Saturday, July 31, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
A few years ago I read Ford Madox Ford's historical novel about Catherine Howard, The Fifth Queen--on the other hand, I have not read Hilary Mantel's recent novel Wolf Hall. As both are works of historical fiction, I know they have to be judged both as works of history and as works of art.
Ford Madox Ford's Catherine Howard is much more purposeful than the historical figure was: she has the goal of restoring the "old ways" -- Catholicism--hoping to influence Henry VIII. She is idealistic and adamantine, absolutely unable to compromise, so Ford makes her into a martyr for the Faith. Her true story may not be "the saddest story I have ever heard" (that honor is reserved for Ford's The Good Soldier, the "finest French novel in English"), but is rather, pitiful, as is Henry VIII's reaction to the revelation of her infidelity to him.
Ford Madox Ford was a convert to Catholicism when he was eighteen and remained "nominally a Catholic" all his life, although his practice of the Faith was irregular, according to one of his biographers. Ralph McInerny wrote an insightful analysis of his art and his view of art, that "every work of art has--must have--a profound moral purpose." I wonder about the "profound moral purpose" that misinterprets the historical record. For a different view, link here.
Hilary Mantel's novel won the Booker Prize, but I have read several reader's reviews citing the narrative style of the novel as confusing and distracting (every "he" and "his" refers to Cromwell even when it's wrong gramatically). I don't think I agree with her view of either Thomas More or Thomas Cromwell, also gleaned through reviews.
Alessandro Manzoni, author of I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), whom Verdi honored with the great Requiem Mass, repudiated the practice of historical fiction in his Del Romanzo Storico (On the Historical Novel). After writing one of the greatest Italian historical novels ever, he decided he could not write historical fiction anymore--he determined that authors could not do justice to the demands of historical accuracy AND of art.
When real-life figures appear in historical fiction, I do look for them to match what we know of them historically.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The Convocation of Bishops tried to put some limitation on the authority that gave him by adding the phrase "as far as Christ allows", but essentially both bodies had given Henry VIII tremendous power, which Henry wielded with ease. This was a Supreme Head and Governor who would punish both Catholics and Protestants: Catholics when they refused to swear his Oaths of Supremacy and Succession; Protestants when they refused to follow the religious doctrines he required, like Transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
David Starkey has even called him a tyrant in his BBC 4 series "Henry VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant" and the events of July 30, 1540, which I'll describe in my blog post that day and on the Son Rise Morning Show certainly reveal his tyranny and his strange consistency of upholding his supremacy in matters of religion.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Fortunately, an English historian is standing up for Mary:
But Leanda de Lisle, author of The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, said the portrayal of Mary Tudor as a monster was historically inaccurate.
She said: “It really is an example of England’s knee-jerk anti-Catholicism and how our history of the Tudor period has been distorted by post-Reformation propaganda.
“What about Elizabeth? People may be aware of the executions of Catholics, but there were many more people. After the 1569 northern rebellion, Elizabeth ordered that a man was to be hung in every village associated with the rebellions. It was on a similar scale to her father."
The exhibit itself sounds historically inaccurate (from the website):
"Bloody Mary, the deadliest daughter of Henry VIII is ruthlessly ridding the country of heretics.
"In her eyes there is only one faith and all those who believe otherwise must be punished. No one is safe from persecution – men, women and children are all suspect in the eyes of Bloody Mary.
"Feel the force of her wrath, the heat of the flames and the intensity of Mary’s obsession!
"Watch as Bloody Mary punishes non believers
"Punishment and persecution
"Hair raising silence"
According to Mary Tudor, Renaissance Queen, earlier promotion of the exhibit was even more historically inaccurate and "inflammatory"--
“Enter Bloody Mary’s private chapel and witness the fanatically Catholic Queen pass judgment on petrified heretics.”
“Experience the horrifying sights, screams, smells of the most painful method of execution known to man – being slowly burnt alive.”
I don't think the London Dungeon would be on my itinerary for a visit.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
We also visited an 18th century CofE church in Chiselhampton, now closed, which represented church architecture before the Oxford Movement (St. Katherine's). Notice the lack of stained glass or imagery, the pulpit and lector stand and the reredos at the front of the church.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Written by the Victors
For four centuries, English propagandists and poets have spun their version of the Armada: The small maritime nation defeated the fleet of a mighty world empire determined to drag the modern nation back into the Dark Ages of Papist superstition. The Spanish ships, laden with the ghastly torture instruments of the Spanish Inquisition, were turned away by doughty crews of Drake and his comrades, a defeat that was reinforced by a extraordinary tempest. If that were not evidence of the will of Providence, nothing was. (Even G.K. Chesterton, in his magnificent ballad Lepanto, indulges in healthy dose of Black Legend, caricaturing King Philip as a disfigured sorcerer brewing poison in his closet.)
