Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Dysfunctional Penns, Part II

While Sir William Penn was playing an adept game of survival on the high seas and in the halls of power. his son and namesake represented another kind of challenge. There is an early portrait of the boy, looking handsome and dashing in the armor of the era. That must have pleased the father very much; it was in his own image, so to speak.
Their relationship became stressed before too long, though--probably about the time William went off to Christ Church, Oxford. There he fell under the influence, not so much of his professors, as of one George Fox.
Fox today is known as the founder of the Society of Friends, or Quakers--possibly the most despised of all the religious cults and sects in England at the time. To us it is hard to see why. We think of the group merely as pacifists. If we know some, we may find them reserved, principled, and on the quiet side.
This does not tell the whole story of this group, for they have had, like all other human groups, serious difficulties among themselves. It also does not show them as they appeared to those who first encountered them--and who, in some cases, martyred them.
The main point the Friends were making--and as far as I can make out it still is--was that all were equal in the eyes of God. This seems logical to many of us--as long as it does not impinge too much on our own assumed prerogatives. But the early Quakers insisted on driving the point home, and this in a society rife with privilege. They kept their hats on in the presence of kings and lords, they insulted churches, which they called "steeple houses," and more besides. At Oxford, for example, young William Penn specialized in tearing the traditional academic robes from the backs of his fellow students.
For this and similar activities he was expelled. And he began to run up a record of arrests and imprisonments because he would not yield on his beliefs.
Father and son had some fierce confrontations. In one of them, according to historians Philip Klein and Ari Hoogenboom, the admiral threatened to kill the young man--who countered by threatening suicide.
It was the intervention of the Royal family, King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, who saved the situation for the Penns. The Duke in particular helped protect young Penn from the worst scrapes he got into. When the admiral died at the early age of 49, the Penns were on good terms with each other, and with the Royal family. His son inherited a fortune, including a vast grant of land in the New World, which made Pennsylvania possible. The land had been given to the admiral by the king in payment of a loan.

No comments:

Post a Comment