Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fires of Faith


There is a new book about the reign of Mary Tudor by none other than Eamon Duffy. It looks like a must read, at least for me. The author says:
Later generations built the reign of Mary Tudor into a protestant national myth – innocence and truth pursued by popish brutality. I hope the book shows that matters were not quite so simple. A lot of the catholic restoration was won by brilliant writing and preaching, and by impressive organisational grip. And even the repressive side of the story was never straightforwardly a matter of moral dark and light. Many of the hunters shrank instinctively from violence, pitied the victims, and struggled for loopholes to release them. Many of the victims approved of punishing heresy, but thought catholics, not protestants, were the ones who should be suffering. And, sadly, I fear the book also provides some evidence that rigorously planned and ruthlessly pursued persecution achieves results, though that’s not a notion with much appeal in our time.

(Via The New Beginning) Share

15 comments:

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Thanks for this post. Duffy’s reappraisal is receiving some good press in England:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/fires-of-faith-by-eamon-duffy-1708380.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/21/fires-of-faith-eamon-duffy

http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/3702258/cardinal-values.thtml

As I mentioned before, I plan to attend an Oxford Experience summer course this month (on The Oxford Movement) and this book is on my Blackwell’s shopping list. I really look forward to reading it!

elena maria vidal said...

Stephanie, I will look forward to reading a review from you!

MadMonarchist said...

I wonder how many in the UK especially will give this book a chance. Mary seems to be one of the most unjustly maligned English monarchs ever. She had far fewer people executed than her father or her sister, many or most of them were guilty of treason and would have been killed anyway for that by any ruler on earth. She also inflicted nothing she would not have suffered herself because her faith was that important to her. Every account I have ever read of the people who knew Queen Mary the best said she was the picture of kindness, generoisity and compassion. She just would not tolerate heresy. Plenty of other English monarchs who are still widely praised (think Henry V) did not either.

Ms. Lucy said...

I'm not surprised at all...
This definitely sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I wonder though if it's written in heavy historical?

elena maria vidal said...

True, Mad Monarchist.

I have found Duffy to be highly readable and he is a superb scholar as well.

Gareth Russell said...

MadMonarchist, I think, in justice, it should be stated that a numerical comparison in this case is perhaps fallacious - given that Mary I ruled for just over five years, whilst Henry VIII (whilst undoubtedly a vile example of a sociopathic bully) ruled for just under thirty-eight and Elizabeth I ruled for almost half a century. I think Mary is unfairly maligned, yes, but I don't think this necessarily translates directly to an entirely opposite appraisal being the right one. Despite her personal virtues, of which there were many, as well as many flaws, Mary was a disastrously stupid monarch and if I recall correctly from Professor Duffy's absolutely spellbinding book, "The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1480 - c. 1580," his argument on the subjects of the Marian church is that she was surrounded by unusually gifted and intelligent advisers. So, in some sense, we can say that the success of her religious policy happened despite the Queen, rather than because of them. This is not, as I say, an attempt to denigrate her unfairly or to remove sympathy for her all-too human plight as the result of her tragic false pregnancies or the agony of her final struggle with ovarian cancer. Like her half-sister and successor, Mary was not, by nature, a bloodthirsty person and the two sisters' pained and torturous reactions to the pressure to execute Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots, respectively, shows the true depth of their humanity as well as the brutal political realities of the age. Neither took any pleasure in the death of their would-be usurpers, rivals and kinswomen and I think it is unfair when historians try to suggest that either Mary or Elizabeth took some form of secret pleasure in the deaths of Jane Grey or the Scottish queen. But, I digress. Professor Duffy, himself a practising and devout Roman Catholic, who has written some very informative devotional books like "What Catholics Believe About Mary," as well as a pithy history of the papacy, has, I'm sure, once again written a groundbreaking and truly informative book about the too-often-simplified religious politics of England between 1530 and the 1580s. His final (daring) point that repression can bring a kind of success was as true of Mary's Inquisition as it had been of Edward VI's iconoclasm and Henry VIII's horrific and brutal attack on the monastic system. I should also say that to anyone interested in the period and the reality of pre-Reformation English Catholicism, there is no book better or more detailed than his "Stripping of the Altars." As Miss Vidal says, he effortlessly balances readability with scholarship.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Gareth, I was hoping that you would come and flesh things out a bit for us.

MadMonarchist said...

I'm just someone who can read, not a lettered historian, but I did think about mentioning the differences in reign length but that argument never made much of an impression on me; it seems to assume that Mary would have gone on burning heretics at the same rate as long as she lived. Moreover, as I said, most were plainly guilty of treason anyway whereas (if I'm not mistaken) most killed by Elizabeth or Henry were not with many even going to their deaths protesting their loyalty in all secular matters. I can't see Jane Grey as comparable to Mary Queen of Scots either. She was the instrument of others but she also did actually usurp the throne whereas Mary of Scots never so much as left her prison the whole time she was set up, framed and then executed.

The information I have at hand says Mary had 273 people executed for heresy but only 104 of those are not known to have been guilty of any other offense besides heresy. Henry VIII had 150 executed after the Pilgrimage of Grace (to whom he had promised clemency) and 649 altogether. Elizabeth had 189 killed for being Catholics in England and many more than that in Ireland though politics played a part in that I'm sure. Was it commonplace at the time? Maybe so, but in that case I still find it wrong that Mary is the only one with the "bloody" reputation. I might not feel as strongly about it were it not for the sheer number of modern day folk I have come across who still point to the image of "Bloody Mary" to explain why it would be an unmitigated disaster if ever a Catholic was able to sit on the throne again.

