Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Belloc's Views of Cecil and Henry IV of France

Anna Mitchell and I will continue our discussion of Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation, looking at what he thinks of the characters of William Cecil, Lord Burghley and King Henry IV of France tomorrow on the Son Rise Morning Show. Listen live here about 6:50 a.m. Central time/7:50 a.m. Eastern time.

After what Belloc said about Elizabeth I, you won't be surprised by his first comments about William Cecil, Lord Burghley (and his son):

William Cecil, who is better known as. Lord Burghley, the title he took after clinching his great success in the middle of his career, was the author of Protestant England. One might almost call him the creator of modern England as a whole, for he stands at the root of the Church of England — the typical central religious institution following on the English Reformation; and it was under his rule that the seeds were sown of all that later developed into what is now the English political and social system. 

It has often been remarked that England, more than any other European country, is cut off from her past. When England became Protestant she became a new thing and the old Catholic England of the thousand years before the Reformation is, to the Englishman after the Reformation, a foreign country. Now, the true artisan of that prodigious change was William Cecil, Lord Burghley. 

Thomas Cromwell was the man who achieved the breach with Rome and who launched England out onto the beginning of the adventure, but William Cecil was the man who by his own genius and that of his son Robert - did the essential work of changing England from a Catholic to a Protestant country. It was he who eradicated the Faith from the English mind, it was he who prevented the succour of Catholic England by the power of Catholic Europe outside; it was he who instituted and maintained a reign of terror, the long endurance of which at last crushed out the Mass from English soil.

Of course, this is the greatest sad thing Belloc could think of ever happening, the eradication of the Catholic Mass in England:

(Illustration of the Sarum Rite 1400)

(Page from a Missal of the Sarum Rite)

(A Pontifical Mass in the Sarum Rite: Note the Schola)

As Belloc continues to analyze Cecil's character, he addresses Cecil's motives:

He was without joy, and one may fairly say without religion. His motive was not hatred of the Catholic Church such as we find in Cranmer or in his own servant and head spy, Walsingham, the chief of his intelligence department. He destroyed the Church in England because he desired to confirm his own wealth and that of the clique of which he was the head, the new millionaires who had risen upon the booty of the monasteries, the bishoprics and all the rest. 

He himself was not, oddly enough, a direct thief of Church land; the huge fortune of the Cecils which has kept them an important family even to this day came from the betrayal of colleagues, the enjoyment of lucrative posts, and all that can be done by unscrupulous men in power to their own enrichment. The lands they held were largely Church lands, but at second hand. The Cecils had no considerable grant that I can remember out of the original loot. Yet were they, and William Cecil their founder, the typical and representative heads of all that new wealth which arose on the ruins of religion in England.

Belloc notes that Cecil used patriotism, love of country, to make it clear that Catholicism was not English:

His subtlety in gradually derailing England from her Catholic course was amazing. He found in these first years of his power a country the whole bulk of which was still entirely Catholic, in practice, daily habit and tradition. He could not challenge directly a force of that kind, but he undermined it; he played the card of national feeling; he relied upon Philip of Spain, the chief Catholic champion, to plead with the Pope that the new English Church was, after all, tolerable and that the schism might not be permanent. 

Meanwhile he prevented any direct action on the part of the Pope in England and he prevented a Nuncio from landing. Though the first laws had been passed making the worship in all the parish churches that of the new Anglican Establishment, yet the authorities winked at a large amount of toleration, going slowly in order to do their work more thoroughly later on. Men would take Communion in the Anglican form, and later take it in the Catholic form from the hands of the same parish priest; and Cecil boasted that no man suffered on account of his religion, only for treason to the State. 

Throughout his life he continued to play that card of national feeling as the strongest he had in his game against Rome. 

And as Belloc concludes, Cecil succeeded in both separating England from Catholicism and weakening Catholicism on the Continent as a political and cultural influence:

Thus was the great work which William Cecil had set out to do in England and Europe accomplished. On this account the whole of that decisive period in English history should properly be called "The Reign of the Cecils." It was they who introduced James I (just as they had introduced Elizabeth) to the throne; it was they who guided and shepherded the nation into the new paths. 

Such was William Cecil; one of the greatest and certainly one of the vilest of men that ever lived. His work has outlived him and his associates by many hundred years.

With the chapter on Henry IV of France, Belloc makes a transition to a new century and a new view of the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism: on the Continent and in France:

With the opening of the seventeenth century the Reformation enters its second phase. Its first had been a universal struggle to determine whether the Faith should be retained by all Europe or lost by all Europe. The struggle had been accompanied in Spain by violent repressions, in the Germanies by local conflicts, compromises and conferences, in France by violent civil war. 

