Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sir Thomas Elyot's Connections with Thomas More

Sir Thomas Elyot, born around 1490, son of Sir Richard Elyot, died March 26, 1546. According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Volume III Renascence and Reformation:

Elyot had no university training. He was educated at home and, at a comparatively early age, had acquired a good knowledge of Latin, Greek and Italian. He says that, before he was twenty, he had read Galen and other medical writings with a “worshipful physician,” conjectured to have been Linacre.

His earliest work, The Boke of the Governour, the best known of his writings, made him famous and probably proved his introduction to the career as a diplomatic agent in which he spent the greater part of his life. It is a lengthy and exhaustive treatise on the education which those who are destined to govern ought to receive. It begins with a discussion of the various kinds of commonwealths, and sets forth the advantages of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The author decides that monarchy is the best form of government; but it demands the appointment of subordinate rulers over the various parts of the kingdom who are to be the eyes, ears, hands and legs of the supreme ruler. They ought to be taken from the “estate called worshipful,” provided they have sufficient virtue and knowledge, but they must be carefully educated. It is the more necessary to insist upon this as education is not valued as it ought to be. Pride looks upon learning as a “notable reproach to a great gentleman,” and lords are apt to ask the price of tutors as they demand the qualification of cooks. . . . 

Elyot’s reputation among his contemporaries rested on more than his Boke of the Governour. He wrote The Castel of Helth, full of prescriptions and remedies largely selected from Galen and other medical authorities of antiquity. His two tracts: A swete and devoute sermon of Holy Saynt Ciprian, of Mortalitie of Man and The Rules of a Christian lyfe made by Picus, erle of Mirandula, both translated into Englyshe, provided food for the soul. His translations from Latin and Greek into English, made at a time when all were anxious to share in classical learning, and only a few possessed a knowledge of the classical languages sufficient to enable them to share its benefits, were very popular and were reprinted over and over again. To this class belong: The Doctrine of Princes, made by the noble oratour Isocrates, and translated out of Greke in to Englishe; The Bankette of Science (a collection of sayings translated from the Fathers); The Education or Bringinge up of Children, translated out of Plutarche; The Image of Governance, compiled of the actes and sentences notable of the moste noble Emperour Alexander Severus, late translated out of Greke into Englyshe and others of a like kind. Henry VIII himself encouraged Elyot in the compilation on his Latin-English lexicon: The Dictionary of Syr T. Eliot, knyght, with its later title, Bibliotheca Eliotae. This dictionary and his translations continued to be appreciated in a wonderful manner for two generations at least. If Erasmus popularised the classical renascence for scholars, Elyot rendered it accessible to the mass of the people who had no acquaintance with the languages of antiquity.

Elyot was also a friend of Sir Thomas More, a friendship with did not help him at Court during the 1530's. He acknowledged that friendship but protested his loyalty to Henry VIII was greater. When he traveled on diplomatic missions to persuade Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor to be more positive about Henry VIII's annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, he was accused of being lukewarm in his efforts. Although Elyot was involved in the suppression of the monasteries, but he did not benefit or receive any spoils. Like More, he was a proponent of education for women and he married one of Thomas More's students, Margaret Barrow. In 1540 he wrote The Defence of Good Women, espousing the view that an educated wife would be an excellent companion for her husband. Queen Zenobia of Palmyra in that book may represent Queen Katherine of Aragon, who was certainly well-educated and concerned for the education of the Princess Mary.

According to this review of Greg Walker's 2005 bookWriting Under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation, Elyot was indeed frustrated by his lack of success in Henry's Court:

The five chapters in section two describe and discuss the works of Sir Thomas Elyot within the context of the King's 'Great Matter', and the repeated frustrations of Elyot's desire for public office. Elyot's literary career apparently tracked his political one as he moved from the early optimism of his prescriptive work, The Book Named the Governor (1530–31), to the later reworking of classical Roman history in The Image of Governance (1540–41), which is read here, alongside Uwe Baumann's arguments from 1998–9 (for example), as a satire on contemporary life. Elyot's preface to this later book only paid lip-service to 'a measured defence of the Henrician via media' (p. 160), as Professor Walker, following George Bernard, describes Henry's 'chosen' religious policy of these years.

