Excerpts here from an article by Dominic Selwood bring forward once again the analysis of Prof. Eamon Duffy and others regarding the vibrant state of Catholic faith in the Church in England at the time just before the Reformation.
|Our Lady of Walsingham|
The full article, Protestant Spin Machine, in the TELEGRAPH gives a thorough interpretation of what has been really a suppressed history of the vibrant popular English Catholic Church of the late Middle Ages and how it was systematically dismantled by the elites of the day for their own self-interest.
The developing Englishness or "Anglican" flavour of the Catholic Church in England (Ecclesia Anglicana) for over a thousand years until the sixteenth century cannot be denied. Undoubtedly, the Reformation changed and shaped what we know as Anglican patrimony. Core Catholic sacraments and practices, however, were steadily recovered in the Anglican Communion from the time of the Caroline Divines throughout the Oxford Movement to the twentieth century.
Now, within the Personal (Anglican) Ordinariates of the Catholic Church, we have a way to restore and develop the full patrimony of English Catholicism and to give the essentials of Anglicanism a home in the full embrace of the Catholic Church once again.
Here are some excerpts from Selwood's article in THE TELEGRAPH:
In 2003, Charles Clarke, Tony Blair’s Secretary of State for Education and Skills, expressed strong views on the teaching of British history:
"I don’t mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them."
In response, Michael Biddiss, professor of medieval history at Reading University, suggested that Mr Clarke’s view may have been informed by Khrushchev’s notion that historians are dangerous people, capable of upsetting everything.
Rulers in all ages have tried to control how history sees them, and have gone to great lengths to have events recorded the way they want. The process is as old as authority itself.
|Young Henry VIII|
. . . . So what about England? Has our constitutional monarchy and ancient tradition of parliamentary democracy protected our history from political manipulation? Can we rely on what we are taught and told, or are there myths we, too, have swallowed hook, line, and sinker?
. . . . For centuries, the English have been taught that the late medieval Church was superstitious, corrupt, exploitative, and alien. Above all, we were told that King Henry VIII and the people of England despised its popish flummery and primitive rites. England was fed up to the back teeth with the ignorant mumbo-jumbo magicians of the foreign Church, and up and down the country Tudor people preferred plain-speaking, rational men like Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin. Henry VIII achieved what all sane English and Welsh people had long desired – an excuse to break away from an anachronistic subjugation to the ridiculous medieval strictures of the Church.For many in England, the subject of whether or not this was true was not even up for debate. Even now, the historical English disdain for all things Catholic is often regarded as irrefutable and objective fact. Otherwise why would we have been taught it for four and a half centuries? And anyway, the English are quite clearly not an emotional race like some of our continental cousins. We like our churches bright and clean and practical and full of common sense. For this reason, we are brought up to believe that Catholicism is just fundamentally, well … un-English.
But the last 30 years have seen a revolution in Reformation research. Leading scholars have started looking behind the pronouncements of the religious revolution’s leaders – Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley – and beyond the parliamentary pronouncements and the great sermons. Instead, they have begun focusing on the records left by ordinary English people. This “bottom up” approach to history has undoubtedly been the most exciting development in historical research in the last 50 years. It has taken us away from what the rulers want us to know, and steered us closer towards what actually happened.
When this approach is applied to the Reformation, what emerges is a very different picture to the one we were taught in school.
It seems that in 1533, the year of Henry’s break from Rome, traditional Catholicism was the religion of the vast majority of the country. And in most places it was absolutely thriving.
It had developed a particularly English flavour, with a focus on the involvement of ordinary people in parish churches, village greens, plays, and pageants – much of which seemed to involve a good deal of community parties, dancing, and drinking.
. . . . If you looked inside an English parish church on the eve of the Reformation, you would have seen a space filled with the lives and loves of the community. The saints would be draped in the parishioners’ best clothes, jewellery, and beads, often given as bequests in wills. The nave would have numerous side altars, most funded by local guilds to provide daily masses for favoured saints and the deceased of the parish.
If the church had the relics of a saint, the reliquary or tomb would be festooned with gold, silver, and wax models of everything from healed limbs to ships saved from calamities at sea — it would be a mini-history of the gratitude of the people. Flowers and candles would be everywhere, as would parishioners, who regularly attended weekday prayers and masses at the many guild and chantry altars.
