Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Belloc in the Morning: Mourning Two Queens

Just a reminder that Anna Mitchell and I will talk about Belloc's views of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn as Characters of the Reformation this morning. Listen live here a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

Here are Belloc's comments on Catherine of Aragon's death:

She did not long survive the tragedies which had been imposed upon her, and which she had borne with such steadfast courage. She died in January, 1536, too early to see the fall and disgrace of her rival, Anne Boleyn; and almost her last act was a letter still full of passionate love written to the King, who had not allowed her so much as to see him for now more than six years. It was then she wrote the famous phrase, "The desire of my eyes is to see you again." But the man had damned himself. 

They buried her in Peterborough Cathedral, not putting over her one of those great and splendid tombs of die Re- naissance, such as all her high kindred had throughout the West, but a plain slab of black stone on which there was not even an inscription till modern times. One may meditate with some profit on that simple and ignominious piece of masonry, the poor tomb of so good a woman who stood at the origin of such great and disastrous things.

It was widely believed, and on good authority, that her rival had caused her to be poisoned. It is equally probable, perhaps more probable, that she died a natural death; for we know from the autopsy that there was a small growth upon her heart which may have been cancerous. 

She died, as her daughter Mary was to die many years later, hearing Mass, the Mass that was said in her sick- room. She made the responses and received Holy Communion. And it is memorable, and typical of her Spanish rigidity and orthodoxy as well as of her training in Catholic things, that when her Chaplain and Confessor offered to say Mass for her before the Canonical hours lest she should die without it, she bade him, wait until the regular time had come — and she lived on the few hours sufficient to enjoy the fruits of her patience.  

(Image credit: the Queen's tomb in Peterborough Cathedral)

And Belloc discusses the issues of Anne Boleyn's guilt:

On Friday, May 19, 1536, she was beheaded with a sword within the precincts of the Tower of London, by the headsman from Calais, specially brought over for the execution. Was she guilty of the misconduct ascribed to her? It is one of the most fiercely debated points in English history. Standing as she does at the origins of the Reformation, the favourers of that movement have been hot in her defence. On the other hand, those who desire to exculpate Henry as much as they can exculpate that detestable character, like to believe her guilty, while for the defenders of the old Religion nothing was too bad to be put down to Anne. 

The accusations, especially that of incest, seem so monstrous that their very enormity is an argument in her favour. On the other hand, she was certainly unscrupulous in affairs of this kind, and she seems to have been quite unbalanced in the last year or two of her life. Some who have medical experience in these matters maintain that she suffered from a particular irresponsibility, which makes the charges credible enough. I have myself always inclined to accept them. But many good students of the period with whom I have discussed the matter are divided, and some urge the strong argument that the two gentlemen concerned did not confess, while the musician, who did, confessed only under threat of torture. Anyhow, they were all put to death as well as herself. 

Catherine had died before her. Henry's marriage with Jane Seymour which took place immediately after Anne's death was therefore quite legitimate in the eyes of the Church, and quite probably there would have been a re- conciliation with Rome had it not been for Thomas Cromwell's having already launched the policy of confiscating church property, beginning with the monasteries, a policy which created a vested interest of great power against re-union.  

(Image credit: St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London (used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license from Wikipedia Commons).

How coincidental that both were buried in churches connected to the name Peter, since the See of Peter, the Papacy was the crucial Court affecting their marriages to Henry VIII!

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