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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

History.....

is replete with “wars and rumors of wars”. Paradoxically, in a world so obsessed with material success, lost causes usually generate the most intense fascination. The Royal House of Stuart that shaped the political and social landscape of the British Isles for much of the 17th and 18th centuries serves as a case in point. Fighting alternately to retain or regain the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, they inspired an impressive following through a combination of rashness and resolve. Even though they were eventually forced into permanent exile from their realms, they left behind a legacy of romantic nostalgia that continues to touch a chord with many today.

     For some high church traditionalists, this borders on a form of pseudo-religious devotion. An antique dealer from Virginia told me a story about a Professor from Christendom College who visited his home and, spying a portrait of King Charles I hanging above the mantelpiece, fell down on his knees in melodramatic awe. Having taken place in an area of America commonly associated with “Cracker Culture”, Cavalier etiquette, and the lost cause of the Confederacy, the mindset behind the genuflecting seems almost to have come full circle from days of yore.

    While this may be dismissed as nothing more than theatrics by an exclusive clique, it also illustrates the enduring victory that that the Stuarts have achieved in their conquest of the imagination. The virtues and vices that proved their undoing and made them larger than life also assured that they would transcend death, and their doomed heroism became enshrined in the trappings of martyrdom. Nothing epitomizes this more than the standard of King Charles I, which appeared to “bleed” during a ferocious storm following his rally at Nottingham on the eve of The English Civil War.

     Since it is a human need to embrace suffering as redemptive, martyrs never fail to penetrate the national consciousness. Just as the Confederates are now viewed as a part of the American experience, so the Royalists and Jacobites have quietly come to represent the very crux of Britishness. In striving so valiantly against their ill-starred destiny, they earned the admiration of the People as representatives of the “old religion” and the “old ways” coming up against the logical and illogical hurdles of the modern age. Ironically, their failure as rebels also assured that they could be subsumed into the story of the establishment they worked so hard to disrupt and which crushed them so mercilessly.

   They became one with Robin Hood shooting his final arrow, and King Arthur casting Excalibur into the lake, and the Catholic Priest hurling his rosary into a crowd gathered to watch him die. They proved that when there seemingly nothing left to be gained nor lost, the rawest form of courage stands out like a diamond in the rough. And that, in the end, that is the ultimate gain. It is the greatness borne out of sorrow that reflects Christ’s Passion on the Cross and that paves the way for the Resurrection to come.

    In the “story after the story”, there is also a message of resilience and regeneration often overlooked. Ever so slowly, in spite of savage governmental reprisals and a deep sectarian divide, a united People emerged on the island of Britain in the aftermath of the wars, just as a united People would emerge on the Continent of America after North and South were nearly split apart over a hundred years afterwards. Both nations would find their strength and common bonds invaluable when they faced off tyrants who threatened to enslave the world. The ground would not be barren forever. Purple flowers would bloom in the bloodied ash.

    These are the things that make the Stuart heritage timeless, even if some of the lore is fanciful in nature, exaggerated or distorted in the process of the telling. The grim determination of some scholarly circles to strip the embroidery and extract only the cold, hard statistics denies the necessity of romance to the human psyche. Spinning yarns is as instinctive as the will to live and is written in the natural law of our species. It teaches us about ourselves. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man while fable tells us about a million men.”

    J.R.R. Tolkien elaborated, “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
 
   C.S. Lewis concurred: “He accuses all myth and fantasy and romance of wishful thinking: the way to silence him is to be more realistic than he – to lay our ears closer to the murmur of life as it actually flows through us at every moment and to discovery there all that quivering and wonder and (in a sense) infinity which the literature that he calls realistic omits.”   

    Stories must have flexibility and fluidity, a pulse and a passion like the rush of river that brooks no quelling. Perhaps it all a matter of finding “the middle way” between the spice of realism and sugar of romance that is the most fulfilling, capturing accuracy of spirit without diminishing the mystical. An appropriate allusion would be to the ancient bards, who served as the collective memories of their clans and could walk between warring factions unharmed because of their power as keepers of the law and tellers of tales. For fulfilling both of these necessities, viewed as equally important, they were feared and revered.

    It is with this in mind that I embark on my search for the Cavaliers, Jacobites, Roundheads, and Hanoverians, real and imagined, seeking to share my discoveries and occasional insights with fellow time-travelers looking for unusual brushstrokes to add to the big picture. For those who believe in the workings of Providence and the beauty of mystery and everlasting nature of the soul, historical studies are a unique opportunity to grow in spiritual awareness and connect with those who have gone before us. As an old Celtic prayer for the departed reads:

    “May God bless all the company of souls here. May God and Mary bless you. You too were here as we are now, and we hope to join you soon. May we all be adorned in the bright King of Heaven.”
    Through my interaction with the living and my prayers for the deceased in the process of my literary adventure, I have come to see the wisdom in the Celtic belief that the journey is ultimately as important as the destination. It is a form of travel from which no one returns the same.




King Charles I plants "The Bleeding Standard" at Nottingham
 

2 comments:

  1. Well said. Sometimes it does seem that history has become so factoidal (is that a real word?) that it is now all in the mindset of Clarence Eustace Scrubb, devoid of heart.

    That Celtic prayer for the departed is perfect. Scrubb (before Aslan healed him) would certainly have disapproved of it.

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  2. I am thrilled that Mr. Mack approves of post and prayer, and that Mr. Scrubb would be allergic to them! ;-)

    Long Live History with Heart!

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