At the end of a very good if highly ambivalent book by a distant relative of mine is the Latin quote “Omne solum forti patria quia patris,” which is translated as “To the brave man every land is a fatherland,” because God his father made it. This particular inspiring quote was made in a Swiss city where an Englishman lived in exile in the latter half of the 17th century. This town was named Vevey and the man was named Edmund Ludlow. Why did this Englishman fancy himself brave and why was he living in Swiss exile? It so happens that this man was one of the people listed as a regicide for having been involved in the execution of the traitorous King Charles I of England. As might be expected, when Charles’ eldest son Charles II became king, those who had put to death his father were now to suffer the brutality and cruelty of a king’s revenge. That Ludlow managed to survive was thanks in part to his own considerable bravery as well as the defense of his Swiss neighbors for this honorable if fierce man who could easily have suffered a brutal fate of being castrated and tortured before being hung to death as a regicide with his quartered body parts a warning against those who would dare to kill a king, no matter how wicked.
My own feelings towards kings is rather ambivalent. To be sure, like many other people I have happily read about the histories of monarchs of times past. I have a grudging respect for royal houses that end up faithfully serving their own people, even if I am by no means a partisan of any royal family that exists in this current world. I take considerable pride in being the son of a heavenly Father with a promise of being a king and priest in the world to come, like many believers do. Yet I am far from sanguine about those who view themselves as unaccountable sovereigns who regularly deny the rights and honors due to others while being prickly about their own. As a man who is particularly prickly about my own sense of honor, I recognize that others are as well. This leads me to rather egalitarian opinions when it comes to how one honors others, egalitarian opinions that are not always appreciated by those who believe that they deserve my honor but are under no obligation to return it to me equally. In the writings of Charles Spencer, brother of the late princess of Wales, one senses a similar ambivalence about royalty, a fondness for one’s closeness to it and one’s aristocratic history but also a sense of unease and disapproval about the one-sided nature of royals to demand honor and respect that is not always deserved by their own conduct.
In the Bible whenever kings were put to death we see that their families were generally exterminated at the same time. When we read something like 1 Kings 15:25-30, we think of the people of biblical times as savage barbarians: “Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin. Then Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him. And Baasha killed him at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, while Nadab and all Israel laid siege to Gibbethon. Baasha killed him in the third year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place. And it was so, when he became king, that he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He did not leave to Jeroboam anyone that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite, because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he had sinned and by which he had made Israel sin, because of his provocation with which he had provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger.”
Yet Charles II was particularly savage to those who had only a very peripheral role in the judgment and execution of his father. When usurpers of old made sure to kill all of the family members of a previous dynasty, they were not doing so because they were particularly brutal (although no doubt many of them were). Simple self-preservation meant that in order to secure someone new in power that those who had held power before or had any claim on power were to be completely wiped out. So it was even in English history when Henry VII and Henry VIII wiped out nearly all of the legitimate Plantagenet blood that existed in the world at that time, knowing how difficult it was to ensure the legitimacy of their own dynasty. The men who put to death Charles I after he repeatedly refused wise counsel to accept the terms that Parliament offered for him to be a limited and constitutional monarch were brave in putting someone to death while leaving him with plenty of sons and daughters and other relatives and friends who could do them harm. They were also foolish in not clearing the field from other Stuarts who, like Charles II, were motivated to avenge the slights suffered by his father and try to make it impossible for anyone to conceive of ever putting another ruler of England to death.
Brutality is the result of fear, not of strength. The melancholy history of the world has been full of brutal regimes that slaughtered their own people and others, but seldom has it been recognized that this slaughter has been the result of fear rather than of strength. When the Mongols and Japanese killed millions of Chinese over the course of attempts to dominate the country, this was done because of the demographic strength of China, even under weak rulers. When Nazis and Communists killed millions of people within their political control, they did so not because they were strong authoritarian leaders, but because they were insecure and believed that they could only be secure in their corrupt rule by being extremely harsh to those who would speak and act against them or represent identities that they were unwilling to see in existence. With strength and confidence come restraint, the knowledge that others are not really so much of a threat after all that they can be tolerated out of irrelevance. Tyrants and bullies have never been able to exercise this restraint because they have lacked the confidence and strength to see themselves as secure and see their enemies as irrelevant.
And so we have come full circle. A brave man can be at home in any country in the world for a variety of reasons. For one reason, God is the creator of the world and we are all royals who believe in Him and who have been adopted by Him. To be sure, that does not mean an end of authority, but it does mean that to attack or to dishonor believers of God is to commit lese majeste. The privileges so jealously held tightly by tyrants belong properly to all who have been called and chosen by God, subject of course to respect for the authority that exists within God’s family (this point deserves emphasis). At the same time, those who are brave are likely to be at home everywhere because anyone who is both respectful of others and brave in one’s own conduct is going to receive the goodwill of any place that is worth living in. Those who are offended by decency and bravery are not the sort of people one wants for neighbors, anyway. And anyone who would be offended to have a man like Edmund Ludlow as a neighbor is either a tyrant or a fool. In the end there is little space between the two.