thirty to fifty years after Magna Carta during the reign of Henry III (a weak, sometimes mad king) are certainly ancestral.

Parliament tended to emerge as a stronger body after a con- stitutional crisis (in early times synonymous with a crisis in the monarchy); as a result it came to be something of a safeguard against anarchy during it. Also, from the very first it was in- volved with the king’s need for money. Once Parliament was established, even a strong king, such as Henry III’s son Edward I, could find it useful, little realising what it would turn into. By a wonderful piece of typically English luck, the clergy — an important source of money — wriggled out of Parliament in order to tax itself, leaving that body secular (the bishops in the Lords were theoretically territorial magnates) and manageable. Over the centuries Parliament grew more and more important because of a number of constitutional accidents: the misbeha- viour of Edward II (who was actually deposed by Parliament), the successive minorities of Edward III and Richard II, the need to legitimise the usurpation of Henry IV, and after the minority, weakness and madness of Henry VI, the further need to legitimise the usurpations of Edward IV, Richard III and fi- nally, Henry VII. All this did not of course preclude a certain

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