Elyot's fruitless search for a job at the centre of government, in particular a place on the privy council, and his real or imagined sense of grievance against Thomas Cranmer who succeeded where Elyot failed, is a familiar story. Its poignancy and its impact on his writing have also been discussed by Elyot's several biographers and by Professor Walker, briefly, in another book, but the detail and the clarity of its exposition here are to be welcomed. This section has a good narrative structure, and gives Elyot's story a satisfying emotional, as well as intellectual, coherence.

Elyot was on another diplomatic mission to the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor when Thomas More was tried, condemned and executed. He heard of his friend's death from Charles V, and was much distressed. Elyot did not profit at all from his work for Henry VIII because as a diplomat he bore the expenses of travel and hospitality. He had an estate in Carlton, Cambridgeshire and was buried in St. Peter's Church there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March 25: An Extraordinary Day

On March 25, 1586, St. Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death in the Toll Booth on the Ouse Bridge in the city of York--it was Good Friday that year. More about the Pearl of York here. She is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Today is also the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord, which was once a Holyday of Obligation (and should be again, I think). Only nine months until Christmas! John Mason Neale translated a hymn by Venantius Fortunatus, Quem terra, pontus, aethera thus:

The God whom earth, and sea, and sky,
Adore, and laud, and magnify,
Who o’er their threefold fabric reigns,
The virgin’s spotless womb contains.

The God whose will by moon and sun
And all things in due course is done,
Is borne upon a maiden’s breast,
By fullest heavenly grace possessed.

How blest the mother, in whose shrine
The great Artificer Divine,
Whose hand contains the earth and sky,
Vouchsafed, as in His ark, to lie!

Blest, in the message Gabriel brought;
Blest, by the work the Spirit wrought:
From whom the Great Desire of earth
Took human flesh and human birth.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, virgin-born, to Thee!
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

Here is a performance of the original Latin hymn in a composition by William Byrd.

Today is also Maryland Day, commemorating March 25, 1634 when the Ark and Dove (pictured left on a three cent stamp) landed in what is now St. Mary's County, Maryland. George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, a revert to the Catholic faith, founded a colony where Catholics could practice their faith as Protestants. More about Maryland Day here.

Finally, this is Tolkien Reading Day, celebrated every March 25 since 2003 by the Tolkien Society--March 25 is the date of the destruction of the Ring, and thus the Fall of Sauron. This Dominican blog unpacks more of the symbolism and significance of this day:

In a seemingly insignificant detail in one of the appendices of his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien notes that the destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron took place on March 25. What might have led Tolkien to date the destruction of the ring with such precision? Being a devout Catholic, Tolkien most likely was subtly weaving into his work an ancient Christian tradition regarding the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast the Church celebrates today.

According to this tradition, the date of the Annunciation coincided with a number of significant events in salvation history. March 25 was not only the day on which Christ was conceived in Our Lady’s womb; it was also the day of the creation of the world, the day Adam and Eve fell, the day Abraham (nearly) sacrificed his son Isaac, the day the Israelites were set free from Egypt, and the day of the crucifixion. . . .

While Tolkien probably set the destruction of the ring on March 25th more for its association with the crucifixion than with the Annunciation, the two are intimately linked – the incarnation is ordered to the crucifixion (and, with it, the resurrection).

Tolkien’s use of this tradition illustrates an important aspect of the incarnation and the cross. While the destruction of the ring meant the defeat of Sauron, this did not put to an end all of Middle Earth’s troubles. The members of the fellowship still had work to do. Similarly, though the incarnation and the cross spell the defeat of Satan, we, too, have work to do. And like Frodo, our success will come not through earthly power, but by humility. For it was by the humility that characterized Mary, the New Eve, that she untied the knot of the first Eve, and it was by His humility that Christ overcame death (Phil 2:5-11). May she who is full of grace obtain for us the graces we need to participate in Christ’s humility and to obey Him in whatever tasks He gives us. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saints and Sinners: Richard III

From Vincent Cardinal Nichols's homily at the Mass for Richard III, celebrated at Holy Cross Church, the Catholic parish church and Dominican priory on Monday, March 23:

This evening we fulfil a profound and essential Christian duty: that of praying for the dead, for the repose of their eternal souls. Here we pray for King Richard III, ‘King of England and France and Lord of Ireland’ to use a title he ascribed to himself. This is a remarkable moment.

