James and I have read several stories this year (such as The Door in the Wall, Otto of the Silver Hand, The Little Duke, Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Joan of Arc) involving feudal times and the idea of primogeniture. These stories are all very fun and adventure-filled and, especially because several of the main characters are young boys, very inspiring to James to see boys of his age being brave and honorable. I haven’t heard James make this observation, but I am struck by the division between the rich and the poor, by the idea that a man is due honor and obeisance simply because of his title (which he most likely has by birth and not earning it.) One observation James has made as we’ve been reading British History with Our Island Story is how crazy it is that the people switch so easily from “Long live King Henry” to “Long live King Edward” and then haul Henry out of prison again and shout “Long live King Henry.” We’ve just ended the period of the “War of the Roses” and there was a whole lot of that going on.
The idea that title passes from father to son is also questionable to me. Thomas Paine addresses the idea in Common Sense.
“To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and tho’ himself might deserve some decent degree of honours of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them…
Secondly, as no man at first could possess any other public honors than were bestowed upon him, so the givers of those honors could have no power to give away the right of posterity, and though they might say ‘We choose you for our head,’ they could not without manifest injustice to their children say ‘that your children and your children’s children shall reign over ours forever.’ Because such an unwise, unjust, unnatural compact might (perhaps) in the next succession put them under the government of a rogue or a fool. Most wise men in their private sentiments have ever treated hereditary right with contempt; yet it is one of those evils which when once established is not easily removed: many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest.”
The only way that I’ve been able to make sense of the fact that titles are passed on to family is if you consider that the man owns the title or the property that accompanies the title. Doesn’t any man have the right to will his property to his offspring? So this is how we should look at things such as the title of Kingship?
Long ago the nation of Israel begged for a king. Yahveh through Samuel warned them about what having a king would mean to them.
“This will be the way of the king who shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them to him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; and he will appoint them to him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will assign some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive groves, even their best, and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. He will take your male servants, and your female servants, and your best young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks: and you shall be his servants.”
Yet still they wanted it. And things happened just as Yahveh had said. Even a good king like Solomon was oppressive. After his death, the people approached his son Rehoboam with this request: “Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.” Read 1 Kings 12 if you want to find out how that all went over.
I used to be charmed by royal families. I read the story of Henry VIII and his six wives over and over in our family’s encyclopedias. I had the line of kings and queens of England from the Tudors to Elizabeth II memorized. I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch those royal weddings in the 80s. Now I find it (the idea of royalty and royal succession) all rather disgusting and a waste of their time and ours.
I find another unnatural “coronation” in our present society, that being the redistribution of wealth. Putting the crown on the head of a man merely because he is the son of another crowned man does nothing to bestow on him the character of a just leader. Similarly, awarding one man’s money to another who did not earn it does nothing to augment the character of the recipient. Thus do we punish those with the character to earn their own and reward those who do not. These things are not only similar, but they are linked. It is our current kings that are insisting that we be socialist because the kings thrive upon people being dependent upon the state. Where some say the government needs to help the little guy out — lift him up, I say the government needs to stop protecting the big guy so that the little guy can help himself out — lift himself up. Where some say we need to improve our educational system to help the less privileged, I say our inequality has increased (being the intent of the planners) because of the educational “system.”
I can’t help but wonder what a different society this would be if each individual were allowed the freedom to choose the level of achievement he would like. If one would squander his opportunities, let no one else be taxed on his account. And if another would excel, aspiring even to leadership, let him succeed on his own merit and by his own means.