On this day in 1936 the instrument of the abdication of King Edward VIII was endorsed by the Westminster parliament in London.
Later on the same day, Edward spoke to the nation and the world via radio, his faltering voice revealing the deep sadness he felt, that could not fulfill his kingly duties and at the same time marry the woman that he loved, the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Never formally crowned King, his younger brother, George VI would be coronated the following year. Edward, known as ‘David’ to intimates, would spend the rest of his life in exile with his wife, taking the title ‘Duke of Windsor’. He died in 1972 in Paris.
Since the end of June 2016 when the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Brexit has been a gaping wound in Britain’s and Europe’s body politic.
This controversial phenomenon has not only divided opinion and saturated headlines in Great Britain but frequently made the news worldwide too, especially in regard to some of the more unseemly behaviour in Britain’s much vaunted ‘Queen of Parliaments’. Not even the advent of the corona virus in the late winter of this year (2020) could dispel the ongoing saga of Britain’s often toxic negotiations with Brussels from the media. As things stand the United Kingdom will leave the EU at the end of the year — with or without a deal.
What is interesting to students of the extant historical record, is that Brexit marks one more incidence of the British (and particularly the English) people’s often strained relationship with continental European politicians and institutions, a factor which often threatens the unity within the United Kingdom too.
An Island Mentality
Intrigued, I began to look back in history to search for the first incidence of this ‘phenomenon’. When and why did it begin? Is it simply a matter of Britain being an island, physically separated from the continent, creating what is often called an ‘island mentality’? I think this would be a far too simplistic explanation, although clearly one would expect a recognisably different culture to develop in a more remote geographic location such as Britain, especially when travelling was more difficult.
Great Britain became an island some time after the Ice Age or Pleistocene era ended and the Holocene began. One could argue that this was the original geographical Brexit, setting the scenic context upon which all later human political dramas were to play out.
It seems to me that the first popularly known occurrence of a nascent sense of Britishness stems back to the first century AD in the person we now know as Boudica, formerly Boadicea. By Britishness I do not mean it in the modern sense, of course. There was no nation of Britain, no England back then. The idea of the nation state was still more than a millennium into the future.
Freeing the Yoke
However this rather infamous punctuation in British history seems to encapsulate something essentially to do with independence, a sense of wishing to be free from the yoke of abusive foreign rule. To give a more recent example, I am sure that many Americans still look back favourably to the Boston Tea Party as something which epitomized the unacceptable face of colonialism, to the point where feelings boil over, resulting in more drastic measures being taken.
It is often implied that the British of that time were nothing more than some rag tag collection of ‘Celtic’ tribes, wholly inferior militarily and culturally to Caesar and his legions. Obviously this was not true; what the British lacked was not so much cultural sophistication but perhaps Roman political guile and ambition of never ending conquest.
It was the Emperor Claudius who successfully invaded Britain in AD 43, marking the beginning of the province of Britannia, which, interestingly, never permanently included what we now call Scotland.
By AD 60 it would appear that Roman rule was getting well established. The Britain the Romans were occupying constituted a series of kingdoms, perhaps broadly similar to what is called the Heptarchy of later Anglo-Saxon England. The Romans had a long established method of ruling which involved so-called client kingdoms, where the ruler was nominally independent, yet subservient to the Emperor. It was a way of avoiding spending too much time and resources on outright military conquest. Each ruler was encouraged to accept Romanisation and all the cultural benefits this civilisation allegedly brought with it, thereby becoming a beacon for what some called Pax Romana.
The system appeared to be working reasonably well until a certain king, Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe, who were centred around what is now the county of Norfolk in East Anglia, died around AD 60. His will apparently left the kingdom to his two daughters and the Roman Emperor, who happened to be Nero. However, the will appears to have been ignored and the kingdom illegally seized, Prasutagus’ grieving wife and queen, Boudica, was flogged and her two daughters raped, at least according to the Roman historian Tacitus, although Dio Cassius states that the dispute arose through the withdrawal of loans. He also mentions two cities being devastated, not three, which is clearly an error. It is difficult to envisage the sheer swiftness and vehemence of Boudica’s reaction as being in response to a ‘mere’ financial matter.
So whatever the actual cause of the revolt, it is quite clear the Roman authorities in Britain were not expecting Boudica, the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other British tribes, to respond in the violent and brutal manner they did. Queen Boudica, at least according to Dio Cassius, would seem to have been quite an astonishing presence:
“she was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her…” – Dio Cassius
Even allowing for a little exaggeration in the above description, she was clearly no pushover. Even today, nearly two millennia later, East Anglia in eastern England has a strong regional identity, a distinct cultural life and accent, not always enamoured with the prognostications of central government only a hundred miles away. Whether East Anglia still produces such women of renown, however, is open to question.
