Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blessed John Henry Newman and The Visitation


Today, May 31st, is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is clearly a feast of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity as St. Elizabeth greets the Mother of her Savior when her child stirs in her womb at Mary's approach.

Blessed John Henry Newman had a special link to the Visitation--including the Visitation Monastery in Waldron, East Sussex. Marianne Bowden, one of the daughters of his friends John and Elizabeth Bowden joined the order in 1852, and then Oratorian Father Newman preached this sermon in 1854 when she professed her vows. Her brothers, John & Charles Henry Bowden joined the London Oratory.

Blessed John Henry Newman provided his own answer to the question "Why is May Mary's Month?" and so here it is on the last day of May:

MAY THE MONTH OF PROMISE AND OF JOY
WHY is May chosen as the month in which we exercise a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin?


The first reason is because it is the time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage and its green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter and the raw atmosphere and the wild wind and rain of the early spring. It is because the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is because the days have got long, and the sun rises early and sets late. For such gladness and joyousness of external Nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold.

A man may say, "True; but in this climate we have sometimes a bleak, inclement May." This cannot be denied; but still, so much is true that at least it is the month of promise and of hope. Even though the weather happen to be bad, it is the month that begins and heralds in the summer. We know, for all that may be unpleasant in it, that fine weather is coming sooner or later. "Brightness and beautifulness shall," in the Prophet's words, "appear at the end, and shall not lie: if it make delay, wait for it, for it shall surely come, and shall not be slack."

May then is the month, if not of fulfilment, at least of promise; and is not this the very aspect in which we most suitably regard the Blessed Virgin, Holy Mary, to whom this month is dedicated?

The Prophet says, "There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise out of his root." Who is the flower but our Blessed Lord? Who is the rod, or beautiful stalk or stem or plant out of which the flower grows, but Mary, Mother of our Lord, Mary, Mother of God?

It was prophesied that God should come upon earth. When the time was now full, how was it announced? It was announced by the Angel coming to Mary. "Hail, full of grace," said Gabriel, "the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." She then was the sure promise of the coming Saviour, and therefore May is by a special title her month.

Why is May called the month of Mary, and especially dedicated to her? Among other reasons there is this, that of the Church's year, the ecclesiastical year, it is at once the most sacred and the most festive and joyous portion. Who would wish February, March, or April, to be the month of Mary, considering that it is the time of Lent and penance? Who again would choose December, the Advent season -- a time of hope, indeed, because Christmas is coming, but a time of fasting too? Christmas itself does not last for a month; and January has indeed the joyful Epiphany, with its Sundays in succession; but these in most years are cut short by the urgent coming of Septuagesima.

May on the contrary belongs to the Easter season, which lasts fifty days, and in that season the whole of May commonly falls, and the first half always. The great Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven is always in May, except once or twice in forty years. Pentecost, called also Whit-Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Ghost, is commonly in May, and the Feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christ are in May not unfrequently. May, therefore, is the time in which there are such frequent Alleluias, because Christ has risen from the grave, Christ has ascended on high, and God the Holy Ghost has come down to take His place.

Here then we have a reason why May is dedicated to the Blessed Mary. She is the first of creatures, the most acceptable child of God, the dearest and nearest to Him. It is fitting then that this month should be hers, in which we especially glory and rejoice in His great Providence to us, in our redemption and sanctification in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

But Mary is not only the acceptable handmaid of the Lord. She is also Mother of His Son, and the Queen of all Saints, and in this month the Church has placed the feasts of some of the greatest of them, as if to bear her company. First, however, there is the Feast of the Holy Cross, on the 3rd of May, when we venerate that Precious Blood in which the Cross was bedewed at the time of our Lord's Passion. The Archangel St. Michael, and three Apostles, have feast-days in this month: St. John the beloved disciple, St. Philip and St. James. Seven Popes, two of them especially famous, St. Gregory VII, and St. Pius V; also two of the greatest Doctors, St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Nazianzen; two holy Virgins especially favoured by God, St. Catherine of Sienna (as her feast is kept in England), and St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi; and one holy woman most memorable in the annals of the Church, St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. And above all, and nearest to us in this church, our own Holy Patron and Father, St. Philip, occupies, with his Novena and Octave, fifteen out of the whole thirty-one days of the month. These are some of the choicest fruits of God's manifold grace, and they form the court of their glorious Queen. [This list of feasts of course is according to the Roman Calendar before the Second Vatican Council.]

More by Newman on Mary here and here is version of Mary's Magnificat by William Byrd.

The Benedictines, Carmelites and the Carthusians at the Charterhouse

I don't want to let May get away without mentioning again the commemoration of the Carthusian Martyrs at the Charterhouse in London on May 4. According to the Independent Catholic News site,
Members of the Carmelite Family in Britain to part in events in London to commemorate the Carthusian Martyrs of the Reformation, and reflected together on the spirituality of the Carthusian Order last week.

On 4 May 1535 the prior of Charterhouse, John Houghton, was executed at Tyburn for refusing to accept Henry VIII's claim to be supreme governor of the Church in England. Houghton was killed alongside two fellow Carthusian monks, and two other Catholic clerics. Over the following five years a further 15 Carthusians were executed in London and in York, as well as many other Catholics who refused to accept King Henry's break with the Roman Catholic Church. The Carthusian monastery in London, and all other communities of religious orders in England and wales, were dissolved as part of the English Reformation.

The Carthusian monastery in London became an almshouse for elderly men, known as Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse. To this day it remains an almshouse, mostly for retired Anglican clergy, known as the Brothers of Charterhouse. Since 2005 Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse has commemorated the martyrdom of the Carthusian Martyrs on 4 May which is celebrated as the feast of the Martyrs of the English Reformation in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Substantial portions of the former Carthusian monastery, including the cloister remain at Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse. On the evening of 4 May several members of the Carmelite Family - mostly from the 'Carmel in the City' Carmelite Spirituality Group in London - attended this year's commemoration there, together with Benedictine sisters from Tyburn Convent where a shrine commemorates the martyrs executed at the Tyburn Tree by present-day Marble Arch. Anglican priests, clergy and laity from the Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches also took part in the commemorative service.

The service began in the chapel, where the Preacher of Charterhouse, Reverend Canon Hugh Williams, introduced the service by recalling the story of St. John Houghton and his companions. Hymns were sung and Psalms were prayed, and the Mother General of the Tyburn Nuns read an extract from a medieval Carthusian spiritual text.

The congregation then moved into Chapel Court where a stone slab marks the site of the high altar in the Carthusian monastery. On the slab was a miniature model of the Tyburn Tree. Here the 'Passion of the Carthusian Martyrs' - an account of the final days of the London Carthusians by Dom. Maurice Chauncy - was read aloud.

After a period of silence, Brothers of Charterhouse came forward and placed a rose in the model of the Tyburn Tree, as the preacher called out the names of the martyrs.

Brothers of the Charterhouse placed roses in the Tyburn Tree. The names of the martyrs are engraved on a memorial behind the site of the high altar. The service concluded with further prayers, including the Russian Orthodox Contakion of the Dead.


There are photos of the events here. Holy Martyrs of the Carthusians, pray for us!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And Two More at Tyburn, May 30, 1612

Thirty years after St. Luke Kirby and his companions suffered at Tyburn, two more Catholic priests joined the blessed clouds of witnesses at the site of martyrdom:

Blessed William or Maurus Scott, OSB: Benedictine martyr of England. Bom William Scott in Chigwell, Essex, England, he studied law at Cambridge, where he became a Catholic. Maurus was converted by Blessed John Roberts, the Benedictine, and was sent to Sahagun, in Spain, to St. Facundus Benedictine Abbey He was ordained there, taking the name Maurus. When he returned to England he was arrested, imprisoned for a year, and then banished. He returned again and again, being exiled each time. Finally, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on May 30 with Blessed Richard Newport. They were beatified in 1929. Blessed William Scott was one of the nine Benedictine monks beatified as martyrs by Pope Pius XI that year. The others: Blessed Mark Barkworth, Blessed George Gervase, Blessed John Roberts, Blessed Thomas Tunstall, Blessed Ambrose Barlow, Blessed Alban Roe, Blessed Philip Powel, and Blessed Thomas Pickering.

