The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 9 (February 25, 1927)
Alfred The Great.
The first to bear the title of Earl in England, Alfred the Great, “the saint, the scholar, the hero, and the law-giver,” is the ancestor in a direct line, of the Duke of York whom, with his Duchess, it will be New Zealand's honour to entertain within a few days.
Historians have combined to glorify the name of Alfred, the first real English King. “No other man” said one, “ever combined in his own person so much excellence in war, legislation and learning.”
The story of the manner in which the young Alfred won a richly bound and illuminated volume of Saxon poems for being the first of his family able to recite them, and his later scholastic achievements are well known. He translated books, including Aesop's fables, into the Anglo-Saxon language and under his direction the famous Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history which any European country possesses in its own language, was compiled. Furthermore, he encouraged education within his Kingdom, brought learned men from the Continent to teach in England and founded the University of Oxford—to which our own Rhodes Scholars now proceed.
The success with which Alfred repelled the attacks of the Danes, those fierce marauders who were over-running the land, convinces us of his military ability. For the more efficient defence of his Kingdom against the Danes he built a fleet and organised the fyrd, or militia, in such a manner that one half was always available for fighting and the remaining half for the maintenance of the agricultural crops which provided food for the nation.
At a time when the staple diet was “salt pork, fish, and floods of strong beer” and the general desire was merely to eat, drink and be merry, Alfred brought a passion for order, education, and right living to his task of kingship—assumed at the early age of twenty-one—which deserved the gratitude and admiration of all subsequent generations. His day was divided into three parts: (a) State business; (b) prayer and study; (c) sleep, meals and recreation; and these divisions, measured by candles, were strictly adhered to.
Alfred's political institutions, his code of laws, and his strict administration of justice give him a strong claim to the title of “Great.” On account of the stern impartiality with which his enactments were carried out, crime became rare. Judges were under the supervision of the King and any found guilty of corrupt practices were harshly punished. The terror of his name was so great that it was said “golden ornaments might be hung by the roadside and no robber would dare to touch them.”
The fact that Alfred suffered from an internal disease which spared him scarcely a painless hour for over twenty years makes his achievements even more remarkable.
Edward was absent in the Holy Land with the Seventh Crusade when his father Henry III. died. He was popular in England and despite his absence no attempt was made to usurp the throne. According to tradition, while in the Holy Land Edward was stabbed with a poisoned arrow, and his recovery from what appeared a mortal injury was due to his wife (Eleanor of Castile) sucking the poison from the wound.
Edward was ambitious. He aimed to become the overlord of the whole of the island of which England was a part. To achieve this he must subdue Wales and Scotland. The reigning chief in Wales had assisted in the rebellions of the reign of Henry III. and refused to swear allegiance to Edward. On account of the mountainous nature of their country the Welsh were, for a considerable period, able to withstand the English attacks. Eventually, however, Edward forced them to terms, and by the Statute of Wales, enacted at Rhuddlan in 1284, Wales was annexed to England. Edward presented his infant son and heir to the Welsh under the title of Prince of Wales. Another two hundred years elapsed before Wales sent representatives to the English Parliament.
But the annexation of Scotland was a task which Edward failed to complete. It had been arranged that Prince Edward of Wales should marry Margaret, the “Maid of Norway” who was heir to the Scottish Crown. Before this scheme was effected Margaret died, thus confusing the succession. Several claimants came forward making the situation difficult. It was agreed that Edward of England should be appealed to. Edward gave his decision in favour of John Balliol, who accepted the Kingdom as Edward's vassal and did homage to the English King.
This arrangement did not last, for while Edward was engaged with France, Balliol took the opportunity of attempting to win independence for Scotland. The English won the battle of Dunbar, Balliol was deprived of his throne, and Scotland was made a dependency of England. Sir William Wallace an outlawed Scottish Knight rebelled. The position was not satisfactorily settled during Edward's reign. While on his way to Scotland with an immense army Edward died, and Scotland regained her full independence when Bruce defeated Edward II. at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
First Complete Parliament.—Edward justly believed “that it was right that what concerned all should be approved by all.” This caused him to summon in 1295 his famous Parliament representing the three estates of the realm—Lords, Clergy and Commons. This is often referred to as “The Model Parliament” and is generally considered to be the true origin of our present Legislature.
The English Justinian.—Edward's summarising of English laws won for him the title of the “English Justinian.” Many constitutional changes were effected during his reign. Enactments regarding the titles and entailment of land were made, the law courts were re-organised and officers afterwards known as Justices of the Peace were appointed.
From the deeds of Edward we conclude that he was a brave and skilled soldier, and a sagacious and successful statesman.
Henry V. 1413–1422.
On the death of King Henry IV., the head of the House of Lancaster who had usurped the throne, his frivolous and riotous son, Prince Henry, was transformed into the brave King Henry V.
The Hundred Years' War with France, which was commenced by Edward III. nearly eighty years before, was resumed. The Church, desirous of diverting the attention of Parliament from the confiscation of the church property, and the barons, restless through the continued peace, welcomed the resumption of the war.
Henry invaded France with an army of thirty thousand and after five weeks' siege Harfleur surrendered. Through privation and sickness the English army dwindled to half its original number. On the march to Calais Henry encountered the French army at Agincourt. The English were very much outnumbered, but owing to the skill of their bowmen and the superior organisation of their army they were able to obtain a most decisive victory over the French. This battle clearly demonstrated that well trained infantry men were much superior to undisciplined cavalry forces.
