Monday, May 25, 2015

Catherine of Aragon's Aria

The June issue of the BBC Music magazine features Verdi's Don Carlos/Don Carlo, suggesting the best recordings of the French and Italian versions. Then it mentions other operas to explore after Don Carlos, including Saint-Saens' Henry VIII, based on plays by Calderon de la Barca and William Shakespeare. In Catherine of Aragon's final aria she remembers Spain, to which she will never return but will never forget. There are several performances available on youtube, and I've linked the one by Veronique Gens.

Ô cruel souvenir!
Là-bas, dans ma patrie
Le nom du roi mon père était ainsi fêté!
Tout me parle de toi dans ma captivité,
Ô berceau de mes jours, mon Espagne chérie!
Je ne te reverrai jamais,
Ô douce terre où je suis née!
Au destin qui m’a condamnée
Sans révolte je me soumets.
Mais du moins garde à ma mémoire
Un souvenir plein de pitié,
Ô pays d’amour et de gloire
Que je n’ai jamais oublié!
La mort m’eût été moins amère
Si, comme autrefois, le sommeil,
Je l’avais trouvée, ô ma mère,
Sur ton sein fécond et vermeil.
Comme un soldat vaincu je tombe
Sur une terre de douleurs…
Ceux-là sont heureux dont la tombe
De leur berceau garde des fleurs.

Here is another performance from the blog which provided the lyrics above.

Elizabeth I's War on Catholics

Jessie Childs wrote about recusant and penal laws passed against Catholics in Elizabethan England for the BBC History Magazine when her book God's Traitors was released last year:

Under Elizabeth I, Catholics grew adept at concealment. Their lifeblood – the Mass – was banned. Anyone who heard it risked a fine and prison. Hence the need for secret Mass-kits and altar-stones small enough to slip into the pocket. Their priests – essential agents of sacramental grace – were outlawed.

Reconciling anyone to Rome (and, indeed, being reconciled) was made treason. After 1585, any priest ordained abroad since 1559, and found on English soil, was automatically deemed a traitor and his lay host a felon, both punishable by death. Hence the need for priest-holes, like the one at Harvington Hall, or at Hindlip, where a feeding tube was embedded in the masonry.

Even personal devotional items like rosary beads or the Agnus Dei found at Lyford were regarded with suspicion, since a statute of 1571 had ruled that the receipt of such ‘superstitious’ items, blessed by the pope or his priests, would lead to forfeiture of lands and goods.

It is impossible to know how many Catholics there were in Elizabethan England, for few were willing to be categorised and counted. John Bossy (defining a Catholic as one who habitually, though not necessarily regularly, used the services of a priest) estimated some 40,000 in 1603, less than one per cent of the population.

This was not a homogenous group, rather a wide and wavering spectrum of experience. Many were branded ‘church papists’: they attended official services according to law, but some conformed only occasionally or partially. William Flamstead read his book during the sermon “in contempt of the word preached”, while for two decades of attendance Sir Richard Shireburn blocked his ears with wool.

Read the rest of the article on the BBC History Magazine website.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reading Abbey: The Lost Tomb and the Last Abbot

According to the BBC History Magazine, researchers might find the burial site of King Henry I (William the Conqueror's fourth son) which has been lost since Reading Abbey was suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

A search for the remains of Henry I’s ‘lost’ abbey could confirm the whereabouts of the 12th-century king’s sarcophagus – and, in parallels with the recent search for Richard III, it’s possible that it could be located beneath what is now a car park.

The Hidden Abbey Project aims to uncover the full extent of Reading Abbey, which was largely destroyed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries. It has been instigated by Philippa Langley, well known for leading the search for Richard III’s remains in Leicester. Langley has secured the support of Historic England – formerly known as English Heritage – and in 2016 the project team will carry out ground-penetrating radar (GPR) research of the abbey area, followed by ‘trial trenching’ to estimate the site’s archaeological potential. It is hoped that the imaging might show sarcophagus burials, possibly including that of Henry.

