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            themes we will be exploring is how our geographical location and outside influences

            – geopolitics – shaped our history more than we have realised.

            The real John of Gaunt (1340-1399)
            Who was the real, historic John of Gaunt? He lived on the cusp, between the ages of
            chivalry and the Renaissance. He was a renown prince, military hero and statesman
            who exercised power and influence on the English and European stages. Son of
            Edward III (1312-1377), brother to the Black Prince, father to Henry IV, and a
            forefather of the Tudors, his name means “John of Ghent”, in Flanders (modern-day

            Belgium) where he was born. He spent his early career in France and Spain, fighting
            the French in the Hundred Years War. His reputation is mixed. He was very rich – by
            some calculations the 16  richest person in history - and became a focus of popular
            hatred during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, when the rebels torched his London
            home, the Savoy Palace. Later (1399) his own son usurped his cousin Richard II’s
            throne and was crowned Henry IV, an event which triggered the chaos and instability
            of the Wars of the Roses. The prolonged conflict between John of Gaunt’s clan, the

            “House of Lancaster” and the rival “House of York” would  reduce the crown to a
            political football, contested by rival aristocratic cliques.

            This contrasts with Shakespeare’s own time. Shakespeare wrote Gaunt’s speech
            probably around 1595, towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I (1588-1603).
            Shakespeare was a strong supporter of the Tudor monarchs and his speech expresses
            a strongly Tudor viewpoint. This is the narrative of England as a strong centralised
            monarchy, confident in its borders, defended by its navy and secure in its succession.

            Shakespeare’s plays generally project a world-view that only strong authority,
            personified by the Tudors, stands between humanity and chaos.

            Yet within a decade, the Tudors were no more. Elizabeth died childless, a new
            Scottish dynasty took over, under the Stuart James I (son of Mary Queen of Scots)
            and within four decades of that England descended into civil war. Cromwell abolished

            the monarchy, and not until 1660 was England securely “sceptred” once again. But
            divisions remained and in 1688 a further revolution (and a Dutch invasion) took
            place, to dethrone the Catholic James II.  In 1715, when Queen Anne died childless,
            came another change of dynasty, from Stuart to Hanover. It was all pretty
            complicated and chaotic. When people echo Shakespeare and celebrate our unique
            political stability, they mean after 1715. The reality is that the earlier history of this
            “happy breed of men” in their “little world” was rather more turbulent and storm-
            tossed than John of Gaunt’s speech suggests.
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