Blessed Richard Newport: English martyr, also called Richard Smith. Born at Harringworth, Nothamptonshire, England, he studied in Rome and was ordained in 1597. Returning to England, he worked in London for a number of years before being arrested and banished twice, but he returned each time. His third arrest was with Blessed William Scott. Both were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tybum for being Catholic priests.

Four More at Tyburn, May 30, 1582

Saint Luke Kirby, Blessed William Filby, Blessed Lawrence Johnson, and Blessed Thomas Cottam SJ, four priests and martyrs suffered at Tyburn Tree on May 30, 1562. They had been suffering for some time in London and in the Tower.

Blessed Thomas Cottam, SJ was born 1549, in Lancashire; executed at Tyburn, 30 May, 1582. His parents, Laurence Cottam of Dilworth and Anne Brewer, were Protestants. Having completed his studies at Brasenose, Oxford (M.A., 14 July, 1572) he became master of a grammer school in London. Converted there to the faith by Thomas Pound he went over to Douai, and was ordained deacon at Cambrai, Dec., 1577. Desirous of the Indian mission, he went to Rome and was received (8 April, 1579) as a Jesuit novice at Sant' Andrea. Attacked by fever about October, he was sent to Lyons to recuperate, and went thence to the College at Reims, considering himself as accepted for India, if his health improved by a visit to England. In May (probably 28th), 1580, he was ordained priest at Soissons, and started (5 June) with four companions for England. Through the treachery of an English spy by the name of Sledd he was immediately arrested at Dover, but by a ruse of Dr. Ely, one of his fellow-travellers, reached London safely. Ely being imperilled through this friendly act, Cottam voluntarily surrendered himself and was committed "close prisoner" to the Marshalsea, where he perhaps said his first Mass. After being tortured, he was removed, 4 December, 1580 to the Tower, where he endured the rack and the "scavenger's Daughter". He was arraigned with Campion and others and (16 November, 1581) condemned to death. His execution was deferred till 30 May, 1582 (see Munday's 'Breefe Reporte"), when with William Filby, Luke Kirby and Laurence Richardson, secular priests (all beatified 29 December, 1886), he was drawn to Tyburn and executed. His portrait, with martyrdom misdated, is reproduced in Foley, "Records", VII (1) 174; his relics are the Mass corporal used by him and four other martyrs in the Tower (cf. Camm, English Marytrs, II, 563) and perhaps his autograph in the registers of Sant' Andrea.

Blessed Lawrence Johnson and Blessed William Filby:

Laurence, a son of Richard Johnson, of Great Crosby, Lancashire, was a Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, in or before 1569, and supplicated B.A. 25, November, 1572. In 1573 he was at Douai, and on 23 March, 1577, was ordained priest at Cateau-Cambresis. He was sent on the mission 27 July following, and laboured in Lancashire. He was arrested in London on his way to France and imprisoned in Newgate, where he remained until the day of his indictment, 16 November, 1581, when he was committed to the Queen's Bench Prison, and on the day of his condemnation, 17 November, to the Tower, where he had no bedding for two months.

Filby, born in Oxfordshire between 1557 and 1560; suffered at Tyburn, 30 May, 1582. Educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, he was admitted to the seminary at Reims, 12 October, 1579. He was ordained priest at Reims, 25 March, 1581, and shortly after left for the mission. He was arrested in July, committed to the Tower, removed 14 August to the Marshalsea, and thence back to the Tower again. He was sentenced 17 November, and from that date till he died was loaded with manacles. He was also deprived of his bedding for two months.

For St. Luke Kirby, please see this blog, authored by a Benedictine Monk in Ireland with the same last name. An excerpt:

Saint Luke Kirby, priest and martyr. Born in 1549 in England under Edward VI -- an England severed from its Catholic roots -- Saint Luke was educated at Cambridge. He abjured Protestantism and was reconciled to the Catholic Church at Louvain. He studied for the priesthood at Douai College, then in Rome, and was ordained at Cambrai in 1577 for the English mission.

A Catholic Priest
As the world measures such things, Father Kirby's missionary apostolate was a failure because it lasted but a few hours. He set out for England in the same valiant band that included Saint Edmund Campion, Saint Ralph Sherwin, and others, and made his way eventually to Dunkirk. He was arrested immediately upon landing at Dover in June 1580. His crime: simply being a Catholic priest. The threat he posed to national security: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered according to the Roman Missal. The young Father Kirby risked his life, and lost it, to bring the Sacrifice of the Mass to England.
For the Love of Christ
Records from the seminary at Douai tell of his wholehearted and virile piety and especially of his patience in bearing a painful disease for the love of Christ. In the hope of gaining an increase of physical strength for his priestly vocation, he submitted bravely to a gruesome surgical operation. Though the operation was successful, Saint Luke Kirby remained frail for the remainder of his life. One can only imagine how he must have suffered from the hardships of imprisonment and the savage tortures inflicted on him.

Henry VIII Marries AGAIN!

On May 30, 1536, Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour, eleven days after the execution of Anne Boleyn. (Since Cranmer had determined that marriage null and void, perhaps this was just his second marriage, after all! No, this would really be his first marriage, since Cranmer had declared Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void too!) They had been betrothed the day after Anne's beheading after Henry had removed Jane from Court so he wouldn't so obviously be involved with her while his second queen was in the Tower of London.

When Cromwell announced the marriage to Parliament, he used terms indicating Henry's reluctance to marry again--yet for the good of the country, he would do so, hoping to provide the legitimate male heir so earnestly desired.

Since Jane fulfilled these desires with the birth of Edward on October 12, 1537, she was Henry's favorite wife. When she died on October 23, she was also his only wife to be buried as a Queen of England, even though she had never been crowned.

David Starkey analyzed Henry's reasons for marrying Jane on his BBC/PBS show, The Six Wives of Henry VIII:

It's not surprising that Henry, tired of the belligerent Queen Anne, would fall for the 27-year-old Jane Seymour. In contrast to Anne, Jane was amiable, gentle and quiet. It also helped that Jane's mother had given birth to six sons -- a sign that Jane would be capable of producing heirs. Jane had already been in court for six years as maid-of honor to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn when the king began to court her. When it became evident that Henry had fallen for Jane, the anti-Boleyn faction, led by Nicholas Carew, rushed to her side to help her further captivate the king. With coaching from Carew, Jane used the same tactics -- to remain chaste while welcoming his advances -- that Anne had used to capture the king. Henry once again fell for it. In one instance, Henry gave Jane a present of gold coins. Jane had accepted other gifts from Henry before but she refused the money and begged the king to remember that she was an honorable woman. She would "rather die a thousand times" than tarnish her honor. Henry was impressed, "She has behaved in this matter very modestly."

At first, the king had no intentions of making Jane more than his mistress -- after all, his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was still alive and to divorce Anne, his second wife and marry another woman would make him the laughingstock of Europe. But Catherine's death in 1536 made Henry, a widower -- since his only wife in the eyes of the Church had died. Anne Boleyn's miscarriage in 1536 and the king's conclusion that she could not bear him sons further convinced him to get rid of his second wife to marry Jane.

Anyone who favors Anne Boleyn among Henry VIII's wives waxes wroth at Jane Seymour. Viz this paragraph from the Luminarium biography:

Jane, being a woman of consummate art, and having already advanced to the very threshold of the throne, despised the threats, and disregarded the orders of her angry mistress. Aware that her star was in the ascendant, she scrupled not to obtain her elevation by the destruction of Anne and five unfortunate noblemen. Our historians laud her discretion, her modesty, and her virtue; but on what principles of morality it is difficult to conceive. She accepted the addresses of the husband of her mistress, knowing him to be such; and scrupled not to walk over the corpse of Anne to the throne. True, she retired to her maternal home, at Wolf Hall, whilst the tragedy which consummated the destruction of Anne was played out; but it was only to prepare the gay attire and the sumptuous banquet to celebrate her marriage with the ruthless King, whilst the blood was yet warm in the lifeless form of the ill-fated Anne.

