Guernica and the barbarism of twentieth century Europe.

Today we mourn the dead of Guernica, killed in the first air raid which rained murder from the skies on a civilian population during the Spanish civil war. Guernica became a focus for outrage and shock at the way the new power of aerial bombardment could be used to destroy the buildings of towns and kill the men,women and children who lived there. The later barbarisms of the twentieth century were first enacted on that fateful April afternoon seventy one years ago.

I can understand why people were so shocked. The mass slaughter of the First World War had revolted people enough as they saw heavily mechanised death on an industrial scale meted out to young men crouching in muddy trenches. In a throw back to the morality of medieval warfare where knights were meant to help damsels in distress, not rape or murder them, there was still a feeling that at least that barbarism was confined to combatants who had some means of fighting back. The murder from the air at Guernica was meted out to unseen people in their homes, attacking men, women and children indiscriminately. All were defenceless, as the town had no anti aircraft weaponry in place. Waves of Luftwaffe planes flew in to discharge their bomb loads unchallenged. Just in case they were supported by Italian fighter planes.

The Condor Legion’s raid killed many. There have been disputes ever since about just how many, with estimates ranging from 250 to 1500. At the time the perpetrators sought to give a very different impression, and pointed out that Guernica was also a military target as the fascist forces sought to prevent the retreat of the opposing army. The event has been remembered both because at the time world opinion was affronted by such bestiality, and because Picasso produced his famous painting lest we should forget.

I share the feelings that the bombing evoked. It was another lurch to a more brutal age, a celebration of the naked power modern technology can hand to governments, a further decline in the standards of governments handling disagreement and conflict. It did point to the murderous pounding London and other British cities received from the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, and the retaliatory death the Allies dished out to Germans in their cities. Neither long and damaging bombing campaigns against civilian populations and whole cities changed the course of the war. London was not bombed into submission. The Germans were not forced to an early surrender by the ferocity of the later Allied bombing. Wars still required men in arms to hold or seize territory on the ground, fighting village by village, street by street for control.

Bombing munitions factories, armies on the ground, weapons development establishments, bridges and railways to be used by opposing forces may all be necessary as part of traditional armed conflict between men in arms in a modern setting. There are conventions seeking to limit the use of weapons of mass destruction. Guernica and its aftermath has led many to think there should also be a convention against the mass bombing of civilian populations.

I understand why Guernica evokes such strong passion. I myself have never been able to find those passions properly captured by Picasso’s painting. Most people think it a masterpiece. I cannot see it. I would love to be told why it is in a way I can appreciate too.

James Cook reminds us of the common feeling of the English speaking peoples.

Between the 19th and 28th April 1770, 238 years ago, Lieutenant James Cook was sailing off the Australian coast near Botany Bay. As Master of the barque Endeavour, he was sent by the Admiralty to chart the southern seas and discover what land lay there. He made his first landfall at what he named Botany Bay on 29th April. He had already completed the circumnavigation of both islands of New Zealand, demonstrating that they were two distinct islands and not part of a southern continent.

After his first voyage Cook was promoted to Commander, and entrusted with a larger ship and support vessels to undertake two more expeditions with better equipment. He became Captain between the second and third, and met his untimely death on the beach of a Pacific island in 1776 in circumstances which still give rise to argument over who was to blame for the breakdown in relations between hosts and visitors.


The significance of Cook’s voyages was great. It gave Britain the initiative in settling and developing the trade of both Australia and New Zealand. It demonstrated the substantial advances Britain had made in charting and navigating, with the advent of the marine chronometer for longitude measurement, and it led to the huge geographical reach of the English speaking world. It confirmed that the UK has a global presence, not a European one. The presence was based on seapower, and sustained by doughty settlers in the far flung continents of the world.

When the UK joined the Common Market in 1973, one of the most difficult features of the arrangements was the future of agricultural trade between the UK and Australia and New Zealand. The bad rules and protectionist instincts of the CAP damaged both trade and relations between ourselves and kith and kin in the new world of Australasia. As it turned out, they have prospered mightily despite it, whilst the UK has backed trade with a slow growing part of the world, Europe, to some extent at the expense of the far faster growth in Asia.

Today as we remember Cook’s skill and the bravery of his crews, we should wish to ensure that in future we remember the importance of the Asian and Australasian links. They are an integral part of the English speaking world, and they are the future. We need to develop our common cause and common interests through the Commonwealth and World Trade Organisation, through the affinity of the English speaking peoples and the free flow of talent and ideas between our countries.

