Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review of Duffy's New Book

Author Stephanie Mann just returned from a week at “The Oxford Experience” studying The Oxford Movement while residing at Christ Church. The Oxford Experience is a non-academic residence program (no papers or grades) held every summer. While there she had the opportunity to shop at Blackwell’s and purchase Eamon Duffy’s new book on Catholicism under Mary I, which will not be available in the U.S. until September 15, according to She has written us an exclusive review! Stephanie’s website includes pictures from her trip in Picasa, linked on the Contact/Events tab. She had the opportunity to visit the Oxford Oratory, one of Newman’s goals finally fulfilled in 1993, both the Anglican church and the Catholic College he founded in Littlemore, and other Oxford Movement related sites.

Here is Mrs. Mann's review of Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy:
The brief reign of Mary I has hitherto been regarded as an anomaly in the steady progress of England in the Whig mythology of British history. It’s considered a throwback to the Middle Ages, a dark time of superstition and tyranny, illuminated only by the fires of Smithfield and Oxford. Eamon Duffy sets out to revise this view, dealing with at least five major misconceptions about Catholic England under Mary I:

1). Reginald Pole was not that involved with the restoration of Catholicism, he did not agree with the policy of burnings, and did not encourage preaching enough.

Often this is held because Pole refused the assistance of the Jesuits in England. As Duffy notes, Pole had a different program of renewal planned from the Jesuit program. John Foxe actually minimized Pole’s culpability in the heresy trials, but Pole was in charge of them. As Legate and Archbishop, Duffy demonstrates, Pole certainly encouraged preaching, preaching himself or preparing sermons for publication.

2). Pole and Mary ignored opportunities for propaganda against protestants, especially missing out on preaching or controlling the situation at the burning of heretics.

Duffy answers this charge by emphasizing how the new regime took advantage of Northumberland’s speech on the scaffold before his execution. He admitted his errors in continuing the protestant reformation under Edward VI and repented, having reverted to Catholicism. Duffy also notes that Pole was very much concerned with guiding popular opinion at the burnings, with preachers there to admonish both the heretics and any in the crowd who might share their errors.

3). The campaign of burnings did not work; the crowds shared the protestant cause of the victims in part because of their revulsion against the cruelty of the judges and the executions.

The judges did all they could to avoid condemning most laymen and women to the stake. The regime had to deal with the leaders of protestantism directly, although Duffy absolutely regrets the execution of Cranmer, surely an act of revenge by Mary for the sufferings he caused her and her mother. John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is the culprit here; a biased and untrustworthy volume, it is usually accepted on face value. For instance, Duffy notes that Latimer never told Ridley to “play the man”—Foxe is paraphrasing Polycarp, martyr of the early Church.

Duffy contends that the campaign to extirpate the protestant heresy from England was working. It only ended because Mary and Pole died. Our 21st century moral standards aside (based on a marvelous record of genocide, world wars, communist and totalitarian tyranny, abortion, etc), Duffy reminds us that the purpose of history is to understand that other country, the past, not to impose our standards upon it. If the purpose of history is the latter, Elizabeth I should be called “Bloody Bess” because torture, hanging, drawing and quartering are not humane ways of dealing with recusancy and dissent either.

4). All the regime had was this negative campaign to impose Catholicism on the people.

Duffy here answers with a culmination of facts: the regime did mount a preaching campaign, a catechetical campaign, a publishing program, and a reforming plan. This judgment is usually based on the hindsight that the reign lasted only five years. But Duffy reminds us that Mary and Pole did not know that they only had five years! They lived life as we do, in the present, ignorant of the future. They had a plan; death and Elizabeth cut its accomplishment short.

5). The restoration of Catholicism under Mary I was out-of-date, ignoring Counter-Reformation guidance of the Council of Trent.

This is backwards, contends Duffy: The restoration of Catholicism in England under Mary I set Counter-Reformation standards of the Council of Trent. Pole’s efforts were models for Charles Borromeo, the great reforming Cardinal Archbishop of Milan. Marian England set the standards of seminary training, bishops in residence, the catechism of the Council of Trent, the use of tabernacles in churches, etc.

