Jan 232010

Cranmer highlights another step in Evan Harris MP’s campaign to amend the ban on members of the royal family marrying (or being) Catholics. He points out some interesting features of this campaign, not least that it is centred around the wrong Act of Parliament.

It turns out that the Act of Settlement of 1701 is, apparently, in breach of some articles of the ECHR, namely the right to marry and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Let’s put this into perspective, y’all. The rules of succession of this country are a nonsense, and always have been, and the idea that there is any fixed procedure besides expediency – let alone one that takes into account anyone’s rights – is ludicrous.

First, members of the royal family are allowed to marry Roman Catholics. There is nothing to prevent them. But if they do, they cease to be considered in the line of succession to the throne.

As far as I’m aware, being in line to the throne is not a right enshrined in the ECHR. So if you marry a Roman Catholic, you lose your place in that line. But your human rights have not been breached.

This attempt to make the line of succession some kind of equal-rights procedure seems very silly to me. By its very definition, the royal family is not an equal-rights institution. It is a family. Everyone who is not a member of that family is debarred from taking part in what it does. If there are then further conventions about who in the family is permitted to do what and when, fine. If the rules of the family say you can’t be the head honcho if you marry (or are) a Roman Catholic, meh. Those are choices you, as an individual, have to make. Peter Phillips and his bride made just such a choice – she converted to Anglicanism before their wedding. She didn’t have to do that. And he didn’t have to marry her. These were voluntary decisions made in full knowledge of all the consequences.

Second, Evan Harris MP seems bothered by the fact that succession in this country is by male primogeniture. Nominally it may be, but in reality this is piffle.

The ‘male’ part, of course, a holdover from the warlike-chieftain days of yore, when the leader of the tribe was also the leader of the war-band, so he kind of had to be a man. But, as Tacitus relates in the Germania, the line of succession in the Germanic tribes from whom the English were descended was always through the female. The chieftain’s brothers, and the children of his sisters, were his successors. A man’s sister’s children were closer to him than his own, always.

Why? Because they were the children he could be sure were related to him by blood. His wife’s children may or may not be of his blood, but his sister’s children surely were. And so the chieftain’s nephews would be his successors in the next generation, and the chieftain’s nieces would carry on the bloodline in their own offspring.

This tradition continued, generally speaking, during the Anglo-Saxon period in England for a good long while (with a few alterations). Brother succeeded brother; nephew succeeded uncle. The significant alterations came in when this was not possible, or when the natural successor was considered unfit by the witan or the war-band. Then an alternate might be chosen by election (roughly) or acclamation.

It wasn’t until William the Conqueror came over with his feudalism and his Norman barons and his hey-that-hurts that this all changed. The Norman nobility had a different system, and when they became the nobility of England, that system took root. It was not the sons of the sisters who took precedence, but the sons of the chieftain himself. Though the Normans had been Germanic, too, they were also the vassals of the king of France – and French succession operated according to a version of the Salic tradition of direct male descendants.

In this tradition, the remote chance that the chieftain’s wife had cuckolded him was apparently considered a negligible problem when laid against all of the advantages and skills a child would have who had been trained and brought up by the chieftain himself. And rules of succession, wherever one may have been, could be (and sometimes were) bent to the point of breaking if the legal heir was considered unfit.

And so England’s throne became one of direct male primogeniture, in general. But then this got screwed up in 1399, and direct male primogeniture has been a happy fantasy ever since.

The first hiccough: Richard II, grandson of Edward III through his first-born son the Black Prince, was deposed for being ‘unfit’ by Henry IV, also a grandson of Edward III but through his third son, John of Gaunt. Eventually this led to the Wars of the Roses, out of the wreckage of which came Henry VII – whose only blood claim to the throne was as the son of the great-great-granddaughter of Edward III (by his third son, John of Gaunt). Sound torturous? Yeah. Male primogeniture took sort of a back seat there. Restoring it was still a happy hope until Henry VIII came along, who fucked it all up.

When he died, Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) had no sons or brothers, and Henry VIII had no brothers with issue, and Henry VII had had no brothers, and before that there had been a massive tangle. Finding direct male descendants of the last absolutely solid English king, Edward III, would have been pretty fucking difficult by 1553 even had Henry VIII not had most of them judicially murdered to preserve his own claim to the throne. There was no question that succession would have to go through a female line somewhere.