Henry VIII doesn't come off that well, either:

On the morning of Anne's execution, Henry attired for the chase, and attended by his huntsmen, waited in the neighbourhood of Epping or Richmond—tradition points to both these places—and immediately he heard the boom of the signal gun, which was to assure him that she breathed no more, exclaimed in exultation, "Uncouple the hounds, and away!" and paying no regard to the direction taken by the game, galloped off with his courtiers at full speed to Wolf Hall, which he reached at night-fall. Early the next morning, Saturday, May the twentieth, 1536, and attired in the gay robes of a bridegroom, he conducted Jane Seymour to the altar of Tottenham church, Wilts, and in the presence of Sir John Russell, and other members of his obsequious privy council, made her his bride. From Wolf Hall, the wedding party proceeded through Winchester, by an easy journey, to London; where on the twenty-ninth of May, a great court was held, at which Jane was introduced as Queen. Feasts, jousts, and other entertainments in honour of the royal nuptials followed; and Sir Edward Seymour was created Viscount Beauchamp, and Sir Walter Hungerford received the title of Lord Hungerford.

Queen Jane evidently pleaded with Henry at some point to spare the monasteries, and she might have been a Catholic, which at this time in England could mean that although she accepted the king's supremacy in the Church she still believed in Catholic doctrines on salvation, the Sacraments, etc. Certainly her brothers adopted more Reformed religious ideas, for Edward Seymour would lead England in a more radical reformation as Edward VI's Lord Protector.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blessed John Paul II in the United Kingdom

Starting on May 28, 1982 (30 years ago!), Blessed John Paul II became the first Catholic Pope to visit Great Britain, specifically, England, Scotland and Wales. His pastoral visit was filled with celebrations of the Seven Sacraments and with ecumenical gestures, like the visits to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral. Throughout his visit he paid tribute to the Reformation martyrs and the Catholic heritage of England and last year I posted a series on those events and homilies as a lead up to his beatification on the lst of May. Here is a digest of those posts:

On May 28, he celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism at Westminster Cathedral, during which he paid tribute to the architecture of the church building, and mentioned not only St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, but also Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic during the 18th century.

He was very busy on May 29: he spoke to the religious orders, mentioning the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Mary Ward, at Roehampton; he and Robert Runcie prayed at the spot of St. Thomas a Becket's murder at Canterbury Cathedral, and he celebrated Mass at Wembley Stadium, speaking of England as Mary's Dowry and of the shrine at Walsingham.

On Pentecost, Pope John Paul celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at Coventry Airport on May 30th, highlighting the contributions of Cardinal John Henry Newman and of St. Boniface, two great English Catholics to emulate.

On May 31st, in Manchester, he celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Orders with a homily that mentioned the great martyr priests of the recusant era in Lancashire and highlighted the efforts of Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist missionary to England in the 19th century, who received Blessed John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church on October 9, 1845. He ordained 12 men that day, so hopefully there are 12 priests in Lancashire celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year on May 31! Then in York, Blessed John Paul celebrated the Sacrament of Marriage and mentioned St. Margaret Clitheroe (sic) and other martyrs of the area.

Like Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, Blessed John Paul II visited Scotland and said Mass at Bellahouston Park on June 1, giving an overview of Catholic history in Scotland and highlighting--just as Pope Benedict did in 2010--St. John Ogilvie.

He also visited Wales, where he celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion and took his farewell from Great Britain from Cardiff Airport:

My pastoral visit to the countries of Britain has now come to an end. I came here as a herald of peace, to proclaim a Gospel of peace and a message of reconciliation and love. I came also as a servant - the servant of Jesus Christ, my Saviour; and the servant, too, of the Christian people. As I have travelled round England, Scotland, and finally Wales, in fulfilment of my pastoral duty to confirm my brethren, I have sought to remind Catholics of the whole saving activity of Christ, the Redeemer, our Risen Lord. In each of the countries I have also been able to meet and to pray with our brethren from other Christian communities. For these wonderful opportunities and for the friendship and brotherly welcome I have received everywhere, I give praise to God and I thank you all.
To the civic authorities of the countries and of the cities I have visited, I wish to express my deep gratitude. The help, support and cooperation you have given to the Catholic people in your areas, and the way you have made available suitable places for my pastoral visit, have reminded the world of the great blessing of mutual understanding and respect which are a part of the British inheritance. I also wish to thank the police and all those who have been responsible for public order and for the smooth running of the events of these past few days.
And now, as I prepare to return to Rome, I express once more my good wishes to all the people of Britain, and in particular to Her Majesty the Queen, especially on this the anniversary of her Coronation. As I leave you, I do so with the prayer that God may bless all the people of Wales, among whom I have spent this memorable day, I say:

Bentith duw arnoch!

You can find more of these addresses here on the Vatican website and an overview of the visit here.

In Cassock and Biretta, Blessed Richard Thirkeld

Blessed Richard Thirkeld:
Educated at Queen's College, Oxford, 1564-1565. Studied at Douai and Rheims, France. Ordained on 18 April 1579 at an age somewhat older than his confreres. Returned to England on 23 May 1579 as a home missioner around York. Confessor to Saint Margaret Clitherow. Arrested on Annunciation Eve in 1583 for the crime of priesthood; the authorities became suspicious when he visited a Catholic prisoner. Lodged in Ousebridge Kidcote prison, York, for two months. He wore a cassock and biretta to trial, was convicted on 27 May 1583 of hearing confessions and bringing the lapsed back to the Church, and was sentenced on 28 May 1583 to death. He used his time in jail to minister to other prisoners, working especially with others sentenced to death. Martyred in secret on May 29 for fear his covert parishioners would cause a civil disturbance. Six of his letters have survived. This site exerpts two of those letters.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blessed Margaret Pole

Martyr of England. She was born Margaret Plantagenet, the niece of Edward IV and Rich­ard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole about 1491 and bore five sons, including Reginald Cardinal Pole. Margaret was widowed, named countess of Salisbury, and appointed governess to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She opposed Henry’s mar­riage to Anne Boleyn, and the king exiled her from court, although he had called her “the holiest woman in England.” When her son, Cardinal Pole, denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy, the king imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years and then beheaded her on May 28. In 1538, her son Henry Pole, Lord Montague was executed for treason and her other surviving son, Geoffrey was also arrested and found guilty of treason, but was pardoned. She was never given a legal trial, but included in an Act of Attainder that accused many of treason on quite flimsy grounds. Margaret Pole was devoted to the Five Wounds of Jesus; the Pilgrimage of Grace proceeded under banners emblazoned with the Five Wounds of Jesus; therefore, Cromwell and Henry's flawed logic was that her devotion proved her support of  rebellion. Nevermind that devotion to the Five Wounds of Jesus was popular throughout England in the 16th century. Her sons' opposition to Henry's marital and ecclesial efforts was enough. She rightly protested against the lack of due process and there are various reports about how horrible her execution was: certainly the headsman was incompetent.

She was seventy when she was martyred in 1541. Margaret was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. She is buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Margaret Pole had planned a resting place for herself in what is now Christchurch Priory in what was, before 1539, an Augustinian Priory, in the Salisbury Chantry, where Masses would be said for the repose of her soul. More on her life and times here. Her daughter Ursula had married Henry Stafford, who was the eldest son of Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham executed on May 17, 1521 for treason. Ursula and Edward survived the double blows of two parents beheaded for treason against Henry VIII, and Stafford was named Baron Stafford during the reign of Edward VI. One of their sons, Thomas, would also lose his head after participating in the Wyatt Rebellion against Mary I.

Blessed Margaret Pole's other son, Reginald, returned to England in 1554 to reconcile the English church and nation to the Catholic Church and the Papacy, becoming the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556. He died two years later and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral. You may read my review of her standard biography, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Four at Durham, May 27, 1590

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Blessed Richard Hill was an "English Martyr, executed at Durham, 27 May, 1590. Very little is known of him and his fellow-martrys, John Hogg and Richard Holiday, except that they were Yorkshiremen who arrived at the English College at Reims, Holiday on 6 September, 1584, Hill on 15 May, 1587, and Hogg on 15 October, 1587; that all three were ordained subdeacons at Soissons, 18 March, 1859, by Monsignor Jerome Hennequin, deacons 27 May and priests 23 September at Laon by Monsignor Valentine Douglas, O.S.B.; that they with their fellow martyr Edmund Duke were sent on the English mission on the following 22 March and were arrested in the north of England soon after landing; that they were arraigned, condemned, and executed at Durham under the statute 27 Eliz c. 2. With them suffered four felons who protested that they died in the same faith.