“There is believed to be a pristine Cluniac abbey layout buried beneath the ground at Reading,” Langley told BBC History Magazine. “One of the main aims of the project is to confirm the exact positioning of the abbey church, as well as its size and structure. Sarcophagus burials tend to show up very clearly in GPR research, and potentially we might be able to see several.

“What’s really exciting is that we know that Henry was buried in front of the high altar, with members of his family buried in specific locations around him. The thinking in Reading, using current estimates of the size of the abbey, is that this burial spot is located beneath a school. If the abbey is larger, it could be situated underneath either what is today a playground or a car park. That option is considered less likely, but if Henry’s tomb is beneath the car park, that will be very interesting.”

Henry founded Reading Abbey in 1121 as a royal mausoleum, and is buried there along with his second wife, Adeliza, and great-grandson William of Poitiers. Langley is eager to stress that, while the potential to find his sarcophagus burial is exciting, the main aim of the project is to find out as much as possible about the abbey itself – and what happens next will be the decision of Historic England.

Read the rest of the article here.

Of course, it was not just the abbey that was destroyed and pulled down. Its last abbot was literally torn apart: hung, drawn and quartered as a traitor to Henry VIII. According to this British History Online entry for Reading Abbey, Thomas Cromwell had to circumvent the law to make sure that Abbot Hugh Faringdon Cook was found guilty and punished because he refused to surrender the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist, established by Henry I in 1121 "for the salvation of my soul, and the souls of King William, my father, and of King William, my brother, and Queen Maud, my wife, and all my ancestors and successors":

According to all current law, Abbot Hugh, a mitred abbot, who had sat in many a Parliament, ought to have been arraigned for high treason before Parliament; but Cromwell set law completely at defiance, and Hugh, with two brother abbots, had been cut to pieces by the common executioner ere Parliament reassembled.

On 15 November, the same day that the abbot of Glastonbury was done to death at Glastonbury, the abbot of Reading, with two priests, suffered the butchery reserved for traitors on a platform outside the gateway of his own abbey, decked with the gallows for partially hanging, the knife for disgustingly mutilating the still living body, and the caldron of boiling pitch into which to fling the limbs when the quartering was accomplished. With him suffered John Eynon, a priest attached to St. Giles', Reading, and John Rugg, a former prebendary of Chichester, who had retired to the monastery of Reading.

At the Public Record Office are thirty-three pages of a closely-written mutilated manuscript concerning Abbot Hugh and the two priests executed with him. It is in an educated but unidentified handwriting. The occasion for which it was written and its author are both unknown. From its presence among these state papers it was probably the work of some tool of Cromwell's, and was perhaps intended to be printed and circulated to try to stem the odium excited by the execution of 'my lord of Reading.' It is impossible to exaggerate the ribaldry and low scurrility of this infamous production. Great play is made on the name 'Cook,' and the king is supposed to have raised a mere kitchen scullion to this exalted position. The king is represented as the bountiful benefactor of Abbot Hugh, who has repaid him with the most dastardly treachery —'if he had lived when Christ was betrayed he would have put Judas out of his office,' and again he was 'able to teach even Judas the part of a traitor.' Such a sentence as 'a ragman's roll of old rotten monks, and rusty friars, and pockyd priests' is a fair sample of this literary reviler. No attention would have been paid to this stuff, only that its very virulent violence and total absence of any definite charge of treason against the king is a strong proof that no true treason, as ordinarily understood, existed. The worst that could be said of the abbot is that he is accused of stating that 'he wolde pray for the pope's holynes as long as he lived and wolde ons a weke saye masse for hym.' The writer also unconsciously bears witness to the integrity of the abbot, stating that he was ever a great student and setter forth of St. Benet's, St. Francis's, St. Dominic's, and St. Augustine's rules as being right holy and of great perfectness; adding that he never left mattins unsaid, spoke loud in the cloister, or ate even eggs on a Friday. (fn. 87)

