LRB Cover

Send letters to:

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HN
letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and work and home telephone numbers.

Letters


Grand Remonstrance

Blair Worden’s review of John Adamson’s book on the overthrow of Charles I is contradictory, or apparently so, on one important matter, and seriously underplays the radicalism of the parliamentary actions and proposals of 1640-42 (LRB, 24 May). The apparent contradiction is between Worden’s affirmation of the view that religion and politics in the period were ‘inseparable’, and his later, much more polemical assertion that the radicalism of the opposition in this period was entirely in the religious sphere and that there was no ‘parallel radicalisation in political thought’. In order to state the latter, Worden has to discount the apparent radicalism of Parliament in the period. He tries to get round the Triennial Act (‘compatible with medieval notions of mixed monarchy’) and the act against proroguing Parliament without its own consent (‘it made no stipulation about future Parliaments’), but misrepresents the most important statement issued by Parliament in the period, the document of November 1641 that has come to be known as the Grand Remonstrance. Worden says that this document was ‘an indictment solely of the misgovernment of Charles I’, and had no constitutional implications. This is simply false. It ignores much of the text, especially its second half. Certainly the Remonstrance is not a republican text in the sense that it imagines abolishing kingship; but Charles was right to see it as a ‘Venetianising’ text, as, in other words, a strong assertion of parliamentary sovereignty. The text celebrates Parliament’s power and institutional reforms; it sees the articles that provide for regular meetings of Parliament and forbid dissolution by the king not only as securing a ‘remedy’ for the present crisis but as ‘a perpetual spring of remedies for the future’. The Parliament sees its actions as transformative and world-historical; it sees itself as so thoroughly reforming the political abuses of Charles’s reign, especially ‘the immoderate power of the Council Table’, that such abuses ‘will appear in future times but only in stories’. The Remonstrance ends with a list of items ‘for the perfecting of the work begun’, which the king is ‘humbly’ asked to ‘be pleased to grant’. These include virtually complete parliamentary control over the king’s selection of ‘counsellors, ambassadors and other ministers’. The Grand Remonstrance has, in other words, quite a clear picture of the revolution in political structure that it is in the process of creating.

Richard Strier
University of Chicago


Against Knitwear

I thoroughly enjoyed David Edgar’s review of my books Never Had It So Good and White Heat, not least because my prejudices against chunky knitwear, Jean-Paul Sartre and the New Left evidently annoyed him so much (LRB, 7 June). But he is wrong to write that I dismissed Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement as an ‘IRA plot’. The truth is rather more complicated. As Richard English shows in Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA, the initial impetus for setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association came from a small group of republican intellectuals in the Wolfe Tone Societies, which had been established in 1964 with the explicit intention of fostering ‘republicanism by educating the masses in their cultural and political heritage’. Gerry Adams himself has written that the civil rights movement was ‘the creation of the republican leadership’, but this was not the whole story: as I put it in my book, the movement was ‘more than simply a front for the IRA’. A grass-roots Campaign for Social Justice had been set up before the Wolfe Tone Societies set to work. And in any case, thousands of people who had nothing to do with the IRA had joined the movement by the late 1960s because they were sick of anti-Catholic discrimination. Initially conceived as a Trojan horse for militant republicanism, the civil rights movement ended up being nothing of the kind.

Dominic Sandbrook
Oxford


Dead or Alive

David Carpenter says my work on the fake death of Edward II is ‘intriguing and ingenious’ (LRB, 7 June). However, I will not be flattered into withholding my observation that his review suffers from methodological flaws and an underlying assumption that the evidence for the ex-king’s death has a reliable foundation. Although Edward II is traditionally said to have died in 1327, there are many texts indicating that political leaders believed he was still alive in 1330. For example, those at the Parliament of March 1330 saw the Earl of Kent executed for trying to make Edward II king again. Historians who do not like their professional certainties questioned have simply ignored this evidence, or written it off as the idiocy of the Earl of Kent (even though his career shows he was no idiot).

I resorted to information science (my original professional discipline) to identify ‘who knew what and when they knew it’. I proved that the whole idea of Edward II’s ‘death’ in 1327 rests on a single message sent by Lord Berkeley to Edward III, which arrived on the night of 23 September 1327. Three years later Lord Berkeley stated in Parliament that ‘he did not know about the king’s death until that present moment.’ However you interpret this, it is plain that it raises a question about the veracity of that crucial first message. We simply cannot assume, as Carpenter does, that it was true. Texts showing a widespread belief that Edward II was alive in 1330 cannot be ignored.

No one has yet demonstrated a fault in my argument, yet Carpenter does not believe it. I cannot object to this per se but I do object to his misrepresentation of both my methodology and the evidence. First, he uses guesses as to the protagonists’ motives as evidence; this is methodologically prejudicial, like locking up the usual suspects. Second, he states ‘there is no evidence’ for my assertion that the ex-king’s face was obscured during his lying-in-state, even though this was then customary (I cite several sources). Third, he says things are ‘certain’ without a shred of evidence, as when he claims that ‘many people would certainly have seen the body itself before’ the lying-in-state. Who? Where? The body was in Berkeley Castle, under guard, and enveloped in cerecloth. If anyone has any doubts that Edward II was alive and well in 1330, I urge them to read my peer-refereed article in the English Historical Review (Vol. 120, 2005).