"Divers beholders, when these martyrs were offered their pardons if they would go to church, said boldly that they would rather die themselves than any of them should relent, one saying (he had seven children) "I would to God they might all go the same way in making such confession" . . . When their heads were cut off and holden up, as the manner is, not one would say "God save the Queen" except the catch-polls themselves and a minister or two.

"Two Protestant spectators, Robert Maire and his wife Grace, were converted. The place at which they were executed was called Dryburn, and afterwards the legend sprung up that it was so called because the well out of which the water was drawn to boil their quarters suddenly dried up. The place however had this name before their deaths."

The note about the crowd not responding to the cry "Behold the head of a traitor" meant that these executions were not popular with the populace. Since the failure of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I's government had kept up a pretty good pace of executions. The people of Durham might have remembered the days of the Northern Rebellion when the former monks of Durham Abbey celebrated Mass in Durham Cathedral. Nancy Bilyeau, author of the historical novel The Crown, comments on one time when Elizabeth I reacted to the unpopularity of some executions, in the aftermath of the Babington Plot:

In fact, the embattled queen, no doubt frightened as well as enraged, ordered that the guilty Babington conspirators be executed in ways so horrible it would never be forgotten. And so the first ones were. But the crowd of spectators, presumably hardened to such sights, were sickened by the hellish castratings and disembowelings. When the queen heard of this, she ordered the next round of traitors be hanged until they were dead.



Elizabeth realized she had gone too far. It’s regrettable that she did not realize that more often.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Feast of St. Philip Neri

The Birmingham Oratory has a new website, and posts this information about Blessed John Henry Newman's patron:

St Philip Neri was born into a prominent family in Florence in 1515, although the financial fortunes of his family had declined by the time of his birth. He was educated by the Dominican friars in Florence, where he learned to venerate the memory of the fiery Florentine friar, Sarvanola. As a young man he was sent to work for his uncle in San Germano, near Monte Cassino, who planned to hand over his business to Philip. It was here, while living in the shadow of the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, that Phillip gained a profound love for the sacred liturgy and an appreciation for the wisdom of the desert fathers. Philip had little interest in taking over his uncle’s business and within a year had gone to live in Rome.
When Philip came to Rome he lived with a Florentine family who gave him lodgings and food in return for teaching their two sons. His real joy, however, lay in spending nights in the catacombs in prayer. He had a great affinity with the early Christians, and in his Litany of St Philip, Newman calls him, Vir Prisci Temporis or Man of Primitive Times. In his early years in Rome, Philip pursued philosophical and theological studies with the Augustinians in the city, but was content to remain as layman. Contemporaries noted his great eloquence in theological matters, but Philip didn’t see his studies as an end in themselves and happily sold his text books to give financial help to other students.
In 1544 Philip had a mystical experience, while praying in the catacombs of San Sebastiano, in which he felt the Holy Spirit enter him in a special way, and from that time onwards he had great feeling of warmth in his heart. Philip hid this experience for most of his life and only in his last years did he confide in his trusted friend Pietro Consolini about the experience.
Read the rest here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Christopher Dawson, RIP

The great historian Christopher Dawson died on this day in 1970. According to this site:

A gifted, eloquent and prolific writer, Dawson wrote more than twenty books and numerous articles on the nature of Christian culture. This topic concerned him so deeply that he considered it his vocation to explore the cultural role of religion, the relationship between Christianity and world cultures, and the specific history and institutions of the Christian religion. As a result of this vast research, he emphasized the need to recover the spiritual tradition at the root of the Western European history.

A life dedicated to the study of world cultures led him to claim that: "It is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture... A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture." Writing against the positivistic and nihilistic attitude of his age, Dawson challenges commonly held assumptions about culture and history, and unmasks Western religion of progress. His contentions have as much relevance today as they had when he wrote them.

Dawson brilliantly applies Christian principles to the world of historic events, and sees the inner world of spiritual change "as the dynamic element in history and as a real world-transforming power." It is his vast erudition, coupled with his singular vision and talent to present a coherent and global vision of the different aspects that dominate the changing course of history, that have led some to consider him one of the greatest historians of our age, "more realist and convincing than Spengler or Toynbee."

I have benefitted greatly from Christopher Dawson's books and have read several of them, including The Formation of Christendom, The Dividing of Christendom, Religions and the Rise of Western Culture, and The Historic Reality of Christian Culture. Remarkably, Dawson anticipated much of the late twentieth/early twenty-first revisionist historiography of the English Reformation in The Dividing of Christendom. I also really enjoyed this study of life and works: Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson by Bradley Birzer. More here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another High School Memory: SUPERSTITION CORNER

Sister Eustasia also had this book by Sheila Kaye-Smith on her extra-credit reading list: Superstition Corner (I remember reading this Doubleday Image Book at the time). The Neumann Press offers a hard-cover edition now and it is available on Kindle too. Kirkus Reviews posted these comments in 2002:

Modern woman transposed to Elizabethan England, and flaunting the banner of her refusal to conform to the religious tenets of the crown, Kate Alard is a memorable if not wholly convincing figure, and the picture of Sussex, and the ancient faith at the stake, is a novel one. A slighter story than what the reader expects from Sheila Kaye-Smith, but a vigorous tale at that. The Sheila Kaye-Smith market is a fairly consistent one, and though this cannot be sold as typical, in that she has departed from her established theme, the historical interest may prove added bait for a somewhat new market.

As I remember reading it in high school, I did not find Kate Alard unconvincing, but then I was used to reading about tomboys like Jo March in Alcott's Little Women. What sets Sheila Kaye-Smith apart from Robert Hugh Benson is the difficult "romantic" situations in the novel: Kate's mother is unfaithful to her father and Kate witnesses the confrontation between the lover and her father. The village minister, who has gone along with each of the religious changes, repulses Kate when he tells her that he loves her--after he has betrayed her friends who were hosting a Catholic priest to celebrate Mass. Kate leaves her home to meet her brother, who has become a priest on the Continent and is preparing to serve in the English Catholic underground. When they meet he recalls that: "all these years, while he had been living in spiritual luxury in the heart of the Church, her soul had starved on the barest means of grace. . . . He realized with pity that she had never been inside a Catholic church, that she had never heard Mass except in darkness and haste and fear, that she knew nothing of the beauty of Catholic ritual, nor the fellowship of large crowds, nor the power of great leaders." And yet she clung to her faith as the one thing that made life worth living in her Sussex home. I won't spoil the ending, but it is beautiful and inevitable.

Sheila Kaye-Smith was a successful and prolific novelist, setting most of her novels in her native Sussex. She was an Anglican (Anglo-Catholic) and married to an Anglican minister. After writing a book titled Anglo-Catholics in 1925, she and her husband became Catholics (RC) in 1929. They bought land and established a Catholic chapel dedicated to St. Therese of Lisieux in Northiam, Sussex, in 1935. Sheila Kaye-Smith is buried in the chapel's cemetery there.

Rereading MR. BLUE


Mr. Blue is a novella by Myles Connolly, screenwriter and editor of The Knights of Columbus Columbia magazine (in fact, during the Cristiada era in Mexico). I first read Mr. Blue while attending Kapaun-Mt. Carmel High School; Sister Eustacia had a list of extra reading, which included some Catholic classics -- she also had Sheila Kaye-Smith's Superstition Corner on that list (but that's another post!)

Loyola Classics brought out a new paperback edition a few years ago with an introduction by John Breslin, SJ. Father Breslin points out two disparate models for the character J. Blue--G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. Father Breslin offers more thoughts on J. Blue and the novel here:

Recently, I read Mr. Blue again, and I have come to realize that the character of Blue must also have appealed to us all, and to countless other readers, because he was a uniquely American personality. As Myles Connolly wrote him, J. Blue was the man that the ambitious Jay Gatsby might have become had he steered by a higher truth than the sound of money in Daisy Buchanan's voice.