Euroenthusiasts in the UK have sought to highjack Sir Winston Churchill as an advocate of their cause of linking the UK so tightly to the EU that we cannot follow our natural links with the English speaking world in the same way. We should remember that whilst Churchill did indeed want a strong EU, he did not envisage the UK being part of a European political union.

Churchill wrote a History of the English Speaking Peoples, not a History of the European Peoples. He concluded that four volume work by saying:
“Here is set out the long story of the English speaking peoples….Another phase looms before us, in which the alliance will once more be tested and in which its formidable virtues may be to preserve Peace and Freedom. The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope. Nor should we seek now to define precisely the exact terms of ultimate union”. Churchill saw the English speaking peoples coming closer together, first through a defence union and subsequently something more. This is the opposite of asserting that the UK should become a wholly owned subsidiary of the EU. In a world where US supremacy will in due course be challenged by China we need to think more about strengthening those ties and relationships.

The dynamism of Asia, and the success of the freedom loving model adopted by the USA, Australia and New Zealand, should make us welcome the spirit of Cook. Britain’s future still lies with the English speaking world. At its centre today rests mighty America. Tomorrow at its heart will be successful India. India, once the jewel in the British crown, will become the English speaking locomotive of Asia and in due course the economic leader of the English speaking peoples. British trade in services and her pattern of inward and outward investment is based on the English speaking world, for that is where we find most in common.Trade in goods, where the EU is the biggest area, is a less enduring relationship than mutual investment.

Sweet William or the Butcher?

Today is the day of the battle of Culloden, the last serious battle fought on British soil, fought in 1746.
On that day the claims of the House of Stuart to the throne of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England died. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army was badly defeated, losing 1250 dead and 550 prisoners to Cumberland’s loss of only 52 men dead in the British government army.
After the victory many more Jacobites were killed and other acts of violence committed against the rebel higlanders, leaving Cumberland, the victorious commander, with the name of “Butcher” in parts of Scotland. Elsewhere he was heralded as Sweet William, the man who had ended the Jacobite/French threat through the back door to England. He received an honorary degree from Glasgow University.
How do you see him today? Do the actions of the commanders at Culloden still make the pulse race or the blood boil?

348 years on, the declaration of Breda can still help us.

This day in 1660 the man who would be King Charles II issued a most important Statement at Breda in Holland. He explained how England’s wounds had “so many years together been kept bleeding”, and how they needed to be bound up. He wanted to bring an end to Royalist against Republican, Puritan against Anglican, old landowner against new. He realised that to restore the monarchy he needed to be the peace and unity candidate.
Most importantly, he decided with his advisers that in an age of religious intolerance, England had to take a bold step towards religious toleration.
“And because the passion and uncharitableness of the times have produced several opinions in religion, by which men are engaged in parties and animosities against each other (which, when they shall hereafter unite in a freedom of conversation, will be composed or better understood), we do declare a liberty to tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom; and that we shall be ready to consent to such an Act of Parliament, as, upon mature deliberation, shall be offered to us, for the full granting that indulgence.”
Today we would do well to remember just how the dreadful wounds of our war torn country were healed in 1660. We live in another age of civil wars in some Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries, where religious intolerance is part of the problem. England, with Holland, pioneered the idea of not making windows into men’s souls, and developed it into the Restoration doctrine of allowing different religious practises to co-exist alongside a state sponsored Church.
England also needed a ruling on who was to own the land – the old landowners who had been dispossessed, or the new landowners, many of whom had paid good money for their estates. There Charles wisely left the final settlement to Parliament, knowing how complex it would prove to be.
“And because, in the continued distractions of so many years, and so many and great revolutions, many grants and purchases of estates have been made to and by many officers, soldiers and others, who are now possessed of the same, and who may be liable to actions at law upon several titles, we are likewise willing that all such differences, and all things relating to such grants, sales and purchases, shall be determined in Parliament, which can best provide for the just satisfaction of all men who are concerned.”
We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that this largely worked. When the next King, James II, pushed too far in a Catholic direction, he was deposed peacefully, and the religious and democratic revolution of the seventeenth century was completed.
When we see today strong religious opinions as part of civil wars and clashes between movements and military powers, it often seems impossible to picture peaceful co-existence. So it must have seemed to the soldiers and revolutionaries of the 1640s and 1650s in England, yet a few years later a new King, the son of the one they had executed, was allowed to take the crown on the basis of this simple and far reaching declaration. Whilst the battle for full Catholic emancipation was to take many years, Cromwell himself had helped the Jewish community, and the declaration of Breda moved the position on in a fundamental way. Englishmen began to see there were many values and ways of life that brought them together, even if they did worship in different ways and in different Churches. It should be a lesson for our own times.

