Saturday, December 13, 2008

Convention of Cintra

The Convention of Cintra was an agreement signed in August of 1808 which allowed the defeated French Troops to evacuate from Portugal, thus allowing Napoleon’s forces to escape from the British, ensuring nearly six more years of French occupation for Spain. The Convention of Cintra deeply disturbed many in England including radicals who, though they supported the early days of the French Revolution and similar political reforms at home, were disgusted by French aggression on the continent and the wilful slaughter of Spanish citizens. Several of the English Romantics spoke out against the Convention. Leigh Hunt, close friend of Byron and Shelley, used his periodical the Examiner to attack the Duke of York, the King’s brother who had been the head of the army and was seen as the main perpetrator of the Convention. Hunt’s attack nearly landed him in jail but he managed to escape with the help of a very good defence attorney. Wordsworth wrote a pamphlet condemning the Convention which was edited by his friend Thomas De Quincey. In a poem written at the same time as the pamphlet Wordsworth wrote:

I weigh the hopes and fears of suffering Spain;
For her consult the auguries of time,
And through the human heart explore my way;
And look and listen – gathering, whence I may,
Triumph, and thoughts no bondage can restrain.

Lord Byron also lamented the Convention in lines fro his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

And ever since that martial synod met,
Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name.

What will the poets write about our own political troubles? The tribulations of Canadian politics are, perhaps, only a storm in a teacup compared to the Peninsular War. But our parliament has been prorogued and the precedent has been set for all future Prime Ministers to simply squelch the sovereignty of the House on a partisan whim. And now, just to reiterate his rule by decree, Harper will appoint a bunch of senators after he had lost the confidence of the House. The implications of this are monumental for our political system. Our soulless and sinister Prime Minister would be glad to rip the very heart out of our system for his own petty and partisan interests. Consider in what interest he is really acting.

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