Friday, April 24, 2015

If England Had Remained Catholic

There have been other alternative histories of England if the Spanish Armada succeeded, for example, or if, somehow the English Reformation never happened, but they have usually been negative and based upon flawed historical understanding. One example is Kingsley Amis' The Alteration, as summarized on this website:

Renowned novelist Kingsley Amis entered alternate-history territory in 1976 with his award-winning novel The Alteration. In his imagined history, Henry VIII’s short-lived older brother, Arthur, has a son just before his death. When Henry tries to usurp his nephew’s throne, he is stopped in a papal war. Hence, the Church of England is never founded, the Spanish Armada is never defeated (as Elizabeth I was never born), and Martin Luther reconciles with the Catholic Church, eventually becoming Pope. Naturally, this turns Europe into a vastly different place. By 1976, it is ruled by the Vatican, in the middle of a long-running Christian/Muslim cold war, and technologically regressed, as electricity is banned and scientists are frowned upon.

Of course, that last statement is ridiculously inaccurate, since Catholics, especially Jesuit priests--in the real world--were scientists. Of course, in Amis' world, St. Ignatius of Loyola might never have founded the Jesuits. But then, Benedictines would have fostered the use of electric power, just as they developed water power in their monasteries. Typical anti-Catholic rubbish. (Read or re-read Thomas E. Woods, Jr.'s How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization in paperback from Ignatius Press for more information on the Catholic Church and science.)

Dominic Selwood writes in The Catholic Herald a more hopeful view of England if the infant Henry the Duke of Cornwall hadn't died:

The 19-year-old King Henry VIII took to the field arrayed in cloth of gold and blue velvet, all spangled with golden hearts and K’s for his 25-year-old wife, Katherine of Aragon, whose honour he defended as “Sir Loyal Heart”. The joust was the most lavish of Henry’s reign, celebrating the birth, 10 days earlier on New Year’s Day, of their son, Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall.

Henry VIII and Katherine went on to preside over England’s first truly Renaissance court, where the progressive influence of Thomas More and Erasmus brought a gentle but keen appreciation of the classics and humanities. When Henry died an old man, he was mourned as our greatest scholar king.

His son, King Henry IX, acceded to the throne, inaugurating one of England’s most luminous reigns. He sponsored the maritime genius of Drake and Raleigh, oversaw England’s first substantial colonies in the New World, and witnessed the consolidation of England and Spain as Europe’s leading Catholic powers.

Selwood reminds us that's not what happened, of course, but then begins to sketch out some alternative ideas about the past and the present:

But let’s rejoin the story with Henry VIII, and ask what would have happened if Henry and Katherine had never divorced. How might England be different today?

First, the Reformation would almost certainly not have reached England, then known affectionately for the deepness of its Catholic faith as “Mary’s Dowry”. There were few Protestants this side of the Channel, and nothing suggests they would have grown in any significant numbers. So, like most of continental Europe, England would have remained Catholic.

He thinks that Mystery Plays would still be popular or would have influenced current drama, the monasteries would still be helping the needy, sheltering the homeless, and welcoming the stranger, and that English Catholic spirituality, with its colorful, gentle beauty would have greater influence--Selwood also opines that Cardinal Archbishop Edmund Campion would have led "an English scriptural renaissance" by translating the Holy Bible into English (instead of being torn apart at Tyburn Tree). Selwood should have also mentioned the influence of the friaries on social welfare and care for the poor (he may be lumping monasteries and friaries together, but there is a difference.)

Read the rest there.

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