Marillac, the French ambassador, writing to Francis I on 30 November, states that the remains of the abbot of Reading were hanged and left in chains outside the abbey gateway. (fn. 88)

With the execution of Abbot Hugh, this great monastery, wherein for the four centuries of its existence kings and queens had been lodged and the poorest entertained, where great councils of the Church and Parliaments of the state had frequently been held, and which had been a great centre of almsgiving and of a liberal education, passed absolutely into the hands of Henry VIII, together with its property, declared to be of the clear annual value of £1,908 14s. It remained uninterruptedly in the immediate control of the crown down to the Commonwealth.

The vast conventual church, where the remains of royalty and other notables had been laid to rest, remained desolate, but undisturbed so far as its fabric was concerned, until 1548. The lead on the roof of the abbey church and buildings was then so considerable that the amount helps to form some idea of the extent of the premises. It was measured and estimated to weigh 417 fodders, at the rate of 15 ft. sq. to the fodder. Six great bells still swung in the monastery's belfry. (fn. 89)

When the pension roll of Philip and Mary was drawn up there were thirteen ex-monks of Reading on the list; one in receipt of £6, eight of £5, one of £4 6s. 8d., one of £3 6s. 8d., and two of £2. (fn. 90)

P.H. Ditchfield and William Page edited this history of the Abbey of Reading in 1907--pretty clear what their author thought of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell!

Hugh Faringdon and companions were beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.

"Planets, Priests, and a Persistent Myth"

The Wall Street Journals' Friday "Houses of Worship" column tries to remind readers again that history should not be thought of in little soundbites like "the Catholic Church has always been against science". For instance, I used to watch Rick Steves' videos about Europe on PBS (and we even bought a few): he would take every opportunity he could to point out how anti-science the Catholic Church was. He talked about how the Church was opposed to professors at universities conducting autopsies but left out that it was because the bodies used were obtained by grave-robbing (people who believed in the resurrection of the body weren't donating their bodies to science at that time); he emphasized that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, neglecting again to note that Bruno was no scientist, offered no scientific proof for his statements, and also was found guilty of serious heresy: denying THE essential Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. When I remonstrated with Steves' company, I received the response that Steves did not consider himself a historian--but he was teaching history, deceptive history that at least seemed to have an objective: demonstrate that the Catholic Church is against science.

The authors of this editorial commented on some recent videos of the dwarf planet Ceres, which was discovered and analyzed by the Theatine priest Giuseppe Piazzi from 1801 to 1803, including what could have been a dangerous trip to England:

Piazzi’s entry into history began on January 1, 1801, when he noticed a faint “star” not contained in any catalog. Tracking it over the following nights, he found that it moved across the background stars the same way planets do. After more than 40 nights, however, it moved too close to the sun to be seen. Would it ever be found again, once it emerged from the sun’s glare?

That would require the difficult feat of computing its orbit precisely from the positions Piazzi had measured. This was accomplished by the great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, and Piazzi’s object was located again by a German observatory exactly a year after its original discovery. In 1802, Piazzi named it Ceres after the patron goddess of Sicily. . . 

Most news accounts don’t mention that Piazzi was a Catholic priest. In fact, the remarkable story of the Catholic clergy’s contributions to science is one of the best-kept secrets of scientific history. The exception is Gregor Mendel; it is widely known that the science of genetics began with the experiments of the Austrian monk.

But it is the rare person who knows that the big-bang theory, the central pillar of modern cosmology, was the brainchild of the Belgian Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. In the 1920s, Lemaître showed that Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity allow space itself to expand and, connecting this to observations that distant galaxies were flying apart, he formulated his famous theory of how the universe began.

Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth; you'll need a subscription to read the entire editorial. Do yourself a favor and don't read the comments!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Can You Spell I-R-O-N-Y? Blessed Junipera Serra

From First Things, author Stephen Schwartz places the controversy over the upcoming canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra in context, noting that the moral outrage may be misplaced:

Here in California, the Pope’s intention has reignited an old controversy. Serra has been accused by self-appointed representatives of Native Americans of “genocide.” Most of this polemic is carried out in the media and rests on thin documentation. These allegations of cruelty, exploitation, and mass murder against Serra and other Franciscan and Jesuits in the Californias—Lower and Upper, Baja and Alta—echo Protestant anti-Catholic bigotry, which dominated the United States during the early period of independence. Once California became the object of a Gold Rush, Easterners had every incentive to deny the rights of the colony’s Spanish and Mexican residents, as they did later in acts of violence against “Chilean” and Chinese miners, followed by long-lasting prohibition on other Asian immigrants.

If we wish to study the history of violence against the Indians, we should turn to that later episode, the 1849 gold rush. It’s a history San Franciscans take pride in, even having a football team bearing the 49er name. Meanwhile, the newspaper for which I worked from 1989 to 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle, refuses to print references to the Washington Redskins football team. The editors argue that the name is racist, and the newspaper refers to the franchise only as “the Washington, DC football team.”

Avaricious pioneers like the 49ers committed far worse depredations against the natives than did the missionaries. Two anthropologists, Lowell J. Bean and Sylvia B. Vane, wrote in the 1978 edition of the Handbook of North American Indians: 
Some native Californians were Christianized only by force, [but] others accepted the new religion apparently because the Spanish demonstrated possession of kinds of power that appeared desirable. The acceptance of Christianity did not mean that native religious systems disappeared. Native religious ceremonies persisted alongside Catholicism, often tolerated by the priests under the guide of ‘secular’ events, but sometimes carried out secretly. The extreme decrease in native population in the last part of the nineteenth century and the concomitant ‘melting pot’ philosophy on the part of the Anglo-Americans were more destructive to native religious systems than Catholicism.
It is true that some California natives resisted the missionaries; for example, in 1775 the mission at San Diego was destroyed in a revolt by nine Indian villages. The attackers killed a Mallorcan priest, Fr. Lluís Jaume Vallespir. Serra appealed to the Spanish authorities to spare the perpetrators, however. This call for mercy was successful, and the insurgents were pardoned.

Blessed Junípero Serra stands for a period in history that is unknown by most Americans. How many people could even answer the question of the origin of the name “San Francisco”? Let us hope that his canonization will inspire further and deeper discussion of the arrival of Christianity to the American West.

To paraphrase Pope Francis, "Who is the San Francisco Chronicle to judge?" Seriously, the same trend is popping up in headlines re: Father Serra as for Thomas More during the airing of Wolf Hall: Saint or Sinner? 

When the Church beatifies or canonizes any man or woman, we do not declare that he or she is perfect according to whatever secular standards apply at the time. As G.K. Chesterton wrote "There are saints indeed in my religion: but a saint only means a man who really knows he is a sinner." (from "The High Plains" in Alarms and Discursions a collection of essays Chesterton wrote for the London Daily News from 1901 to 1913). 

A Book about a Queen's Books

From Palgrave Macmillan, a book to be published this August in the Queenship and Power series:

Printed book and manuscript dedications were at the juncture between the actual interests and reading abilities of Tudor royal ladies and the beliefs and hopes of those who wrote and printed them on what was suitable for royalty and how royal ladies might be persuaded in certain directions. Queen Mary I received eighteen manuscript dedications and thirty-three printed book dedications, the majority of them were religious in nature, specifically addressing a return to Catholicism. In this revisionist approach to book history and Marian studies Valerie Schutte argues that dedications, and the negotiations that accompanied them, reveal both contemporary perceptions of how statecraft, religion, and gender were and the political maneuvering attempting to influence how they ought to be. Schutte offers the first comprehensive catalogue of all book and manuscript dedications to Mary and all books that were known to have been in Mary's possession.