The prayer we offer for him this evening is the best prayer there is: the offering of the Holy Mass, the prayer of Jesus himself, made complete in the oblation of his body and blood on the altar of the cross, present here for us on this altar. This is the summit of all prayer, for it is made in and through the one person, the eternal Word, through whom all created beings have life. It is a prayer that arises from the very core of creation, the cry of the Word returning to the Father and carrying within it the totality of that creation, marred and broken in its history, yet still longing for the completion for which it has been created. It is, therefore, such an important Catholic tradition to seek the celebration of Mass for the repose of the souls of those who have died, especially for each of our loved ones whose passing we mourn. Let us not forget or neglect this great gift. . . .

. . . this evening we pray that the merciful judgement of our loving God is extended to him in every degree, for we know that it is only the gift of God’s mercy that protects us from the demands of God’s justice.

I am much relieved that this evening we are not required to come to any such judgement ourselves. Indeed the judgement of our fellow human being is only of passing consequence for we know how fickle that judgement can be. This we see most clearly as reflection continues on the dramatic years of the House of Tudor in both fiction and historical research: saints are recast as sinners and sinners can become saints. But that is not our business. . . .

This evening we pray that this promise of the Lord is indeed fulfilled. We offer this holy Mass that even while his remains are lying in the Cathedral nearby, his soul is united with God in the glory of heaven there to await the final resurrection of all things in Christ.

This was the hope he held in his heart. This is the hope we hold for ourselves and our loved ones too. We share this one hope and the faith and love which accompany it. In this grace we pray for this dead King and we pray that the kingship in Christ, given to us all, may truly guide our lives and make us builders of that eternal Kingdom here in our world today.

I appreciate the Cardinal's glancing reference to Wolf Hall and how Thomas More the saint has been "recast" as a sinner--especially when remembering that More wrote about Richard III as a tyrant!

This site has all the details of the re-burial of Richard III in the Anglican cathedral in Leicester, including the text of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster's homily at Compline Sunday night. You may see the beautiful chasuble the Cardinal wore at Mass yesterday here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Yet Another Charles Carroll

The Carroll family of Maryland is recognized because Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the only Catholic and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. His family used descriptions to distinguish between the different generations of Charles Carrolls: Charles Carroll the Settler, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Charles Carroll of Homewood.

The Charles Carroll born today, March 22, in 1723 called himself Charles Carroll, Barrister. He was a distant Anglican cousin of the great Maryland Carrolls. His father--you guessed it--Charles Carroll, a surgeon had left Ireland in 1715 and renounced Catholicism to become an Anglican. As the website for Mount Clare Museum House notes:

At that time Maryland was a Protestant colony and Roman Catholics were not allowed to hold public office or have public worship services. Dr. Carroll wanted to be able to own land and participate in political activities. He settled in Annapolis where he practiced medicine and engaged in land speculation. In 1722, Dr. Carroll married Dorothy Blake of Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. On Sunday, March 22, 1723, their first son, Charles, was born. Dr. and Mrs. Carroll had two other children, John Henry and Mary Clare.

Dr. Charles Carroll was also ambitious for his son:

Dr. Carroll wished Charles be educated abroad, so at the age of 10, Charles, with his father, left Annapolis for England. The voyage was difficult, forcing them ashore in Portugal. Because the trip was so traumatic for young "Charlie", Dr. Carroll left him with the Reverend Edward Jones at English House in West Lisbon, Portugal, where he stayed until he was 16. He then went to England to attend Eton and later entered the University of Cambridge. After 12 years of study abroad, Charles returned to Annapolis in 1746. He enjoyed the sophisticated social life of Annapolis, at the same time applying himself to learning the management of the farms and mills on the Patapsco. Dr. Carroll felt Charles should have further education in order to advance in the world, so at the age of 28, Charles set sail for England where he studied law at the Inns of Court and resided in the Middle Temple in London.

