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The British Civil Wars (1636-1651)[1] and the effects that followed made a unique mixture different from the rest of continental Europe. Being Britannia the first to have a successful and lasting Bourgeois Revolution made it until the French Revolution source of admiration by the European Enlighten philosophers. However it also became a nation at odds with Europe even after the European Revolutions and a rival of France and Germany, but a close ally of the Dutch Republic and Flanders.

The incipient and lasting political republicanism of Britannia established a liberal parliamentary system. Its capitalism along free trade and Industrial Revolution lead to the Britannia becoming the workshop of the World and one of the main colonial and imperial powers. Its predominantly Christian religious life and embracing religious tolerance awoke later freedom of expression and other liberties that embedded today's British Liberties. Its composition of the four home countries—England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland—each of which has a distinct customs, languages, cultures and symbolism formed part of the current and distinctive British multiculturalism.

It is usual to divide the history of the Commonwealth in the following periods: Puritan (1649-1659), Two Lords (1659-1718), Whig (1718-1761), Early Modern or Early Industrial (1761-1830), National and Reformist or British Belle Époque (1830-1900), Late Industrial (1900-...) Commonwealths.

Society

One of the most noticeable difference in the social classes in the Commonwealth was the absence of a monarchy and royal family. However aristocrats and nobility were still the upper class and the wealthiest. Followed by the peers, gentry, yeomen (farmers who own their own land) the latter two now involved in local government and parliamentary elections. The lower classes consisted of husbandmen[2], cottagers, and laborers (in rural areas) and tradesmen and shopkeepers (in urban areas). Mercantilism and later Capitalism elevated the status of merchants who would form part of the nobility by means of marriage and patronage.

As an oligarchic republic power rested in the Commonwealth in the hands aristocrats, nobility and merchants. The high suffrage requirements of a rent or property of £200 or more de facto excluded manual workers and the poor. Thereby parliamentary franchise included the wealthy and well do rural country gentlemen, prosperous merchants of all sorts and certain groups of wealthy tradesmen, shopkeepers and artisans.

Elizabeth Horda (The Kalmar Union)

Lady Arabella Blackwood-Lennox of Carstairs. Notable wool and textile merchant of the Lowlands. One of the 53 Right Honourable Ladies, the first female MPs. Elected as Radical Industrialist for the Glasgow Burghs of Scotland.

Franchise was restricted to males by custom rather than statute. However this started to change on the outcry of Scottish peerage on the disfranchisement of landed women who also inherited noble titles and baronies and were by Scots law recognized with full legal rights[3]. Suffrage Reforms gave, first for Scottish and later to all British women, the right of suffrage and to be elected if they had the same property requirements of men and were married or window. Reformed later to only property requirements regardless of civil status.

The Agricultural and Industrial revolutions brought into the social scene a a new class: the industrial workers. I Its representatives and themselves become early advocates of social and political reform. Leveller like radicalism, absent for decades, was revived and enjoyed support among the artisans and raising proletariat.

In the Puritan Commonwealth social mores emphasized godly discipline, moral reformation, humility, sobriety and good order. Thought after 1660 there was a general laxness in England, Wales and Ireland and overseas territories, however Scotland and New England kept their strict morality and Puritanism.

See also slavery in the Commonwealth

Sunday and National Commonwealth Holidays

Sunday is legally a day of rest and Church attendance, so the law courts, government offices, commerce and places of entertainment are closed. All kind of work and recreational activities are banned. Marketplaces, bakeries, butcheries and fishmongers are allowed to be open until midday and must be at least 8 blocks away from any Church or place of worship. A major exception are hospitals that must attend year-round.

In 1647 Parliament abolished the observance of Christmas, Easter and many other religious days, this measured was reversed in 1661, but keeping fewer religious festivities then 1647. A major change from before 1647 was the absolute ban and prohibition of celebrating saints in public and severe constraints in Churches and worship places. The penalties for offenders (organizers and participants) were hefty fines.

At the same time it was retained the Ordinance of 1647 that established the Day of Leisure (2nd Tuesday of each month) for scholars, apprentices, and other servants.