Pole turned around the failure of the bishops under Henry VIII to uphold the unity of the Church and the primacy of the pope. Remember that only bishop, John Fisher, stood up against Henry’s power grab. When Mary and Pole died and Elizabeth I succeeded, only one bishop submitted to her religious settlement. The rest declared their belief in transubstantiation, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the primacy of the pope and the unity of the Church—therefore they were removed from office and either went into exile or died in prison.

In summary: Mary and Reginald Pole left a legacy of brave men and women who remained true to their faith, setting up seminaries abroad and returning missionary priests to serve the recusant laity. The campaign of heresy was working in Marian England; the reform efforts of Pole and his bishops were following his plan of renewal. Duffy marshals documentary evidence and clear reasoning to establish their success and true legacy, contra the received opinion of Whiggish historians.


Anonymous said...

Oh, what an interesting review! One of my best friends (and my son's god mother) is Eamon Duffy's daughter and I am very embarrassed to admit that I have never read one of his books. This is despite being very interested in the Reformation!

I should rectify this really and this sounds like an excellent starting point. :)

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Thanks again for posting this, Elena Maria. I hope the recent stream of biographies of Mary I and this book help repair her reputation, but an epithet like "Bloody Mary" is a hard stain to remove.

MadMonarchist said...

I hope so as well. I think it is very unfair how Queen Mary continues to be treated, even by many Catholics. She was really a very generous and compassionate woman as those closest to her all agreed.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great review! Looking forward to reading this.

tubbs said...

I had a Tudor History prof (decades ago, in the last century), predict the eventual rehabilitation of Mary Tudor. The same prof also surmised that Mary would not have lived long regardless of her health - as she tended to be way too merciful to traitors. I have Duffy's book on order and am chafing at the bit to read it, especially on the subject of her relations with Cramner. How major was the barbequed bishop's role in the Jane Grey treason? Was Cramner involved in the forged will of Edward VI? If Cramner was involved, how did he justify it in light of his claims of eternal loyalty to the memory of Henry VIII? Norfolk wasn't very nice to Mary in her times of trial, yet he made out well at her ascension. Soooo many questions.
And special thanks to whoever coined the phrase "whig mythology".
We are all still so prejudiced, thanks to their spin.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

tubbs, I am sorry to tell you that Duffy does not speak so much of Mary: his focus is Pole, and Bonner, and the other bishops. I'm afraid we still have to read at least one of the new biographies of Mary I to find out more about her!
This is not a history of Mary's reign per se. Duffy limits himself to the consideration of the program of renewal of Catholicism and extirpation of heresy during her reign.

Gareth Russell said...

Linda Porter's new biography of Queen Mary is absolutely excellent and suitably balanced about the subject and I'm very much looking forward to her next biography, on Katharine Parr, which is due out next year.

I am about to start Professor Duffy's new book and "Stripping of the Altars" is one of my very favourites. The only quibble I have is something that I think I will find in this new book too, judging from Miss Mann's enjoyable review - which is that Professor Duffy has a slight tendency to narrate the history of the Reformation in England much like someone who tries to explain the sinking of the "Titanic" by blaming all of it on the iceberg.

For example, one cannot have it both ways - one cannot suggest Elizabeth I was nothing more than a shallow, devious and opportunistic pragmatist but then also state that she managed to force Protestantism on a nation that was, by 1558, basically Catholic!

That the burnings were unpopular is shown by a great number of contemporary documents, not all of them pro-Protestant, and whilst the unpopularity of them by 1557 may have had much to do with that old monster of xenophobia, nonetheless it is incontrovertible that by the time of Queen Mary's death in November 1558, she was not widely mourned. I cannot help feel that these details are not incidental but important in a full understanding of the exact importance of Mary Tudor's reign.

The essential flaw in the Marian religious policy, to my mind, was time. The Inquisition in Spain was able to succeed not just because of the application of violence, which Professor Duffy identifies as a worryingly effective corrective, but also because they had two things England lacked - no official Protestantism and a sustained period of time.

