Tag Archives: divine right of kings

Maybe having one guy in charge who has absolute power wasn’t our brightest idea

As their colony grew, the principles of the Mayflower Compact could be enlarged upon: all people are created equal; God-given rights are something we’re born with; top-down governance is something to be wary of. Although they promised to remain subjects of England, the Pilgrims set up a representative government in Plymouth. They elected their governor. They chose him by voting for him—that was a big deal.

The printing press was useful for explaining these new ideas through pamphlets and soon newspapers. The Plymouth Colony government became a model for the way the United States would be run one day.

The Signing of the Compact painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris in 1899—the painting I lampooned in my sketch above. I thought it would be funny if everybody signing the Compact had to deal with the Mayflower’s cramped conditions.

How about this—a Bible translated into the Wampanoags’ language was the first one printed in the New World: https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/2006/04/03/the-first-bible-printed-in-the-western-hemisphere/

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Pilgrims and printing

More fuel-efficient, better mileage

I paid special attention to the Pilgrims and Plymouth colony for a reason. Even though I can’t be certain that William Brewster’s press ever made it to North America, it’s still true that the first North American printing operation (1638) was in Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth.

The Pilgrims saw their adventure as providential. They believed God landed them in Plymouth and not Jamestown, Virginia on purpose.

In Jamestown, there was an English colony already established. Things like a colonial government and culture (very different from the stern impassioned Pilgrim culture) were up and humming along nicely. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims had to start from scratch. They needed a system of government. The compact they made with each other (and God) aboard the Mayflower was how they governed themselves on land. Their congregation was a ‘covenant’ congregation—a covenant is a contract with God. They answered to God first, before a king or anybody else. If you’re accountable to God, you understand that your rights come from Him. As a contrast, King James said that his subjects’ rights came from King James himself (because of his divine right to rule). The Pilgrims didn’t like that idea so much.

Stern impassioned Pilgrims, or at least their feet, show up in verse 317 or 318 of America The Beautiful:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
Ray Charles nails it (though he doesn’t get to that particular verse):

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William Brewster

And then…I don’t find evidence of the Pilgrims setting up their printing press in Plymouth. Not surprising, really, when you think about it. They’d landed by accident in a place where everything had to be built from scratch. No houses, no barricades or fort for protection, very little food. Setting up a printing operation wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.

Besides, when they packed the press, the Pilgrims expected to land in Virginia where there might’ve been a market for pamphlets and books—a large audience who spoke and read English.

I assume the press was William Brewster’s. In Holland he’d been an underground printer, printing pamphlets and books that were critical of the Church of England and King James I. This made Brewster an internationally wanted man, in hiding from King James’ men for a year before the Pilgrims set sail.

As far as that goes, all the Pilgrims/Puritans were underground. To be English and not worship with the Church of England was to question the divine right of kings (King James was the head of the C of E, just as Henry was). The Pilgrims worshiped privately at somebody’s house—usually in the country, so they wouldn’t be caught at it. They all faced the possibility of arrest and punishment. There was no religious freedom in the Pilgrims’ home country.

Anyhoo, it would be a few years before a press began running in North America.


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The Church of England

I know—you’re sick of hearing about it. My mailman complains because he has to deliver enormous bags of angry letters and postcards from you guys. But I need to talk about the Reformation some more.

In England, King Henry VIII was butting heads with the Pope because the Pope refused to bless Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. So with all this Reformation going on, Henry said ‘Dash it—why don’t I start up my own bally church?’* and created the Church of England. Of course he put himself in charge of it. Henry kicked the Catholic nuns & monks out of nunneries and monasteries and destroyed Latin bibles and holy relics.

“Here you are, lads. Hot off the press, what?”

This wasn’t any big improvement on the corrupt mediæval Church. Henry cleverly inserted himself in between the regular shmos and God, so power descended from heaven, to Henry, to you. It was still the same old top-down power that got distributed through earthly government. Henry VIII had the Bible translated into English.** The title page has a picture of Henry in the middle of the universe with G-d above filtering His might through him. This picture is telling you that Henry gets his authority to rule directly from G-d. It’s the divine right of kings.

* I asked P G Wodehouse to write Henry’s dialogue.
** From the Oops-I-Changed-My-Mind file: Henry’s Great Bible has big chunks of Tyndale’s translation in it. I mean, Woolsey has Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible, then Henry’s team uses the translation Tyndale was executed for?

Good article but it’s manner not manor:

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