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Falling out about the candle

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 January 2019, 5.22pm

In the early 1640’s, before the appalling English Civil War, the warring parties fought with words.

The respective sides fell back on defending their territory: London (Cromwell’s lot) and Oxford, where the king took up residence behind much fortified walls.

The 17th century afforded no buses on which to write nonsense.

But the Puritans called Oxford ‘a papist garrison’, which played well to its constituency…though King Charles was a very long way from being a papist…fake news.

The battle lines, however, were clearly drawn in words.

The taunt roundhead or rattlehead (crop headed apprentice, skin head) was met with cavalier horseman, foreign and Catholic-inclined.

Godly Puritans were dubbed ‘fanatical rebels’ by Charles’ lot, while the ‘rebels’ labelled the royalists as ‘malignants and delinquents’.

Cavaliers pleaded that their vices (women and wine) were human, but puritan vices (hypocrisy and pride) were devilish.

(God was on everyone’s side, it didn’t help.)

Later, of course, the two parliaments clashed, one in London, the other in Oxford.

Westminster called Oxford ‘the anti-parliament’, while the Oxford parliament declared Westminster to be ‘traitors’.

Oh, the badinage, hyperbole and outrage…you in your small corner and me in mine.

As the taunting escalated, Sir Paul Pindar, the Royalist city merchant, summed up the war:

‘Our age is as children falling out about the candle until the parents come in and take it away leaving them to decide their differences in the dark.’

Which, in a manner, is where, five centuries on, we are today: a nation divided deciding our differences in the dark, with language of blame and separation.

Language creates climate; and climate then rules.

This particular 17th century squabble – when everyone was passionate and no one was wrong - led nowhere beautiful.

The king was executed on a cold afternoon at Whitehall, (it just sort-of happened, only a few in favour, really) while for the next eleven years the country endured a Protectorate fractured by internal division, with parliament side-lined.

So what had they all fought for?

As Steve Turner once noted:

‘History repeats itself.

It has to.

No one listens.’

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