Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Aristocrats, Then & Now

Aristocrats, Then & Now

As I have been reading through Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, I keep comparing the character, fundamental decency, and respect for the common man that aristocrats had then with our political class--and they have much in common. They were constantly raising taxes, supposedly for the public good, but mostly for their own good. They spent a lot of time hyping the chivalric code--which was four-fifths fantasy--but utterly failing to live up to it. And they held the masses in utter contempt.

But there are times when one of these scum really outdid the rest of his class. From Tuchman, p. 356, describing one of the interminable campaigns of the Hundred Years War and the English aristocracy's newest set of plans:
Ever since Charles's repudiation of the Treaty of Bretigny and the reverses that followed, they had hated the French for falsely and wrongfully, as they saw it, dispossessing them of their property. Defense of their own countrymen might be lackadaisical, but in combat overseas, where plunder offered, there was no lack of will to fight, only lack of money. Other means being exhausted, funds for an expedition to Brittany were raised in 1379 by a graduated poll (or head) tax, a new device designed to cover clergy and peasants at lower income levels than before. Calculated, with the usual vagueness about population figures, to bring in £50,000, it produced only £20,000, all of it invested in a fleet commanded by Sir John Arundel.

Delayed until winter by lack of wind and then by threat of a French raid, Arundel took part of his force to Southampton to guard against an enemy landing and, why there, to conduct himself indistinguishably from the enemy. Beside robbing the countryside, he quartered his men-at-arms and archers in a convent, allowing them to violate at will the nuns and a number of poor widows who lived there, and to carry them off to the ships when ready to sail. Arundel was the man who had demanded money in hand before he would defend the south-coast towns against earlier French raids. If Walsingham may be believed, he used it for ostentation as extreme as his brutality. He is said to have embarked with a wardrobe of 52 suits embroidered in gold, and horses and equipment to the value of £7,000.

Sailing in December, his convoy was caught by a violent storm during which he ordered the kidnapped women thrown overboard to lighten the ships, maltreated the crew, and having struck down the pilot, was fittingly wrecked on the rocks of the Irish coast.... Arundel's body, rolling in the waves, was washed up three days later. Driven back by the storm, the remainder of the fleet never made the crossing and the tax money was accordingly wasted.
Rich; spoiled; sexually immoral; prone to horrendous expenditures on militarily useless activities (the 1000 missile Minuteman fleet); sexual partners drowning when inconvenient. Are we sure he actually drowned? Or did he start the Kennedy clan?

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