Henry VIII had had two sisters: Margaret, who married the king of Scotland, and Mary, who had married lesser nobleman Charles Brandon. At that point, primogeniture should have demanded that Margaret’s male descendants inherit the throne of England; unfortunately, she had none, and the monarch of Scotland at the time was an 11-year-old Catholic girl engaged to the Dauphin of France. The prospect of one day becoming part of the kingdom of France was intolerable to the English, never mind the abhorrent Catholicism. So they turned to Mary’s line. And, alas, she had no male descendants either!

There was a female, though, a nice Protestant girl called Lady Jane Grey. She was proclaimed queen in short order, with the prior approval of the dying Edward VI.

But this was stupid, no? If there were going to be a female monarch, as there had never been before, why someone with such a tenuous blood tie to the previous king? Why not Edward VI’s older sister Mary, the legitimate (de facto if not de jure) daughter of Henry VIII? Mary thought so too, and rocked up in London immediately. Parliament heaved a massive sigh of relief, declared her the rightful queen, and started praying that, even in her late age, Mary could somehow produce a son.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but you can see the tangled crap that has always been the rules of succession in England. They were so flexible, in fact, that Henry VIII and Edward VI both tried legal means to straighten them out. Henry VIII used Acts of Parliament; Edward VI tried to circumvent them in his will. Neither was successful.

There was another hitch when Mary died without children; the Catholic queen of Scotland was by then no longer attached to France, but the English had had enough of Catholics, so they chose Elizabeth – who also died without children. And, at long last, they found a man: James, the good Protestant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, whose relationship to Elizabeth was remote but who was at least a direct descendant of Henry VII, if though a bunch of women.

By then, of course, the English had decided it was okay to have queens if you couldn’t find a suitable king, which was how the country ended up with Mary II and Anne: there were available men by that time, but they were ‘unsuitable.’ But when Anne died without surviving children in 1714, the English (well, British by this point) had to go on the hunt again – this time even more circumscribed by the ‘no Catholics’ rule – and finally lit upon some random Hanoverian who was descended from James I (through his daughter) and bore absolutely no resemblance to anything that could be called a ‘direct male descendant’ of anyone who had ever been king of England.

And of course the present monarch is not even his ‘direct male descendant,’ since she is not only not a man, but she’s descended from him through a woman (Victoria).

So. Given that male primogeniture was a rule only when it could be applied, and has only rarely been applicable since 1399, why mess around with it now? It’s not like the English have ever given a shit, and who the monarch is hardly even matters these days anyway. Let the royal family sort it out for themselves. Surely there are better uses for Evan Harris MP’s time.

Tom Harris MP on old parents

 indolence  Comments Off on Tom Harris MP on old parents
Jan 192010

Tom Harris MP writes on his blog about a 60-year-old IVF mother:

Apparently, there’s a debate taking place in Britain about whether 60 is too old to become a mum. What a depresing thought. There has to be a debate about it? Why? Are we really so stupid and shallow that we need a debate before we reach the obvious conclusion of “Yes, of course 60 is too old to become a mum”?

The only up side to this story is that Mrs Tollefsen had to go to Russia to receive this treatment because she wouldn’t have received it in the UK. I wish the same could be said for every country. There are those who are so wedded to the concept of “rights” for everyone (except the rights of infants, obviously) that they will campaign for such treatment to become available here also.

They must be opposed. That will be heartbreaking for many older childless women. But it is fairer to children, and in this equation, that’s all that matters.

As it happens, I agree with his opinion.

Of course the state should not pay for the fertilisation of old women. Of course having a child is not a ‘right.’

But any reasonable person must then speculate: perhaps the state should not pay for the fertilisation of any women, given that if having a child is not a right for old people, neither is it a right for anyone else.

Unfortunately, Tom Harris MP does not mention this. He says:

But what’s even more unfair is knowing that a child is born with the near certainty of being left motherless before it reaches its teens, or will spend their formative years as a carer.