It is hard to overestimate G. K. Chesterton's effect on several generations of young Catholic intellectuals-in-the-making. He took on the modern world with all its scientific works and philosophical pomps in the name of a reimagined Christendom, alive with story and redolent of paradox. "To have fallen into any of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame," he wrote in Orthodoxy. "But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. . . . There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands."


Chesterton's method was simple but brilliantly realized: One by one he raised and demolished, often through ridicule or humor, the suppositions of pseudoscience and the secular nostrums of the educated classes. In response to the Freudian notion that Gothic spires were phallic symbols, Chesterton sagely agreed; otherwise, he deadpanned, they would surely have been built upside down.


Chesterton saw himself as an apostle of affirmation in a world gone gray. At the same time, he threw open doors and windows in a Church that seemed cautious to a fault and not very interested in new ideas. The Council of Trent had settled all the important questions four centuries before, but G. K. made orthodoxy exciting, even dangerous. Rather than viewing it as a straitjacket that stifled Christian theology, he preferred to see orthodoxy as a glorious balancing act and spoke of its "romance." Myles Connolly made young Mr. Blue its ardent embodiment.

I re-read it last week myself, and found Breslin's frame of reference very helpful. The part of the novella I remember having a great impact when I first read it was J. Blue's idea for a movie about a dystopian future where Christianity and free will have been obliterated--one man, a mere number in his cell, turns out to be a Catholic priest celebrating the Last Mass on Earth even as the world comes to an end and Jesus returns.

(BTW: I am not very happy with the new blogger interface as it adds spaces between paragraphs; after awhile, I give up the struggle to take them away! I apologize for the odd spacing.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Missing Shrine, the Whitewashed Painting: St. William of Rochester

Today is the feast of St. William of Perth (Scotland) or Rochester, a pilgrim martyr. According to the old Catholic Encylopedia he

died about 1201. Practically all that is known of this martyr comes from the "Nova legenda Anglie", and that is little. In youth he had been somewhat wild, but on reaching manhood he devoted himself wholly to the service of God. A baker by trade, he was accustomed to set aside every tenth loaf for the poor. He went to Mass daily, and one morning, before it was light, found on the threshold of the church an abandoned child, whom he adopted and to whom he taught his trade. Later he took a vow to visit the Holy Places, and, having received the consecrated wallet and staff, set out with his adopted son, whose name is given as "Cockermay Doucri", which is said to be Scots for "David the Foundling". They stayed three days at Rochester, and purposed to proceed next day to Canterbury, but instead David wilfully misled his benefactor and, with robbery in view, felled him with a blow on the head and cut his throat. The body was discovered by a mad woman, who plaited a garland of flowers and placed it first on the head of the corpse and then her own, whereupon the madness left her. On learning her tale the monks of Rochester carried the body to the cathedral and there buried it. In 1256 the Bishop of Rochester, Lawrence de S. Martino, obtained the canonization of St. William by Pope Alexander IV. A beginning was at once made with his shrine, which was situated in the northeast transept, and attracted crowds of pilgrims. At the same time a small chapel was built at the place of the murder, which was thereafter called Palmersdene. Remains of this chapel are still to be seen near the present St. William's Hospital, on the road leading by Horsted Farm to Maidstone. On 18 and 19 February, 1300, King Edward I gave two donations of seven shillings to the shrine. On 29 November, 1399, Pope Boniface IX granted an indulgence to those who visited and gave alms to the shrine on certain specified days. St. William is represented in a wall-painting, which was discovered in 1883 in Frindsbury church, near Rochester, which is supposed to have been painted about 1256-1266. His feast was kept on 23 May.

Although his tomb at Rochester Cathedral was a great draw for pilgrims, according to the Rochester Cathedral website:

A Place of Pilgrimage - The Cathedral became a major place of pilgrimage in the 13th century, following the death of William of Perth, a Scottish baker who was murdered nearby. His body was brought to the Cathedral and at his shrine, of which no trace remains, miracles were reported. Modern pilgrims who journey to the Cathedral still climb the Pilgrim Steps, now worn by the many thousands of medieval pilgrims visiting the shrine, often lighting candles at the William of Perth prayer-station in front of the oratory. Visitors who journey to the Cathedral today are direct descendents of those early pilgrims.

The church referred to in the Catholic Encyclopedia article, with the wall-paintig of St. William of Rochester, is All Saints Anglican Church. The wall painting, along with those of St. Edmund of Canterbury and St. Lawrence, were whitewashed during the English Reformation. St. William is, of course, depicted as a pilgrim, as you can see in this image.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blessed John Forest and the Observant Friars of England

Blessed John Forest was executed by being burned to death by being suspended over the flames from a gibbet --those are chains under his arms in the stained glass--on May 22, 1538 because he opposed Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and Henry's claim to supremacy and religious and ecclesiastical matters in England, which was heresy to Henry VIII. According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:

Born in 1471, presumably at Oxford, where his surname was then not unknown; suffered 22 May, 1538. At the age of twenty he received the habit of St. Francis at Greenwich, in the church of the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance, called for brevity's sake "Observants". Nine years later we find him at Oxford, studying theology. He is commonly styled "Doctor" though, beyond the steps which he took to qualify as bachelor of divinity, no positive proof of his further progress has been found. Afterwards he became one of Queen Catherine's chaplains, and was appointed her confessor. In 1525 he appears to have been provincial, which seems certain from the fact that he threatened with excommunication the brethren who opposed Cardinal Wolsey's legatine powers. Already in 1531 the Observants had incurred the king's displeasure by their determined opposition to the divorce; and no wonder that Father Forest was soon singled out as an object of wrath In November, 1532, we find the holy man discoursing at Paul's Cross on the decay of the realm and pulling down of churches. At the beginning of February, 1533 an attempt at reconciliation was made between him and Henry: but a couple of months later he left the neighborhood of London, where he was no longer safe. He was probably already in Newgate prison 1534, when Father Peto his famous sermon before the king at Greenwich. In his confinement Father Forest corresponded with the queen and Blessed Thomas Abel and wrote a book or treatise against Henry, which began with the text: "Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God as Aaron was." On 8 April, 1538, the holy friar was taken to Lambeth, where, before Cranmer, he was required to make an act of abjuration. This, however, he firmly refused to do; and it was then decided that the sentence of death should be carried out. On 22 May following he was taken to Smithfield to be burned. The statue of Saint Derfel which had been brought from the church of Llanderfel in Wales, was thrown on the pile of firewood; and thus, according to popular belief, was fulfilled an old prophecy, that this holy image would set a forest on fire. The holy man's martyrdom lasted two hours, at the end of which the executioners threw him, together with the gibbet on which he hung, into the fire.

The Observant Franciscan Friars of Greenwich were among those who most adamantly defended the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII and protested against Henry's "coup d'eglise". Here is a sermon telling the story not only of John Forest but of the Greenwich Franciscans and here is another survey of these events.

I will be on the Son Rise Morning Show to discuss Blessed John Forest this morning at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central. Please listen live here!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Announcing "The Vatican Library of Cheap Catholic Books"!


In 1879, Hickey & Co., Publishers in New York, New York announced a REVOLUTION and REFORMATION in Catholic book publishing with the new series, "The Vatican Library of Cheap Catholic Books"! I bought an edition from Eighth Day Books here in Wichita this weekend as the bookstore celebrated its spring sale. When the series was published,  Most Rev. Thomas F. Hendricken, first Bishop of Providence, acclaimed the series, according to this advertisement, calling it a "splendid enterprise" that filled the "distressing need that exists in America for cheap Catholic literature". Hickey & Co., expected to sell 100,000 copies of these books in 1879, since even a "day-laborer" could afford them! In 1879, the Catholic population in the United States was over six million!

The first story in this edition (which is undated) is Tyborne by Mother Mary Magdalen Taylor, the former Frances Margaret Taylor who served with Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimea. She became a Catholic after encountering the Sisters of Mercy. Back in England, she founded the Poor Servants of the Mother of God and served as its Superior. She published Blessed John Henry Newman's The Dream of Gerontius in The Month, a periodical she founded with the Society of Jesus in 1864. Mother Mary Magdalen of the Sacred Heart died on June 9, 1900 in London.



