Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Dysfunctional Penns, Part I

If ever there was a dysfunctional father-son relationship, it was between Pennsylvania's founder William Penn and his father, also named William.
Of course, maybe it isn't so surprising. The Penns lived out their relationship in one of the most dysfunctional of all centuries, the 17th. At least this was true in Europe, where these people lived.
For Europeans this was preeminently a time of war, famine, pestilence, and death--not to be matched until the late, unlamented 20th century. Differences of religion were at the core of the wars, and thousands died for belonging to unapproved forms of Christianity.
In England things were even worse, if possible. That country was involved in European wars, too, notably against the Dutch; but what consumed the nation was its Civil War, also fought out on religious lines. In the course of this war, the Puritan faction headed by the man who became Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, tried and executed King Charles I.
The sailor William Penn senior, father of the founder of our Commonwealth, was born in 1621, or roughly at the beginning of this turbulent and bloody period. Not a Puritan himself, he signed on with the navy of the Puritan Commonwealth.
That, presumably, was where the work was. And Penn was very good at his work. He put an end to a war with the Dutch by one smashing victory. He quickly became an admiral, and more--an impressed Cromwell named him General of the Sea.
But Penn could not, in that era, afford to be grateful. These were days in which sudden shifts of power could lead to brutal execution for the followers of the loser. And the cause of Princes Charles and James, sons of the martyred Charles I, gained strength as that of the Puritans waned.
The admiral did what any prudent man would do under the circumstances. He sent the princes a note, letting them know he would be glad to welcome them back to their kingdom.
The result was that when they did return, many Puritan leaders were--predictably--put to death. But Admiral Penn was knighted.
Too bad Sir William found it so much harder to deal with his own son than with a change of regime...

No comments:

Post a Comment