One of the most impressive things about this pilgrimage to England was the remembrance of a Catholic England that was not only brutally destroyed, but a destruction which, to this day, is covered up by a smokescreen of ignorance, propaganda and lies. Henry VIII is still presented in tourist information boards, cathedral guides and church leaflets as “the charismatic young King who reformed a corrupt church system of the Dark Ages.” His depredations, robbery, iconoclasm and cruelty is totally glossed over. Time and again the pilgrims were astounded to see how Mary Queen of Scots [and] Catherine of Aragon were ignored or sidelined–how Mary Tudor was still presented as “Bloody Mary” and Elizabeth I as “Good Queen Bess”. Happily our guide at the Tower was probably a Catholic and stressed how Elizabeth’s persecution of Catholics was far more severe and long lasting and pervasive than Mary’s persecution of Protestants ever was.
That this misrepresentation still continues with films like the two Elizabeth movies and the recent TV series Wolf Hall is shameful. Revisionist historians like Eamon Duffy, Jack Scarisbrick and Christopher Haigh have done their work and any researcher now has no excuse not to know the true history of the period, but of course that history doesn’t sell. So the blood of the English martyrs is ignored. The true horror of Tyburn Tree, Topcliffe’s torture chambers and 300 years of Catholic persecution in England–the longest and harshest in history–is swept under the carpet. Chief among the culprits, of course, are the Anglicans. They continue to present their laundered view of history–despite knowing full well what happened, and still (to my knowledge) there has been no formal attempt of repentance and sorrow for what happened similar to Pope St John Paul II’s famous Ash Wednesday service of repentance in the year 2000.
Reading this made me sad. I've tried on the popular level with my book, articles, this blog, radio interviews, a 13 week radio show (!), presentations, etc, etc, and so forth, for the past six years to tell this story. Duffy, Scarisbrick, and Haigh all wrote on an academic level to lay the foundation for a more accurate view of the history of the English Reformation, of course, but Father Longenecker is right that history does not sell or at least that historical revisionism doesn't sell. It's so much more easy to accept the common lies, the Black Legend, the party line, either because of prejudice or because it's hard to think about it a different way.
When I taught my class on St. Thomas More in May, I referenced George Weigel's comment from First Things on the commonly accepted view of the English Reformation and how the revisionist view still hasn't replaced the Whig version:
As I told the little group of friends cum students (including Rex the dog), reading that made me sad. Of course, I've been doing all this on a part-time basis, but I'm disappointed that the project and the message I think so important has been ignored. Thanks to all of you who follow my blog, have read my book, listened to interviews, liked my facebook page, followed me on twitter, etc. Your comments and encouragement are always welcome.