Children are not lifestyle choices. They’re not possessions to be added to our collections of material wealth as we grow older: first car (used), first flat, first house, second car (new), baby, bigger house… Children are precious for their own sake. The happiness and fulfilment they offer to their parents is secondary.

Too true. It’s also unfair that many children in this country are born in poverty, in welfare traps, in sink estates, into single-parent households, into negligent or abusive households – all of which have been shown by countless studies to be seriously disadvantageous to children and to be primary factors in curtailing children’s chances of becoming successful, healthy, well-adjusted adults.

But while the state can refuse to fund fertilisation, it can’t stop people having children – even those people we might personally think entirely unsuitable for the job of being parents. And it seems ridiculously petty to take issue with an older woman having a child because she might die while the child is young, when there are so many people in this country who do far worse to their children day in and day out than give them as much love as they can for as long as they can.

It is terrible for a child to lose a parent, and it is sad to imagine a parent who knows full well she probably will not see her child leave school, go to university, get married, or have children of its own. But this situation is not the worst one a child can be in. It’s not even in the top ten.

And I would prefer it if Tom Harris MP and his party of Government addressed those top ten worst situations before pontificating about what a woman should and shouldn’t do with her body, and who should and shouldn’t be having children.

UPDATE: Some of the commenters on Tom Harris MP’s post seem to be complaining that, in addition to the IVF diverting NHS resources from actual sick people, it’s terribly unfair that the state should have to support the children of parents who made the irresponsible decision to get knocked up when they knew their deaths from old age might leave those children without care.

Say what? Right, because obviously the state is currently in the business of supporting only the children of parents who made responsible decisions. *boggles*

Sep 262009

Every couple of days, I go round and check out Juliette’s blog, because she’s very funny. She’s the origin of David Cameron’s Homeric new epithet, the Buttered New Potato. These visits have paid off in links lately, too, to blogs that focus on that other great conflict of Western society that is not libertarian vs. authoritarianism: relations between the sexes.

This blogular phenomenon had, until recently, passed me by, but now that I’m in the know, I’m fascinated. I have always read one or two feminist blogs, and now I’ve been introduced to anti-feminist blogs.

The anti-feminist position, as far as I can tell, is that the feminist movement has led to the breakdown of the family, injustice in the legal code, the reduction of freedoms, and the rise of socialism. No-fault divorce, easy birth control, alimony and custody laws that automatically favour the woman, the relative lack of shame heaped upon promiscuity and single motherhood, women pursuing careers: these have all disrupted society.

As with any blogular topic, you find wild variations on the theme. There is Roissy, whom Juliette calls He Who Must Not Be Named, presumably because she enjoys reading his blog (it’s very well written and entertaining) but feels a bit sick afterward.* I particularly like Roissy, however, not just because he wrote the best eulogy for Ted Kennedy I’ve read. He’s essentially an hedonic anarchist, which is an absolutist point of view I can completely respect. There is also the Female Misogynist, who chronicles all the dreadful stuff women can be found doing, like raping teenage boys and murdering their own children; there is Novaseeker, who writes long and well researched posts about the marginalisation of men in Western culture.

As usual, I can see the validity of both sides of the argument. Many women the world over are treated appallingly by the men in their society. This is not so much the case in the West, but certainly there is still sexual objectification of women. And it doesn’t seem fair to me, because I personally enjoy working and having sex without getting pregnant, to assert that the best place for a woman to be is in the home looking after the children.

On the other hand, it also seems clear that feminism is being used to ill effect: the legal system that favours mothers, affirmative action, everything Harriet Harman does, state support for single motherhood when every study shows that living in a one-parent household is bad for children.

Some of these blogs also argue that women are mentally and temperamentally unsuited for the things they’re doing in this modern, feminist world: women make decisions based on emotion and expedience; women overwhelmingly vote for a provider state; women appease the perpetrators of injustice rather than challenge them. The blogs call this ‘evo psych’ and declare that biological science proves all of these assertions true. Again, I can see where this case is coming from. I don’t know if it’s true that women are less objectively rational than men, or whether it’s a result of nature or nurture. (Mind you, I think irrational behaviour stems ultimately from a desire that reality not be what it is, and men are just as capable of wishing that as women.)