Does anyone wish the Treaty of Rome happy birthday?

On this day 51 years ago 6 continental countries signed the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community in Rome.
This document has bedevilled UK politics ever since. It was the subject of a referendum in 1975, when a Labour government asked the UK people if they wished to remain within the framework of this Treaty. The government led by Harold Wilson recommended a Yes vote, claiming throughout the debate that it was just about a common market, which would create and guarantee more jobs for the UK. We were told that our sovereignty was not at risk, that our Parliament could continue to make the main decisions for our country.

This very one sided presentation of the case began the long tension between public and politicians on the subject of Europe. The political classes gambled correctly by holding a referendum asking for endorsement of the status quo“ the fact we were already in the EEC “ and assuming most people would not bother to read the Treaty of Rome. Any cursory reading of that Treaty showed it was not just about a common market as UK politicians liked to state.

You only had to read the Preamble to the long Treaty of Rome to see it was about something much grander than just a common market. It stated:

”Determined  to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”

Anxious to strengthen the unity of their economies and to ensure their harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions
Intending to confirm the solidarity which binds Europe

There were some of the overarching themes that were to be given harder form in subsequent Treaties. They always had in mind a Europe of the regions, with regional policy to try to reduce the differences between them. They always had in mind solidarity to the greater good of the greater Community, and always intended to achieve a high level of policy and legislative control over the EEC economies.

The second article pledged the EEC to an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the states belonging to it. The crucial Article 3 committed the members to the elimination of trade barriers, the establishment of a common customs tariff and external trade policy, freedom of movement for persons, services and capital, a common agricultural policy, a common transport policy, a common competition policy, the approximation of the laws of the member states to the extent required for the proper functioning of the common market, a social fund, and the association of overseas territories. In addition it promised a system to remedy disequilibria in member states balance of payments.

Article 235 was a catch all which allowed member states to vote to do anything else under the framework of the EEC if they wished by unanimity to do so. So was born the idea of an institution which would grow its own powers as time passed.

In 1975 I read this document prior to deciding how to vote in the referendum. The gap between what the Treaty envisaged and what the government was telling us about the intent was so huge I felt I had to vote No. The irony of the Treaty was that some of its most detailed provisions were not going to be enforced. I remember writing to the Commission to complain that the UK was running a very large balance of payments deficit with the rest of the EEC, and should surely benefit from the Treaty provisions that allowed or required action to bring the balance of payments into better balance. I was told in a delphic reply that not all the Treaty provisions could be enforced when it came to the UK’s balance of payments deficit!

One of the reasons the UK is still so unhappy with its relationship with the EU is that many who voted Yes  in 1975 did so on the advice of politicians without reading the Treaty. They feel they were misled. Many others are too young to have had the chance of a vote, and understand that the EU is now much changed from the EEC that people voted on in 1975.If the government wants to improve our feelings about the EU it should give us a vote now, so all these issues can be properly aired and the public given a choice.

A birthday present for the Bank of England?

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the nationalisation of the Bank of England. The Bank was originally established in 1694 to raise money for the government. It gained its first Royal Charter on 26 July 1694, and moved to its Threadneedle Street address in 1734. It gained a monopoly over note issue in 1844 and ran the gold and foreign exchange reserves. In 1870 it took on responsibility for interest rate policy.

In 1946 an earlier Labour government, just like the present one, was in the bank nationalisation business. Unlike the present one, it carried it out with greater simplicity and style.

The legislation was just three pages long, comprising four main clauses, one clause setting out the short title and one giving a couple of definitions. The Bill told us they were nationalising juts the one bank, the Bank of England. It set out exactly how much compensation shareholders would receive, and told them they would be paid in 3% government bonds. The Bank of England was given a wide ranging power to request information, give advice and to direct any other bank. The government was given a wide ranging power to direct the Bank of England after consultation with the Governor. After proper debate this Bill was passed into law by the large Labour majority. Job done.