However in the colonies of New England kept obligatory attendance to Church and the prohibition of celebrating Christmas and other holidays until its repeal in the 1680s. But even after that no attempt was given to celebrate it and officially it continued to frown upon gift giving and reveling.

In the Commonwealth the national holidays (since 1661) are the following:

Commonwealth holidays 1661
Day England and Wales Scotland Ireland Isle of Man and Channel Islands Observations
2nd Tuesday of each month Day of Leisure Shops, warehouses and commerce closed
1st January New Year's Day
4th February Declaration of the Tender Union Day (or Tender Union Day)
variable Good Friday Sunday laws apply
variable Easter Monday Sunday laws apply
17th March (St. Patrick's Day) Not officially sanctioned
24th March Act of Irish Union
25th March Lady Day Lady Day Quarter Day. Old New Year's Day (outside Scotland and Ireland)
23th April (St. George's Day) Not officially sanctioned
1st May May Day (Spring Festival) Not officially sanctioned
19th May Declaration of the Commonwealth Day Law courts and government closed
24th June Midsummer Day Quarter Day
5th July Tynwald Day (Isle of Man only)
12th August Union and Mutual Partnership
29th September Michaelmas Quarter Day
1st November All Saints' Day To be celebrated as a remembrance day
5th November Gunpowder Treason Day
30th November (St. Andrews Day) Not officially sanctioned
25th December Christmas Day Sunday laws apply. Also Quarter Day
26th December Boxing Day / (St. Stephen's Day, only Wales)

Commonwealth Era

Before Charles I execution in January 1649, official government and legal documents of historical interest, notably parliamentary statutes used the regnal years of the monarchs of the Kingdom of England ("nth year of the reign of King X", etc).[4]After 1649 the common usage was 'in the year of our Lord of' (year) for all documents.

However it became an unofficial style and a fashion due to the Week of Celebration of the 25 years of the Declaration of the Commonwealth(1674) to use the term Commonwealth Year dated from 19 May 1649 as year one[5]. It became customary its use in important documents, celebrations, dates of foundation and cornerstones of buildings.

Dress codes

The Puritan Commonwealth marked a reversal from Elizabethan and Stuart extravagances of dress. Puritans advocated a conservative form of fashionable attire, characterized by "sad" or somber colors and modest cuts. Gowns with low necklines were filled in with high-necked smocks and wide collars. Married women covered their hair with a linen cap, over which they might wear a tall black hat. Men and women both avoided bright colors, shiny fabrics, and over-ornamentation. Make-up was banned and women found wearing make-up (pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips) would have their faces forcibly scrubbed.

Most Puritans and Calvinists did not wear black for everyday, especially in England, Scotland, and colonial America. Black dye was expensive and faded quickly, and black clothing was reserved for the most formal occasions (including having one's portrait painted), for elders in a community, and for those of higher rank. Richer puritans, like their Dutch Calvinist contemporaries, wear it often, but in silk, often patterned. More typical colors for most were brown, murrey (mulberry, a brownish-maroon), dull greens, and tawny colors. Wool and linen were preferred over silks and satins, though Puritan women of rank wore modest amounts of lace and embroidery as appropriate to their station, believing that the various ranks of society were divinely ordained and should be reflected even in the most modest dress. William Perkins wrote "...that apparel is necessary for Scholar, the Tradesman, the Countryman, the Gentleman; which serveth not only to defend their bodies from cold, but which belongs also to the place, degree, calling, and condition of them all" (Cases of Conscience, 1616).

Some Puritans rejected the long, curled hair as effeminate, and favored a shorter fashion which led to the nickname Roundheads for adherents of the English Parliamentary party, but the tastes for lavish or simple dress cut across both parties in the English Civil War.

The period of the Two Lords and Whig Commonwealths, late 1660s, marked the gradual end of these austere dress codes and more colorful clothes and fashion from France, with the exception in New England that were kept until the 1700s.