I do look forward to reading this book in any event, I've read "Stripping of the Altars" and "Saints and Sinners" and thought they were great, informative, but not over the heads of mental deficients like myself either. The author seems to have a little of that dariing sort of attitude I've found rather common amongst those recusants still holding on in Merry Old England.

Gareth Russell said...

I would say that it is entirely likely that the persecution of heretics in England under Mary would have continued at a comparable strength, given that this is what happened in Spain under the Inquisition to Protestants, Jews, conversos and Muslims, as well as to Catholics under the theocracy of the Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland. But, this is of course pure speculation on my part.

I don't think your comparison of Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots was entirely fair - whilst Jane did actually usurp the throne, she did not want to, and the same cannot be said for the fatally charming Queen of Scots. She had usurped Elizabeth's throne de jure if not de facto in 1558, under pressure from her father-in-law, Henri II, much as Jane had acted (de facto) under pressure from the duke of Northumberland in 1554. In both cases, of course, the end result for Jane and Mary was a tragedy and a travesty, in equal measure - and I do think sympathy for the two half-sister queens who sent them both to their deaths is not entirely unwarranted.

I should also like to apologise if anything I said in my first post made me sound as if I were querying what you had said in an intellectually elitist manner. I certainly wasn't trying to imply that you were a "mental deficient," and if I did so, then I am mortified and apologise again, profusely. I certainly wasn't riposting because I considered your views ill-informed or untenable, simply that I myself took a slightly different take on the events covered by Professor Duffy's most recent book. The 16th century is a passion of mine and I always enjoy discussing it.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Professor Duffy has commented that neither the Marian method of execution for heretics (burned alive at the stake) nor the Elizabethan method of execution for treason (hung, drawn, and quartered) pass muster as humane forms of capital punishment. The numerical comparisons have some merit, but I think the position Duffy presents, that the Marian campaign against heresy was actually working is the real surprise. I look forward to reading that argument, but I believe he states the number of Protestants was declining in England by the end of Mary's reign. IF the number of Protestants was declining, because of exile and the fear of the stake, THEN if Mary had lived longer she and Pole could have let the positive aspects of their efforts to rebuild Catholicism in England (the English translation of Holy Scripture, the new Catechism--which became the Catechism of the Council of Trent--, the diocesan seminaries, etc, etc) develop more completely. But they both died, so we don't know.

It is pretty clear on the other hand that the Elizabethan campaign against Catholics did not work as her government intended. James I was shocked at the number of Catholics still in England, and especially at the number of Catholic priests still illegally hiding throughout England when he succeeded Elizabeth in 1603. As her own spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, told Elizabeth, the martyrdom of Catholic priests under charges of Treason was creating great sympathy for their faith, since they were representing it so bravely. Duffy presents an even more controversial point that the English people did not feel the same sort of sympathy for the Protestant faith during Mary's reign (he discusses this in "The Stripping of the Altars" and reiterates that point, I believe, in this book).

I don't agree that Mary was disastrously stupid: I think she reigned under the great handicap that she could not really trust her advisors. Many of them had backed Northumberland until they saw the tide turning; they had participated in the bullying she received over access to the Mass, and even someone like Stephen Gardiner, her Chancellor, had provided arguments that led to her beloved mother's exile and divorce. The only person she really trusted was Charles V, who had protected her and represented Spain, her mother's homeland. Trusting him, she married his son, but reserved the power and authority to reign in England to herself. Biographers from H.F.M. Prescott to Judith Richards, Linda Porter, and Anna Whitelock all argue for a more just appraisal of her efforts to rule as a Queen Regnant.

There is so much to read--all at once--about Mary I: three new biographies and this study; I presume she is just the latest subject in our fascination with the Tudor Dynasty!

elena maria vidal said...

I am really enjoying this discussion; thanks to all of you for your brilliant contributions.

MadMonarchist said...

I have not read the book yet, so can only comment on the summary here, but that is something that stood out to me. The burnings could not have gone on and on had Mary lived longer if the reconversion campaign was working. To refer back to the point about Mary not being able to totally trust her advisors, that is something I have read as well that spoke to me of her compassion. Her first instinct seemed to be to forgive and forget and it was only after certain individuals proved themselves disloyal that she took action against them.

I will confess though (perhaps my church-school education prejudiced me) that I am a fan of Queen Mary, I think she has been very unfairly treated and (again, maybe a product of the sort of books I read) Elizabeth I has always seemed rather awful to me; in personality and policies. What I've come to think, from Duffy's works included, is that the vilification of Queen Mary (and Catholics in general) and the ultra-glorification of Elizabeth I was in part due to the fact that Catholicism remained quite widespread and Elizabeth I was not as popular as is often portrayed.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Speaking of Lady Jane Grey: Eric Ives, biographer of Anne Boleyn, has written a book that argues the Nine Days Queen had a true claim to the throne and that Edward VI's will changing the succession was valid. It's forthcoming on amazon.com and Mary Tudor Renaissance Queen has blogged about it.

elena maria vidal said...

Stephanie, please promise me that you will read it and write a review for us!

Gareth Russell said...

I'm certainly excited to read Professor Ives' latest biography. His two biographies of Anne Boleyn have justifiably been claimed as pre-eminent.