What a contrast this makes with the measure to nationalise Northern Rock. That Bill was seventeen pages long. It was convoluted, making it difficult to understand what it was saying owing to the technical and inelegant drafting. It did not mention Northern Rock, said nothing about how much compensation would be offered to shareholders, and left practically every important detail about Rock nationalisation to a later Order to be laid under the legislation. Insufficient time was given to debate it. The only similarity to 1946 was the use of a large Labour majority to push it through, swelled in 2008 by eager Liberal Democrats who also like burdening the taxpayer with more liabilities.

One of the ironies of the situation was the Bank of England’s position in the events leading to the planned nationalisation of Northern Rock. By 2007 the Bank of England had grown to become a bank with a balance sheet of around £40 billion. That is a lot of money to most of us, but is tiny in relation to modern banks and governments. When the Bank of England started its rescue for Northern Rock it must have become clear that trying to offer substantial sums for a bank with £110 billion of liabilities from the balance sheet of one under 40% of its size was going to stretch things badly. Treasury backing for its wholly owned subsidiary, the Bank of England, was needed to mount the rescue. The Northern Rock action still required substantial changes to the shape of the Bank of England’s balance sheet.

Should we wish the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street a happy birthday today? I feel sorry for her. She has been much damaged by the removal of her former role to raise money for the government from the lending markets, and by the removal of her role as day to day banking supervisor. This left the bank without the same level of knowledge and understanding of just how tight credit markets were in the late summer and early autumn of 2007, leaving Northern Rock without access to the borrowings it needed. Even her beefed up role to set Minimum Lending rate was prejudiced by the change of inflation target before the 2005 election. As we saw in 2007 there can be times in the market when real interest rates charged between banks and charged by banks can be different from the rate set down by the Bank, if the Bank fails to keep markets liquid enough. The Northern Rock crisis was one of the worst events in the long history of the Bank of England, and it is still a long way from happy resolution.

What should the government give the Bank as a birthday present? I suggest three things:

1. The power to carry out day to day supervision of the other banks
2. The duty to act for the government to borrow money in the markets
3. The task of acting as a proper bank manager to the new state bank (formerly Northern Rock) to get the taxpayers money back as quickly as possible.

The Bank of England needs to strengthen its capability in traditional banking to carry out these tasks well.

Identity cards and freedom

This day 56 years ago Parliament ended the ID card scheme introduced to the UK in 1939.

It took a brave and clever Judge to kill it off. In June 1951 Lord Goddard ruled against the continuation of ID cards. In a famous judgement he said:

“It is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for whatever cause. Of course, if they are looking for a stolen car or have reason to believe that a particular motorist is engaged in committing a crime, that is one thing, but to demand a national registration identity card from all and sundry, for instance from a lady who may leave her car outside a shop longer than she should, or some such trivial matter of that sort, is wholly unreasonable. This Act was passed for security purposes….To use Acts of Parliament, passed for particular purposes during war, in times when the war is past….tends to turn law-abiding subjects into law-breakers, which is a most undesirable state of affairs. Further, in this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between police and the public and such action tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them, to obstruct the police…”

When Parliament passed the National registration Act in September 1939 it did so for three reasons.. It did so because it was felt we would need rationing, and some favoured a national system using central registration rather than the local shop based system used in the 1st World War. It needed an up to date census for wartime planning as the 1931 census was very out of date by 1939. The government wanted to plan all manpower and needed information of how many people in what trades and occupations lived where. The registration system was part of a grand planning approach to a wartime economy.

Ministers did not claim that registration cards were crucial to our security. Indeed they took other draconian measures to ensure that. Some Germans and Italians were put in prison. Others were monitored by police. Beaches were covered in barbed wire and anti tank devices. Observation and sentry posts were set up where the government feared invasion and intrusion. Commercial flights and shipping to Germany and the occupied territories of Europe stopped.

Against this background it is bizarre that some today tell us ID cards worked in the war to keep us secure, so why shouldn’t they work in peace? Presumably even this authoritarian government does not think it can round up “enemy aliens” as they were called in wartime and put them in prison. Even this government will stop short of physical traps on our beaches, and sentry posts on the streets.