Modern English historians, who should know better, cannot escape bias in their portrayal of Philip. David Howarth declares unapologetically at the start of his Armada history, distinguished for its nautical detail, that he finds Philip "altogether unworthy of admiration," a remarkable comment for a solid historian to make about this great monarch of the 16th century.
Still, one aspect of the English version of events should be given its due: the claim of decisiveness. Were the events of 1588 decisive? Well, was the Alamo decisive? Was the Loire Valley campaign of St. Joan of Arc? Was Thermopylae, or Lepanto? It is true that Spain flourished as a land and sea power for a generation after the Armada, facing her real decline during the Thirty Years’ War, but the defeat of the Armada has undeniably taken on the power of myth in the formation of the British Empire’s patriotic understanding of herself. The moment heralded the rise of Britannia’s ruling of the waves, and modern historians, whether out of Spanish sympathy or out of their hatred of a kind of triumphalism in all the stories of the West, are dishonest when they downplay the event’s significance in history.
A Long Defeat
But for Catholics, even the English version of events offers enough evidence to help them choose sides. That we cannot admire Drake and his fellow puritan pirates, seeking to vanquish the Whore of Babylon, is obvious. But there is more: Spain provoked, we are told, war with England because she denied English merchants commercial access to her colonies in the New World. To be sure, Spain was guilty as charged of practicing a kind of protectionism that was hardly unknown in England. In any case, the argument reveals what was most at the heart of the English motives, trade—Mammon—and when Britannia began her own colonial adventures in the New World two decades after the Armada, the enterprise was one of state capitalism, not evangelization. Whatever faults we can find in Philip II or in any of the men who served this most Christian of empires, we cannot deny that at the origin of Spain’s policies—from the Netherlands to the new lands across the sea that Columbus claimed for Christ in 1492—was the cross, and the spread of its message of Redemption for all mankind.
The courageous men who sailed with the Spanish Armada, endured its privations, and died in the horrors it suffered are no less a part of this legacy in salvation history than are the glories of Don John of Austria or Hernan Cortez. The via dolorosa, for example, walked with such quiet patience and humility by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who, in his abundant correspondence and diaries, blamed no one but himself for the Armada’s failure, is no less an inspiration. God does not measure the progress of salvation history with political victories. Indeed, there may be no better way to contemplate the tragic tale of the Grand Armada than with the words found in the correspondence of J.R.R. Tolkien: "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat.’"
The Black Legend, of course, is a propaganda campaign that demonized Spanish Imperialism--as though English Imperialism is somehow more virtuous. One modern author, Philip Wayne Powell, in his book Tree of Hate, refers to Hispanophobia. The Black Legend of Spain has many sources, some even from within Spain as criticism of certain policies.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
As an Anonymous reader reported, however, there is more to the story than that epitaph. According to this site,
On 7 June 1799, twenty nine year old Mrs Sarah Fletcher committed suicide at Courtiers. She hung herself from the curtain rails of her four-poster bed using a handkerchief and a piece of cord. It is said that she was driven to take her own life after she discovered her husband, who was a Captain in the Royal Navy was arranging a bigamous marriage to a wealthy heiress. This, after she had received word that he had died at sea. She went to the church and actually stopped the wedding from taking place. Following this, Captain Fletcher returned to sea, but the betrayal and neglect was too much for Sarah to bear.
The reason for her death was recorded as lunacy. Jacksons Oxford Journal for Saturday 15th June 1799 states: ‘the derangement of her mind appearing very evident, as well as from many other circumstances, the jury, without hesitation, found the verdict – Lunacy’.I presume that verdict removed any obstacles from her being buried in the abbey church.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
The exiled French priests and nuns who fled the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the dangers of the Terror provoked feelings of sympathy in England. The fact that they were allowed to practice their faith while English Catholics were not contributed to the Catholic Relief movement in Parliament. I saw a sign of that sympathy last summer when my Oxford Movement class visited Dorchester Abbey, which had been a Tractarian church in the 19th century, and had been saved from destruction during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by a local gentleman paying Henry VIII off.
There was a memorial to Monsignor Michael Thoumin Desvalpons, an archdeacon and the Vicar-General of Dol in Normandy, who is buried in the south-west aisle of the Abbey church. He had lived in the household of William Davey at Overy, near Dorchester after fleeing France. The Davey family was the Catholic family that contributed much not only to the Catholics in the area, but the entire Dorchester-on-Thames community.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
UK's The Catholic Herald published an article lauding Fr. Ian Ker's booklet ("Newman: His Life, His Legacy") from the Catholic Truth Society that addresses, inter alia, the Victorian idea of friendship--and notes that the booklet answers the negative connotations the BBC play presented:
However, what I wanted to single out in Fr Ker’s little essay was the common sense and clarity he brings to bear on the question of Newman and his male friends. He writes that since it became current knowledge that Newman’s wish was to be buried with his fellow Oratorian, Ambrose St John, “there was widespread speculation in the international media that there might have been some kind of homosexual relationship between the two friends. In an age that has almost lost the concept of affectionate friendship untouched by sexual attraction, such speculation was no doubt inevitable.” Fr Ker briefly discusses the Victorians, friendship, joint burials and Newman’s recognition of the sacrifice celibacy would entail. It is well worth reading.