In England the Faith had been worsted by the consistent pressure against it of government, and with the loss of England (and Scotland under English power) the chance of a complete victory for Catholicism was lost. It was lost by 1606. 

Henceforward we have in all Europe a second phase more political and less religious than the first: a division of Europe into two parts: Catholic and Protestant, which gradually crystallized and became permanent. 

France fell after its exhausting civil war on to the Catholic side: but not thoroughly. The weakened combatants had ended by a compromise. 

Henry IV of France was the typical figure of the compromise. He is symbolic of the way in which the great religious struggle of the seventeenth century in Europe was going to end. 

Belloc offers little insight into Henry IV's character or personality as he catches us up on the history of the French Civil Wars of Religion, including the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the fall of Valois, and Henry of Navarre of the House of Bourbon's ultimate compromise:

With the death of the last Valois, Henry of Navarre was legitimate King of France. He had the powerful Huguenot army at his service and, because he had hereditary right on his side, though still a Protestant, numbers of the Catholic gentry joined Mm as well. The action of Paris in preferring religion to hereditary right was odious to them; but Paris held out and formed the centre of resistance to the Bourbon. 

Up to this point it had seemed probable that Henry of Navarre would make good his right to the succession, and that France would have a Protestant King. If that should take place all the Protestant leaders (who were quite half the nobility of the country) would have received a great accession of power; a general loot of Church lands would certainly have begun after the pattern of what had happened in England, and probably the Faith would ultimately have been lost to France. Had France gone Protestant, the centre of gravity in Europe, from being with the Catholic culture, would have passed to the Protestant culture. 

(Entrance of Henry IV in Paris, 22 March 1594)

What saved the situation was the continued tenacity of the people of Paris. Although Henry of Navarre was still victorious they were determined not to give way; and, though they were subjected to a most horrible famine, they refused to yield. 

At last it was Henry of Navarre himself who gave way. He may or may not have used the famous words, " Paris is worth the Mass!" but these words certainly expressed his sentiments. He himself, like most of his rank in those days, had no real religion. The Huguenot preachers, whom he had to listen to, bored him intensely; he was a very loose liver [Le Vert Galant!], much attached to his pleasures; the very opposite of a Puritan. He had the virtues of a soldier with no real faith in any doctrine. He judged that it would be better, after all, to accept the religion of the bulk of his subjects as, unless he did so, he might never be allowed to reign in peace. 

This decision of Henry of Navarre to become Catholic was, as I have said, the first act of the great compromise by which Europe ultimately settled down into two opposing cultures — Catholic and Protestant. It marked the victory of popular Catholicism in France and the end of the chances — which once had stood so high — of Protestantism capturing that country. 

But the thing was not a Catholic victory by any means; it was what I have called it, a compromise. Henry's old comrades in arms retained their violent opposition to Catholicism; his right hand man, Sully, who worked his finances and was even more avaricious than most of the Huguenot set, was an example in point; and on all sides the Huguenots retained great political power. 

The new King further favoured them (with the object of retaining their support and reigning peaceably) by issuing an Edict known to history as the "Edict of Nantes." Under this arrangement a very large measure of toleration and something a good deal more than toleration was granted to the Huguenots. They were to be allowed to hold a certain number of strong towns and to garrison them and govern them independently, and thus form a sort of kingdom within the kingdom. 

As Belloc notes, Protestants were allowed some measure of freedom of worship in France but the Catholics none in England. So he concludes:

France was not, at his death, a fully Catholic country : on the contrary, it had become, through his action, a country in which a powerful anti-Catholic faction, counting many of the richest families in the kingdom, was tolerated and held important strongholds, as well as having the right to combine and put up effective resistance to the mass of the nation. 

The ultimate result of thus establishing a dualism of religion was a current of French opinion which in the course of two more generations began to shift from Protestantism to a skeptical form of anti-Catholicism. But still, take it for all in all, the Catholic culture of France had been saved by Henry of Bourbon's abjuration. And that King, known to history as "Henri Quatre" had, though not intending to do so, saved the civilization of the country and of Europe — though hardly.

1 comment:

  1. I find very interesting the section on Henry of Navarre and France during their religious wars. One cannot help but note that whereas today Paris represents the leading edge against traditional patriotic France, it presented the main resistance to the Huguenot aristocracy during Henry's reign. Also noteworthy is the fact that around 50% of the rich upper class in France were protestant. Accommodation, and compromise as today creates a groundwork where more accommodation will in time be required. Tolerance although seemingly a requirement according to the rules of civil society carries the seeds of the political correctness which leaves the western world teetering on the edge of civilizational collapse.