Charles, now a Barrister-at-Law, returned home three months before his father's death in 1755, well prepared to assume the duties commensurate with his large inheritance. At the age of 32 he was one of the wealthiest members of the Maryland aristocracy. He was elected to fill his father's seat as the Delegate from Anne Arundel County to the Lower House of the Assembly. As there were four Carrolls of the same name living in Annapolis at that time, Charles designated himself in 1766 as "Charles Carroll, Barrister".
(my emphasis)

Charles Carroll, Barrister died 60 years and one day old on March 23, 1783. As Ronald Hoffman, author of Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500-1782, notes, Charles Carroll, Barrister's father's choice to convert was one that the other Charles Carrolls, from the Settler, through of Annapolis, to of Carrollton and of Homewood, refused to make, even though the Settler had come to Maryland in 1688 hoping to take advantage of the religious tolerance of Catholic Maryland. Bad timing, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 wiped out that tolerance and religious freedom. Fortunately, Maryland officials never really enforced the penal laws against Catholics in Maryland with any regularity. Charles Carroll of Carrollton studied for many years on the Continent and in England in an effort to prepare him for life in Anglican Maryland, as Hoffman notes in this paper for the American Antiquarian Society.

Charles Carroll, Barrister and his Catholic cousins did cooperate in the revolutionary cause--but it's Charles Carroll of Carrollton we remember.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Elena Maria Vidal Interviews Nancy Bilyeau

From the Tea at Trianon blog, this interview with Nancy Bilyeau (above) has these last questions, and if you'll scroll down you'll see why the last one in particular piqued my interest:

5.) Thomas Cromwell, whom many regard as Henry's evil genius in the pillaging of the monasteries, has experienced some good press lately via Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Why do you think Henry gave Cromwell such a free hand in despoiling Catholic religious houses and shrines, etc. in England?

NB: There were two reasons. Money and vindictiveness. Henry VIII was emptying his treasury. He spent a great deal of the money that his frugal father, Henry VII, left him on trying to wage war on France and on luxurious living. Cromwell opened up an enormous new source of cash: the land and buildings and valuables owned by the Catholic abbeys, priories and shrines. It was a land grab. Henry VIII would not have to beg Parliament for money or be forced to listen to his nobles if he had his own source of money. And by handing out properties to the “new men,” he bound them closer to him alone.

The vindictiveness comes from the king’s anger over the Pope not granting him the annulment he wanted. He had to wait for years, being frustrated and sometimes outmaneuvered by the opposition: his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, her nephew, the Emperor Charles V, and those loyal to them. By the time Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn and had himself declared head of the Church of England, he was seething. He seemed like he had won a victory, but by pulling away from the great Catholic powers he isolated himself. And then he had to defeat a very serious rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, that broke out in the North of England, among people who feared and hated Cromwell’s religious reforms. Henry VIII blamed the monastic orders for stirring up dissent and also he distrusted them because he thought their loyalty was to their orders and to Rome, rather than to him. He took out his vengeance. His cruelty to some, such as the Observant Franciscans, the Carthusian Martyrs and the abbot of Glastonbury, is stomach turning. You don’t see any of this in Wolf Hall.

6.) Joanna is a devout but spirited heroine and anything but dull. Thank you for challenging the stereotypes that exist about pious people, namely that they are dull, bigoted and cannot think for themselves. Joanna is bursting with life, love and determination and actually reminds me of some nuns that I have known. Where do you think people get such dreary stereotypes of devout people?

NB: I think that some people who don’t know anything about nuns and monks believe they are strange, joyless creatures. They don’t see any happiness in devotion to a spiritual life. I met a sister at a real Dominican Order in the United States who was friendly and upbeat and told jokes. A nice “normal” person. She read my second and third books for accuracy. And in my books I tried to show the spirited intellectual life of the time, particularly in The Crown. Having a meal with Bishop Stephen Gardiner would be many things, I’m sure, but it would not be dull! I received two emails from friars after The Crown was published that said they felt I had captured what it was like to live in a religious community.

7.) For those who are inspired by your novels to explore Tudor England through their own research, what non-fiction books would you recommend?

