The Death of Queen Victoria, 1901

2019-01-21T19:00:25+00:00January 21, 2019|HH 2019|

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” —Philippians 2:3

The Death of Queen Victoria, January 22, 1901

The news of Queen Victoria’s death raced around the world. Several generations had been born and died since her ascending the throne in 1837. The British Empire became the mightiest in Europe during her reign, as British troops fought on five continents, while her navy controlled the oceans of the world. Her nine children had all married into Royal families in Europe, as had most of her forty-two grandchildren. Queen Alexandrina Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha created a family tree of unequalled royal branches and roots that dominated European political power without equal for more than a century.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

At birth, Victoria was fifth in line for the throne after her four uncles. Through a succession of childless marriages, and other providential convolutions, Victoria became the queen presumptive upon the death of her uncle William IV. Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, controlled every aspect of her life, making Victoria sleep in the same bedroom with her, and denying her company with any children deemed unsuitable. No children were suitable. After what Victoria deemed a “rather melancholy” childhood, she became a strong-willed teenager, rebuffing a number of her mother’s overbearing pressures.

Victoria at age 18 in 1837, the year of her coronation

Prince Albert in 1840, the year of his marriage to Victoria

Beginning in 1836, various relatives began parading potential marriage partners from Royal families before the seventeen-year-old princess. King Leopold of Belgium, the Duchess’s brother, entered his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, into the sweepstakes, and as Providence would have it, Victoria was smitten from the first meeting. She would remain smitten long after the birth of their nine children and his death.

The coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837

She became Queen of Great Britain a month after her 18th birthday. Almost a half a million people came to London for her coronation at Westminster Abbey. Victoria at first had to rely heavily on counselors, especially the Prime Minister as she learned the intricacies of her position. She and Albert married in 1840 in what she called the “happiest day of my life.” In the first fifteen years of Victoria’s reign there were at least five failed attempts to assassinate her. Also during that same period, three different Prime Ministerial regimes rose and fell from power. In 1845 the Irish potato famine killed a million Irish and caused another million to emigrate. Victoria personally donated the modern equivalent of seven million pounds to famine relief, the highest donor of any person in Britain. She visited Ireland in 1849, which was greatly appreciated but failed to quell the Irish independence movement.

Coronation portrait of Queen Victoria, 1838

Albert and Victoria in 1846 with five of their eventual nine children
(Left to right: Alfred, Edward, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Alice, Helena and Victoria)

Throughout her sixty-four-year reign, Victoria oversaw great imperial expansion till, by 1913, a dozen years after her death, Britain ruled over 412 million people (23% of the world’s population) and more than thirteen million square miles. Britain also became the “workshop of the world” throughout the Industrial Revolution. In order to hold all of that together, “Victoria’s little wars” using both her naval dominance of the oceans and her well-trained regiments of the army, fought wars against the Abyssinians, Ashanti, Maoris, Boers (twice), Chinese (twice), Sudanese, Egyptians, and European powers in the Crimea.

She also had to battle rumors and scandals that arose over a number of incidents and relationships in her family. She was so shattered by the death of Prince Albert in 1861 at the age of 42, that she wore black mourning garb for the rest of her life. After his death she disappeared from public view, ate too much, and added weight to her five-foot frame.

The entire era was defined by Victoria’s reign, and even a type of evangelical morality appeared to prevail and characterize the times. Historian Harold Perkin described what became known as “Victorian values” inspired by the moral code of Victoria herself:

“Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical. The transformation diminished cruelty to animals, criminals, lunatics, and children (in that order); suppressed many cruel sports and games, such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting, as well as innocent amusements, including many fairs and wakes; rid the penal code of about two hundred capital offences, abolished transportation [of criminals to Australia], and cleaned up the prisons; turned Sunday into a day of prayer for some and mortification for all.”

The death and funeral of Queen Victoria represented a most stunning display of the influence and family connections in the history of the world.