One point that Linda Porter made in her biography of the Queen which really stuck with me was that despite all the manifest successes, which seem to form the main part of Professor Duffy's book, the Queen's government were not only fighting a losing battle but ultimately fighting it in the wrong way. Despite the brilliance of Cardinal Pole's network of preachers and the effectiveness of bishop Bonner, there were a sufficient number of "PR mistakes" made by the government which meant that the dismantling of their religious legacy was much easier than it should have been once Elizabeth ascended the throne in the autumn of 1558.

This is a much longer post than I had intended! But I am fascinated by Mary's proper place in British history and I think we're only beginning to find it. Works like Professor Duffy's are necessary, not only because of his academic brilliance but also because of the need to have both sides of the argument expressed and then weigh up their individual merits. And for me, Miss Mann's conclusion is doubly true. Queen Mary and Cardinal Pole truly "left a legacy of brave men and women who remained true to their faith," but they were Protestants as well as Catholics. The persecutions were effective in a two-fold way, for they galvinised English Protestantism in a way it had not previously been.

Religious persecution, which was to be as effective under Elizabeth as Duffy contends it was under Mary, did not truly begin against Catholics in the same way until the diplomatic crises of the 1570s when the Queen was excommunicated. But by that time, the PR battle against Catholicism had almost been entirely won. As Professor Duffy wrote in his "Stripping of the Altars": 'By the end of the 1570s, whatever the instincts and nostalgia of their seniors, a generation had grown up which had known nothing else, which believed the Pope to be Antichrist, the Mass a mummery, which did not look back to the Catholic past as their own, but another country, another world."


I am very much looking forward to reading Professor Duffy's book after Miss Mann's review to see what went right in Mary Tudor's religious policy. And one day it is to be hoped that he, or another academic, will be able to tell us - without venom or an agenda and with equal detail - what went wrong.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Duffy does discuss the PR failures of the regime, most emphatically the execution of Cranmer; obviously in a review I can't highlight every aspect of the book.

I don't think that "Professor Duffy has a slight tendency to narrate the history of the Reformation in England much like someone who tries to explain the sinking of the "Titanic" by blaming all of it on the iceberg" in this book because he is not narrating the history of the Reformation in England. He has a limited thesis: that Marian Catholicism was not just about burning heretics and reviving Merry Old England and the Middle Ages: it was informed by a Counter-Reformation ethos with a definite program of formation, education, reform, spirituality, apologetic, and physical restoration.

Duffy also does not address "the PR battle against Catholicism" won by the 1570s in this book--that indeed would be another study, if any study can answer the question why. At least it could outline how.

Gareth Russell said...

I do apologise if I came across in my earlier comment as being unduly belligerent, but I stand by my moderate and qualified criticism of Professor Duffy's work. There is a general trend that sees him fail to address the problems, both cultural and institutional in pre- and post-Reformation English Catholicism which facillitated the eventual Protestant victory. A lack of focus on Mary herself may also be the problem - a policy of conservative reaction against the threat of heresy not so dissimilar to that of Mary's government was mounted in the latter half of the 1520s, with figures like Archbishop Warham, Archbishop Lee, the bishop of Lincoln and Sir Thomas More becoming involved. The policy of reaction in the 1520s was both brilliant and brutal and yet it too ultimately failed - why? The changed policies and sympathies of Henry VIII. And perhaps therein lies part of the answer, both the how and the why: the personality and foibles of Queen Mary - if in a very different way.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

I apologize if I seemed to be reacting to perceived belligerence, because I wasn't.

It's just that Duffy has written a book with its own set purpose, and therefore as I read it he seems to have fulfilled that purpose (the thesis stated above in my post yesterday and in my review). He did not cover many aspects of the Marian reign or even all of the aspects of the restoration of Catholicism. If it's not his purpose in this book to provide a comprehensive view of Mary and her reign and its successes and failures, I won't complain that he has not done so, although the title of the book might lead one to expect a wider range of comment on things he mentions in his Foreword as not being part of this study ("the process of reconstruction in the parishes, the transformation of the universities, the revival of monasticism and the state of the parish clergy"). What he has written might just be the first step to a more balanced view of her reign's efforts to restore Catholicism that should allow better analysis of its success and failure.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

This is very germane to this discussion from the blog Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen--

The author of that blog recommended the Judith Richards's biography to me, so it is on my wish list.