NB: There are so many wonderful books! Here is a sampling:

The Stripping of the Altars and Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition, by Eamon Duffy

Henry VIII, by Jasper Ridley

Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Writings of His Spanish Ambassador, by Lauren Mackay

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England, by Thomas Penn

Henry VIII: The King and His Court and The Lady in the Tower, by Alison Weir

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne, by David Starkey

The Creation of Anne Boleyn, by Susan Bordo

Supremacy and Survival, by Stephanie Mann

Read the rest there. Nancy also mentions my review on her blog!

Thomas Cromwell: Catholic or Evangelical?

The witnesses of Thomas Cromwell's execution in The Tapestry are shocked to hear him proclaim at the block that he dies a Catholic. Michael Everett writes in History Today about Thomas Cromwell's religious convictions, or lack thereof:

Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's leading minister during the 1530s, is often described as a religious reformer. According to consensus, Cromwell was a deeply committed evangelical, who steered the king towards reform in religion more radical than Henry himself wanted. Yet the little evidence we have for Cromwell's religious views is frustratingly inconclusive; some even points another way. . . .

Yet there is little direct evidence for Cromwell's religious beliefs. He did not pen any scholarly works which might offer hints of his affiliations, nor does his considerable correspondence contain much which touches on theology or doctrine at all. In fact, several pieces of evidence counter the view that Cromwell was a religious radical. Inventories of his possessions show that, throughout the 1530s, he continued to own many traditional religious images, including 'ii ymages in lether gylted the one of our ladye the other of saynte christopher'. Cromwell's will also invoked 'our blessed ladie Saynct Mary the vyrgyn and Mother with all the holie companye of heuen to be Medyatours and Intercessours' for his soul. He even specified a priest of 'good lyuyng' should be hired 'to Syng' for his soul, and money was left for friars in London to 'pray for my Soule'. This suggests that Cromwell still believed in the intercessory power of prayer and in the importance of good works, as well as in the ability of saints to act as mediators for men's souls. These were notably traditional beliefs for someone who – it is often claimed – was one of the driving forces behind the early Reformation in England.

Everett's book, The Rise of Thomas Cromwell:Power and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII, 1485-1534 is due out from Yale University Press next month. The blurb:

How much does the Thomas Cromwell of popular novels and television series resemble the real Cromwell? This meticulous study of Cromwell’s early political career expands and revises what has been understood concerning the life and talents of Henry VIII’s chief minister. Michael Everett provides a new and enlightening account of Cromwell’s rise to power, his influence on the king, his role in the Reformation, and his impact on the future of the nation.

Controversially, Everett depicts Cromwell not as the fervent evangelical, Machiavellian politician, or the revolutionary administrator that earlier historians have perceived. Instead he reveals Cromwell as a highly capable and efficient servant of the Crown, rising to power not by masterminding Henry VIII’s split with Rome but rather by dint of exceptional skills as an administrator.

Michael Everett gained a PhD at the University of Southampton where he is now a visiting fellow. He currently works at the House of Commons, London, and lives in Hampshire, UK.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thomas Seymour, RIP

Thomas Seymour, one of Edward VI's uncles, died on the block on March 20, 1549 at the age of 41. He left a baby daughter, Mary, whose mother, Catherine Parr (Henry VIII's last wife) had died in childbirth. Seymour was the 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley and had been Lord High Admiral of England, but he was accused of treason against Edward VI. Seymour's brother was Lord High Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, who would also die at the block during Edward's reign.

The young Princess Elizabeth had lived with Parr and Seymour for a time after Henry VIII's death, but was removed from the household after Catherine Parr noticed the untoward behavior of Seymour toward Elizabeth. Lady Jane Grey was also in their care and she was in the household when Parr gave birth to her only child, Mary; this was her fourth marriage. Parr died after Mary's birth (surely named after the Princess Mary?). 

This orphaned baby was placed in the care of Katherine Willoughby, the widow of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk (who had married Henry VIII's younger sister Mary). Although Katherine Willoughby was of Spanish descent--her mother was one of Catherine of Aragon's ladies-in-waiting and best friends--she was not a Catholic, but favored the Protestant cause. And, although she was friend of Catherine Parr's, Katherine did not appreciate being the guardian of this little baby girl.