Queen Victoria’s funeral procession

Mary Slessor, the “White Queen of Calabar” Dies, 1915

2019-01-14T18:21:13+00:00January 14, 2019|HH 2019|

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” —Romans 1:17a

Mary Slessor, the “White Queen of Calabar” Dies, January 13, 1915

Missionaries from the United Kingdom and the United States have been in the forefront of Protestant foreign missionary endeavors of the last two hundred years. Some of those men and women became household names in their own day — David Livingstone, John G. Paton, Hudson Taylor, William Carey and Adoniram Judson, for instance. Among women missionaries, Mary Slessor:

“…is entitled to a place in the front ranks of the heroines of history, and if goodness be counted an essential element of true greatness, if eminence be reckoned by love and self-sacrifice, by years of endurance and suffering, by a life of sustained heroism and purest devotion, it will be found difficult, if not impossible, to name her equal.” —J.H. Morrison

Born near Aberdeen, Scotland in 1848, in the midst of the industrial revolution, Mary’s family lived on the financial edge due to her alcoholic father, a shoemaker. At eleven the “red-haired girl with bright blue eyes,” went to work in the jute mills of Dundee, and by the age of fourteen, her father and two brothers were dead from pneumonia, leaving only Mary and her mother to work and take care of two younger sisters. Due to her mother’s devoted Christian witness and their faithfulness in attending worship in the Wishart United Presbyterian Church (later known as United Free Church of Scotland), Mary also became a devout believer and avid Bible reader. At the age of twenty seven, after hearing of the death of the missionary David Livingstone, Mary determined to become a missionary in Africa.

Mary Slessor (1848-1915)

Mary Slessor and the Ekenge people in the Calabar region of Nigeria

She had been teaching Sunday school classes for several years and developed both a deep and lasting knowledge of the Scriptures as well as a passion to witness to the lost. Convinced of her calling to foreign missions, her denomination’s mission board sent Mary to the Calabar region in southern Nigeria. She settled among the Efik people and quickly mastered their language and developed an understanding of their pagan culture. The former Scottish mill-worker was appalled by several practices of that tribe; her love for the people and willingness to suffer and sacrifice to bring change, nonetheless, endeared her to many of the Efiks and other tribes in Calabar. She prayed:

“Lord, the task is impossible for me but not for Thee. Lead the way and I will follow. Why should I fear? I am on a Royal Mission. I am in the service of the King of kings.”

1870s map of Africa with the Calabar Region indicated by a pin

Mary Slessor stands just outside Ikotobong court house, which can be seen with its thatched roof on the right side of the photograph. In 1889 the British Government established a Protectorate in Calabar and, on account of her unique influence, she was invited to take up the office of magistrate and superintendent of the district court. It had already become customary for locals to refer their disputes to her for settlement.

Pots in which twin babies were exposed due to the superstitions of the natives (photo c. 1880)

During her forty-year ministry in Africa, Mary Slessor contracted malaria (which never left her), as well as other fevers and health-wracking illnesses. She ministered to head-hunters and cannibals. She interceded in inter-tribal warfare and she saved countless babies who were left to die in the jungle due to the superstitions of the natives. The birth of twins among the Efiks had always resulted in infanticide because they believed it was the result of a great sin by the mother and evidence of a curse. They would be abandoned in the jungle to wild animals. Mary rescued a number of twins and raised them herself, saving numerous lives. On one occasion she nursed a chief back to health, to the great relief of his wives, all of whom would have been sacrificed if he had died. They gathered around her to ask about her wonderful powers and she replied:

“I have come to you because I love and worship Jesus Christ, the Great Physician and Saviour, the Son of the Father God who made all things. I want you to know this Father and to receive the eternal life which Jesus offers to all those with contrite and believing hearts. To know Jesus means to love Him, and with His love in our hearts we love everybody. Eternal life means peace and joy in this world and a wonderful home in the next world. My heart longs for you to believe in Jesus, to walk in His paths, and to know the blessings of eternal life through Him.”

Mary Slessor stands with a number of villagers outside her house in Ekenge

Mary Slessor died in 1915 in Nigeria, having led hundreds to Christ. So great was her loving and powerful ministry in Calabar that she was given what amounted to a state funeral by the British colonial government, and flags were flown at half-mast. The Efiks called her the Queen of Okoyong and there are memorials to her in Calabar including a church, statues with her holding twins, and schools. God gave Mary forty years of unrelenting sacrifice and Gospel witness in a region known as “the white man’s grave;” but she did not die until her tasks for Him were done.

A church in Calabar was originally built in 1905 by Onoyom Iya Nya, a wealthy trader who became a Christian under the work of Mary Mitchell Slessor. The original church, however, was flooded in 1906, prompting the construction of a new church on higher ground. It is unclear which church is represented in this photo from c. 1900-1910.