British name conventions

The British name convention consists of two widely used forms.
The traditional also called common or old convention consists of a given name, commonly referred to as a first name or Christian name, and a (most commonly patrilineal) family name or surname, also referred to as a last name. There can be several given names, some of these being often referred to as a second name, or middle name. Customs also established that women and men acquire the father's given name and married women the husband's given name.

Examples of old convention: John William and Mary William, childs of Henry William. If Mary Williams marries John Stephenson she becomes Mary Stephenson.

The modern convention or women's form consists of a double-barrelled name. The family or surname name of each parent joined with a hyphen. The modern convention were mostly taken in order to preserve a family name which would have become extinct due to the absence of male descendants bearing the name, connected to the inheritance of a family estate in Scotland and Ireland and later spreading its usage to England and Wales. In the early 18th century it became common its usage by women in order to preserve or mark inheritance of property or status, becoming in the 19th century the common form used by most women regardless if they were married or not.

Examples of women's form: Elizabeth Brown-Spencer, taken from John Brown and Sarah Spencer.

Entertainment

The Commonwealth advocated an austere lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter were suppressed between 1647-1661 Pastimes such as the theatre (until 1662), horse racing and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be "virtuous", such as opera were promoted.

Curiously when theatres open again, in Declaration of the Commonwealth Day a popular play attracting wide audiences everywhere was Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Theaters would be allowed but some plays would be censored or prohibited if they were pro-royalist or ungodly. However its enforcement, and list of plays censored would be inconsistent thru the Commonwealth.

All kind of sports and recreations were prohibited on Sundays or religious holidays (Christmas, Easter Monday, Good Friday, All Saints' Day and St. Andrews Day). Banned were cockfighting, bear- and bull-baiting.

For the Days of Leisure all activities or meetings that degenerated into a drunk and disorderly conduct were prohibited. However what was allowed or not as an honest recreation in leisure days was a contingent affair during the Puritan Commonwealth with contradictory actions taken by magistrates depending on the pressure of their local communities or ministers. In most instances all sports, maypoles and dancing would be banned or some allowed, and those allowed would not necessarily be the same across the parishes of a county.

However sports became the prefered leisure and was advocated by the majority of the churches, specially for the monthly day of leisure. In the countryside the favoured sports was cricket.

Perception of the British by Continental Europeans

Their state is like Venice but with a whole island for themselves (a quick description given by a French diplomat).
La République anglaise est une abomination et une exception. Il doit en être ainsi! Rien de bon ne peut en sortir! (From an early 18th French pamphlet)
To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a nation of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.(Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Volume II, Book IV, Chapter VII, Part III.
At first a shock for a nation that beheaded its legitimate ruler, then scepticism that it could exist and prosper without one. Finally envy to what they had done. These were the perceptions made by many in Europe. It was the usual talk and topic in salons to discuss the merits of virtue or fault of the république anglaise.

Religious tolerance was denounce in pulpits, specially France, as the road to decadence and moral looseness. How can a nation with a thousand religions hold its feet? various priests claimed. Save for Ireland that the Catholics envisioned in a crusade against the Protestant and heretic English and Scots there was no sympathy for the whole of the Commonwealth.

English pragmatism and lack of royal and aristocratic grandeur (for short honour and virtue) was most often associated with Britain being a nation of shopkeepers therefore people without morals and at best seeking their own selfish interest. The same criticism could be applied to the Dutch but it was lessen in virtue of being a new nation.

However during the Enlightenment, particularly in France and Germany, the sole idea that Kings had no divine attributes and a nation could be governed by its aristocracy and prosper in its trade, science and military in the same way has the Dutch, rose serious questions and praise on the virtues and achievements of republican statesmanship, free commerce and religious tolerance.

See also

  1. The wider series of conflicts that spanned the entire British Isles, involving Scotland and Ireland as well as England and Wales was initially called the Civil War, The Great Rebellion or The Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Some more radical groups speak of the The English Revolution or Puritan Revolution.
  2. Tenant farmers or small landowners.
  3. Make wills and contracts, and represent themselves without the need of a guardian.
  4. For example the last use would be: 24th year of the reign of King Charles I of England, etc.
  5. date of the Act Declaring and Constituting the People of England to be a Commonwealth and Free-State

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