Wednesday 26 May 2010

British New Issue Nonsense (1); Selective Memory

No-one can doubt that most countries now produce new stamps not because of any postal need nor even to honour someone worthwhile  or commemorate a particularly important national event, but simply to make as much as money as they can get away with without putting off collectors from buying their stamps. The British post office, Royal Mail, long in serious financial difficulties, has for some years now given up any pretense at considering the wishes of their stamp collecting public and issues more and more stamps every year, some of which are not even available at ordinary post offices for the public to buy to use on their mail. In 2008 Royal Mail began a series of issues which on the face of it at least had some historical interest although the issues were only tentatively related to any specific historical anniversaries or commemorations - that of featuring British monarchs although the series started off at an arbitrary date - 1399 - which is when the House Of Lancaster came to power under King Henry IV who had had his predecessor, King Richard II, starved  to death - not a very promising personality to be featured on the first stamp of a long series. 
  The latest series features the first monarchs of the united Great Britain  - the Stuarts - and an accompanying miniature sheet deals with important subjects of the Stuart era - the physician William Harvey who was the first man to describe the circulation of blood, the civil war which was waged throughout the British Isles, the stamp itself featuring Sir Thomas Fairfax who was a leader of the Parliamentary forces, the poet John Milton, and a design related to John Vanbrugh, a dramatist. What the miniature sheet does not depict, however, is rather significant - it does not feature the two rulers of England after the deposition of Charles I after the Civil War - Oliver and Richard Cromwell, who headed the republic that replaced the monarchy for ten years or so. Of this father and son pair, the omission of Oliver Cromwell is the most significant - he is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in British history who had a profound effect on the course of British government but he has never been depicted on a British stamp. Cromwell is notorious in Ireland for the aggressive campaign he waged there during the Civil War and even today he remains a loathsome figure in that part of The British Isles. It is almost certainly for that reason that he has not been featured on a British stamp but his importance to English history means that for the sake of not causing offense to one part of the country, his role in another part can never be commemorated - political correctness taken too far? The omission of this giant of British history makes a nonsense of the British monarchs series particularly when it has featured a collection of murderous monsters already - Richard III, who even his numerous apologists can not deny killed his own nephews to clear his way to the throne as well as probably murdering his brother, his wife and the former feeble-minded King Henry VI. Henry VIII who saw his way to arranging for two of his wives to be beheaded as well as numerous other people - great and humble - who fell victim to his paranoid bloodthirstiness and Mary I who delighted in burning frail, elderly priests at the stake although she never brought herself to go and watch such a horrific event herself. These are just the sort of people who manage to find their way on to stamp designs when a post office is issuing stamps just to make money rather than to commemorate people of national worth.
  And then even if you ignore the monsters, Cromwell's achievements are much more worthy of commemoration than those of poor Queen Jane, a young girl who ruled for just nine days before being deposed and executed by Mary Tudor or Edward V who ruled for a couple of months and then disappeared as the victim of Richard III. The depiction of poor, pious Henry VI, mentioned above, is also questionable since whilst being a founder of admittedly important educational establishments he did manage to lose the crown of France which his father had won for him. In the presence of monsters and nonentities it is disgraceful that Cromwell has not received a philatelic commemoration in his own country - Royal Mail has air-brushed him from history. Perhaps a stamp or stamps could be released but perhaps not in post offices in Northern Ireland to avoid offense there.

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