Linda Porter writes about Seymour's fall and the fate of his little girl in this History Today article:

Without the steadying influence of Katherine Parr and perhaps suffering more from the effects of bereavement than has often been supposed, Thomas Seymour’s judgement, which had been unpredictable in the past, now deserted him completely. His resentment against the power and authority of his brother rankled, his own role in politics being ill-defined, and he began to develop schemes for raising the country in revolt and perhaps even marrying Elizabeth. Neither of these ideas was as hare-brained as they look with hindsight, but both were fraught with danger and Thomas lacked any real power-base from which to impose himself on England. Eventually he was caught apparently trying to kidnap Edward VI, who had been very fond of his younger uncle until he shot his pet dog in the ensuing fracas. The background to this incident remains murky but the campaign of vilification that swung into action to discredit Seymour was swift and relentless. Attainted and therefore never brought to trial, Thomas was executed for treason on March 17th, 1549 (sic), leaving Lady Mary an orphan at the age of seven months.

Thomas did not appoint any of his own or Katherine’s relatives as guardian to his daughter. He could scarcely have handed her to the brother who signed his death warrant and no one else among the extended Parr or Seymour families seems to have taken much interest in the child. Like most of his former ‘friends’, they were all trying to put as much distance between themselves and Thomas Seymour as possible. Instead, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Katherine Parr and a lady of seemingly unimpeachable reforming religious ideas, was appointed as guardian. It was not a charge she accepted with enthusiasm.

Despite her strong religious views, the duchess’s bosom was not full of Christian charity. Lady Mary may have been a dispossessed orphan, but she was an expensive one. As a queen’s daughter, she came with a household of her own, consisting of a lady governess, rockers, laundresses and other servants. The government was supposed to provide for her upkeep and the payment of her staff but the duchess could not get Somerset to part with the money until she appealed to William Cecil, then a prominent member of the duke’s household, to intervene on her behalf. The letter she wrote makes it clear how much she resented ‘the queen’s child’, as she frostily referred to the little girl.

The article concludes with what might have been the child's epitaph:

I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent Mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life

Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Treason in 1688

From Crisis Magazine, K.V. Turley writes about "The Last Catholic King of Ireland":

The King’s brother, the Duke of York, was now King James II of England and of Ireland, and James VII of Scotland. This passing of throne from one brother to another was not met with universal rejoicing, however, for James was Catholic. And one who had come to the Faith in adulthood through a path of reason and, of course, grace—a path that was as unpopular as it was to prove dangerous for him. But that was not the whole story. Whereas Charles had placated the oligarchy that since his return from exile had effectively ruled, James was made of different stuff. His was a character as straight as his brother’s had been strategic, it was this that was to be his undoing. As he ascended the throne, it is fair to say that traitors encircled him, a virtual vipers nest, who were ready to sell him to the highest bidder. Conveniently, and to that end, they did not have far to look.

Across the sea in Holland lived one of the oddest pairs ever to sit upon any throne in Europe: their names, William, Prince of Orange, and his spouse, the daughter of James, Mary. A strange woman who cried bitter tears on her wedding day, her husband’s manner and reputation were odder still. It was towards these that the whole treacherous cabal now crept. At the time its members were in the employ of James, no doubt with endless assertions of loyalty, whilst all the while searching for an opportunity to betray him. Despite protestations of fears about religion, this circle was really only ever interested in one thing: its own ambitions. It didn't take long before it found the basis on which to rally the mob and produce the coup d’├ętat it longed for, ironically, wrapped in the guise of “Religious Liberty.”

Turley also describes James's conversion in exile after the failure of the Battle of Boyne:

By 1690, his libertine youth long since behind him, he turned inward. Soon after, in November of that same year, he was to be seen making pilgrimage to the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, one of the most austere of all religious houses. There he sought out a hermit—a former soldier and man of the world who had shunned all for a life of solitude and silence in a forest near the monastery. The conversation that passed between the two left an indelible mark. When asked if there was anything the man missed of the world the reply was as blunt as it was thought provoking. And, needless to say, it was the king who left their brief exchange the more thoughtful. Later this was to be compounded by his stay at the monastery where the first chant he heard intoned was Psalm 118, its words of lament for this changing world and all its woes struck a chord for the Royal who sat listening. When he left the monks some days later, to those around him he was a changed man; one determined to live his Catholic faith in as heroic a fashion as he had observed in the cloisters of La Trappe.