St. Thomas a Becket and the English Reformation

John Guy has written a new biography of St. Thomas a Becket. As a Tudor historian, Guy brings some of the context of that era's struggle between Church and State to this medieval story. According to this review in The Spectator:

Posterity has always embellished Thomas Becket. After his death in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170 the Church idealised and canonised him; his tomb inspired miracles and became the most famous shrine in Christendom; the local monks grew rich and fat on the tourist trade that would attract Chaucer’s pilgrims. The 18th century invented Henry II’s hint, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ Playwrights spice the dish. Tennyson’s drama about Becket was staged by Irving; everyone remembers Eliot’s chorus, living and partly living; and Anouilh’s play, which turned the Norman immigrant into a Saxon, gave him, in the screened version, a wide and charismatic appeal.

Not that theatricality or charisma was foreign to the real Becket’s complex character. John Guy’s is the first substantial life of the archbishop since the veteran medievalist Frank Barlow’s a quarter of a century ago. On secondment from the Tudor period, Guy carries to the 12th century the scholarly and analytical acumen, and the vivacious prose, he has brought to the 16th.

Popular conceptions of Becket turn on his relations with the king who made and broke him. A blessed friendship turns to tragic enmity. Henry’s worldly chancellor, raised from modest origins to golden heights of power and wealth, suddenly becomes a defiant hair-shirted cleric, driven by either high principle or a taste for martyrdom into a long exile and then, on his provocative return to England, to a death that seizes Henry with remorse.

Guy disposes of much of that picture, and qualifies the rest. He finds no abrupt transition in Becket’s character. Even in his pomp, an inner piety and asceticism nibbled at his worldly contentment. So, as he moved among the ruling barons, did the insecurities of a newcomer who never felt a belonger. Becket, in Guy’s reading, was destroyed not by a personal tragedy but by political inexperience and miscalculation and impulsiveness.

A sense of tragedy is anyway precluded by Guy’s portrait of the king. We meet Henry as the latest in a brutal line of Norman and Angevin rulers obsessed by dynastic ambition and happy to sacrifice the peace and unity of their lands to it. In place of the ‘rose-tinted’ perspective of legal and constitutional historians, who have made Henry the pioneer of an effective and equitable system of justice, Guy gives us a foul-tempered, bullying, venal, perjured tyrant with ‘an innate assumption that his will was law’.


Sound familiar? Henry II=Henry VIII; St. Thomas a Becket=St. Thomas More/St. John Fisher (Thomas More makes the Henry/Thomas parallel so nicely, but Fisher was the Bishop, after all). So Henry II has the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered in his cathedral and the outcry is immediate. The Archbishop is proclaimed a martyr-saint; the king endures penance and a whipping; the pilgrims start coming, and  then:

The Reformation, by nationalising the Church and subjugating it to the state, ended all that. Henceforth Henry II’s interpretation of Becket’s international lobbying as treason, questionable at the time, would seem uncontentious. Henry VIII had Becket’s shrine demolished and despoiled. ‘There appeareth nothing in his life’, the Tudor king proclaimed, ‘whereby he should be called a saint, but rather esteemed to have been a rebel and traitor to his prince.’ Even Charles I, whose readiness to back an archbishop of Canterbury bent on restoring lost powers of the Church would baffle his subjects and help cause the civil war, declared, to the relief of the earl who heard him, that ‘he thought Thomas Becket as arrant a traitor as ever was’. The state had won.

John Guy has a very nice website here. I wonder if the professor who proclaimed St. Thomas a Becket the "Worst Briton of the 12th Century" will read the biography?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Writing with Pen and Paper

Paul Theroux writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Writing by hand is part of my creative process. The speed at which I write with a pen seems to be the speed at which my imagination finds the best forms of words. A long-ago introduction to the Paris Review Interviews said that authors spoke of pens and rewriting with such passion that it seemed that "writing is one of the plastic arts." I agree with this metaphor of sculpting. I was gratified to read in a Newsweek piece about intelligence last January, that "brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing" and "it's easier to remember something once you've written it down on paper."

"To think he wrote it all with a feather!" What Sam Goldwyn reportedly said of Shakespeare's works is not as silly as it sounds. Henry James wrote with a quill pen too, until he hurt his arm, and with dictation his style changed. I have seen examples of many writers' handwriting: Thoreau's slanting script (sometimes written with a pencil he had made himself), Naipaul's precision, always in black ink. Henry Miller's handwriting was a model of clarity; so was Anthony Burgess's—and both were also speedy typists.

I write on paper with pen and ink, too. Theroux comments that he uses Lamy pens and a certain paper. I don't require special paper! I write my drafts on paper and then edit while I type. And then I have to print out my work to proofread and edit it again. If I am editing for word count, I will do that with word processing, but otherwise I cannot do edits or proofreading on the computer.

What tools do you use while writing?

A Coat of Arms

Above is the new coat of arms for The College of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, located in Fort Worth, Texas. The College was previously named for St. Thomas More, but added the name of St. John Fisher on May 5, this year. Here's an explanation for the coat of arms. The new website for the college includes these excellent descriptions of its patrons. The Dean of the newly renamed college is Dr. Taylor Marshall, author and former Episcopalian priest, who joined the Catholic Church in 2006 (I remember watching his Journey Home episode). Like me, he is a regular on the Son Rise Morning Show.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Question of Influence: Anne Boleyn and the English Reformation

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded for crimes of treason, adultery and incest by a special sword-wielding executioner who was sent for before her guilt was determined in a court of law. Her brief reign as Queen of England was over, but she had tremendous impact on events in her lifetime (and beyond, since she was Elizabeth I’s mother). Just as her guilt or innocence of the charges that brought her to the scaffold is a contentious issue, so also her role in the English Reformation is hotly debated. I am not convinced that she was guilty; nor am I convinced by some arguments that she was a great leader of the English Reformation.

She played one crucial role in the English Reformation: she was a catalyst (although she certainly did not escape change). Anne caught Henry’s eye and refused to be his mistress as her sister Mary had been; she demanded marriage and coronation. Because Anne held out, and because Henry was desperate for a legitimate male heir, and because Pope Clement VII would not grant Henry the annulment he sought of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry took his drastic step—take over the power and authority of the Church for himself. Thomas Cranmer, his new Archbishop of Canterbury declared that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was null and void so that Henry and Anne could marry.

It is commonly thought that Anne also gave Henry the pretext on which to take that drastic step, introducing him to William Tyndale’s book The Obedience of a Christian Man. Tyndale argued that the monarch should have control of the Church in his land—and Henry liked Tyndale’s argument, adopted it, and proceeded, through Convocation and Parliament to gain that control.

If Anne Boleyn was committed to the reform outlined by Luther and his followers like Tyndale on the Continent, she most certainly failed to influence Henry in that regard. He never adopted the crucial doctrines of the Continental Reformation—sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia. Although he suppressed use of the word purgatory, Henry still wanted prayers and Masses said for his own benefit after death. Henry always upheld the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and condemned men to death for denying it just as he did men who denied his supremacy in the Church. He was never comfortable with common people interpreting the Holy Bible, with married clergy, or with other changes. Religious practices in England veered from Cromwell and Cranmer's incremental reforms in liturgy to Henry's more conservative and traditional views. When Tyndale was executed in Vilvoorde, Belgium he prayed that God would open the eyes of the King of England.

In her study of Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir offers detail that indicates Anne and Henry agreed on some of these matters: before her execution, Anne availed herself of Catholic Sacraments: Confession and the Holy Eucharist. She asked for the Holy Eucharist to be brought to her apartments in the Tower of London soon after being imprisoned there; she asked Thomas Cranmer to hear her last confession, and she received Holy Communion.

This seems to demonstrate conventional Catholic beliefs in the Real Presence and of the efficacy of the Sacraments, unless Anne was cynically manipulating both Cranmer and Kingston, her jailer in the Tower, to prove her innocence. She made it clear that she did not confess as sins the crimes she was accused of and then pointed to her reception of Holy Communion as proving she had not committed those crimes. Receiving Holy Communion without confessing Mortal Sins (adultery and incest) would surely be condemning oneself to Hell! Anne seems to be a very conventional Catholic in these regards.