When you review the books published in the Queenship and Power series thus far, most of them are about Elizabeth I, so it's good that the editors of the series are addressing that imbalance in a way. There's no surprise that Mary would receive books dedicated to her in support of bringing Catholicism back to England as she was engaged in eliminating all the legislation passed during Edward VI's reign as soon as she came to the throne. There's also no surprise that the Princess and later Queen Mary would have manuscripts and books dedicated and presented to her: she received a careful Christian humanist education at the direction of her mother Katherine of Aragon. To quote any earlier blogpost:
Juan Luis Vives of Spain became Mary's tutor and wrote a handbook on the education of Christian females which he dedicated to Katherine of Aragon: De Institutione Feminae Christianae. He detailed the course of Mary's study in De ratione studii puerilis. While he is not a feminist nor overemphasizes female virtue, he is certainly not a misogynist although he is opposed to fancy clothing and makeup. Vives resided at Corpus Christi College in Oxford where he lectured on philosophy as a Doctor of Law. Henry and Katherine attended some his lectures. Because he supported Katherine against Henry in the King's Great Matter, he fled to the Continent, residing in Bruges.
The Table of Contents:

1. Lady Margaret Beaufort and the Wives of Henry VIII
2. Dedications to a Princess
3. Printed Dedications to a Queen
4. Manuscript Dedications to Mary
5. Dedications to Philip and Mary
6. Books Owned by Mary

Could be a fascinating book to read, but it's far out of my price range. I just completed an article about Reginald Cardinal Pole commissioned by a publication--the most recent biography of Pole, from Ashgate Publishing, costs $125.00. Some books are just written and published for an exclusively academic audience.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Heresy or Treason? Blessed John Forest

Blessed John Forest is the only Supremacy Martyr to be executed by being burned alive, sentenced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, with the penalty of death carried out by the state. He was found guilty of the same offenses as the Carthusians and John Fisher, but he was not beheaded or hung, drawn and quartered.

Blessed John Forest was executed by being burned to death by being suspended over the flames from a gibbet --those are chains under his arms in the stained glass--on May 22, 1538 because he opposed Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and Henry's claim to supremacy and religious and ecclesiastical matters in England, which was heresy to Henry VIII. According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia

Born in 1471, presumably at Oxford, where his surname was then not unknown; suffered 22 May, 1538. At the age of twenty he received the habit of St. Francis at Greenwich, in the church of the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance, called for brevity's sake "Observants". Nine years later we find him at Oxford, studying theology. He is commonly styled "Doctor" though, beyond the steps which he took to qualify as bachelor of divinity, no positive proof of his further progress has been found. Afterwards he became one of Queen Catherine's chaplains, and was appointed her confessor. In 1525 he appears to have been provincial, which seems certain from the fact that he threatened with excommunication the brethren who opposed Cardinal Wolsey's legatine powers. Already in 1531 the Observants had incurred the king's displeasure by their determined opposition to the divorce; and no wonder that Father Forest was soon singled out as an object of wrath In November, 1532, we find the holy man discoursing at Paul's Cross on the decay of the realm and pulling down of churches. At the beginning of February, 1533 an attempt at reconciliation was made between him and Henry: but a couple of months later he left the neighborhood of London, where he was no longer safe. He was probably already in Newgate prison 1534, when Father Peto his famous sermon before the king at Greenwich. In his confinement Father Forest corresponded with the queen and Blessed Thomas Abel and wrote a book or treatise against Henry, which began with the text: "Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God as Aaron was." On 8 April, 1538, the holy friar was taken to Lambeth, where, before Cranmer, he was required to make an act of abjuration. This, however, he firmly refused to do; and it was then decided that the sentence of death should be carried out. On 22 May following he was taken to Smithfield to be burned. The statue of Saint Derfel which had been brought from the church of Llanderfel in Wales, was thrown on the pile of firewood; and thus, according to popular belief, was fulfilled an old prophecy, that this holy image would set a forest on fire. The holy man's martyrdom lasted two hours, at the end of which the executioners threw him, together with the gibbet on which he hung, into the fire. 