In an age of increasing literacy, significant numbers of the upper and artisanal classes read along in their own devotional books. Religious printing had become big business. It has been estimated that, on the eve of the Reformation, over 57,000 Books of Hours were in circulation in England.All in all, parish churches were at the heart of a vibrant English parish life, where the living celebrated their good fortune and remembered the dead.
The first thing to go under the reformers’ axe was the cult of saints. The ancient robed and flower-garlanded effigies were smashed up and carted off. Stone and alabaster were ground up. Wood was burned. In addition to the dramatic loss of these cherished protector figures, the parishes were also deprived of around 40 to 50 saints’ “holy days” (holidays) a year, when no servile work was allowed from noon the previous day. This was a dramatic change to the rhythms of life the country had known for centuries. The reformers were keenly aware this would boost economic activity, and welcomed the increase in output it would bring.
The next biggest change was the abolition of purgatory. The reformers ridiculed the cult of the dead (“purgatorye ys pissed owte” one memorably wrote). But these age-old rites of death and the afterlife provided a unique framework that late medieval English people embraced to cope with death. When the reformers ripped out grave stones and brasses inviting prayers for the departed, when they burned the local bede-rolls remembering the dead of the parish, and when they sledge-hammered the chantry altars where relatives were daily prayed for, they did something even more profound than the vandalism.
They stole the dead from the daily lives of their communities, rendering the deceased suddenly invisible to those long used to honouring and remembering their departed relatives and friends. Whether or not intentional, this was an attack on people’s memories.Protestants iconoclasts at work (C. 17th)
The early and high Middle Ages were a time when cathedrals and monasteries dominated religious life. But by the late 1400s and early 1500s, religion had been taken over by the people — most notably in the form of the religious guilds that had mushroomed in every parish. For instance, King’s Lynn had over 70; Bodmin had more than 40.
These guilds funded festivals, parades, and pageants — and the parish records show that the celebrations were regularly and widely enjoyed. The guilds’ most spectacular contribution to late medieval religious life lay in the great mystery play cycles they sponsored.
These moral dramas were performed in English (not Latin), often around the feast of Corpus Christi. Despite being declared illegal and destroyed by the Reformation, enough copies survive for us to get an idea of their sheer scale: from Chester, Cornwall (in Cornish), Coventry, Digby, Towneley/Wakefield, and elsewhere.
They were a focus of intense regional pride, and took entire communities to stage them. The York cycle alone comprised 48 plays.
|York Mystery Play - The York Cycle has been revived and is regularly performed.|
Inside parish churches, uniquely English customs had also developed. There was the festival of boy bishops and misrule on St Nicholas’s day; the setting up of an Easter sepulchre as a mini stage-set for re-enacting the Passion; and the dramatic “creeping to the Cross” on Good Friday — a humble barelegged and barefoot procession on the knees to adore the cross, before swaddling it and laying it inside the Easter sepulchre. These rituals, as well as the many festivals in honour of local or patronal saints, were deeply embedded into communities, and people stubbornly persisted with them long after they had been outlawed.
Away from the life of the churches, increasing literacy meant more stories, poems, songs, and carols. A favourite theme was, unsurprisingly, the Virgin Mary, who was frequently portrayed as that most English flower, the rose:
Of this rose was Cryst y-bore,
To save mankynde that was forlore;
And us alle from synnes sore,
This rose is so faire of hype,
In maide Mary that is so try we,
Y-borne was lorde of virtue,
Salvator sine crimine.(Of a Rose Synge We, 1450)
Finally, the cult of relics was junked. It is true that provenance was rarely scientific, and the reformers were able to jeer at their favourite fakes. But the records suggest that this empirical approach, which counts the number of duplicated and inauthentic relics, misses the point.
These objects brought people into the presence of the numinous, and joined the living with the dead. Many relics were even practical. For instance, articles of saints’ clothing were given to expecting women to wear in the hope of a healthy delivery.
Relics were therefore a part of day-to-day life, offering people a sense of protection and connection with the sacred.
Given the intensity of people’s attachment to early 16th-century popular religion, the stark Tudor reforms were met with incomprehension, outrage, and sometimes passionate violence.
The men sent to smash up the churches knew this grassroots anger all too well. There are innumerable records of the hostility and violence they faced from distraught parishioners trying to protect churches and graves.
