Friday, October 22, 2010

William Penn, Fighter

We tend to think of Pennsylvania's founder as a round, placid, middle-aged man in gray, and probably somewhat past his prime. Perhaps we should remember that even the semi-portly middle- aged William Penn (then 38) was able to enter a Native American foot race and finish ahead of some of indigenous runners.
He was a strong and resourceful man, both by genetic inheritance and by the training given to young men of his class--or aspirants to that class--in England.
There is a portrait of a handsome, dashing young William Penn which reminds us of his background--he was the son of a knight, a fighting admiral who had succeeded enough to be seen as a national hero and who owned a house in Navy Gardens, London, as well as country estates near Wanstead and in Ireland.
The portrait of William Penn the younger shows him clad in aristocratic costume--militaristic, too, because part of the costume is the armor of the time. His bearing is forthright, almost regal; and he gives the impression that here is someone you would not wish to have as an enemy. It seems a little ironic that in the end he did, in fact, become a Friend--as the Quakers called themselves.
But it took some time to train him to gentle but firm Quaker standards. And at one point he performed so well as a soldier that it seemed as if he might become 0ne.
That was in Ireland, during a period when he was managing his father's Irish estate. When the garrison at Carrickfergus rebelled against the king, Penn joined his admired friend Richard, Lord Arran, in putting down the mutiny. As captain of one of Arran's companies, Penn was hailed for taking the lead in capturing a fiercely held stone tower. When this was reported to the Earl of Ormonde, Lord Arran's father, Ormonde suggested he be made commander of the garrison on his own estate.
For a while, William thought so, too; it seems to have been around this time that he had the portrait painted of himself in armor. But his own father, the admiral--who seemed by then to realize his son would never be a conventional fighting man--vetoed the idea.
Soon after that, still in Ireland, young William Penn became a member of the Society of Friends. There were plenty of battles ahead in his life--almost all of them with words written or spoken, and all of them for justice. But war with the sword was, for him, a thing of the past.
For a quick but fact-filled look at Penn's career, I would suggest William Penn, Quaker Hero, by Hildegarde Dolson.

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