Sunday, 26 February 2017

Who are the real crooks?

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” 
- Claude-Frédéric Bastiat

 I have been to a lecture on organised crime in the middle ages, given by Chris Murphy of the Towton Battlefield Society. In his day job he is a customs officer so one must assume that he knows whereof he speaks.

The talk mainly focussed on the fifteenth century, with an inevitable nod to Robin Hood. The speaker was at pains to point out that much of the aristocracy was engaged in such activities: Warwick the Kingmaker was a pirate, the fortune of the de la Pole family was based on smuggling and so on. He also, through detailed analysis of the careers of the Lancastrian Sir Thomas Tuddenham and the Yorkist Sir Henry Bodugan, made clear how those in power were willing to turn a blind eye to apalling criminal behaviour in return for political and military support.

His final conclusion indeed was that the real organised criminals were the kings, which certainly fits with my worldview. As Shelley put it "monarchy is only the string that ties the robbers bundle". Given that four out of the six monarchs during the 1400s were usurpers in form or another perhaps the most apposite quote is from Schiller: "It is criminal to steal a purse, daring to steal a fortune, a mark of greatness to steal a crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases.".

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