hock day message from buckingham palace

Tue, 12 Apr 1994 01:47:55 EDT

Elizabeth the Second," was presented informally, in the customary Buckingham
Palace style of informal presentation, to a few selected journalists from
the better newspapers, the Times, Economist, Financial Times, Guardian; three
or four Late Medievalists from Oxford and Cambridge, and certain influential
members of the Lords. The Palace spokesperson may be identified, with his
permission (a gesture to his flaming antimonarchical past in the New Left
Review and other shockingly radical if decently footnoted periodicals of
that ilk), as Perry Anderson, world-acclaimed theorist of Marxist Theory,
whose Controversies Within English Marxism put the definitive squelch over
the only possible rival, Edward P. Thompson, he might have had for his
prestigious office, that of, By Appointment Of Her Majesty The Queen,
Marxist of the Royal Bedchamber.

Mr Thompson, who was deemed ineligible late last year, was found to have
been, on the one hand, dead; but even worse, of origins among people of the
meaner sort, not to mention a doddering old-fogey Communist for far too long
to grow with the new and more stimulating new doctrines about. Several months
after passing away, Mr Thompson was ruled out of the contest on the technical-
ity of having been dead beyond the allotted time limit.

Mr Anderson wished the people of Britain to know that it is the Queen's
earnest hope that Hock Day, actually celebrated on Monday, when by medieval
peasant custom the men of the community tied up the women and the women did
the same to the men on Tuesday, following the first Sunday after Easter, not
be indulged in by those not subsistence agriculturists on Great Estates. A
very few of these are kept up, along with the Landed Interest, as curiosities.
When we inquired of Mr Anderson whether there was another, more personal,
motive, perhaps a trifle closer to home, he replied with unwonted bluntness
for a Palace spokesperson:

"Yes, there's entirely too great a risk that the Sloane Ranger element,
which as you know includes assorted royals and former royals, might
make a disgusting spectacle of themselves on the pretext offered by
this occasion, and get their pictures splashed over Mr Murdock's Sun.

"Furthermore, what you have read thus far about Hock Day has been far too
prurient in its emphasis upon the sexual element. The purpose of Hock
Day was not sexual. It may have made sex perhaps difficult to avoid, and
undoubtedly there were some isolated cases of sex, perhaps even of the
indiscriminate variety hinted at, occurring over the long periods of
transition from Late Medieval to Early Modern times. I refer you to my
Lineages of the Absolutist State, 1974. I say not one word about Hock
Day, sex, or whether or not the peasantry was getting more or less bored
in the period 1471-1485. I do however devote a great deal of space to
when, and whether, you have capitalism, and when you don't, with which
the Absolutist State had a great deal to do, depending on the country
you are talking about, of course. There were exceptions. England, as it
very often was, and still is, was itself an exception in many very curious
ways, about which a very great deal indeed has become Known, but which
remains ill-understood, perhaps more so than ever.

"The year when Mr Kendall's book, The Yorkist Age, ceases to be concerned
with English social history, 1485, just happens to be the year in which
my own work begins to find England the least bit relevant. That is, the
year of Bosworth Field, when the usurper Richard III (1483-1485) got his
just comeuppance, and Henry Twdwr, the Welsh claimant, heir to the old
Lancastrian cause and soon to wed Elizabeth of York, united White and Red
Roses in one Dynasty, the first and only English royal house to be thought
properly Absolute.

"Mr Kendall, I need hardly add, is the author of a biography of the loser,
entitled Richard III, which maintains that its protagonist *didn't do it*,
tantamount, in today's scholarly climate, to holding Richard Nixon innocent
of Watergate or Lady Thatcher innocent of the Poll Tax. Well, he *did* do
it, died for having done it, and there died with him the sleazy, slovnly,
politically unstable England which would have customs like Hock Day, if
Mr Kendall did not invent it.

"The peasants, in any case, had as a rule no concern whatever with sexual
matters on Hock Day. They were celebrating the commutation of forced
labour services, exacted when their ancestors were serfs, into cash.
This is what Marx meant by the rise of the bourgeoisie having "burst
the bonds of idyllic relations," substituting the "cash nexus" in its
stead. A millstone, and a truly great one, of the transition from feudal
to capitalist modes of production, which the Absolutist State, as I show,
froze in a politically feudal if economically capitalist form which I
define nonetheless as lying within the feudal mode of production, with
the exceptional divergence of England from this rule."

"Mr Anderson, isn't this a bunch of crap, even for you?"

Daniel A. Foss