Bosworth Field, the Industrial Revolution, and the Irish Mess

The Crown of England, the Industrial Revolution, and the course of Irish politics all pivoted, more or less, on events taking place on 22 August, albeit centuries apart.

Revolutions and civil wars–distinguishable only by critics–often pivot on a single throw of the dice. By 1485 the York branch of the Plantagenet dynasty in England was headed by the ambitious Richard III, who had literally walked past five coffins to set the crown on his own head in a campaign dramatized and fictionalized in Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard had probably killed his nephews, who included Edward V, who was supposed to be protecting him, and likely had otherwise deposed all claimants ahead of him.  After Henry Tudor, the champion of the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets, landed in Wales, Richard and his retainers met the challengers in modern Leicestershire.  After indecisively fighting for much of 22 August 1485, Richard ordered a cavalry charge to kill Tudor that failed, and Richard was killed instead.  The subsequent Tudor dynasty would last just over a century, but would be the most storied of England’s long history.

The Crown of England, the Industrial Revolution, and the course of Irish politics all pivoted, more or less, on events taking place on 22 August, albeit centuries apart.

A little less than three hundred years later, Henry Maudslay was born in Woolwich, England, on 22 August 1771.  While not as well remembered as an inventor as say Edison or Fulton, Ford or Bessemer, Maudslay’s innovations in the manufacture of screw threads made the Industrial Revolution and interchangeable manufacture possible. Until Maudslay built the first practical screw-cutting machines, what we now think of as common threads were anything but.  Individual craftsmen and shops cut their screws by hand, or with individually-made tooling.  Maudslay, still in his early twenties, made a lathe with a rigid tool post, replacing the hand-held tool that did not allow for much precision–defined in this case as repeatability.  WIth repeatability came standardization, and with standardization came interchangeability, and soon after, mass production.

It was a century and a half later Michael Collins,  a fiery and controversial figure in Irish and English politics leading up to the Irish Mess at the end of WWI (there’s no good way to refer to that time and place succinctly and accurately that satisfies all parties and partisans), was killed in an ambush in Cork.  At the time Collins was President of the Irish Provisional Government and representative for Cork and Armagh, among other constituencies. Collins favored the treaty with Great Britain that would both allow an independent Ireland and the separation of the six counties that make up Ulster in the northeast of the island.  He was killed on 22 August 1922 by members of an Anti-Treaty faction in Ireland who disagreed with him.  Because there are no independent witnesses, the ambush has been a matter of controversy ever since.

While Eli Whitney is credited with inventing interchangeable manufacture, Maudslay’s innovations made it possible.

Ultimately, the meaning of the terms “civil war” and “revolution” are solely a matter of taste.  While the War of the Roses that primarily ended at Bosworth has been called a civil war because of its internecine nature, the Irish Mess has been variously called a civil war and a revolution, and–to confuse things–a war for independence, for part of it, anyway.  While most revolutions and civil wars rely a great deal on chance, Henry Tudor was even further from being the “rightful” king of England than the man he replaced. Collins, one of a long line of Irish firebrands leading the fight against England, had no real claim on any office or honor other than what he fought for himself.  And chance, like the final Yorkist charge at Bosworth, played a prominent role in that long struggle.

While Maudslay only perfected what already existed (except he is credited with inventing the bench micrometer), his innovations accelerated the industrial “revolution” that was ongoing when he died in 1831.  While Eli Whitney is credited with inventing interchangeable manufacture, Maudslay’s innovations made it possible. But, unlike other “revolutions,” there was no chance involved.

The End of The Great Harry

Henry VIII, King of England and head of its church, died on 28 January 1547.  Though he was certainly mourned as any monarch was, some parts of the world found reason to celebrate.  As king for three decades and then some years, Harry had overseen a great overhauling not just of the Church in England but the idea of the rule of law.  No crown sat easy on any royal head in Britain, but ultimate authority in the Middle Ages seemed to rest in two places: the throne of St Peter in Rome and whatever monarch happened to rule.

Martin Luther nailed his theses on the door at Wittenburg in 1517, when Harry was still an impressionable young king anxious to father an heir to the throne.  After his father’s tenuous claim to the throne after the death of the last Lancaster, Richard III, and the death of his elder brother while Harry was still a boy, there was great trepidation over the succession.  England had been wracked by civil wars off an on for centuries, and could ill afford another dynastic struggle.

When his first wife failed to produce a male heir Henry wanted to divorce her, but there was no clean way to do it.  The Church discouraged divorce to the point of excommunication; Catherine of Aragon, his wife, was a princess of Spain that was enraged at the idea.  But too, England needed money.  Churches paid no taxes and were wealthy.  Confiscating their wealth in the name of the Crown made sense, only if one wanted also to enrage the Holy See and every other Catholic prince in Europe, especially the Holy Roman Empire, whose Emperor was Catherine’s nephew.  If it were only that simple.

But every prince in Europe wanted to do what Henry eventually did: take full control of the destiny and the incomes of their nations without the Pope or some local bishop telling them how to run things and taking their tax money.  In his struggle with the rest of the world, Harry formed the basis for church/state understanding and cooperation without one dictating to the other.

Too, the Anne Boleyn crisis began a movement in England called the “Patriots,” a movement that supported the monarch because he was the monarch, not because of who he was married to.  During the Stuart period a century later, Patriots would back whoever sat on the throne, and later became a movement that was the nucleus for the American Tories of the 18th Century, as well as the original Patriots who imagined that George III was being usurped by the English Parliament and addressed their Declaration of Independence to him.  In American history books beginning in the 19th century, the Tory Patriots are all but forgotten.