Wednesday, September 7, 2016

St. Thomas More's Brother-in-Law

In The Catholic Herald, Matthew Shellhorn introduces us to John Rastell, St. Thomas More's brother-in-law:

In the classical music world we are used to celebrating all sorts of anniversaries. There is barely a concert series or a festival that does not hang its programming on some kind of “milestone”. It might be 100 years since this musician’s birth, 450 years since that composer’s death or 950 years since a venue where music has been continually heard on a daily basis was founded (as happened late last year for Westminster Abbey).

My candidate does not have a certain date of birth or even an exact date of death – although (I feel obliged to calculate) the most likely anniversary of his passing would be 480 years this year. What we do know is that John Rastell (born c1475), brother-in-law of St Thomas More, was a unique and immensely important figure in the history of music who in turn affected our liturgical experience forever.

His biographer Cecil H Clough has written that he was “a prime example of the turn of fortune’s wheel in Tudor England”. After a period working in his hometown of Coventry (where we know that Thomas More visited his sister Elizabeth and her husband), Rastell managed a thriving legal practice for 20 years in London.

He appears to have ultimately succumbed to social pressure, or at least to have tried to second-guess the winds of change, by abandoning the “old religion” and making positive noises about the new ways of thinking. Such opportunism evidently tipped over into a futile fervour when, towards the end of his life in the spring of 1535, he repeatedly visited the Charterhouse, attempting to “convert” its monks.

But it was as a printer that Rastell made his mark, picking up projects reflecting his societal associations. Perhaps his first printed book, inc 1509, was a biographical work with translation by Thomas More. Towards 1520, he developed a remarkable new way of printing music.

Read the rest there.

I presume the 1509 work that Shellhorn mentions is Thomas More's The Life of Pico, which Scepter Publishers has issued in a modernized English version:

Presented to modern readers in English for the first time in 500 years, The Life of Pico is a biography of one of the Renaissance’s most famous figures: Giovanni Pico de la Mirandola (1463-94). Given More’s demanding personal spiritual life, one would assume that More wishes to praise a famous and virtuous man. But what emerges from this book is quite different. Pico turns out to be an extraordinarily virtuous, talented, and wealthy man, but a man nonetheless, who is missing something essential. And so More calls Pico “a very spectacle” of virtue.

More sees Pico as very much like himself, as the two turn out to have very similar life experiences. Both carry some scars from difficult or missing relationships with their fathers, both are extremely talented and powerful in their time, and both had been steered toward a religious vocation which they did not embrace.

The book is as much a riddle about More as it is an explanation of Pico. More’s great-grandson and biographer, Cresacre More, claims that Thomas More as a young man sought to emulate Pico once he decided that his path in life was marriage and not the cloth. The book’s first half contains the abridged account of Pico’s life. The second half is More’s rhymed verse on the 12 rules of spiritual battle, the 12 weapons of spiritual battle, and the 12 properties of a lover, followed by Pico’s prayer to God. In the last analysis, this biography of Pico becomes an exercise in the discernment of true virtue, in the contradictions and difficulties one encounters in the immersion into the world, and at the same time, in the life of God.

Also, I want to highlight the comment about the spring of 1535, while his brother-in-law Thomas More was in the Tower of London: "Such opportunism evidently tipped over into a futile fervour when, towards the end of his life in the spring of 1535, he repeatedly visited the Charterhouse, attempting to “convert” its monks."

British History Online describes the pressure that was brought upon the Carthusians in 1535 and after--when the issue of the Oath of Succession was presented to them in 1534, St. John Houghton, the prior said "that Carthusians did not meddle with the king's affairs; they asked only to be left in peace"--there would be no peace:

Houghton knew well that further demands would come, and urged his monks to spend their time in prayer and preparation for their trial. Less than a year in fact elapsed before the Act of Supremacy (November 1534), followed by the Treasons Act, laid anyone who denied that the king was supreme head on earth of the Church of England under liability to a charge of high treason. In the spring of 1535 commissioners were appointed to secure general acknowledgement of the royal supremacy; this was usually obtained by administering an oath upon the gospels in terms of acceptance. The preparations made at the Charterhouse for the day of ordeal, and the scenes in chapter-house and church described by Chauncy, are a familiar page of Tudor history made immortal by Froude. (fn. 81) While awaiting the summons, Houghton was visited by the Priors of Beauvale and Axholme. The former, Robert Laurence, was a professed monk of London who had succeeded Houghton on the latter's recall. After a series of interviews and examinations before Cromwell, (fn. 82) the three priors were lodged in the Tower; they were tried on 28-29 April and condemned to death for refusal to accept the royal supremacy. (fn. 83) They were executed at Tyburn on 4 May. (fn. 84) When Houghton had been imprisoned Humphrey Middlemore, now vicar, was in charge, and had as his principal counsellors William Exmew, the procurator, and Sebastian Newdigate; when they resisted all persuasions to take the oath (fn. 85) they also were removed to Newgate, where they remained for a fortnight chained by neck and legs to posts. Finally, on 11 June, they were tried (fn. 86) and condemned, and on 19 June executed. After their departure the monks of the orphaned community were subjected to every kind of persuasion and petty persecution, deprived of their books, harassed by visitors, vexed by the continual presence in the cloister of Cromwell's men, (fn. 87) and urged by the Bridgettines of Syon to submit; (fn. 88) some months later (perhaps in April 1536) they were given as superior William Trafford, sometime procurator of Beauvale, who had at first made a brave show of refusing the oath to the royal supremacy, (fn. 89) but had subsequently capitulated and become entirely subservient to Cromwell. A little later a further expedient was tried. Four of the most stubborn were exiled; Chauncy and John Foxe were sent in May 1536 to Beauvale, Rochester and Walworth to Hull; (fn. 90) a little later eight more were sent to Syon, (fn. 91) and between 1535 and 1538 half-a-dozen monks from other houses were imported to London. At last in May 1537, when the Council threatened to suppress the house out of hand if the oath were refused, a division was created, some agreeing to swear in order to save their way of life; among these was the chronicler Chauncy. (fn. 92) Ten, however, still refused to swear; three priests, a deacon, and six lay brothers. (fn. 93) On 18 May these were lodged in Newgate and chained to posts, where all save one died of starvation or disease during the summer. The one survivor, William Horne, was kept a prisoner and executed at Tyburn on 4 August 1540. (fn. 94) Meanwhile the two at Hull had been executed at York by the Duke of Norfolk in May 1537, on the same charge as their brethren in London. (fn. 95) In all, eighteen Carthusians were executed, seventeen of them professed monks of the London Charterhouse. Within a few weeks of the removal of the recalcitrants in May, the rump of the community was induced to surrender the house (10 June), (fn. 96) but it was not until 15 November 1538 that the House of the Salutation was actually disbanded. (fn. 97) When that was done William Trafford and sixteen choir monks received pensions; the six surviving lay brothers received nothing. Of the seventeen pensioners eleven were among those who swore to the Act of Succession in 1534. The others must have been newcomers to London from other Carthusian houses, as it is not conceivable that recruits would have been professed during the years 1534-8. Despite the existence of several lists of names and two or three precise statements by Chauncy, it is impossible to account exactly either for the full number of those known to have been in the house shortly before 1534 or for the subsequent arrivals and departures. (fn. 98)

It's very sad that John Rastell must be credited with harassing the holy Carthusians. There is a modern biography of Rastell, published by McGill-Queen's University Press in Montreal.

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