Hugh Latimer preached a sermon at Smithfield urging Forest to recant his defense of truths that Henry VIII had believed and affirmed several years before, as he had praised the Observant Friars as holy and devout religious.

He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: The Silencing by Kirsten Powers

I read Kirsten Powers's The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech because I was interested in what she would say about free speech on our university and college campuses. I have blogged about the restrictions on free speech on campus, with free speech zones and other horrors, before on my blog.

Powers identifies an "illiberal left" which, instead of engaging in debate and discussion with people who have different viewpoints, works to shut those people down. They refuse to look at any content and instead attack the person, usually by identifying them as misogynistic, racist, or some other ad hominem attack.

Throughout Powers' book she makes statements like, "although I support a woman's right to choose abortion" or "although I support the Affordable Care Act" and then follows them up with something to the effect that "I think those who are opposed to abortion have a right to be heard" or "those who want to repeal the ACA should be treated with respect". She wants our country to maintain its great heritage of free speech, including speech that opposes settled law. She thinks free speech should be practiced in journalism, on university campuses, and in society in general. She argues that when those in power (academic, political, or social) attempt to silence free speech, all of our freedoms are in danger, including religious liberty.

Powers' book is filled with anecdotes, cases, interviews, and examples. She maintains a tone of mild outrage throughout the text and warns continuously against the consequences of this pattern of silencing opposing viewpoints. She does repeat some of the same examples in different context, which I think is a weak point.

I read the book on Kindle and one of the advantages is that every web-based source she has cited is linked in the notes, so the reader may follow up and check on Powers' interpretation of events.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Last Abbots and Suppressed Monasteries

The Recusants and Renegades blog highlights the career and survival of the last prior of St. Mary Overy in Southwark:

I've decided to write something here about my (probable) ancestor Bartholomew Fowle, who was the prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, even though he was not strictly speaking a recusant – a term that would only really come into use during the reign of Elizabeth I. However, like countless other faithful Catholics, Bartholomew’s world was turned upside down by the seismic upheavals of the Reformation. Moreover, telling Bartholomew’s story seems like a natural sequel to the last post about my 12 x great grandfather Magnus Fowle and his recusant connections. As with my that post, I’ll be drawing on my own original genealogical research, some of which I’ve already published on my family history blog Past Lives.

The lives and afterlives of these canons, friars, and monks were completely disrupted by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, but did receive pensions:

The priory of St Mary Overy was ‘surrendered’ to Thomas Cromwell’s agents on 27th October 1539. Cromwell himself signed the pension list, which granted £8 each per annum to two of the canons and £6 to nine others. There were eleven annuitants in all, besides the prior, with their pensions totalling £70 in all. At least one source claims that Bartholomew Fowle quibbled over his original grant of £80 per annum and managed to have it increased to £100. In addition, Bartholomew was provided with a house ‘within the close where Dr Michell was dwelling’. Robert Michell was the last prior but one before Bartholomew, and had probably resigned due to ill health or old age. (A certain William Michell, almost certainly a relative, had witnessed the will of Thomas Fowle of Lamberhurst in 1525.)

The blog's author, Martin Robb, notes traces of his probable ancestor's life after the surrender of the Abbey:

There is evidence that Bartholomew Fowle remained in London after his enforced retirement, and also that he continued to serve as a priest. For example, in 1543 Dame Joan Milbourne, the widow of a former lord mayor of London, bequeathed money in herwill to a number of priests to come to her burial at the church of St Edmund, Lombard Street, and to pray for her. She left the sum of £6 13s 6d ‘to my very good friend Bartholomew Linsted some time prior of St Mary Overies, to pray for my soul’. From this, we can conclude two things: firstly, that Bartholomew Fowle was well connected with the gentry of London, and secondly that, despite the religious changes of Henry’s reign, Catholic practices such as prayers for the dead remained popular.