Thereafter, this desire for sanctity was now to be lived out in the world as his prayer and reception of the Sacraments intensified. In addition, he took to the mortification of the flesh with a zeal (and an iron chain) that raised ironic smiles among the more worldly courtiers of Versailles, for this deposed King had become a penitent. Suddenly all his life, both the intensely personal vices he had struggled with since youth through to the very public calamity sealed at the Boyne, appeared to at last make sense. And as it did so, he understood that the loss of his realm was mysteriously the Will of God and with this knowledge, he resolved to spend what time was left him in prayer and penance.

Read the rest there.

Chesterton's Sanctity in THE ATLANTIC

James Parker writes about "Saint" Gilbert:

If the Catholic Church makes G. K. Chesterton a saint—as an influential group of Catholics is proposing it should—the story of his enormous coffin may become rather significant. Symbolic, even parabolic. Chesterton’s coffin was too huge, you see, to be carried down the stairs of his house in Beaconsfield, its occupant being legendarily overweight at the time of his death, in 1936. So it went out a second-floor window. Very Chestertonian: gravity, meet levity. Hagiographers might pursue the biblical resonance here, citing the Gospel passages in which a paralyzed man, unable to penetrate the crowds surrounding the house in Capernaum where Jesus was staying, is lowered in through a hole in the roof. Or they might simply declare that Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s was a spirit too large to go out through the conventional narrow door of death—that it had to be received, as it were, directly into the sky.

In his vastness and mobility, Chesterton continues to elude definition: He was a Catholic convert and an oracular man of letters, a pneumatic cultural presence, an aphorist with the production rate of a pulp novelist. Poetry, criticism, fiction, biography, columns, public debate—the phenomenon known to early-20th-century newspaper readers as “GKC” was half cornucopia, half content mill. If you’ve got a couple of days, read his impish, ageless, inside-out terrorist thrillerThe Man Who Was Thursday. If you’ve got an afternoon, read his masterpiece of Christian apologetics Orthodoxy: ontological basics retailed with a blissful, zooming frivolity, Thomas Aquinas meets Eddie Van Halen. If you’ve got half an hour, read “The Blue Cross,” the first and most glitteringly perfect of his stories featuring the crime-busting village priest Father Brown. If you’ve got only 10 minutes, read his essay “A Much Repeated Repetition.” (“Of a mechanical thing we have a full knowledge. Of a living thing we have a divine ignorance.”)

Read the rest here.

Our G.K. Chesterton reading group meets tomorrow night at Eighth Day Books (on the second floor at the table among books about Church history, the Bible, and education) at 6:30 p.m. We are reading The Well and the Shallows.

Gracewing publishes the book pictured above: The Holiness of G. K. Chesterton, with contributions by Sheridan Gilley, Ian Ker, Nicholas Madden OCD, Aidan Nichols OP, John Saward and Bob Wild and an introduction by editor William Oddie:

G. K. Chesterton was one of the most provocative and well-loved English writers of the 20th century. Renowned for his journalism and as an essayist, he was the author of around eighty books, some two hundred short stories, four thousand essays and several plays. His writing ranged from fiction and poetry, to history, philosophy, political, social and literary criticism, theology and Catholic apologetics. His works reflect a life that was filled with wonder and joy, a constancy in fighting for the Christian faith in a world losing belief, a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin and his love for all men, especially the poor. But are these grounds for his canonisation? The late Cardinal Emmett Carter described G. K. Chesterton, on the 50th anniversary of his death as one of the “holy lay persons” who have exercised a truly prophetic role within the Church and the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Weaving Up Loose Ends: Nancy Bilyeau's THE TAPESTRY

Nancy Bilyeau, the author of the Joanna Stafford trilogy, kindly sent me a copy of the third volume in her trilogy--which also led me to look back on the first volume (The Crown) and read the second volume (The Chalice) this weekend. I am wrapped up in the reign of Henry VIII right now while the end of The Tapestry indicates Joanna Stafford, former Dominican novice, daughter of a second tier noble, tapestry weaver, and conspirator may not be back to involve herself in other Court intrigues. (The Tapestry originally had the alliterative title, The Covenant to go with the first two novels.)

