". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dirty and Flea-bitten - The Stuart Restoration

You know, the more one learns of the era and court of Charles II, the more strongly it emerges is a court of slatterns.

Dogs and people pissing and shitting anywhere they pleased, vomiting and farting from their daily excesses. Stinking of sweat and other essences including the excrescences on their mouths, noses and fingers caused by their inveterate snuff taking, drenching themselves in perfumes and oils. Fleas and lice.

The rest of their behaviors mirror their lack of elegance, taste, and interest in the arts, even as the  poor man's monarch, Charlie 2, aped the genuine article in France.

Every Stuart monarch was a disaster, though each of them was a disaster in a different way. Charles II cared far too little about being a monarch and its day-to-day responsibilities and obligations -- perhaps he'd dreamed so long about becoming one but had never dreamed beyond taking back the crown?  But once he received the crown, ruling mattered little to him.  He left all that to his brother and others, while courting affection by giving away what should have been in the kingdom's treasury. Not even his Queen's own properties, not even excluding her personal jewels and furniture, were exempted from his compulsive gifting to his favorites, male and female alike.

What, beyond amusement, interested him at all seems to be going to war with the Dutch to take their conquests in West African and India for his own.  For that he needed a navy, but the responsibility of making one was left to his brother, James.

The two sides of the Elephant and Castle, from Charles II's Royal African Company coin, soon and thereafter commonly known as the "guinea." *  There's a section in The American Slave Coast explicating this, as part of the only goods for which Africans would take in trade for their captives -- which is why it was so difficult for the English colonists to engage directly in the African trade themselves.  As colonists they did not have  the goods that Africans would accept, and as colonists, they were forbidden to manufacture them. Nor were there significant sources of gold and other precious metals in North America, and would not be until the 1848 California Gold Strike after the Mexican-American War.
Thus one cannot be surprised that he and his favorites turned to slave trading to enrich their private purses. The Royal African Company was set up specifically to trade in "negroes" up and down the West African Coast, selling them to the voracious New World markets. It was led by James, Duke of York, Charlie 2's brother.

When it came to the Royal African Company, even Pepys must have felt a bit of queasiness since as often as he mentions talking business there, and on many occasion with the Duke of York himself, in the course of serving his Majesty's navy, he never mentions in his own personal diaries what the purpose of Africa House is.

Anyone wishing to romanticize the reign of Charles II has to scrub and scrub and scrub and white wash and white wash and white wash, while wearing nose plugs and blinders, and then deliberately choose not to read the primary record, to get there.


*   Even now the guinea generates more money: we paid $300 to the British Museum for permission to reproduce the elephant and castle in The American Slave Coast. We had taken the photo ourselves, but it was from a display in the museum.

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