Simanaitis Says

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OUR BRIT pals also experienced civil war, indeed, several of them if you count the three separating King Charles I from his head, 1649; kicking his son Charles II into exile, 1651; making Roundhead Oliver Cromwell head of the Protectorate, 1653; followed by Oliver’s son Richard, 1658; and, while on the topic of heads, displaying Oliver’s severed head on a pike on Westminster Bridge for 24 years, 1661–1685.

Pre-severance, this Oliver Cromwell caricature presents him as King, not Protector of the Commonwealth. By a contemporary Dutch satirist.

Oh, let’s not forget the earlier War of the Roses, 1455–1487, which gave us Shakespeare’s Henry VI Parts I, II and III, as well as his Richard III.

The English War of the Roses, 1455–1487. Mural in the East Corridor of the Palace of Westminster, London, 1908, by Henry Arthur Payne.

Talk about sequels: These plays were sort of Elizabethan Star Wars, with the Houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) in place of the Rebels and the Empire. Or, if you wish, the other way about. Though I root for the Rebels, I have no particular dog in the Lancaster-York fight.

My point, perhaps arriving a bit late in this commentary, is that for years the Brits have dealt with celebratory statuary for one faction or another of civil unrest. The Short Cuts essay by Tom Crewe addresses this in the London Review of Books, September 21, 2017. I recommend this article and share several tidbits here.

Crewe notes that English statues, even if still standing, haven’t necessarily stayed put: “The bronze equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross, now trapped behind a moat of traffic, was cast in 1633 but only installed in its current position in 1675.”

The equestrian statue of Charles I, Charing Cross, London. Image by L’habitant/Tony.

Charles I and his horse resided for a time in the Mortlake Park, Roehampton, garden of Charles’s treasurer. During subsequent Cromwellian days, the statue lay hidden in the flowerbeds of a royal sympathizer.

After the 1660 Restoration of kingly powers, the statue took its place in Charing Cross, not far from the near-future home of Oliver Cromwell’s perched head. And, as Crewe notes, “… the connection between the two heads almost in sight of each other wouldn’t have been lost on anyone.”

The Great Fire of London, September 1666. Unknown artist.

The year 1666 also has monumental relevance: From September 2 to September 5 of that year, the Great Fire of London destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings in the City of London.

The Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by Christopher Wren. Image by Eluveitie.

Notes Crewe, “The base of the Monument to the Great Fire of London, unveiled in 1677, was originally inscribed with a straightforward record of houses lost and streets burned. In 1681, at the height of a wave of anti-Catholic hysteria, another inscription was added blaming the fire ‘on the treachery and malice of the Papists.’ ”

“This addendum,” Crewe writes, “was removed in 1685, after the accession of James, a Catholic, but quickly reinscribed in 1689 after he had been driven out of the country (‘Where London’s column pointing at the skies/Like a tall bully, lifts the head, and lies,’ Pope wrote fifty years later). The offending passage was removed, for a final time, after Catholic Emancipation in 1830.”

How novel to intermix touristic inscriptions with religion. Elements of this are akin to Lenin statuary getting recycled for a Sicilian Nobel Laureate.

Concerning religion and politics, I am comforted by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Yet, I also recall Norman Vincent Peale, Billy Graham, and others fearing that Protestants had “legitimate grounds for concern about having a Catholic in the White House.”

Gee. I wonder if Kennedy shared secrets with Jewish convert Marilyn Monroe? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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