Monday, April 19, 2010

The Official Version

Father Vidmar's book on English Catholic Historians led me to a book listed in his bibliography by Edwin Jones titled The Great Myth: The English Nation. He referenced an earlier edition and the one available now on is marred by a strange Afterword that creates a whole new myth of a new world order. Nevertheless, the central text is a fascinating analysis of how Thomas Cromwell created a new historical mythology to support Henry VIII's break from Rome and power grab to take over the Church in England:

Edwin Jones has written an excellent examination of the Whig mythology of English History first by identifying where it all began (with Thomas Cromwell's new version of English History in explanation of the acts of the "Reformation Parliament" of Henry VIII), then by tracing the legacy of that historical revision and its hold on the ordinary person in England. He analyses the historical method that supported this Whig mythology: relying on previous works without any analysis of primary sources; sustained anti-catholicism and willfull ignorance of the Medieval era; nationalistic and Protestant exceptionalism--all expressed in the works of John Foxe, Gilbert Burnet, Edward Coke, and others. During the Enlightenment era, David Hume maintained everything but the Protestant exceptionalism in his secular philosophical History of England, because he was sceptical about religion. Jones' great hero is Father John Lingard who in the nineteenth century began to apply modern historical methods of finding primary sources and not just relying on what Cromwell, Foxe, Burnet or others said. He used primary sources obtained in England and on the Continent to reveal the true course of events previous historians had ignored. Jones finally examines the last great historians of the Whig tradition (Macaulay and Trevelyan and others) before turning to the revisionist historians writing about the English Reformation (Duffy, Scarisbrick, Haigh, etc). Their works, he notes, have not gone far beyond an academic audience to influence popular thought about the Reformation and other events.

The text even so far is marred by repetition and typographical errors: the same work by R.W. Southern is mentioned half a dozen times with no great advance in argument. Christopher Haigh's name is spelled Haig, etc.

Then the Epilogue and the Afterword are tacked on and Jones ends the book with a rant against the USA, overflowing praise of Tony Blair, and predictions of the great coming world order under the European Union. I learned a great deal from his examination of the Whig theory of English History; I could have done without his now dated examination of the new mythology of a new world order and the greatness of the Eurodollar.

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