Chariots and Woad
Unfortunately, we do not know the details of how Boudica organised herself militarily, but as a young British noblewoman she would have been familiar in the arts of war. Within a short space of time the sense of injustice and mounting anger against Roman misrule led to the formation of an army of immense size.
We do know that the ancient British had long used the chariot in battle and that they covered themselves in blue woad, to give that distinctive, terrifying appearance. Whilst the Roman army is rightly considered virtually peerless, it is quite clear that the British chariot would have been very effective too.
Very quickly, Boudica appears to have identified key sites for attack, the first being Camulodunum, or present day Colchester, which was the original capital city of the new province. This is where the temple to the Emperor Claudius, the conqueror of Britain, was established and in Boudica’s eyes would surely have represented a strike at the heart of the oppressor.
Unfortunately for the Romans the then governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was hundreds of miles away on important campaign against the Druids in what is now north west Wales on the isle of Anglesey, or Mona. Although Suetonius immediately scurried back towards London when he heard of the attack, he had insufficient army numbers to defend the city, toward which Boudica’s huge host was relentlessly heading.
A part of the Roman Legio lX HIspana were the only troops who stood in Boudica’s way and were swiftly dealt with, leaving London resigned to its fate. Those who could escape the newly founded commercial capital would have done so. Those who remained were shown no mercy whatsoever.
Following this, the victorious British army, obviously fired up with bloodlust, marched northward towards Verulamium, present day St. Albans in Hertfordshire, to carry on their serial rape, torture, murder and arson. The city was reduced to ashes like London and Colchester before it. Once again, governor Suetonius could only step aside whilst he began to muster enough troops to face the British rebels in an open pitch battle.
The Final Battle
Now whilst it may not be proven, for other sites must be considered, the location of this battle is thought to have been at present day Mancetter in the English West Midlands. Probably luring the now over confident British army to a battlefield of his own choice, Suetonius’ much smaller force were decisively victorious, ending the short but brutal rebellion. Boudica allegedly killed herself, though we can’t be entirely sure. Historian Dio Cassius stated that she died through illness. The number of Britons who died on that day must have been enormous. Those killed in London, Colchester and St. Albans would have been even more.
The Emperor Nero did briefly consider withdrawing Roman troops from the province, yet the decisive nature of Suetonius’s victory prevented this. The revolt, whilst provoking a great deal of initial suppression from the Roman authorities, would also have tempered their rule in the long run.
The Epitome of British Resolve?
Boudica has become the stuff of British legend, with a well known statue of her and her violated daughters now standing in London. Indeed it was the Victorians, who built that statue, who did most to resurrect her memory and status, a reminder that the suppressed will only take so much before taking up arms themselves. When the Roman legions were finally withdrawn, 350 years later, it was at their own behest, not through the forces of insurrection.
Queen Boudica’s rebellion ultimately failed, yet traces of its brutality still remain to this day. Although she must have taken up arms initially to seek revenge for her own and her daughters’ defamation, she has become a British heroine, the epitome of some spirit which is uniquely… well, British. It is a spirit which is continually under threat, yet nevertheless periodically renewed. Brexit, whatever one’s opinion of it, is simply the latest incarnation of that ‘bulldog spirit’ which represents Great Britain — at least in part.
Nothing except the curry is as British as the panto. I’ve made that claim about a lot of things, and it’s true of every last one of them. And I didn’t even make up the comparison, so lots of people have made the claim about lots of things. Nothing is as unoriginal as comparing an […]
The Chronicles of History is looking to develop a writing team for the blog and I am looking for guest posters if any history writers are interested in having their work published and shared on our site! The blog mainly covers U.S History, Medieval History, Royal History, and both World Wars. We also share book […]
In today’s post we have guest writer Tim Migaki here to detail and review a very insightful book titled Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: War at Sea 1756 – 1815 written by Bernard Ireland. The book focuses on the British Royal Navy and how they grew and developed during the late 18th century […]
After the mysterious William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens is probably ranked second in the all time greats of English writers — though to compare them is difficult as they lived more than two centuries apart and wrote in differing genres.
Neither is it possible to do a credible analysis of the Bard’s birth chart as we don’t know when exactly he was born, whereas we do know when Master Charles Dickens arrived in this troubled world.
It must have been pretty cold that late winter evening in 1812, in the famous port of Portsmouth on the south coast of England. At the time, the mutable earth sign of Virgo was rising on the eastern horizon. I think this pretty much correlates with a known part of the great Victorian writer’s character.
Virgo is always seen as analytical and critical, fussy and fastidious, with the keenest eye for detail and thereby a quick learner. The rising sign gives a good idea as to our approach to life, not necessarily revealing our inner nature.
As the young Charles grew up, this grasp of minutiae was serve him especially well, though this same quality might have led him along many different routes, not necessarily along a literary one. Virgo’s approach could be said to be scientific, though Charles basically lacked a full formal education of the time, for which we perhaps ought to be grateful; had he received one, he might well have chosen a different path and we might never have heard of him.