It is also a necessary rebuttal. Last week I chanced to listen to a play about Newman on BBC Radio 4 called Gerontius in which the role of Newman was played by Derek Jacobi. . . . Halfway through this breathless, melodramatic dialogue between Newman and his guardian angel, a young male voice declares: “The Roman Catholic Church is homophobic!” It is further inferred that Newman’s motto, “From shadows into the truth”, could be a disguised code for his wanting to come out of the closet. Jacobi himself, brilliant actor though he is, tends to convey a slightly fey quality in the timbre of his voice. Inevitably Newman came across as highly emotional, self-absorbed, querulous and remorseful. He expostulates: “I am an Englishman. I buried my feelings!” All the more reason to read Ker.
All the more reason to read Ker indeed. His biography and shorter studies of Newman are essential to understanding Newman the man and his influence.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
James I: The Gunpowder Plot and strict penal laws against Catholics
Charles I: A Catholic Queen and Civil War
[The Interregnum and Cromwell]
Charles II: The Merry Monarch and the Popish Plot
James II: The Last Catholic King
William and Mary; Anne: Never No More a Catholic Monarch or Consort
Although the Tudor era certainly dominates any discussion of the history of Catholicism in England after the break from Rome, the Stuarts have their own fascinating impact on Catholics for more than a century. I look forward to our discussion at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central.
Update (7/12/2010): Anna and I flew through a century of history this morning! Obviously, I'd recommend you read Supremacy and Survival if you want to know the rest of the story.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
My publisher, Scepter, includes this book in their catalog: Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary--
Meet Charles Carroll of Carrollton: "A Roman Catholic but an ardent patriot." So said John Adams about the great Founding Father who originated the Electoral College, signed the Declaration of Independence, and fought tirelessly for religious liberty for Catholics in America. Charles Carroll is little-known today, but author Scott McDermott is determined to change that. In this illuminating biography, he paints a vivid picture of Carroll's tumultuous life that shows why this forgotten Founder is a heroic Catholic example needed now more than ever. McDermott uses Carroll's letters and other personal papers to bring you a well-rounded portrait of this complex and fascinating man. He also details the political and social currents that Carroll confronted during his long career. This book is a gripping introduction to a forgotten hero and a key contribution to the ongoing debate about the place of religion in public life.
Author Scott McDermott also provides an excellent introduction and analysis of the founding of Maryland by the Lords Baltimore as an English colony that demonstrated religious tolerance. Charles Carroll the Settler, Charles Carroll of Carrollton's grandfather, came to Maryland as Attorney General two weeks before the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the Church of England becoming the established church in Maryland. The new government imposed penal laws on Catholics, including fines for celebrating the Mass in public.
I highly recommend this book.
For background on the founders of Maryland, George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore and his son Cecil Calvert, the Second Lord Baltimore, I recommend English and Catholic: The Lord Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century by John D. Krugler. The story George Calvert's reversion to his childhood faith, especially the detail about government interference in his parents' raising of their children and their education because they were Catholic, is fascinating.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Friday, July 2, 2010
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The Whigs in Parliament, opposed most of all to the succession of Charles II's Catholic brother, James the Duke of York, jumped at the opportunity to attack Catholics--and James--when Titus Oates fabricated the story of a great conspiracy. Charles II did not believe most of the elements of the plot Oates "revealed", especially when the perjuror implicated his own queen, Catherine of Braganza and his brother.
St. Oliver Plunkett was in Ireland but was brought to London and accused of conspiring to bring French soldiers and recruit members of his diocese to mount a rebellion against the King and Parliament. There was, of course, no evidence of these accusations and Plunkett could bring no witnesses to testify for him.
The prelate was found guilty and sentenced to death, dying by being hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn Tree, the last Catholic priest to suffer there.
Titus Oates was finally found out and punished for his perjury. When the Duke of York came to the throne as James II, he strictly carried out the sentence of the court against Oates, with annual pillory and imprisonment. After the Glorious Revolution, Oates received a pension from William and Mary, thus being rewarded for lying and causing the deaths of many innocent men, including St. Oliver Plunkett, who was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.
(Don't forget that I'll be Kresta in the Afternoon today at 4:35 p.m. Central/5;35 p.m. Eastern!)