The date of Bartholomew’s death is unknown, and I’ve failed to find any trace of a will, but a number of sources confirm that he was still receiving his pension in 1553. In other words, he lived for at least another fifteen years or so after his expulsion from St Mary Overy. This means that, like my ancestor and his relative Gabriel Fowle, Bartholomew may have lived long enough to have his hopes revived by the brief restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary.

Prior Fowle may have seen Catholicism's brief restoration but perhaps not its fall again during Elizabeth I's reign. On May 20, 1560, John Feckenham, the last Abbot of Westminster, was sent to the Tower of London by Matthew Parker, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had been “railing against the [religious] changes that have been made.” He had been at Evesham when that abbey was surrendered in 1540 and then been named Abbot at Westminster Abbey during Mary I's reign. More about him here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

St. Edmund Campion and the "Magna Carta"

Joanna Bogle highlighted the annual Tyburn Lecture on her blog and provided a link to a synopsis of the lecture, which focused on how St. Edmund Campion cited the Magna Carta in his defense at trial for Treason in 1581:

The lecture gave a legal analysis of the case against the Jesuit martyr St Edmund Campion to comment on state oppression and religious freedom in England in the late sixteenth century, and how this resonated down the centuries.

The British values and identity narrative we hear so strongly today is one of a tradition of tolerance. So it was most interesting to learn that Elizabethan/Jacobean England was the most intolerant state in Europe: more Catholics were judicially murdered here than anywhere else. Catholics in the Protestant states of Germany and the Dutch Republic had freedom of conscience and worship. Protestants in Catholic France, Poland and even in Spain ran fewer risks than did Catholics in England. This was much commented on in Europe at the time of Campion’s trial.

Campion was accused under the Treason Act of 1350. Elizabeth wanted to be seen as a tolerant monarch who could encourage freedom of expression. England was at that time sending military support to the Dutch Protestants in their struggle against their Spanish overlords, in order to uphold their rights to freedom from oppression.

Sir Michael explained that there was no evidence presented at the trial to demonstrate Campion’s guilt under the Treason Act. He admitted breaking the law by saying Mass but this was not a crime under the Treason Act. On his return to England in 1580 as an ordained Catholic priest Campion had issued a public statement (known as the Bragge) addressed to the Queen’s Council declaring his loyalty to the Queen alongside an appeal for the right to debate the merits of the true faith.

In his presentations to the court Campion claimed four specific natural rights which go back to Magna Carta:

· The right to a fair trial (Campion was tried by a jury but it was biased against him)

· The right not to be tortured (Campion was illegally tortured for three days)

· The right not to incriminate himself (i.e. to remain silent)

· The right to freedom of expression.

This presentation is important because it demonstrates how Elizabethan courts were denying prisoners their rights under English law: this is not applying a standard of rights in our era, but in Campion's own. The presentation is timely because England is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. See for example this page at the British Library.

St. Thomas More also cited the Magna Carta at his trial in 1535, arguing that Parliament's law making Henry VIII the Supreme Head and Governor and other laws restricting the rights of the clergy to appeal to Rome (The Act in Restraint of Appeals for example), violated its primary purpose: defense of the Church. As this website notes:

More was tried at Westminster on the 6th July 1535. In responding to the guilty ruling he first argued that the act of supremacy was directly repugnant to the laws of God and the Church, “the Supreme Government of which, or of any part thereof, no Temporal Person may by any Law presume to take upon him, being what right belongs to the See of Rome, which by special Prerogative was granted by the Mouth of our Savior Christ himself to St.Peter, and the Bishops of Rome his Successors only”. More went further though. Not only was the act contrary to the laws which governed the Church, it was also contrary to the rights of the Church as defined by Magna Carta, the first clause of which reads:
FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.