Once the bussed-in workmen had inevitably triumphed, and the heat of confrontation had worn off, people were left bereft:
Our Lady of Worcester (Our Lady of Peace)
On the feast of the Assumption 1537 Thomas Emans, a Worcester serving-man, entered the despoiled shrine of Our Lady of Worcester, recited a Paternoster and an Ave, kissed the feet of the image, from which jewels, coat, and shoes had been taken away, and declared bitterly for all to hear, “Lady, art thou stripped now? I have seen the day that as clean men hath been stripped at a pair of gallows as were they that stripped thee.” He told the people that, though her ornaments were gone, “the similitude of this is no worse to pray unto, having a recourse to her above, then it was before.” (from Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars)
There was, before long, coordinated dissent. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace came south from northern England and occupied Leicester, demanding an end to the radical changes and personal revenge on Thomas Cromwell, whose mercenary looting of the abbeys had shocked people profoundly.
Meanwhile, around 30,000 (including the Archbishop of York) took York, with similar demands for the reforms to stop. Predictably, it all ended in catastrophe. Some 250 protestors were executed, killing off any further mass protests. The Tudor monarchy was, after all, one of the most powerful in Europe.
The conclusion of this modern grassroots scholarship is that bulldozing the Catholic Church off the face of medieval England was not a “bottom up” revolution in which Henry merely acquiesced to his people’s wishes by throwing off a widely hated foreign domination.
To the contrary, it looks increasingly like Henry and his circle imposed the Reformation “top down”, unleashing 100 years of deep anger and alienation that was only overcome by sustained politicking and ruthless force. Politics and economics have always fitted together snugly, and it was no different in Henry’s day. By spreading some of the lands and wealth stolen from the monasteries, Henry was able to create a firm coterie of influential landholders who had a financial interest in seeing the reforms through.
Reading Abbey, vandalised by 'reformers'While we are debunking, we should also look to another “fact” we have been commonly taught, which is that England was moving towards Protestantism by Henry’s time owing to the widespread popularity of Wycliffe and his Lollards.
This movement, according to Protestant legend, embodied and expressed the true sentiment of English people. However, the evidence is overwhelmingly that this is a red herring, as research is revealing that Lollardy was never more than a small regional and dynastic movement in select parts of England.
Moreover, it was almost dead by the mid-1400s – over a century before Henry's divorce. Although Lollardy had, in its day, been a genuine expression of dissent (like many others across Christendom for the last two thousand years), it was never a mainstream – let alone a majority – English religious movement.
. . . . the tone of King Henry’s Defence of the Seven Sacraments (more below) solidly reflected mainstream thought.
However, nothing ever stands still, and England in the early 1500s – just like everywhere else – had its modern humanist philosophers and theologians. But here there is sometimes a misunderstanding.
Humanists were not atheists or anti-Church. They were merely interested in applying the philosophies and knowledge of the day, as thinkers had done in every century. The Netherlands produced Erasmus, who was great friends with England's leading humanist: the exceptionally talented St Thomas More, one of the first victims of the English Reformation, executed by Henry for not agreeing to the split with Rome.
. . . . So how did all this happen? Why did Henry VIII, in 1533, cut a wound so deep into his country that four and a half centuries later it has still not healed?
The story is a tragedy.
The underlying issue was that Henry VIII’s marriage of 16 years had produced no boys. But his mistress, the Marquess of Pembroke, was pregnant, so time was ticking. The usual legal channels had failed to grant Henry a divorce, so the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped up to the mark.
. . . .Henry’s slippery hard man, Thomas Cromwell, drafted and rushed The Act in Restraint of Appeals 1532 through Parliament. Cromwell’s Act suspended all the usual laws in this regard, and give Cranmer full authority to give judgment.
. . . Therefore, in the hope that the King’s mistress was carrying a boy, Cranmer solemnly declared King Henry VIII divorced from Catherine of Aragon.
In the event, Henry’s mistress, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to a girl (and would, with Cromwell’s help, be beheaded within three years). But the deed was done. Cromwell had divorced Henry from Catherine, and England from Rome.
The whole affair was radical.
Since time immemorial, canon law had reserved appeals on marriage and divorce to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s boss, the Pope. English kings, like all monarchs in Latin Christendom, had always observed this ancient legal structure. Henry had happily used it himself, when he had needed a dispensation to marry Catherine of Aragon (his brother’s widow) in the first place.