As Alison Weir notes in The Lady in the Tower, it was a fellow reformer who instigated the conspiracy leading to her arrest, trial, and execution: Thomas Cromwell. Anne and he clashed over the process of suppressing the monasteries as she thought any funds gained from their closing should benefit the poor. She was also more apt to argue for keeping some of the monasteries open in view of their service to the poor—at one point during her imprisonment in early May 1536, she hoped for refuge in a convent. Whatever role Anne had taken in the religious policies of Henry’s reign, evidently Cromwell was confident he could continue the process without her influence. (We should also remember that Cromwell seemed to regret some of his innovations as vice regent and vicar general; before his execution on July 28, 1540, he professed to die in the traditional religion.)

Of course, his king had to be convinced of his queen’s guilt if she was to be destroyed. Henry must have been unhappy with her since the only surviving baby was a girl; she had not fulfilled her main purpose. Anne was not prepared to be a queen and had been raised quite high by Henry. Her jealousy at his roving eye offended him and he told her so—mentioning her predecessor’s good behavior in that regard. Whatever her influence on him had been, it had clearly waned and another had caught his eye—one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. If Henry was dedicated to reformation of the Church in England, he certainly believed he could do it without her.

Anne was also abandoned by another ally: Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was at first not convinced of her guilt, but learning that Henry VIII believed her guilty, and reading the accusations and evidence against her, Cranmer regretfully stifled any concerns he might have and commiserated with Henry about her betrayal of him. In obedience to Henry, he declared that Henry’s marriage to Anne was null and void before her execution, creating a logical problem: if Henry and Anne were never married, how could she have committed adultery? Her guilt was a foregone conclusion, as far as Henry, Cromwell, and the court that tried her were determined. If Henry wanted her found guilty and executed, issues like her influence on the continuing reformation of religion in England must be put aside. Henry had executed other influential Catholic reformers like Cardinal Fisher and Thomas More: if true reformation of the Church in England was really the goal, they would have kept their heads. If Cranmer really thought her indispensable in reformation matters, he should have stood up for her more steadfastly—especially if he knew her innocent after her confession in the Tower.

The betrayal by Cromwell, the rejection by Henry, and the defection by Cranmer persuade me that Anne Boleyn did not have such great influence over religious matters in England as some authors, like Paul Zahl (Five Women of the English Reformation) or Joanna Denny (Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen) indicate.It is hard to argue that she died a martyr to the Protestant or even reformer cause, as some have, based on John Foxe's Acts and Monuments.The rejection by Henry is certainly most crucial, but Cranmer’s defection is most telling. Anne Boleyn was executed, as so many had been and would be, because Henry VIII wanted her to be executed!

These issues of her guilt, her innocence, her religious faith, her influence, her rise, her fall, her life, her death—they certainly demonstrate why Anne Boleyn is a constant figure of fascination in fiction, biography, historical study, movies, TV shows, websites, and blogs! For all the different ways that The Tudors series failed in historical accuracy, the dramatic presentation of Anne Boleyn's execution was very effective.

Last Words of Blessed Peter Wright in 1651

The hangman having fitted the rope to his neck, the confessor made a short speech to the spectators: Gentlemen, this is a short passage to eternity; my time is now short, and I have not much to speak. I was brought hither charged with no other crime but being a priest. I willingly confess I am a priest; I confess I am a Catholic; I confess I am a religious man of the Society of Jesus, or as you call it, a Jesuit.

This is the cause for which I die; for this alone was I condemned, and for propagating the Catholic faith, which is spread through the whole world, taught through all ages from Christ's time, and will be taught for all ages to come.

For this cause I most willingly sacrifice my life, and would die a thousand times for the same if it were necessary; and I look upon it my greatest happiness, that my most good God has chosen me most unworthy to this blessed lot, the lot of the saints. This is a grace which so unworthy a sinner could scarce have wished, much less hoped for. And now I beg of the goodness of my God with all the fervour I am able, and most humbly entreat Him that He would drive from you that are Protestants the darkness of error, and enlighten your minds with the rays of truth. And as for you Catholics, my fellow soldiers and comrades, as many of you as are here I earnestly beseech you to join in prayer for me and with me till my last moment; and when I shall come to Heaven I will do as much for you. God bless you all; I forgive all men. From my heart I bid you all farewell till we meet in a happy eternity.

Read more about this Jesuit martyr here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Queen Katherine Parr Quincentenary!


This summer Sudeley Castle will be the venue for celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Queen Katherine Parr, last and surviving wife of the notorious King Henry VIII. Beginning on 11th April 2012, the six month festival will bring to life the entwined history of the Castle and its most illustrious Tudor resident in a series of historical, literary and musical events.
The Festival’s patron is HRH the Duchess of Cornwall and the historical advisor is Dr David Starkey.

The Sudeley Castle website provides this context:

"Scandal, sadness, treason and tragedy"

Katherine Parr was Henry VIII’s last queen, lived at Sudeley and is buried in St Mary’s Church within the gardens. She is the only English Queen to be buried in a private residence.

This year is the 500th anniversary of Katherine Parr’s birth and we are celebrating the life of this extraordinary queen with a season-long festival of events. Highlights include talks from renowned historian Dr David Starkey, garden designer Sir Roddy Llewellyn, Michael Hirst –creator of the hit TV series the Tudors and author Alison Weir.

Katherine came to Sudeley for love and a future full of happiness with her first love, Thomas Seymour, after a lifetime of duty to the King. It was not to be. Within weeks of Henry’s death, she married Thomas Seymour - described by David Starkey as ‘The Stud of the Tudor times’ - in secret and she and her court move to his castle in Winchcombe. Katherine’s dream marriage began to quickly unravel. She had moved Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth 1) out of her household because of Seymour’s inappropriate advances to her. Katherine fell pregnant in 1548 and gave birth to a daughter, Mary, only to contract puerperal fever and die 3 days later at the age of 36.

The full story of scandal, sadness, treason and tragedy is told in a film presented by Dr. David Starkey, part of our new Katherine Parr exhibition. The festival culminates in the re-enactment of Katherine’s funeral service, the first Protestant funeral ever held. Dr Starkey will provide a live commentary to explain the significance of the ceremony.

"Katherine Parr was seen in the past as the most insignificant of Henry’s wives, the colourless one," says Dr. Starkey. "But as we learn more about her, that view is changing. She was a queen with a mission. She may well be one of the most important of Henry’s queens."

The Telegraph article linked above notes that Sudeley hopes to raise funds and Starkey hopes to change perceptions of Henry VIII's last queen:

This year, the quincentenary of the birth of Katherine Parr, Sudeley is hoping to make the most of its trump card. Her remains lie in a church in the grounds, the only private house in England to have buried a queen. On Sunday, it is reopening to the public with a new exhibition, which includes access to two of Katherine’s private rooms, her love letters, a tooth, a lock of hair, a painting from the National Portrait Gallery, two of her books (she was the first queen to be published under her own name), and a welcoming video by Dr David Starkey, the Tudor historian.
“It is a novel form of revenue-raising,” he jokes. “After 10 minutes of me, people will be thrusting soiled £10 notes into the hands of the guide to be let out.”
The reign of Henry VIII, he argues, “is the axis around which English history turns”, when the fortified garden of Shakespeare’s imagery became established and English became a major language. Euro-scepticism, he says, can be traced to the break with Rome.
And if that’s not enough, every event was “driven by the most obvious personal lusts and desires”. The Tudors, he argues, are the Greek myths of the English-speaking world. “The characters have what we would call star quality,” he says. “If history is what you remember, everyone remembers the Tudors.”
Of course, what most schoolchildren remember is the fact that Henry VIII divorced and beheaded so many wives. Katherine Parr, says Dr Starkey, is “traditionally seen as rather dull, as she survived – how very boring. But her story is actually a remarkable one.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Simon Stock and England

Yesterday, May 16, was the memorial of St. Simon Stock. The Catholic Herald published this story on his life and influence, even beyond the private revelation of the Brown Scapular, a popular Catholic devotion:

Simon Stock, who died in 1265, is a shadowy figure, of whom little is known with any certainty. Tradition holds, however, that he played an important part in the spread of the Carmelite order in western Europe. . . .

The precise point at which Simon Stock joined the order is not clear. He is said to have been an Englishman, born in Kent, where he spent much of his youth living in the hollow trunk, or “stock”, of a tree. According to one account, he was with the Carmelites in Palestine. According to another he became the first member of the order to receive a degree from Oxford University. Still another tradition places him as a monk at Hulme in Northumberland.