Ultimately, however, I am a libertarian, so my only real analytical reaction to this debate is how either side squares with my libertarian principles (or not). And what it all boils down to, for me, is where the restrictions on freedom lie. On the feminist side, and I’ve said this before, the pursuit of ‘women’s rights’ is being used to develop a partisan legal system, particularly when it comes to family law, and to reduce the efficiency and profitability of our economy by shoehorning people into jobs (for which they may be unqualified) simply by virtue of their sex. Forcing an unfair legal system and unfair employment regulations onto a populace in the name of fairness is inherently nonsensical.

On the anti-feminist side, there is absolutely no justification for preventing women from voting, or preventing women from working in jobs for which they are qualified. The ‘common good’ carries no weight with me. It may well be that in doing these things, collectively women are harming society; but as long as their individual pursuit of happiness causes no specific harm to any other individual, I see no reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to do as they please.

Naturally, therefore, I can agree with neither side really. Both feminists and anti-feminists appear to wish to force their values and world-view on everybody else. This attitude is fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism. And incidentally, I think the attitude stems from the sort of positivist-rights culture in which we now live, where ‘rights’ basically consist of whatever anybody thinks he’s entitled to, rather than basic human liberties protected from infringement by an impartial rule of law. Neither the oppression of women nor the oppression of men would be possible if it weren’t for the positivist state that colludes in identity politics and thinks it has a mandate to try to cure all of society’s ills.

I’m not the first to examine this debate in terms of libertarianism, either; this essay on libertarianism and Roissyism is vaguely insightful, although I’m sceptical of his conclusion that ‘Libertarianism and “Roissy-ism” have the same goal in common: minimize government intrusion in our lives.’ The goal of Roissyism appears to be to take advantage of the cultural breakdown to score as much sex as possible with the most attractive women possible; but certainly the philosophical basis of this goal is the maximisation of personal happiness. Although that’s certainly part of libertarian philosophy, I’d contend that what Roissy and the author of this essay, miss out is Mill’s harm principle. But then, neither of them is writing an opus of cultural and political philosophy, so I may have an incomplete perspective.

*The height of Roissy’s genius is introducing to me the concept of the shit-test. Women definitely do this. I’m guilty of it myself – in fact, I would go so far as to say that almost all the arguments I’ve ever had in relationships are the result of my shit-testing. Roissy blames it on evo psych – he claims it’s one of the ways women judge the alphaness (or lack thereof) of a man. He’s probably right; but shit-testing needs to stop, because in the end, it’s completely counterproductive. I’ll even put my money where my mouth is, and pledge to suppress the urge to shit-test here and now.

Jun 152009

As a comment on this article about rape prosecutions, I find this:

As a lawyer, it disturbs me that a politically correct state is seeking to tell jurors what they are permitted to think about human behaviour. The insoluble problem with prosecuting rape is that the act is not unlawful in itself, but is made unlawful purely by the state of mind of the participants.
Feliks Kwiatkowski, Haywards Heath, England

Now, rape is obviously one of those difficult issues, but logic is generally not, so here we go:

First, juries are always told what to think about human behaviour, at least while they are in the jury box. They are always instructed to decide their verdict on the basis of the admissible evidence. All this article is saying is that the rape victim’s dress, level of physical resistance to the rapist, and the time elapsed between the rape and the formal accusation are no longer admissible evidence on which the jury can base their verdict. This is already the case with most other crimes: how one looks, whether one resists, and how long one takes to report it when one is the victim of theft are not considered evidence either.

Second, of course the act – penetrative sex – is not unlawful in itself. Nor is the transfer of cash from one individual to another. It is the state of mind of the participants that makes the actions a crime – namely, it is the absence of willingness or choice on the part of one party that makes the sex rape, and makes the receipt of cash theft. This is not an ‘insoluble problem’ in the case of theft, nor is it a problem in the case of rape.

The difficulty with rape, which this commenter, being a lawyer, ought to be able to articulate more clearly, is not that it is classified as a crime for bizarre reasons, or that the judges in rape cases can instruct the jury how to arrive at a verdict.

