Deconstructing the Royal National Park – 8. A major social transformation

The next bit we need to be aware of is the importance of the transformation from a Royal mode of social life (based on some notion of a divine right) to the rise of the modern Gentlemen (with a right to rule based on other more ‘secular’ considerations).

In other words, how one elite were replaced by another elite.

We can trace this out with the material of Schama – from a Court based on knights who could hunt with the king to the new English gentlemen who, as has been already mentioned, did not have courts but solitary country estates. The sources of their social position lay elsewhere, even if ownership of land continued to be a marker of their place in the scheme of things.

Schama says, of the hunt:

“Outside of war itself, it was the most important blood ritual through which the hierarchy of status and honor around the king was ordered…It may not be too much to characterize it as an alternative court where, free of the clerical domination of regular administration, clans of nobles could compete for proximity to the king. Not surprisingly, the offices of Masters of the Horse and Hunt were fiercely competed for and jealously preserved within the family. And since the dominant weapon of Norman arms was the mounted knight,  the hunt served as an apprenticeship in martial equestrianism for young nobles…From beginning to end …the hunt was not merely a kill that gave potency and authority to the aura of the royal warlord, it was also a ritual demonstration of the discipline and order of his court.” (page 145)

“…the churchmen forbidden from hunting and therefore excluded from the king’s mounted retinue.” (P 145)

“During the first half of the eighteenth century a regulating role (in relation to oak-BR) for the Crown seemed out of the question. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had, after all, established a parliamentary monarchy presumed to support, rather than infringe on, the interests of the propertied aristocracy…Parliamentary statutes were much more likely to reinforce, than to weaken, the property rights of the Whig aristocracy, who had, after all become the heirs of the Norman and Angevin forester-hunters – their mastery of the county hunts symbolising their political and social supremacy.” (page 165)

(“Silva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees” John Evelyn 1664.) “The book had originated in a request to the Royal Society from the Crown commissioners of the navy for a fresh plan for replanting timber trees. Evelyn was one of four Fellows of the Society approached for ideas, and asked to make a digest of all their proposals along with his own. The learned editor, however, quickly turned author…Silva may still be the greatest of all forestry books published in English…”(p 159)

“In point of fact, it was the fifth edition , published in 1776, long after Evelyn’s death, which, as we shall see, would truly revolutionize British sensibilities about the woodlands.” (p. 162)

(Note – 1600s – 1664-67 Dutch English, shift to French English end of 1600s – Heart of Oak bulwark of liberty standing between ‘freeborn Englishmen and Catholic slavery and idolatry” page 163. BR)

(Note – Seven Years war against France – need for hull and mast timbers – 1763 “Heart of Oak: the British Bullwark” Parliamentary report. BR)

(War with France 1793) “And with each ship of the line blown out the water by the enemy’s broadsides, British lords of the Admiralty and Jacobin citizen commissioners searched desperately for the next two thousand oaks … that could replace it.” (p 180)

“…their British competitors were combing the empire for supplies to make up the shortfall in native (British- R) forests.” (p181) (Canada, brazilwood, Cape stinkwood, New Zealand kauri Sierra Leone teak. But great rivers of NE Europe flowed into Baltic…)

“…the physician Dr Alexander Hunter published a new edition of John Evelyn’s Silva in 1776…Though Hunter looked to the Crown to rouse what was left of the spirit of patriotic planting, he was also enough of a pragmatist to realise that the fate of the British woods would be decided not by the king but by his aristocracy…So he must have been gratified by the subscription list (at two guinea a copy), dominated as it was by the greatest and grandest among the Whig nobility…The duke of Portland …two copies … the marquis of Rockingham, usually associated with the opposition Whigs, proclaimed his oaken patriotism by ordering no fewer than five … James Boswell … the Anglo-Dutch banker James Hope … the dukes of Argyll, Atholl, Buccleuch, Beaufort, Grafton, and Devonshire and the earls of Egremont,  Cholmondeley, Radnor,  and Pembroke. Obviously, subscriptions to the Hunterian Silva was a requirement of fashion.  But among this roll call of landed magnates and political grandees were many who, as the Royal Society of Arts’ prize lists indicate, had already become the pioneers of planting programs on their estates.” (page 169)

Unpacking all of this – with its dense interplay between social formations, economic factors, and fashion may take some time and effort. The alignment of a market place mentality (capitalism) and the emerging modern nation-state is a process which takes many centuries to come into full maturity.

The there is a shift in the unconscious-in-culture, cosmology, world-views, values from Feudal times to a new arrangement, which may be best termed a plutocracy.