In 1947 Morrison made excellent criticisms of the ID cards. “There are no doubt that they are troublesome documents to some people. They frequently get lost. The dishonest man – the spiv, as he has been called –is generally possessed, I am told, of five or six different identity cards which he produces at his pleasure to meet the changing exigencies of his adventurous career. So in the detection and prevention of crime no case can be made out for the identity card.”

Why can’t this government ditch this hated scheme? The evidence of history shows it is not a good idea, and great socialist luminaries of the past understood the need to protect our freedoms.

The treasures of the tomb

On this day in 1923 Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway into the burial chamber of Tutankhamun. He, Lord Carnarvon his patron, and Lady Herbert, Carnarvon’s daughter went into the tomb. They saw the fabulous mask and the sarcophagus of the one Pharaoh whose grave had not been plundered by earlier generations of grave robbers.

Carter had spent fifteen years searching for the missing tomb. Lord Carnarvon, a keen supporter of archaeology, had been patient, but by 1922 even this most forgiving of patrons told the archaeologist he had only one more season in which to find the elusive Pharaoh.

Carter found the steps to the tomb on 4 November 1922. Lord Carnarvon willingly made the journey to Egypt from his beautiful Highclere estate near Newbury. On 26 November they made a small hole in the doorway and peered through into the antechamber. It was full of artifacts from the Pharaoh’s time. These were catalogued prior to the breathtaking discoveries beyond the sealed door, that awaited the party on that fateful February 16th 85 years ago.

Carter held an excavation permit from the Egyptian authorities, and the main items were delivered into Egyptian ownership. The tomb was not kept intact, and the amazing jewels and mask have travelled the world so many more people can see them. Some to this day believe it was wrong to violate the only tomb left untouched in the hugely impressive Valley of Kings. Some think it would have been better to have opened it to see, but not to have split up the collection and taken it from its intended last resting place.

To contemporary British people in 1923 it seemed natural that it should be a combination of British aristocratic money with a British adventurer who should crack the last secret of the Valley. It was typical of the self confidence of Empire. The willingness to work with the Egyptian authorities was born of a growing understanding that Britain no longer had the right to claim all it could grasp or find. It was a gripping Boy’s own tale of a hard pressed pioneer, up against his luck, who finally found something he had told the world was missing. Later generations have had more misgivings about what happened once they broke through into the tomb. Thoughts about this reflect the move from Empire to a more complex world, with different people and nations having different views of what is the right thing to do to revere and understand the past.

Appeasement does not work

On February 9th 1933 The Oxford Union held one of its weekly debates. It was destined to become the most famous one ever held. The result sent a strong political message around the world which was an influence on the international politics of a generation.

The debate’s motion was “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”. The motion was merely provocative, in best student traditions. The result was sensational. 275 voted for it, and only 153 voted against it.

The 1930s were dark years, the years of evil dictators, years of aggression by Italy,Germany and Japan. They were years of the vicious struggle between the two appalling creeds which disfigured so much of the twentieth century – communism and fascism.

In 1931 Japan showed how impotent the League of Nations was by invading Manchuria. In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia. In 1936 Germany remilitarised the Rhineland, and Germany and Italy intervened in the Spanish civil war. In 1938 Germany took Austria and began pressing for the Sudetenland. The West took no action to stop these flagrant violations of international law and peace.

Early in the decade the attitude of Oxford students sent a strong message to these dictators that pacifism was rife in the west, and that the young of the UK would do all they could to appease the strong nations that were prepared to fight. The message from the Union was backed up at the ballot box. In October 1933 in the Fulham by election the Conservative candidate lost a safe seat to Labour because he stood on a platform of rearmament. A 14,521 majority for the Conservatives became a 4,840 Labour majority. The Conservative leader Baldwin got the messages from these events and won the 1935 General Election on a platform of resisting Churchill and the other advocates of rearmament.

It is important to understand why both Oxford students and the wider public were in such a mood in the early 1930s. The Great War of 1914-18 cast an understandably long shadow. Whilst we all admire and respect the heroism and suffering of so many of our grandparents and great grand parents in the trenches of that conflict, we can understand the anger so many felt at the huge loss of life, the years of slaughter, and the feeling that they were lions led by donkeys. The young junior officers had shown great bravery and leadership, suffering with their troops, but the senior officers and the politicians, led by the Liberal government, had seemed unfeeling towards the slaughter. At best they had proved unable to find a way of bringing the war to a successful conclusion without so many battles where the death rate was obscene. It was difficult for many to see why the UK had to plunge itself in to these continental wars at all when the UK’s interests lay elsewhere in India, in Asia and in the Americas.There is no wonder that the public yearned for a long period of peace. They wanted to believe that the Great war had indeed been the war to end wars.

