Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Belloc on the English Gardiner and the Spanish Mary

Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation tomorrow morning. I hope you are enjoying it--but there will be a break in our bi-weekly pattern as the Son Rise Morning Show takes the week of Christmas off. Early in the New Year, perhaps on January 3, we will continue the series: Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots!!

Tomorrow, however, we will discuss Belloc's takes on Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, and Queen Mary I, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child. In the chapter on Gardiner Belloc sets up a theme: being truly English:

The figure of Stephen Gardiner is not among the very great figures of the English Reformation, or at any rate not quite in the first flight. On this account it has been in great part neglected, and quite unduly neglected, because although he did not mold events nor decide the general course of the movement, there is one reason for which all those who desire to understand the great disaster should make themselves well acquainted with this man. This reason is that he was the typical Englishman of the day. 

 If you follow the fortunes of Stephen Gardiner's soul, the fluctuation of his opinion, his utter devotion to national feeling, his original error on this account, his gradual awakening to the peril in which religion lay — his whole career, especially on its spiritual internal side — then you understand the England of the time. Henry the King, impulsive and very vain, was certainly not a typical Englishman. Even Mary Tudor, with her half Spanish blood and her isolated mind, could not be called typical of the country; Cranmer was not, for he was too much of an artist and much too much of a time-server and a coward to be typical of any ordinary healthy normal citizen of any time or place. Elizabeth was still less typical of England, for both by her talents and by her diseases of body and soul she was an abnormality. 

But Gardiner is the true Englishman of the time in body and mind and everything else. And that is his importance; understanding him, you understand the English Reformation, or rather you understand the kind of average citizen upon whom the catastrophe fell. It is, therefore, a great loss to history that even highly educated men have heard so little of him. For a hundred men who have heard of Henry, for fifty who have heard of Cranmer, perhaps one could tell you who Stephen Gardiner was.

Belloc brings up the heresy trials and burnings of Protestants (and those any orthodox Christian would consider believing in heresies about the Person of Jesus etc) and Gardiner's involvement:

There is one last point to be made with regard to him, and that is his attitude towards the prosecutions of the revolutionaries for heresy rather than for treason. Because he was Chancellor, because he was Mary's right-hand man and the most prominent of the Catholic protagonists, the symbol of tradition in the national religion, he was until recently almost universally accused by our official historians of particular harshness and even cruelty in the treatment of the heretics after the new policy began.

Now what was his real attitude towards it? We have no need for reluctance in the matter. The government had a perfect right to treat a small rebel minority, which was working for the destruction of religion and of the Monarch as well, as public enemies; it was rather a matter of policy than of morals whether the rebels should be treated as heretics or as traitors. But was Gardiner as a fact prominent in the prosecutions? Was he a leading spirit in them? It may be doubted or even denied.

As Chancellor it was of course his business to preside over the affair; but it is to be remarked that he took pains to save men from the consequences of their error, that he personally helped some of those most in danger to escape from the country, and in his own great diocese there were no executions. That was due in part, of course, to the fact that the poison had not reached the western country parts over which that diocese extended; it was only virulent in London, one or two seaport towns and certain sections of East Anglia and the Home Counties.

But still, from all that we know of the nature of the man and of his policy in other things, we may fairly conclude that if he had had a free hand he would have been in favour of Philip of Spain's policy and not of that of the Council. He would, I think, had he had a free hand, have made a few examples by prosecuting for treason; but he would have prevented the wholesale prosecutions for heresy. For that was what Mary's Spanish husband had urged: to repress treason rather than heresy. But Paget and the council, to show their English independence, rejected the foreigner's counsel.

I find it interesting that Belloc emphasizes Mary's "Spanishness": she was no more Spanish than he was French (and Belloc was born in France; his father was French and his mother English) in her feeling for the English people. He seems to use this foreignness (and she had never even been to Spain!) and her isolation and loneliness as the most long-suffering of Henry VIII's children as  excuses for the errors of her reign:

The true picture of Mary Tudor is that of a woman simple in character, like her mother, somewhat warped by isolation, devout, thoroughly virtuous, led of necessity by her all-powerful Council but in some points insisting upon her own will, and without too much judgment. She was also a woman suffering, like all Henry's children, from bad health, and dying early; a woman who was thoroughly representative in her religion of the bulk of the nation, and yet who was somewhat out of touch with the spirit of the nation in important matters, such as that of her Spanish marriage. It is further true that had she lived a few years longer England would probably be Catholic to-day, and had she had a child England would certainly be Catholic to-day. For the English people had always loved her and always regarded her as their true Queen and would not have tolerated the rivalry of anyone against her descendants. 

Mary Tudor was born in 1516, on February 18, when Henry and his wife Catherine of Aragon had been happily married for less than seven years, when the young King was still devoted to his wife and when everything was going well. . . .

She was in her fourteenth year when the great trial was held under Wolsey and Campeggio in London by which Henry hoped to obtain his divorce from her mother, Queen Catherine. She was already quite able to understand every- thing that was happening and to burn with indignation against the abominable way in which her mother was being treated. She was a woman grown, in her eighteenth year, when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen and was therefore in a position to heap indignity and insult not only on the legitimate Queen (who was now exiled from Court) but on the legitimate heiress to the English throne, Mary herself. 

It was at such an age — eighteen — that Mary saw the illegitimate child of her mother's rival — the baby Elizabeth — proclaimed heiress to England and herself legally bastardized. Finally, when she lost her chief support by her mother's death, she was within six weeks of her twentieth birthday. All that youth of hers had been passed in the one preoccupation of the shameful affair which was bitterly disastrous and humiliating to her.

That last comment about the humiliation of how her mother was discarded and she was rejected because of the affair and the "divorce" shows me that Belloc sympathized with what Mary had endured. Yet, he does not make the point directly that Mary had to work with Stephen Gardiner, her Chancellor, who had aided and abetted her father's "Great Matter" and his take over of the Catholic Church. He had, as Belloc noted in the previous chapter, thoroughly supported Henry VIII in both the divorce and his Supremacy: while he repented of the latter, it's not clear what he thought about the former by the time Mary came to the throne. 

Belloc does take issue with how Catholic historians have defended or apologized for the burnings and Mary's part in the them:

But the curious thing is that those who should be the defenders of true, that is Catholic, history, have helped to perpetuate the legend by doing no more than answer individual points in it and not dealing with its falsity as a whole. 

For instance, they point out that if Mary persecuted she was only acting according to the spirit of the time; that if she put to death a great number of Protestants, so under Elizabeth were put to death a great number of Catholics — and so on. They imply the whole time that the main thesis of their opponents is true, namely, that England was already Protestant or at least was divided into two halves — Protestant and Catholic; that the initiative in the executions proceeded from Mary herself, and that her government had no right to check rebellion. 

When you meet the falsehood of an opponent by picking holes in the details of what he says, while still admitting his general thesis, you only confirm the error which he desires to propagate: the right way of meeting false propaganda is by the statement of the truth and the vigorous erection of a true picture which shall cancel the false one.

So the question would have to be: did Belloc succeed in establishing "a true picture"?

More tomorrow.

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