Henry's triumphs in France won for him the hearts of his people and he was received with unbounded joy in England.
By the Treaty of Troyes it was agreed that Henry should marry the daughter of the French King, and that until the death of the French King Henry should be Regent of France and thereafter King of France.
Unfortunately he did not live long to enjoy the glory that his military genius had won for him.
Although the greater part of France had submitted to Henry V., at the close of the next reign Calais was the only English possession in France.
The pages recording the events of the Tudor Period are among the brightest in our history. The reign of Henry VII., the first of the Tudors, marks the birth of modern policy and the foundation of our still enduring system. It was an age of discovery and of intellectual development. Columbus and Cabot crossed the Atlantic to North America. Americus Vespuccius explored the coast of South America and gave his name to the new continent. Vasco de Gama sailed round the Cape of Good Hope, thus finding a sea route to India. Commerce greatly extended. True English literature was in its dawn. Modern scientific development dates from this time and old theories never previously queried were disproved. During the period the Reformation—one of the greatest events in modern page 13 history—was carried out, and the English sovereign became head of the English Church.
Elizabeth was the last of the Tudor Monarchs. Probably the most important event in her reign was the defeat of the so-called “Invincible Armada,” a great fleet sent by Philip II. of Spain to conquer England.
William Shakespeare, the Prince of Dramatists; Francis Bacon, the founder of modern philosophy; and others, wrote works of such breadth and eloquence as had never before been known. Nor have they since been excelled.
Among the sovereigns of England, Elizabeth, resolute, watchful and self-controlled, has had few equals. She encouraged her admirals in voyages of discovery, she inspired the dramatic art for which her reign is particularly noted, and aided all schemes designed for the consolidation of her Kingdom.
William Iii. And Mary.
James II., the last of the Stuart Kings, in his attempts to rule as an absolute monarch and to restore the Roman Catholic religion, lost the support of his subjects. William, Prince of Orange, was entreated by the English people to come with an army to assist them in defending their freedom and their faith. William consented and James fled.
In 1689 a Convention, differing from a Parliament in that the writs summoning members were issued by one not yet a king, was called by William. It was decided that William and Mary should rule conjointly, but that William should hold all executive power. Louis of France, the most powerful Roman Catholic sovereign in Europe, had long wished to destroy the power of William of Orange, who was regarded as the champion of protestantism. The dethronement of James gave the French King an excuse for war, and a mighty invasion of England was prepared. The combined fleets of England and Holland decisively defeated the French fleet off La Hogue in 1692, thus shattering the ambitions of Louis.
During the reign many important bills were passed. The Triennial Bill provided that no Parliament should sit for longer than three years. The plan of a National Bank suggested by Paterson, a Scotchman, was adopted, and in 1694 the Bank of England was established.
In politics William was deeply learned, in military discipline he was skilled, and in battle he was calm and courageous. As a soldier he was among the most distinguished of his day and his successes in checking the forces of the French King were of the utmost importance to all Europe.
Queen Anne, the second daughter of James II., married Prince George of Denmark, who apart from sitting in the House of Lords as Duke of Cumberland, took no active part in the government.
Britain, allied with Holland and Germany, opposed the attempt of the French King to place his grandson on the Spanish Throne, and Churchill, afterwards Duke of Marlborough, was appointed commander of the combined armies. In four great battles, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, Marlborough humbled the power of France. In 1710 Admiral Rooke and Sir Cloudesley Shovel captured Gibraltar. By the Treaty of Utrecht, drawn up at the close of the war, Gibraltar, Minorea, Hudson's Bay, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland became English possessions. Furthermore it provided that France should acknowledge the protestant succession in England and discontinue attempting to replace Roman Catholics on the throne.
On account of the dissatisfaction caused in Scotland by the failure of the scheme to form a colony on the Isthmus of Darien and the heavy duties imposed on goods passing between England and Scotland a Treaty of Union was framed. It enacted (1) That the two Kingdoms should be united under the name of “Great Britain,” (2) that the succession to the throne of Great Britain should be the same as that for England, (3) that the United Kingdom should be governed by one Parliament, (4) that sixteen peers and forty-five commoners should represent Scotland in Parliament, (5) that the laws relating to trade, customs and excise should be the same in both countries, (6) that the church and law courts of Scotland as already established should be maintained. The Treaty of Union was passed by the Scottish Parliament with a big majority and the Union, the beneficial results of which are incalculable, was effected.
Throughout her reign Anne showed a keen interest in affairs of state and appointed her ministers with discretion. Her private life was one of great sorrow, for, although she had a large family, all her children died young. On her death the Elector of Hanover, of whom our present sovereign is a direct descendant, became King as George I.
Bouquet Holder in silver, greenstone and pearls, presented to the Duchess of Cornwall and York on the occasion of laying foundation-stone of Railway Head Office, Wellington, June 21st, 1901. (Designed by Ad Howitt. Chief Draughtsman, N.Z.R.)
Royal Tour Of New Zealand
1 Oamaru 2 Hamilion (Wairaio) 3 Square, Palmersion North
4 Auckland 5 Christchurch (River Avon)