The politicians who picked up this mood worked on the proposition that if they treated the dictators as reasonable people, understanding their grievances from the Versailles settlement and elsewhere, they could keep the country from war. They could also stay elected. The appeasers were right in their judgement on domestic politics, but like the students at the Union they were bad judges of the dictators.

The sad truth turned out to be that the dictators were not reasonable people with a justified grievance, but international thugs and war criminals crazed by power. The resolution by the Oxford Union was not taken as student protest, or ignored as most Union debates are by the adult world. It was taken as an important indicator that the west in general, and the UK in particular, was decadent and lacking in resolve. The dictators decided to grab territory whilst conditions were so favourable. The appeasers in the UK were politicians desperate to deliver peace to their voters, but as we now know their judgement was sadly awry. Our fathers and grandfathers paid a heavy price when they had to go to war in 1939, to deal with dictators who had been permitted to get away with too much and had been allowed to get into a far stronger position than they enjoyed in 1933.

The final irony was that most of the 275 who vowed they would not fight for King and country in 1933 were conscripted into the services seven years later, to fight in the biggest war of all.

The defence of England

At 8 am this morning in 1587 at Fotheringay Castle a 44 year old woman was led out of her room to the Hall. She was dressed in black with a veil over her hair. Her Catholic beads were fixed to her belt and she held a crucifix in her hand. She had been in prison for 20 years. As the historian J Neale ungallantly describes “the charm of youth was gone; she was corpulent, round shouldered, fat in the face, and double chinned”.

She wept at leaving her servants. The scaffold was decked in black. The Dean of Peterborough sought her repentance at this last moment, inviting her to renounce her Catholic views. She told him she was resolved to die a Catholic, and said her own prayers in a loud voice to offset his.

The two executioners helped her take her robe off. She quipped that she “was not want to have my clothes plucked off by such grooms”. The axe fell as she recited “In manus tuas, Domine”.

As the Executioner lifted up her head, a wig slipped from it, revealing close cropped grey hair that had been concealed by the red haired wig. “This be the end of all the enemies of Gospel and her Majesty” cried the Earl of Kent, whose loyalty to Elizabeth I was much stronger than his abilities to forecast the future. One of the dead woman’s little dogs who had crept under her clothes reappeared and lay between her severed head and shoulders, in her blood.

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This brutal act led to rejoicing in London at the death of Mary Queen of Scots. Public opinion saw her as a continuing threat to Queen Elizabeth and the Protestant religion. They hoped her death would mark a new chapter, and an end to plots against Elizabeth’s life.

Instead, as we know, the following year was to see the Spanish finally put to sea to invade England in an effort to force it back to Catholicism at the point of Spanish steel. The death of Mary Queen of Scots did not mark the end of threats to the realm.

Indeed, England was in grave danger. Then, the threat was violent, backed up by the might of the world’s superpower, Spain. It was intolerant, seeking to prevent England following its chosen religious and political course. It personalised the clash to the Queen herself, just as the death of Mary had personalised the conflict the other way.

Today, England is also in danger from the continent. Fortunately it is not a danger backed up by continental armies, and is not one which wants to force people to change their views at the point of a sword. It is one based on a continental view that we need to change our laws and ways of doing things, this time at the point of a pen scribbling continental treaties and law codes to tie us up in ever more needless bureaucracy. The tragedy is that this time Parliament, far from being a hawk for our liberties, by large majorities urges the process on.

The death of Mary Queen of Scots is a sad reminder of the lengths a former English government felt it had to go to to protect the realm from foreign intervention. Her death was willed by Parliament and the Queen’s council. Elizabeth herself hesitated and delayed for weeks before allowing the death warrant to be issued after the court had passed sentence. She knew there could be no winners from a Prince’s death, and understood it was a dangerous precedent. The brutal deed has been understandably contentious ever since. For the Queen, it was important that it had been willed by people and Parliament, the common practise in an age when people paid with their lives for political opposition. Maybe the woman in Elizabeth took a small dark satisfaction from knowing her rival’s striking auburn hair was not real after all. Someone at the time went to great lengths to ensure this unimportant detail was well recorded.