Happy Birthday Charles Bradlaugh
Happy Birthday Charles Bradlaugh (1833)
Charles Bradlaugh was one of the more remarkable politicians of the Victorian era, an unswerving radical and avowed atheist, he became founder of the National Secular Society. He created a parliamentary crisis when he refused to swear an oath he could not believe in upon entering the House of Commons. Subsequent generations of MPs could learn from his principled resistance. Among other things a convinced republican, he was the author of The Impeachment of the House of Brunswick (1875) – one of the most remarkable indictments of hereditary rule ever published.
The House of Brunswick is another name for The House of Hanover – referring to the same dynasty that had reigned continuously (with one sidestep and a few cosmetic name changes) since 1714. Bradlaugh illustrates how from 1714 to the late 1800s, successive monarchs proved themselves to be the consistent enemies of any measure of popular or democratic reform. He is also unafraid to point out the domestic horrors of the family and its dysfunctional cruelties. More positively, he considers the nature of the Act of Settlement of 1701 and argues that the nature of the parliamentary authority that originally conferred the office of head of state upon this family provides a valuable precedent. Parliament gave the throne to the Brunswick/Hanover/Saxe Coburg Gotha/Windsor family, and Parliament can take it away. Either one is to assent to the idea that monarchy is subject to parliament, or one must transfer one’s allegiance to another family. Either parliament has a legal responsibility to hold monarchy to account, or else the current dynasty are usurpers.
Bradlaugh finds it important to note, however, that these cruelties are not the accidental qualities of a particular dynasty – but the logical effects of sustaining a system and a culture of deference and irresponsibility. Royal education warps the character. The behavioural difficulties of our present royals cannot be solved by leaping a generation and hoping for the best (political Micawberism at best) but by dismantling the system of unearned privilege that has deprived Britain of dignified and responsible leadership and has condemned the House of Brunswick to generations of abusive misery.
Anyhow – here’s the text.
Bradlaugh demolishes any sense that there is anything timeless or sacred about the Hanover/Brunswick/Saxe Coburg/Windsor family’s right to rule and instead proposes a more contractual logic, which oddly enough is actually in the spirit of the 1701 Act of Succession which established this family’s claim to the throne.
There can be no privilege without reciprocal responsibilities, is the radical nineteenth century idea he proposes, and it’s a quaint notion that might be worth blowing the dust off.