The reason Cromwell had pushed for a break with Rome was that everyone knew Henry had no legal basis for divorcing Catherine.
. . . . to no one’s surprise, the Pope said no to the divorce.
. . . Henry had been an ardent Catholic. When he first read Luther’s works, he had been so outraged by Luther’s attack on the Church that he wrote a book (in Latin) systematically taking Luther’s arguments apart. He published it in 1521 with a dedication to the Pope. In it, he referred to “the pest of Martin Luther’s heresy … a deadly venom … infecting all with its poison.”
"But, O immortal God! what bitter language! What so hot and inflamed force of speaking can be invented, sufficient to declare the crimes of that most filthy villain [Luther], who has undertaken to cut in pieces the seamless coat of Christ, and to disturb the quiet state of the church of God!"
. . . . In grateful recognition, the Pope awarded Henry the personal title “Defender of the Faith”. (Since the break with Rome, Parliament has, slightly strangely, conferred this title on all British monarchs.)
However, when the Pope refused to allow Henry to divorce, Thomas Cromwell came up with a corker of a solution – break with Rome; turn the country Protestant; and, at the same time, solve the problem of the empty royal coffers by trousering all the wealth in the country’s innumerable abbeys and parish churches.
Like King Philip IV of France two centuries earlier surveying the wealth of the Templars, the temptation for Henry was just too much to resist.
The only problem was that although Cromwell’s plan suited Henry and his circle (who would all get very rich off the scheme), there was the small matter of the English people.
To change a country’s religion lock, stock, and barrel was no easy task. In the end, it took Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. The strategy was fairly predictable for a medieval monarchy, and again, it has striking similarities with how Philip IV took out the Templars. Cromwell’s plan only needed three steps: outlaw everything to do with Catholicism; denigrate and malign it at every opportunity in official pronouncements and sermons; and execute anyone who objects.
One example of the type of propaganda deployed must stand for many. Turning a blind eye to the hundreds of English Catholics executed by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I’s administration came up with the notion of convincing people that religious executions had been invented by Elizabeth's older sister, Mary I.
. . . . The Tudor violence meted out to enforce the break with Rome was extreme, designed to deter by shock. For instance, one of Henry’s earliest victims was Sister Elizabeth Barton, a Benedictine nun. When she criticised Henry’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, he had her executed, and her head spiked on London Bridge — the first and only woman ever to have suffered this posthumous barbarity.
Henry and his inner circle of politicians and radical clerics put to death hundreds of dissenters, pour encourager les autres. None of these people were plotting to kill him or destabilise his rule. Their “treason” was to oppose the destruction of their religion or the despoiling of their property. The brutal strangulation, emasculation, disembowelling, beheading, and quartering they endured as traitors was hideous, as was the total absence of any form of due process or justice.
. . . . The evidence shows that it actually took the Tudors around 45 years to eradicate all memory of this country’s Catholic past.
Henry started it all, from 1533–47. His reforms were harsh on the people, yet he rather hypocritically remained a practising Catholic himself. He had a newfound hostility towards the Pope, born of his divorce debacle, but he continued to hear Mass regularly. Although he presided over the looting of the abbeys and a good deal of local church vandalism, he nevertheless exercised certain restraining influences over Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer and the other zealots.
Things therefore only really kicked off once Henry was dead and the reformers were able to take the nine-year-old King Edward VI on a radical six-year Calvinist journey (1547–53). This was the period of the harshest destruction of English religious art and culture, when even the smallest church in the kingdom was ransacked and all its valuables seized. For several generations, people said that they had suffered under Henry’s reforms, but they dated the utter desecration of the English church to Edward’s reign.
When Mary I briefly returned England to Catholicism from 1553–8, many churches and parishioners cautiously took out the few treasured saints’ statues and missals they had recklessly managed to hide, and they set up their churches again, happy for normality to have returned.But when Mary unexpectedly died and Elizabeth began the persecutions again, people started slowly to give up. By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, no one remembered religious life before Henry. The memories were gone, and so was the will to fight the regime any more.
Amid the turmoil of the English Reformation – with its wanton destruction of communities, their imaginations, and centuries of their books and art – the one thing that stands out most is the sheer scale of the undertaking.
|The "Black Legend"|