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Saturday, September 19, 2020
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From the Publisher

The war (against the Boers) exposed the British Empire at its vulnerable apogee. In 1899, the empire covered a fifth of the world’s land surface – “five times the size of the Roman Empire at its zenith” – and ruled roughly a quarter of the human race. Its chief threat stemmed not from other major powers but from the “ever-expanding burden of ruling its own colonies.”

· from a book review by Roger Lowenstein in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL of Saturday/Sunday, September 17-18, 2016, of a biography of Winston Churchill entitled HERO OF THE EMPIRE, by Candice Millard, Doubleday.

· LONDON – Friday, March 5, 1585: By then, the mood in the capital was close to fever pitch. The previous Tuesday, Dr. William Parry, a Welshman and one of Burghley’s former spies, who had been suborned by papal agents in Venice and Rome and turned traitor, had been gruesomely hanged in Westminster Palace Yard. A self-indulgent social climber, Parry had converted to Catholicism and received communion at the Jesuit College in Paris to seal a vow to assassinate Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Cut down from the gallows on the queen’s orders the moment the ladder was kicked away after just one swing of the rope, Parry had his heart and bowels ripped from his body with a meat cleaver by the executioner while he was still fully conscious. Finally, the hangman severed head and limbs from the corpse, to be impaled on London Bridge and above the gates of the city as a warning to others of the terrible price of treason. (Ordinarily, felons and traitors were allowed to lapse into unconsciousness before disembowelling began.)

· pgs. 42, 43, ELIZABETH: THE FORGOTTEN YEARS, by John Guy, Viking, New York.

You will have to bear with me today, because I may not be able to finish this in one column. In a couple weeks time, Belize will celebrate the October 12 holiday, which used to be called Columbus Day here (and is still so dubbed by Italians in the United States, who celebrate it religiously and en masse), because this was the day in 1492 when an expedition of three sailing ships under Christopher Columbus first sighted land in what became known to Europeans as the “New World.”

Columbus was an Italian who believed that the world was round (many swore it was flat at the time) and believed he would reach the eastern riches of India and China and so on by sailing west. The Portuguese had previously reached Asia’s riches by sailing south around the Cape of Good Hope tip of Africa, and then northeast.

By August of 1592, when the Portuguese carrack named the Madre de Dios, returning from Kochi on the west coast of India, was captured by English pirates, she was the richest prize ever captured by the English. The cargo on the 165 foot long ship included gold, silver, emeralds, diamonds, rubies, pearls and amber (commonly set in amulets and thought to attract lovers). Among other goods on the carrack were 537 tons of spices, 8,500 hundredweight of pepper, large chests of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, fifteen tons of ebony, two enormous crosses of gold and a large broach studded with diamonds meant for King Philip II of Spain and Portugal. Other items included carpets, tapestries, silks and fine fabrics, Chinese porcelain, hides, coconuts, frankincense, dyes such as cochineal and indigo, ivory and elephant’s teeth (ground to a fine powder and used in the treatment of leprosy).

It was the abovementioned kinds of riches which Christopher Columbus was seeking. His voyage was financed by Ferdinand and Isabella, king and queen of Spain, who were also hungry for riches. (In 1492, Portugal was a separate kingdom, which is why when the Pope of Rome divided up the New World a couple years later between Spain and Portugal, Brazil ended up as Portuguese.) It is a great coincidence that 1492, the year of Christopher’s historic voyage, was also the year when Spain, under Ferdinand and Isabella, finally expelled the North African Moors who had ruled Spain for 700 years.

Religious quarrels between Catholic Spain (under Philip II) and Protestant Anglican England (under Elizabeth I) would lead to the kinds of horrific violence which claimed the life of Dr. William Parry in 1585. But as late as the early sixteenth century, which is when Martin Luther’s religious rebellion began in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe, the whole of Europe had been Roman Catholic, and the various royal families had been contracting marriages which sometimes led to great confusion and violence having to do with royal successions in the various countries. In fact, Protestant Elizabeth I, fearful of and enraged by Catholic plots against her throne, had her own Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, beheaded in February of 1587, the year before Philip II sent the ill-fated Armada from Spain to invade Elizabeth’s realm.

The thing is, the said Philip II had been married to Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary Tudor, who was queen of England from 1553 to 1558, during which period Philip II, the king of Spain, was, for all intents and purposes, co-ruler of England.

Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand II of Spain and Isabella I of Castile. Catherine of Aragon had actually been married to Henry VIII’s older brother, Arthur, who died a teenager in 1502. The incredible thing is that Catherine of Aragon, through her mother, had a stronger legitimate claim to the English throne than King Henry VII himself (father of Arthur and Henry VIII).

Henry VII was the last king of England to win the throne on the battlefield when he defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. But, whereas Catherine of Aragon’s English royal legitimacy came through descent from the first two wives of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III (1327-1377), King Henry VII was descended from a mistress of John of Gaunt, whose children were illegitimate at the time of their birth.

Anyway, on Henry’s VII’s death in 1509, Henry VIII marries Catherine of Aragon. But, Catherine does not produce a male heir to the throne, Henry VIII falls in love with Elizabeth I’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and demands that the Pope annul his marriage to Catherine. When the Pope refuses, all hell breaks out in England as Henry VIII takes England down the Protestant road and declares himself head of the English church in 1533.

In 1898, when British Honduras began celebrating the Battle of St. George’s Caye, this was a Protestant Anglican territory. It is impossible to say when British Honduras became majority Roman Catholic, but it must have been around the time when the British Governor declared October 12 a holiday in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. October 12 was a Roman Catholic holiday in the sense that it celebrated the “exploits” of Christopher Columbus, a Roman Catholic Italian, in the service of Ferdinand and Isabella, Roman Catholic Spaniards. I’ve heard that a Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus, began the October 12 holiday in the United States in the 1930s. So, who began it here, and when, and does it fall under the flag of “heroes and benefactors”? In 2016, we Belizeans are entitled to some answers to these questions. No? Whose country is this anyway?

Power to the people. Remember Danny.

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