Ian Mortimer
University of Exeter


What’s wrong, buddy-boy?

In my article about Gore Vidal, I should have made it clear that there are differing versions of Vidal’s evening at the White House in November 1961 and the confrontation that took place there (LRB, 10 May). One account of what happened became a story Truman Capote liked to tell, and Vidal successfully sued Capote for slander. The party was given by the Kennedys for the owner of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli. This much is undisputed: wishing to speak to Jackie Kennedy, who was sitting in a chair, Vidal squatted beside her and at one point put a hand on her shoulder to balance himself. Vidal describes what followed in Palimpsest: ‘As I started to rise, a hand pulled my hand off her shoulder. I looked up. There was Bobby. Jackie was now talking to someone else and she had not seen – no one had seen – this intervention.’ At this point Vidal turned to the ever prickly Bobby Kennedy. ‘In my best Augustan manner, I said something like: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”’ ‘The White House,’ Vidal writes, explaining his choice of vocabulary, ‘brings out the macho in guests as well as residents.’ ‘What’s wrong, buddy-boy?’ Kennedy asked.

The altercation, though brief, escalated rapidly. Vidal writes that he reminded the attorney-general of the FBI’s thuggish treatment of writers and editors, which Vidal had recently written about in a column for Esquire; he had sent Kennedy a copy. Kennedy, already sounding scornful, now threatened the writer for being no more than a writer, words that don’t appear to have changed Vidal’s opinion of Kennedy as a man who instinctively pulled rank and used his political authority for personal ends. Vidal became enraged; and, he writes, ‘champagne had not soothed’ him by the time he left.

In his spirit of oneupmanship, Capote later maliciously embellished a different story, one that gave the impression that Vidal had been kicked out of the White House for misbehaviour. He repeated it in an interview, and Vidal – who had heard this story too many times for his liking – took him to court. ‘I have read so many invented versions of our conversation that I can no longer recall exactly what was said,’ he writes in Palimpsest. But there seems little reason to doubt that Kennedy was as intimidating and as prickly as Vidal makes him out to be; or to think that this episode isn’t an example of Vidal’s hatred of being told what he can and can’t do, even or especially by the second most important man in the Kennedy White House.

Inigo Thomas
New York


Puzzling

Despite Sadakat Kadri’s claims, my book The Trial in American Life gives ample explanation of the American reaction to terrorism (LRB, 24 May). When quoted in context, my observation that popular media coverage of ‘lurid personal crime now trumps offences of far greater legal significance and impact on people’ is hardly a ‘puzzling claim’. It is instead an empirical fact based on an examination of news sources today. One may quibble over trials not treated, as Kadri has done, but my book does not claim to be a conventional history of famous trials or of any one kind of prosecution. My aim was to explain exactly how and why certain courtroom events capture the imagination of a community and go on to control its future thinking.

Robert Ferguson
Columbia University


Judicial Bonce

Stephen Sedley’s elegy on the passing of the judicial wig was entertaining and informative (LRB, 7 June). Renaissance legal sources indicate that the earliest version of the wig was in fact a tin helmet – a sallet, according to William Dugdale’s Origines Juridiciales – and while it did represent prudence, temperance and other judicial virtues, it also had the more immediate merit of protecting the judicial bonce from attack by enraged litigants, disappointed defendants, or in the case of barristers, irate clients.

Peter Goodrich
Cardozo School of Law, New York


Our Man

I was glad to learn that Perry Anderson’s only source for the alleged second meeting between Sergio Vieira de Mello and President Bush was James Traub’s recent book on Kofi Annan and the United Nations (Letters, 21 June). (Readers may recall that my colleague Jonathan Prentice and I were at the first, and we believe only, meeting between Sergio and Bush.) I am also a little surprised that Anderson so harshly criticised Traub’s book in his review, while, I now gather, relying on a few sentences in it as the sole basis for some very rough judgments on Sergio and the work he was carrying out before his murder. In any case, Traub has assured me repeatedly that he accepts, barring further evidence, that the arm-twisting meeting did not take place and that his account will be corrected in future editions.

Scott Malcomson
Brooklyn


By the Pale Moonlight

John Pemble quotes Walter Scott’s injunction to his readers to view the ruins of Melrose Abbey by ‘pale moonlight’, and notes that a candle was used to give that effect for tourists failed by nature (LRB, 7 June). The mendaciousness of the line in ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ was cheerfully acknowledged by Scott himself, who wrote that he had never seen the ruins of the abbey by moonlight, and capped the verse:

Then go – and meditate with awe
On scenes the author never saw,
Who never wandered by the moon
To see what could be seen at noon.

Stephen Bowd
Edinburgh