Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

Crown with Cross and fleur-de-lis

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," groans Henry IV in Shakespeare's play. Brits have the happy habit of toppling kings who abuse power.

Photo: dvan@istockphoto.com
Cromwell had the crown jewels melted down or sold, so this crown is not Henry's, but it does include French symbols evoking Henry's claims on the crown of France.

IDEALISTIC &
PRACTICAL BRITS

Brits compel their Kings to be accountable, forcing them to guarantee freedom of speech in exchange for tax revenues. Serfs are freed. Christians die for their beliefs.

1400s – FOLLOW THE MONEY

Henry IV is afflicted with several illnesses – possibly syphilis and epilepsy – and a rash of rebellions by disgruntled nobles. He crushes the nobles with the help of funds provided by Parliament.

In return for giving him money, Parliament demands that the King guarantee its members freedom of speech. In the past, Parliamentary debate had been a nerve-wracking experience since members were liable to be arrested for disagreeing with the King's policies. (See Defeating Threats to Freedom for the modern equivalent – a Member of the EU Parliament threatened with imprisonment for questioning the EU President.)

Stack of English coins – pounds

In addition to freedom of speech, members of Parliament insist on accountability in exchange for tax money. Accountability is an essential tool for checking the power of a ruler, and keeping government honest. Corruption is a cancer that destroys the freedom and prosperity of all citizens, and their hopes for their children. Five hundred years later, the European Union 's auditors refuse to sign off on its cooked books. For more, see Defeating Threats to Freedom

Photo: duncan1890@istockphoto.com

1400s MANXMEN GAIN REPRESENTATION

The Manx people who live on the beautiful and temperate Isle of Man develop a unique system of representation. Originally Irish, Norse, Scottish, and English, the Manx are Gaelic speakers who live on their isle in the Irish Sea off the west coast of England. For more than a thousand years they have gathered in open-air conventions called Tynwalds. Some describe the Tynwald as an early version of Parliament. Annexed by England in the 13th century, the Manx continue their independent ways. Manxmen known as 'Keys,' who represent each of six sheadings on the Isle, interpret the law, and advise the Lords of the Isle.

15th century house in Norfolk with tower and red tile roof

"Every second man that you meet is a Lollard" writes a contemporary. Lollards live much as other 15th century Brits do, in houses not unlike this one, but their ideas set them apart. The bravest are willing to be burned alive for their ideals.

Photo: guyerwood@istockphoto.com

1401-1414 LOLLARDS RISE

Inspired by John Wycliffe, non-conforming Christians called Lollards oppose the Church’s rituals, power, and wealth. Women as well as men are preachers. Their ideals include:

  • The reading of Holy Scriptures in English
  • The teachings of the inner Spirit
  • Simplicity of life and prayer
  • Equality of the sexes.

Lollard ideals are alive today, in part because they were willing to die for them and in part because many people continue to respond to them. The Church and Henry IV declare the Lollards heretics. In 1401 William Sawtrey becomes the first Lollard to be burned at the stake. In 1407, Wycliffe’s Bible is banned, and a number of Lollards are executed. Lollards are mistaken in wanting a theocratic state. Their courage in defence of their beliefs cannot be denied.

A serf digging

Digging, 11th century manuscript

15th Century ENDING SERFDOM

The ending of serfdom is a great step forward for freedom. It is accomplished not through legislation but through a change in thinking. A majority of Brits come to believe that a person should be free to work where he likes for a living wage that he freely negotiates.

Brits are obtaining freedoms unheard of elsewhere. (The majority of French and Germans working on the land remain serfs until the end of the 18th century; in Russia, serfdom lasts until 1861.)

Notably, women are seizing opportunities, and working in businesses as manager-owners.

To 16th Century

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass