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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Whigs and Tories, Guelphs and Ghibellines, partisanship and war

Guelphs and Ghibellines

Before there ever were Whigs or Tories, the first political parties tore apart the misnamed Holy Roman Empire. Our founders feared "faction", and when they thought of faction they thought of Tories and Whigs, but they also were thinking of Guelphs and Ghibellines, the two parties who tore up Italy from 1075 until at least the 15th century. Our Country's founders feared such "faction".


Gibelline: Definition
a member of one of the two great political factions in Italian medieval politics, traditionally supporting the Holy Roman Emperor against the Pope and his supporters, the Guelphs.

The southern Ghibellines (at least initially) loved the idea of Democracy -- but thought of it as an orderly system where ordinary folks listened to their wealthy elders and elected them to office. They watched in horror as common folks tarred and feathered tax collectors or asked them pesky questions. The Northern Elites felt much the same and that is why they were astounded when minor (only untitled because the constitution says they can't be) "gentry"; lords and masters like Jefferson, Madison and others preached democracy. Their idea of Republicanism was designed to reign in folks who might one day drive them out of office with pitchforks. Their fears were not totally unfounded. Robert Morris was attacked by a mob after he bilked thousands of investors out of their funds in real estate speculation. He wound up in Debtor Prison. One good thing came out of that. His gentry admirers passed our first bankruptcy law, in part, to get him out of debtor's prison. It probably helped his political enemy Thomas Jefferson too. Not all our founders were good at managing financial affairs.

The Federalists weren't saints

The "Federalists" were a party like the Ghibellines or Guelphs. Their enemies were "anti-Federalists. Their partisanship sounded very "Jacobin" -- about "democracy" and "freedom" but as I've noticed elsewhere those were banners and flags. Partisanship is about power and how to divide the wealth pie. The ideology is important, but it is often secondary to the real aims of the Partisans.

Factions grows out of conflicts that usually start with a genuine partisan or ideology basis. Eventually the movements tend to lose focus and it sometimes gets hard to tell what they were originally fighting about. That is because for the officers of the conflict the real issues of their followers aren't their own real issues. We should remember that as we look further.

Forgetting the Principles

Sometimes the original issues get so lost they get reduced to mindlessly chanted slogans, chanted by borderline people, whose definition of good or evil has become so corrupted it's completely tribal, partisan and dictated by authorities; as depicted in this Star Trek Episode called the "Omega Glory". In that episode, William Shatner, playing Captain Kirk had to read the Constitution back to the wild men "Yangs", who treated it as a sacred document but couldn't read it. Partisanship might start out with firm principles, but the fighting can last for years beyond the original issues.

Omega Glory URL: []

Guelphs and Ghibellines

The issues between the Guelphs and Ghibellines are still alive today. The Wikipedia article defines them as:

"The Guelphs and Ghibellines (English pronunciation: [gwɛlfs], [gɪbəliːnz] or [gɪbəlaɪnz]; Italian: guelfi e ghibellini) were factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in the Italian city-states of central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of medieval Italy. The struggle for power between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire had arisen with the Investiture Conflict, which began in 1075 and ended with the Concordat of Worms in 1122. The division between the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy, however, persisted until the 15th century." [Wiki Article]

The Guelf's supported the Pope and the Ruler (Dukes) of Bavaria. the Ghibellines supported integration into the Holy Roman Empire. If the Emperor had been an actual tyrant outside his personal holdings then the terms might have been reversed. On the contrary, where the Pope had real power the role of the parties was reversed.

Wolves and ...

Apologies to Wiley Coyote

Wikipedia derives the terms from:

"Guelph (often spelled Guelf; in Italian Guelfo, plural Guelfi) is an Italian form of Welf, the family of the dukes of Bavaria (including the namesake Welf, as well as Henry the Lion). The Welfs were said to have used the name as a rallying cry during the Battle of Weinsberg in 1140, in which the rival Hohenstaufens of Swabia (led by Conrad III) used Waiblingen, the name of a castle, as their cry." [Wiki Article]

Thus the Word Welf also is derived from the (high) Germanic version of "wolf" -- Wulf. And thus the word at root is calling "Guelphs" the wolves. The Wolves being the party supporting the party of the Emperor. And with that etymology behind the battle cry it is likely that the party of the Pope saw the party of the Emperor as wolves among sheep.

Ghibellines as "Children of Weevils! Or "Integration Party"

Meanwhile Wikipedia also claims:

"Waiblingen, at the time pronounced and spelled somewhat like "Wibellingen", subsequently became Ghibellino in Italian." [Wiki Article]

Again, words are more than one derivation, with connotations and denotations, self image and pejorative images from the "enemy" as much involved in their adoption as any "official" derivation. None of the dictionaries I consulted bothered to dig into the etymology of either word. Welf was easy. But my handy dandy Indo-European dictionary gives the picture of Wibellingen or "Waiblingen' adequately. The root "Web":

"webh-To weave, also to move quickly. derivatives include web, weevil, and wobble." [IndoEuropean]

Or "webila" (this is a German word):

"weevil, from Old English wife, weevil (< "that which moves briskly"), from suffixed Germanic form *webila‑" [IndoEuropean]

The root "wei-Also weiə-. To turn, twist; with derivatives referring to suppleness or binding. (earlier *weiə1‑)." supports this meaning too. In German the inflection "ingen" adds the meaning "descendent of" to the word. So a Webila-ingen-->webellingen --> weblingen becomes descendents of a weevil or wobbly person, or a weaver or integrated group in German. So naturally the Waiblingens would want to emphasize their kinship to the Hohenstaufens, while their enemies, quite obviously were calling them a bunch of Weevils! [wiki]

Kind of reminds me of modern arguments that label Democrats, moderates, most folks as "Sheeple." Modern equivalents to the Guelfs still think of themselves as wolves. I wouldn't be surprised if they called us "weevils." I've heard them call us "worms." That's close enough. No wonder the dictionary people didn't go there! (Laughing out loud) It can also refer to weavers and people who produce clothe; or folks who are figuratively woven together, integrated.

The Party of the Pope was ostensibly the party of God, Peace and Love, Authority and Self Rule. But of course it was also the party of small towns against the larger towns, of Barons and Dukes against the Emperor, and a great excuse for years of "Romeo And Juliet" cousin wars. Wikipedia quotes:

"Broadly speaking, Guelphs tended to come from wealthy mercantile families, whereas Ghibellines were predominantly those whose wealth was based on agricultural estates. Guelph cities tended to be in areas where the Emperor was more of a threat to local interests than the Pope, and Ghibelline cities tended to be in areas where the enlargement of the Papal States was the more immediate threat. The Lombard League defeated Frederick at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. Frederick recognized the full autonomy of the cities of the Lombard league under his nominal suzerainty."

Any wiki article tends to broad brush, but it's easier to cut and paste from there than a physical book. Both parties represented the elites. And both parties shifted roles depending on who was the greater strategic threat of the moment. Pope or Emperor, or neighboring city. For Italy as with modern politics all politics was, is, and forever will be, local. We can embrace universal themes on a national scale, but party affiliation during normal times is more about these sorts of separate and competing interests.

Horse Drivers and Highwaymen.

In a sense when the British squared off as "Whigs" and "Tories" they were reproducing the older struggle between the Guelfs and Ghibellines. The Tories, "highwaymen" were the Guelfs of England. The people who called them "tories" were not using an honorific but a pejorative. Likewise, the Whigs "Whigamores" were the Ghibellines, though the English being too polite to call them worms referred to them as "Herdsmen". That term to was a pejorative, initially applied by their enemies, but eventually adopted as a term of self pride. I'd rather be a worm than a nasty old coyote. Huh??! Here the Indo-European roots come in handy again too:

"weg-To be strong, be lively. Oldest form *weg̑‑, becoming *weg‑ in centum languages." [Indo-European]


"‌‌wegh-To go, transport in a vehicle. Oldest form *weg̑h‑, becoming *wegh‑ in centum languages. Derivatives include weight, away, wagon, earwig, devious, trivial, and vex." Ibid

And of course with "earwig" we get that worm implication again. So maybe the term isn't so sweet after all! The similarity of the root "waib"- to "weh" is in the language. And considering the educated gentry of Britain were all too familiar with Italian politics -- it's likely it's not a coincidence. And of course the root is related to the word "wiggle" -- so again with the worm analogy. Someone also related it to the word for wool, but I couldn't verify that yet. Not helped by the use of the "amore" suffix, which the Irish dictionary says is related to the suffix form "-mhor" “full of what is denoted by the noun." So horse driver is the nicer term. "Worm" is probably implied by the Tories. Probably explicitly in the case of Irish or Scottish Gaelic speakers.

Chuigse -- Solidarity

What did help was to look up the Gaelic word and that is "cuigse" not whig at all. And that means "together" or in modern analogy "solidarity!" So to our enemies we are worms, to each other we are in solidarity. That expresses the self-image of Whigs throughout history. In Chambers Journal, volume 42, the author Chambers, notes that Whig is based on a contraction of a prefix that means "Co" or together and Thuigse which means "understanding or intelligence. (much better than earwig, eh?):

"Whig is nothing more than a contraction of a well known Gaellic word "Chuigse" from "Co" and "Thuigse" and he translates it as "mutual understanding."[Chambers's Journal, Volume 42]

Much better than "earwig." And this explains why the word remained popular in both the USA and Britain until people acting like Tories started misusing the word to sabotage any sense of "mutual understanding." It's understandable. Both words started as epithets.

Partisanship and War

What these terms show is that the struggle between gentry and barons (local kings), barons and "high kings" is ongoing, and the various forces enlist the rest of us in them. Folks complain about this being an oligarchy, but not government is ever so pure. It's always a struggle between people who see themselves as wolves and their enemies as worms or sheep, and those who see themselves as sheep-herders or even better as folks in "solidarity with one another" and seeking "mutual understanding." Toryism is alive and well. And still tends to label efforts at solidarity and mutual understanding as if we were worms or sheep; or Pigs (see image below).

The book is excellent. And I'm including an Image of the page in my "further readings" Section. You can tell from his spin on Tory that Chamber's was a Tory. And he was.

Related Posts:
Pirates and Privateers of America

*this was pretty much the first in a series. I've added some illustrations and links. That is all

Further Readings

Guelphs and Ghibellines
Catholic Encyclopedia: []
Indo-European Etymology
Word Endings had to come from a Wikipage too. Though I used my handy Dandy desk dictionary to verify; []
Better definition in Chambers Journal #42. (the links never seem to work)
Chuigse or

Book images

Chambers Journal Volume 32 image of page on Whigs

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