Archbishop William Laud Is Executed, 1645

2019-01-14T18:15:25+00:00January 7, 2019|HH 2019|

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” —Matthew 7:15

Archbishop William Laud Is Executed, January 10, 1645

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the highest Episcopal office in England, apart from the King or Queen, who were so designated by King Henry VIII as the “Supreme Head of the Church.” One of the most controversial and important Archbishops, William Laud (1573-1645), was executed for treason. Historian D.H. Pennington says of him:

“Laud was never much liked, even by his allies. A humourless, dwarflike figure, uninterested in court pleasures, unmarried, [likely homosexual], tactlessly impartial in his condemnations, he could never establish a party of influential supporters. During the war and interregnum, royalists and peacemakers generally preferred to forget him.”

Why should we remember him?

Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud (1573-1645)

William Laud was the only son of a Berkshire clothier. He developed a love of learning at an early age and spent the rest of his life pursuing scholarship and serving as a churchman. After graduating from St. John’s College, Oxford, he began his ecclesiastical career: deacon (1601), President of St. John’s (1611), Dean of Gloucester (1616), Bishop of the see of St. David’s, 1621 (a lowly appointment since King James considered Laud a troublemaker), Dean of the Chapel Royal (1626), Privy Councilor (1627), Bishop of London (1628), and, of course, a member of the House of Lords in Parliament. The résumé seems like a typical pedestrian rise through the hierarchy of the Church of England. Much depended upon favoritism shown by various leading noblemen and the approval of the Crown, as well as the ability to politically outflank his opponents and competitors. Laud’s attachment to Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, took on especial importance into the reign of King Charles I. What really set William Laud apart from many others was his theological attachment to Arminianism, high church outlook, and adamant opposition to the Puritans, who were still seeking to purify the church of non-biblical ceremonies and superstition.

St. John’s College, Oxford

Title page from a 1637 copy of The Book of Common Prayer

King Charles I of England (1600-1649)

Laud incrementally sought to return the church to rites and beliefs reminiscent of its Roman Catholic past. He demanded adherence to external aspects of worship like strict use of The Book of Common Prayer, wearing the surplice, bowing at the name of Jesus, consecrating churches, etc. In 1633 he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Charles I, a position from which he could extend his persecution of Puritans across England and Scotland. He suppressed Puritan books and tracts, arrested what he called “propagandists,” Alexander Leighton and William Prynne and had them mutilated and thrown in prison; he rejected any changes proposed by Puritans. Though short in stature, William Laud loomed large in the Church of England to remake it away from the Reformation.

Alexander Leighton (1570-1649)

William Prynne (1600-1669)

Laud was especially opposed to the Puritan emphasis on preaching and tried to curtail it wherever possible. It militated against his desire to amalgamate church and state and led to sedition. Laud worked hard to place bishops and clergy sympathetic to his ideas and plans in as many churches as possible, though he met constant resistance from the more Reformed elements of the English Church. The popular support for the Puritan cause was much larger than those who agreed with Laud. The more action he took against them, the more the rebellion against his policies.

In 1639 King Charles went to war with Scotland over these very issues. They had rejected and sacked his bishops and declared Christ the Head of the Church, separating the State from the Church. He called Parliament into session for the first time in eleven years, to raise money for war, but they refused. They were dissolved after convening for only three weeks. A few months later, Charles again called Parliament together, seeking money after the disastrous “Bishop’s War” with Scotland. This time they would not be dissolved by the King. The MPs demanded the arrest of the Earl of Strafford and of his close ally and supporter William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Both were impeached for High Treason. Strafford was beheaded shortly thereafter. Laud suffered the same fate four years later, after languishing in the Tower of London. In both cases it proved difficult to prove treason; a bill of attainder from Parliament resulted in their conviction and execution. Historians have not been particularly kind to the Archbishop “a ridiculous old bigot,” (Macaulay). As one royal wit said “Give praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the devil.”

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1593-1641)

The execution of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Stafford, May 12, 1641, was by some estimates attended by as many as 300,000

He had been integral in trying to roll back the Reformation and impose an Anglo-Catholicism on England and Scotland. The resulting Bishop’s Wars and the English Civil Wars resulted from his and the inept King’s policies. Had Laud reinforced the Calvinistic Puritan movement and not pursued belligerent schemes to return the Church in a papal direction, there may never have been a Cromwell in England or Covenanters in Scotland — but then such speculation is unsafely questioning Providence.

The trial of Archbishop Laud (above) ended without a verdict, having proved impossible to identify any specific act of treason. Parliament eventually passed a bill of attainder under which he was beheaded on January 10, 1645 on Tower Hill, despite being granted a royal pardon