More certainly, he became the sixth prior-general of the Carmelites in 1245. Soon afterwards he is said to have called a general chapter at Aylesford in Kent and to have instituted a revision of the Rule, better adapted to monks who were now rather mendicant friars than hermits.

Simon has also been credited with establishing Carmelite houses in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and Bologna, as well as in Ireland and Spain.

In 1251, he was granted a vision in which the Virgin Mary instructed him to introduce into the order the wearing of the scapular. This consists of two strips of dark cloth, worn on the breast and the back, and fastened at the shoulders. Anyone who died in this garment, the Virgin assured him, would never be lost at the day of judgment.

It's not certain if the vision took place at Aylesford Priory or in Cambridge, but St. Simon Stock's relics are venerated at the Priory today. Aylesford Priory in Kent was revived in the 1950's after the Carmelites were able to purchase the lands and rededicate the buildings--it is now a retreat center and pilgrimage site. Of course, it had been suppressed during the reign of Henry VIII; the Wyatt family obtained it through the Court of Augmentations, but lost it during the reign of Mary I as a result of Wyatt's Rebellion.

May 17, 1537 Robert Aske Sentenced to Death


Robert Aske, barrister and gentleman leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace was convicted of treason and sentenced to death on this day in 1537. In defense of the monasteries in the north of England, he had led the large gathering of pilgrims, negotiating with Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk. Aske presented the peoples’ desires for an end to the suppression of the monasteries and other religious changes, referencing the protection of the Church promised in the Magna Carta! His pilgrim band/army far outnumbered Thomas Howard’s forces, but he wanted to negotiate a solution. Through Norfolk, Henry promised to convene a Parliament in York to address the issues if the rebels disbanded and returned to their homes. Aske also met with Henry in London. When another uprising broke the truce, Aske was arrested and tried.

David Knowles pays eloquent tribute to him in Bare Ruined Choirs: The Dissolution of the English Monasteries:

". . . he showed himself the most loyal and able contemporary champion and apologist of the Tudor religious, and his death cannot be allowed to pass without a memorial of words. He is indeed one of the few men of his age whom we recognize at once to have been utterly frank and single-minded . . ."

As Knowles continues, he describes how much Aske contributed to the progress of the Pilgrimage of Grace and yet demonstrates how aspects of Aske’s character led to its failure:

"Robert Aske, not Henry, was the true representative of all that was most characteristic and most sincere in England. [Yet] he failed because, when the call to build his tower had come suddenly upon him, he had not fully reckoned the cost."

Aske was not prepared to defy his king, to treat with Henry VIII as Henry VIII would treat with him, with force and deceit, and he was not prepared to defeat his king, to take him down if necessary:

"The leader of a rising should have been prepared, if need arose, to put his cause before his king; else it were better to have remained silent and hidden."

Aske thought he could trust his king to respond to the concerns of his people and to fulfill his promises. He did not want to use the force his army of pilgrims represented, and so, he failed.

Knowles concludes however:

"Of all leaders of revolts that have failed, Aske is one of the noblest. He was deceived and killed by the king whom he would gladly have served and whom he loved and trusted ‘not wisely but too well’."*

As Knowles’ memorial to Robert Aske makes clear, he was the better man in his dealings with Henry VIII because he was honorable and honest. Knowles further comments that only force could have stopped Henry VIII—but how far could that force go? If Aske had been willing to transform that group of pilgrims into an army, pitch battle against Thomas Howard, defeat him, then what? March to London and raise a siege on one of Henry VIII’s castles? Take the castle, capture Henry, and then execute him? Ultimately, this story demonstrates the limits even of military force.

Only Henry could have put the needs of his people above the needs of his power and responded to the Pilgrimage of Grace and Robert Aske as they deserved. In his mind, however, they deserved only punishment. He exacted brutal reprisals against the leaders of the uprising. Aske endured, not just the usual punishment of traitors, to be hung, drawn, and quartered, but the even more agonizing death of being hung from the battlements at York Castle, left to die of exposure and dehydration.

Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, tried to speak up in defense of Aske, the Pilgrimage, and the monasteries, but Henry warned her that speaking up and interfering with his will had brought about the fall of her predecessor. Jane heeded his warning and was silent.

As I have noted before, Dom David Knowles is a great writer: style and precision of diction abound in his works. You have to pause sometimes to let the impact gather. For instance, Aske is "one of the few men of his age whom we recognize at once to have been utterly frank and single-minded"--then what do we recognize most men of his age to be? (duplicitous and pragmatic--"syncophants and timeservers"). Aske failed because, "when the call to build his tower had come suddenly upon him, he had not fully reckoned the cost."--note the Biblical imagery (Luke 14: 28-30) As Knowles comments, what we know of Robert Aske comes from only six months or so of his 36 years of life, but we can tell from those months that he "had an intelligence, a capacity for leadership, and a sense of justice and generosity quite out of the common"--a fine epitaph indeed. May he rest in peace.

*David Knowles, Bare Ruined Choirs: The Dissolution of the English Monasteries. Cambridge: The University of Cambridge Press, 1967, pages 219-220

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Lady's Not for Hanging: Margaret Bulmer in Fiction and History

About a month ago I read Nancy Bilueau's debut novel, The Crown. At the beginning of the novel, set in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace and during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, "Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London." Joanna Stafford's cousin is none other than Lady Margaret Bulmer, the natural daughter of Edward Stafford, the Third Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham was accused of treason against Henry VIII and beheaded on May 17, 1521. Margaret Bulmer was sentenced to death for her part in the Pilgrimage of Grace and burned alive at Smithfield on May 27, 1537. Now that I am rereading H.F.M. Prescott's The Man on a Donkey as I said I ought to, I have met Margaret Stafford again and her little sister Julian. Prescott is indeed depicting Margaret as impulsive and obstinate. I wonder how or if Prescott will depict Margaret's fate?

Sharon L. Jackson wrote about Margaret (Cheyne) Bulmer in her Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII. According to this review,

Margaret Cheyne's crime was to encourage her husband, Sir John Bulmer, to take part in the Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII's Reformation and reforms. The rebellion built upon a combination of economic, social, political and religious resentments festering in the North of England. Witnesses attested that Margaret Cheyne had encouraged her husband to join the Pilgrimage of Grace and, fatally, to continue treasonous activities after the rebellion's failure in the autumn of 1536. She, herself, admitted that she incited Bulmer to resist the king. But was this a political decision, or, as Jansen herself suggests, the words of "a woman who wanted desperately to get out of the way of danger, not to plunge her husband or herself into it any further"? (p. 17). Jansen continues to undermine her case for Margaret Cheyne's political motivations. Little evidence survives documenting Margaret Cheyne's activities during the rebellion.[3] Her treason conviction appears to have been based upon the vague assertions of a few individuals. At the same time, other women, such as Lady Rhys, Lady Anne Hussey and Elizabeth Stapleton, took seemingly far more active roles in the rebellion yet escaped unscathed. But according to Jansen, Margaret Cheyne's parentage, combined with hostile relations with her in-laws, arguably left her dangerously vulnerable to the machinations of her enemies and accusers. Nevertheless, Jansen confidently declares that, "I would argue that Margaret Cheyne's presence among the rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace was deliberate rather than accidental, her participation in the rebellion much more significant than historians have realized" (p. 34).

Henry VIII had pardoned the Bulmers after the Pilgrimage of Grace, but they were accused of treason and executed when another Northern rebellion arose. We usually think of people being burned alive in connection with "Bloody Mary" and her reign's efforts to stamp out heresy; however, being burned alive was the usual form of capital punishment for women found guilty of treason. The usual sentence for men convicted of treason was being drawn, hung and quartered, but since that sentence involved nudity, women were burned at the stake. Anne Boleyn was found guilty of treason and condemned to be burned at the stake. The monarch could commute either sentence to the more merciful beheading, but Henry did not show that mercy to Margaret Bulmer, as he did to Anne Boleyn. Women were also burned at the stake if they murdered their husbands or tampered with currency. Thus, to misquote Christopher Fry, the Lady's Not for Hanging.