If we think in terms of theft: I cannot actually prove that a mugger has robbed me at gunpoint if nobody saw it happen. It’s my word against his that I didn’t give the money to him willingly and of my own choice. My mugger may have been accused or convicted of theft before, which supports my claim a bit, but then again he may not. My mugger may be a total stranger to me, which supports my claim a bit, but then again he may not.

With rape, again, if there are no witnesses, it’s the victim’s word against the alleged rapist’s, and the victim cannot prove the sex was not willing and done out of choice. The alleged rapist may have a record, but he (or she) may not; the alleged rapist may be a stranger to the victim, but he (or she) may not.

The difficulty with rape, therefore, is not in the act of sex itself, or the legal obligations of judge and jury, or even in the nature of the evidence when considered in comparison to other roughly analogous criminal situations. The difficulty is in perception, both of the victim and the accused, and of rape itself as a crime.

Most people are willing to take the word of a victim of theft. The punishment for theft is lighter as well. But many people, whether they will admit this or not, are innately sceptical of a rape victim’s claim, especially if the person they claim has raped them is a friend, family member, or other acquaintance. ‘Maybe it was a misunderstanding,’ they think. ‘Maybe the unwillingness wasn’t made clear enough at the time.’ The punishment for rape is harsh. There may also be an awareness that there is no recompense for rape; victims of theft can get their money back, but what is it exactly that a victim of rape has lost? One can argue that they have lost a sense of personal sovereignty and safety, but this is true of mugging victims also, and is equally intangible in that case. There is, too, the perception that thieves will continue to be thieves, but that rapes are unique to their situations. And so many people will give the accused the benefit of the doubt – not entirely unreasonably – in a way they wouldn’t do if the crime were theft – because conviction does very little to help the victim and does enormous damage to the convicted.

One person I’ve discussed this with has suggested that the problem is in the nature of consent: society (and the legal system) views all sex as consensual unless otherwise clearly stated at the time. Remaining silent is presumed to be consent as well. The solution: all sex should be presumed to be non-consensual unless otherwise stated. This is, after all, how we treat other issues of bodily sovereignty, for example organ donation. (Although I’m aware there’s a move afoot in the UK to change that.) This is also how we treat theft: if I agree to the exchange of that money, all I have to do is not call the police and make an accusation of theft. If a person agrees to have sex, all they would have to do is not call the police and make an accusation of rape. Then, if a rape occurs and goes to court, the various attorneys can get into the problem of thorny evidence, etc, but at least the victim will be spared the necessity of having to prove a negative.

May 272009

I am not a fundamentalist homobigot,’ says author, ‘but gay marriage will ruin society.’

As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children’s lovers–or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are “mature” or “ready”? By what right can government demand that citizens obey arbitrary and culturally specific kinship rules–rules about incest and the age of consent, rules that limit marriage to twosomes? Mediocre lawyers can create a fiction called gay marriage, but their idealism can’t compel gay lovers to find it useful. But talented lawyers will be very efficient at challenging the complicated, incoherent, culturally relative survival from our most primitive social organization we call kinship. The whole set of fundamental, irrational assumptions that make marriage such a burden and such a civilizing force can easily be undone.

Sounds good to me. Bring on teh gays! So where’s the problem, then?

Oh. Right:

There is no doubt that women and children have suffered throughout human history from being over-protected and controlled. The consequences of under-protection and indifference will be immeasurably worse. In a world without kinship, women will lose their hard-earned status as sexual beings with personal autonomy and physical security. Children will lose their status as nonsexual beings.

Women are sexual beings first, personally autonomous second, and physically secure third. This is our hard-earned status, achieved for us by the institution of marriage. Tell me, Mr Reasonable Not-Bigot: where is the institution that places women as personally autonomous beings first and, I might add, only, leaving the sexual nature and physical safety up to the individual decisions of the woman herself? And your view of children is decidedly weird, too: far from being autonomous human individuals, they are mere ‘nonsexual beings’ only, tiny mobile It-objects running around, the protection of whose genitals is a matter for society to enforce through the rigid kinship system marriage imposes.

I particularly enjoy this facet of his disquisition:

But without social disapproval of unmarried sex–what kind of madman would seek marriage?…Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage–much less three, as I have done–were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom.