A Tale of Two Writers
Intriguingly, this may be one of two factors which the young Charles shared with Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon, who also appears to have not finished his own formal education. We do know that Dickens worked for a time in a law office in London, which some suspect the young Bard also did back in his day, when he too arrived in London during his so-called ‘missing years’. Dickens was a keen theatre goer too and may have grasped ideas of characterisation from that colourful arena. Virgo is a very keen observer indeed.
With Virgo rising, its ruler, Mercury, becomes the ruler of the chart. Interestingly, Hermes is placed in the cardinal earth sign of Capricorn in the 5th house. Mercury in Capricorn is practical, realistic, systematic and ambitious.
A Serious Mind — With a ‘Twist’
But this Mercury is also in a positive aspect with Uranus, ‘the magician’ in the 3rd house, also associated with the mind. In other words, his mind was practically inventive — with a twist of genius, one would suspect.
Mercury in Capricorn denotes a mind which must see definite results from the considerable effort put in, mentally. The 5th house is the creative arena, where children of the mind are hewn, served by the brilliance of Uranus from the third house.
Saturn is also in its own sign of Capricorn in the same house. He is powerfully placed here, underlining the seriousness in which he applied himself to his creativity. At times it must have been a joyless experience — but he was determined to succeed.
Here then is part of the root of his ambition as a writer; what he may have lacked in education, he made up with in sheer graft and more than a little invention. His prodigious output is testimony to that, with 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, as well as countless letters.
But this is only the beginning of the extent of what was a very well developed mind. If Mercury gives an indication of the general everyday quality of mind, then Jupiter reveals the more expansive and aspirational side.
Dickens’ Jupiter is found in the mutable air sign of Gemini, high up in the tenth house of goals and career. Here is great flexibility, plus a curiosity and restlessness, a quality which he could apply to his career as a journalist, writer, as well as a lecturer and performer. There was something of the showman about him.
The 3rd and 9th houses are also indicative of the quality of mind. A Scorpio 3rd house in the whole sign house division method, reveals a mental intensity and investigative quality, bolstered here, as I have already stated, by the presence of the eccentric Uranus.
A Well Developed Mind
What is more, the ruler of Scorpio, Mars, is found in fiery Aries in the 8th house. Here is a person of some energy and verve, even a quick temper, but who applies it in the area of shared security, deeper concerns, such as investigation. Had he pursued his early career as a journalist, he might well have reached great heights there too. But he had his own path to follow.
His 9th house (higher mind again) is Taurus, ruled by Venus, which is found in sensitive and sentimental Pisces in the 7th house, closely conjunct the then undiscovered Pluto. Venus in Pisces has strong feelings, an almost spiritual ability to empathise with others, especially so in the 7th house of relationships. He definitely had the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes.
The Pursuit of Social Justice
Pluto here only deepens this tendency; this may well correlate with his lifelong pursuit of justice for the poor and particularly poor children, whose plight he described so movingly in many of works. To say this man had a social conscience would be an understatement.
Equally, we also know that Dickens’ was a very fine mimic, able to take on the persona of others that he came across; this also correlates with his Venus/Pluto conjunction in Pisces in the 7th house. There is little wonder that when it came to portraying characters in print, he was able to make them seem so realistic, his Virgo ascendant giving him the ability to fine tune those intrinsic qualities of character.
I have said a lot already, but not yet mentioned the Sun or Moon, two of the key factors in a birth chart. His sun in Aquarius in the 6th house describes his basic inner nature. Here is a man, who despite his deeply felt compassion for others, could also detach himself if so wished and thereby do greater good. He identifies with work and service to others in this regard, too.
Aquarius is said to be unusual, but I think this has only grown over the past two centuries after an increasing number of astrologers have made Uranus the prime ruler of this sign. I think this is an error.
Emotionally Expressive and Sentimental
Aquarius is ruled by Saturn, but the side of Saturn which plans for the longer future, at a time of late winter in the north of the world when general preparations are made for the onset of spring. Aquarius is a carer too, but not in the same way as the deeply personal uniting principle of Venus in sensitive Pisces.
His Moon is in Sagittarius, very close to Neptune in the 4th house. So here is yet another facet of this multi-dimensional character. He can be emotionally expressive, sometimes overly so and gushing. He is also deeply sensitive and sentimental about issues regarding home, family, women and the past.
A Host of Characters
Here may lie another facet of his ability to write so convincingly about the lives of people in the mid 19th century, aided by several other sensitive areas of his chart I have alluded to above. He writes so well because he feels so strongly. Yet none of this may have been possible if he hadn’t got the ability to compartmentalise, using his considerable intellectual gifts to formally present us with those wonderful creations in print.
Charles Dickens, like all of us, was several characters rolled into one. But his particular chemistry was one which gave sublime literary expression to the troubles and the characters of his time — and for that we must all be eternally grateful.