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11/14/2006 Archived Entry: "Stuart Kings and George W. Bush"

I'M WORKING ON A SWAT ARTICLE about habeas corpus, which has carried me way back to many of England's bad old days. My favorite part of English history is the absolutely calamitous 17th century. In less than 100 years, the poor old Mother Country beheaded one king and deposed another. They had a civil war followed by something they still call their "Glorious Revolution." They spent a while being ruled by a bloodthirsty religious fanatic, Oliver Cromwell. And for good measure, in a single two-year period, they had a resurgence of the black plague and the Great Fire of London. Makes modern times look peaceful by comparison.

The 17th also played a big part in the modern development of "The Great Writ."

The Stuarts were the ruling royals through most of that century (or at least those parts of the century when the beleagured Brits didn't simply go kingless). A more loathsome lot never bore the scepter. And given the loathsomeness of typical rulers everywhere, that's saying something.

The Stuarts were the chief promulgators of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. That dogma could be phrased as "either you're with us or your helping the devil" or perhaps "either your with us or you're toast."

They didn't invent the infamous Star Chamber, but they certainly made the most of it after inheriting that ghastly injustice system from the Tudors. Whatever Parliament wouldn't give them -- more taxes, compulsory loans, the right to torture and maim -- they'd just decree for themselves during the top-secret Star Chamber proceedings.

Unfortunately for them, they also had the misfortune of ruling just as the desire for individual liberty was soaring. (And yes, the drive toward liberty and toward colonization of the New World was in part motivated by their arrogance and their abuses.)

Charles I, perhaps the most infamous of all the Stuarts, had a quaint attitude toward habeas corpus. At one point he locked five knights up without due process, simply because they wouldn't go along with a forced loan scheme for his benefit. When they petitioned for habeas corpus (which should have meant a judicial hearing that would either free them or show the legal reason for keeping them imprisoned), His Majesty basically told them (I paraphrase), "I put you in prison. Therefore there is obviously good reason to keep you in prison. So. The requirement of habeas corpus has been satisfied."

Sort of like unilaterally declaring somebody an "unlawful enemy combatant" then denying him due process because, after all, he's an "unlawful enemy combatant."

King Charles' quaint view of the ancient writ led to one, and later another, even stronger, codification of exactly how habeas corpus must be handled. Eventually his quaint attitude, among many other quaint attitudes, also lead to a sudden and drastic reduction in the king's own height.

As I read and reminded myself of my English history, I was struck by the multitude of resemblances between the Stuarts (especially the dreadful Charles I) and our own King George.

There are just two major differences, as far as I can tell. For one thing, Parliament -- driven hard by an aroused populace -- actually opposed and defied King Charles. For another, King George still has his head attached to his shoulders. Not that he actually uses it for anything.

Posted by Claire @ 08:03 PM CST

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