That’s right. After stating that ‘Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood–and sexual accessibility–is defined,’ he then shows us that, actually, marriage is a nice check, too, on the out-of-control humping men would engage in if there were no sanctions for doing so.

The author’s view of humanity is loathsome. Women are not sex toys, children are not objects, and men are not mindless dick-pistons. Jesus.

This article is the best argument in favour of gay marriage I have ever encountered. I say again, bring on teh gays. They’re a hell of a lot pleasanter than this knob.

May 092009

Further to my previous post about the Sun’s campaign against the M&S ‘boob tax,’ i have discovered a new website:


For a moment, I was delighted – until I discovered that the reason ‘Harriet Harman sucks’ is because she ‘hates men.’

Oh, the poor men! They live (on average) shorter lives, are more likely (on average) to commit suicide, get conscripted into the trenches, and have to suffer under the hideous cultural burden of being providers and caretakers of the family!

Allow me to offer up this (unfortunately untenable) bargain to the gents at harrietharmansucks.com, and to any other men out there who think it’s all beer and skittles being a woman: switch places with one of us for a day. I’ll even be generous and let you switch with a Western woman, instead of one of the many down-trodden of the Third World. Then you’ll discover just how lovely it is (what with our living longer and not topping ourselves and not providing for the family) to do things like menstruate, give birth, endure the menopause, have every bad mood or irritable moment ascribed to PMT, be deliberately wound up and then called ‘shrill,’ represent irrationality personified, and suffer the indignity of losing one’s husband in middle age to a younger model.

kthx. Nobody has it that great – men or women – so let’s not whinge on and on about how unfair things are. Life is what it is. Harman goes overboard: at this stage, women are not merchant bankers not because of sexism generally, but because most of them don’t want to be. But men: your shorter life span is a result of the cultural role you assume. If you want to live longer, quit the stressful job of, largely, running the world.

Can we please agree that attempting to treat women as human beings does not discriminate against men, whilst also agreeing that Harriet Harman sucks? I’m sure such an accord would mark the tentative beginnings of a pleasant human experience.

iPhone: tool of the patriarchy or friend to women everywhere?

 sexism: alive and well  Comments Off on iPhone: tool of the patriarchy or friend to women everywhere?
Apr 212009

iControl Her:

Tired of telling your woman over and over how to please you? Weary of self-repetition and downtrodden by the futility of your Stepford-wife ambitions? Never fear; your iPhone will boss your woman about so you don’t have to.

Have you ever wished to have a remote control for people? This application offer this mythical remote and by pressing a button on the remote, it will say the words for you.

Feels like and operate just like a remote and you can have so much fun with it.

Updates will be posted weekly.

Future update: Ability to record your own voice over a button. The possibilities are then ENDLESS! Buy now and enjoy the free updates as they become available.


Note to self: The male mind explained, at last! Now I realise where I’ve been going wrong all these years. I must throw off this pesky habit of autonomy before I permanently ruin my chances to catch me a husband.

[Hats off to Twisty.]
Apr 152009

Or, in this particular case, to call rape rape. Instead, they provide this headline:

Afghan ‘anti-rape’ women attacked

Elsewhere we find:

Afghan women protest against ‘rape’

Why the quotation marks, eh? Are these women protesting against something they consider rape, but the BBC doesn’t agree with that nomenclature? Let’s find out.

Dozens of Afghan women who tried to protest against a new law they say legalises rape within marriage have been attacked in the capital, Kabul.

Its most controversial article says a woman must make herself available for sex with her husband when he desires.

The law’s defenders say it actually protects the rights of women.

Aides to President Karzai insist that the law in fact provides more protection for women.

The counter-demonstrators – who support the new law – insist that the legislation stops women from being harmed.

“Muslim women have rights which are stated for them in the Koran, not rights that other countries set for them. We want the rights which have been set according to Islam,” one of them told the BBC.

Among the law’s provisions are that

• wives are obliged to have sexual relations with their husbands at least once every four days

• women cannot leave home without their husband’s permission

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.

The law covers members of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population. A separate family law for the Sunni majority is also being drawn up.

Although the BBC acknowledges that this crazy Afghan law obliges women to have sex with their husbands at least once every four days, whether the women want to or not, this still apparently does not count as rape, because some other nebulous crazy Afghans say that, actually quite the reverse, this law protects women and their rights!

Their right to be pronged once every four days at someone else’s convenience, apparently. But, says the BBC, that’s not rape. It’s ‘rape.’ Be told.

Mar 302009

Dr David Starkey has opened his trap about the injustice done to poor Henry VIII by the concentration of modern female historians on his wives, to the exclusion of his powerful accomplishments in the realm of politics and religion.

But he warned that the “soap opera” of Henry’s personal life should come second to the political consequences of his rule, such as the Reformation and the break with Rome.

Dr Starkey went further, by saying that modern attempts to paint many women in history as “power players” was to falsify the facts.

Many years ago, when I still taught history, I used to tell my students that almost everything that ‘power players’ did was motivated by money, power, or land. With Henry VIII, it tended to be all three, although as in a sense they’re more or less three sides of the same coin, this is not particularly noteworthy.

In fact, very little of what Henry VIII did is particularly noteworth – and the break with Rome is not one of those things. The English Church, under the direction of the monarch, had broken with Rome already on a number of occasions. The refusal of William II to fill vacant bishoprics (so that the Crown could continue to collect their revenues) resulted in the exile of the Archbishop of Canterbury and William’s excommunication; Henry II’s spat with Thomas Becket meant that half of the priestly class of England joined Becket in exile and, of course, Henry was excommunicated; John’s stubbornness about Stephen Langton mean that the poor archbish couldn’t even get into England, let alone go into exile, and John’s excommunication and the subsequent Interdict laid on the nation lasted for some years. During all of these periods, the monarch and people of England were ‘broken’ from Rome, and in the case of John, many of the people even supported his position. Henry VIII’s quarrel with Rome rather pales in comparison, and the basis of his break was neither theological nor procedural: he wanted the Church’s revenues, and he wanted to be ultimate court of appeal on both religious and civil matters. The 39 Articles were hardly un-Catholic, and most of what he incorporated from Luther’s theological protest was later adopted by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation anyway. The true Reformation in England happened after Henry VIII’s death, under his son Edward VI and his second daughter Elizabeth I.

What is significant about Henry VIII is that, as part of his megalomania, he rode roughshod over the constitution of England and the traditional liberties of its people as enshrined in Magna Carta. His show trials rivalled Stalin’s and his prosecution of people under treason laws for slights against his amour propre made a mockery of justice. His execution of the Duke of Buckingham for no other crime than being a rival prince of the blood, and his subsequent seizure of the Duke’s ancestral lands (ever wondered about Buckingham Palace?), whilst nevertheless moaning on and on about the sanctity of his conscience, show him to have been a despot and tyrant of the highest order.

Even these dubious accomplishments, however, are not unique to Henry VIII; his father did the same thing.

What is unique about Henry VIII is that he alone of all English monarchs, including the wicked John, the inept Edward II, and the evil-uncle Richard III, beheaded his wives. Everything else he did falls, if you will, into the ordinary realms of monarchical naughtiness. Grasping, greedy, power-hungry – well, fair enough. But double uxoricide? That, my friends, was unprecedented, and has never happened since. It’s the kind of behaviour one might expect from a Mithridates, not from a crowned monarch of a Christian nation, a Defender of the Faith with an exquisitely acute conscience. Is it any wonder historians, whatever is between their legs, focus on that?

I reckon that Henrician history isn’t feminised so much as it is centred on the only thing that makes Henry VIII actually interesting. Apart from his torrid love-life, he’s really a rather run-of-the-mill king.

Starkey does say one peculiar thing, though:

He also stressed his comments were not a “value statement” about how he thought the world should be, but argued: “It is a great impertinence to impose our values on the past. It instantly reduces the people of the past from real people to mere straw men and women in our struggles.”

Using the past to inform our own time is kinda what we study history for; while it may be ‘impertinent’ to impose our values on the people of the past, it is the height of arrogance to argue that we must not employ history as a rhetorical tool in our own struggles. Although I don’t like it, and I resent the use of history that politicians make to prop up their own stupidities, to insist otherwise is to diminish its importance, and the study of history is embattled enough already without historians adding to the claims of irrelevance it has to overcome.