I can't help thinking that Joanna's story should have another reason to go to Court so we can see her view of the end of Henry VIII's reign. She should be the witness of the last days of Henry VIII: the Prebendaries Plot, Katherine Parr bringing the three Tudor children together, the final Howard family fall, etc. Joanna Stafford is not just a fascinating character and actor in Bilyeau's fictional conspiracies, but she is a lens through which to view the Tudor Court and England after Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, dissolved the monasteries and the friaries,. and changed his subject's religious lives.

This interview gives me some hope as Nancy Bilyeau states: "But I do have other ideas for Joanna Stafford, and it’s possible that I will write a second trilogy of Joanna novels. I really want to bring Joanna forward to the reigns of the children of Henry VIII, and particularly the Marian Counter-Reformation!"

In this novel, however, Henry has unraveled his own kingdom, setting factions against each other like colors in the pattern of Joanna's tapestries. Men and women are willing to do almost anything to remove him from power or keep him in power--the former was clear in The Chalice when Joanna almost participated in the murder of Henry VIII when he drank wine from a poisoned chalice--and the conspirators in this volume will even seek help from the occult to remove Thomas Cromwell from his position of influence on Henry VIII

While Joanna is still in danger after Cromwell's fall and execution, Joanna recognizes that England is in even greater danger because nothing will stop Henry VIII. She realizes this when she sees Thomas Abel, Richard Featherston, and Edward Powell, three former chaplains and defenders of Queen Catherine of Aragon and Robert Barnes, Thomas Garrett, and William Jerome, three Lutheran supporters of Cromwell drawn on sledges to Smithfield. The Catholics would be hung and quartered, while the Lutherans would be burned alive. According to Henry VIII, the first three are traitors, the second, heretics:

So King Henry VIII showed his true heart. He did not favor the Catholics, nor did he follow the Lutherans. It was impossible to understand him, to live safely in his kingdom. The removal of Cromwell had not made him a better man. There was something twisted--even diseased--in a mind that would command that the condemned be paired as opposites on the hurdles. How foolish Bishop Gardiner and the Howards were to think they could predict what King Henry would do--or control his actions.

When it is impossible to live safely in a kingdom, the King has failed because he is a tyrant.

I went back to read The Chalice, which I already had on Kindle, to understand the danger posed to Joanna throughout this novel. I found it an even more compelling read as Joanna was drawn into the so-called Exeter Conspiracy, the legacies of Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent, and even the turmoil between Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, as this book weaves the past and present dangers together, it is a compelling read.

Joanna is always loyal to her family, even though she is sensitive to the slights she receives and the horrors she witnesses. In this novel, she does all she can for Catherine Howard as she fears for how she is being used by the Howards and by Henry VIII. She nearly always does what someone tells her what not do (or does not do what someone tells her to do) especially when Geoffrey Scovill tells her what not to do or what to do. If she should stay, she leaves; if she should go, she stays--but that's what drives the story forward.

Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper's story in The Tapestry matches in a way the story of the Courtenays and the Poles in The Chalice, although Bilyeau does omit the involvement and execution of Francis Dereham, in a way I think to build up Catherine's innocence--especially because Dereham experienced the full agony of being partially hung, eviscerated, and quartered.

Throughout this trilogy, Bilyeau provides excellent character studies of the historical figures from Henry VIII, so sad at the end, through the Princess Mary, and of course Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and Thomas Howard,  the Duke of Norfolk. She also demonstrates the effects the English Reformation was having on the common people, with whom Joanna lives in Dartford. They are experiencing--and will continue to experience--the changes in religion after the break from Rome. Bilyeau shows how the same unraveling that is taking place at the very top of English culture is also occurring among the common folk: the same hatred, opposition of Protestant vs. Papist (which everyone had been before in England), and the same spying and conspiring against one another. As Joanna knows, it is impossible to live safely in Henry VIII's kingdom. How she and the man she chooses (no other revelations here) will live without interference from Henry VIII and his successors remains either to to seen or is up to the readers' imagination.

The Tapestry is available for pre-order at Amazon here and at Barnes & Noble here.