Page 4, 14th November 1958

14th November 1958
Page 4
Page 4, 14th November 1958 — Their deaths meant Protestant triumph

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Locations: Rome, Canterbury


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Their deaths meant Protestant triumph

By Hugh Ross Williamson

FOUR HUNDRED years ago, on November 17. 1558, Mary Tudor died at St. James's early in the morning and her cousin, Reginald Cardinal Pole, at Lambeth in the afternoon.


The coincidence is symbolic. Together they had laboured to restore Catholicism after the pillage and "reform" of Edward VI; their early deaths—she was 43, he 58—meant the triumph of Protestantism under Elizabeth I.

Had they lived even 10 years longer, the Faith might have been sufficiently entrenched to have resisted the Elizabethan attack.

At this moment, when November 17, 1958, is being celebrated as the four hundredth anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth rather than the deaths of Mary and Pole — the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury — it is permissible here to remember them and enquire why they failed.

Lack of time

H E over-riding factor was time. Pole had only four years in England, but neither he nor Mary can have foreseen, when he pronounced the Absolution of England in the November of 1554, that that would be all the time they were to be allowed.

They had, that is to say, exactly as long as Queen Elizabeth 11 has reigned in our day to undo a moral, social and religious revolution whose effects have been described by the Protestant historian, Professor Bindoff, thus:

"Wherever we look, from the royal court and the circles of government down to the village and parish. and whatever type of evidence we choose, we are confronted by the same black picture of irreligion, irreverence and immorality on a truly terrifying scale."

Yet in spite of the poverty of the Crown and in spite of the fact that the still-Catholic nobility refused to restore any of the Church property they had stolen (epitomised for ever by Bedford who threw his rosary in the fire and said that, much as he loved it, he loved his " sweet Abbey of Woburn " more). Mary managed to re-establish the Benedictines at Westminster, the Friars Observant at Greenwich. the Black Friars at St. Bartholomew's. the Carthusians at Sheen, among other's; and Pole initiated, by the summoning of a national synod in 1555, a great plan for the reform of the Church.

A plan for reform

RESIDENCE of pastors was en

forced, instruction by preaching insisted on; the main part of the revenues of bishoprics was to be devoted to charitable and educational purposes.

A new English translation of the New Testament, a catechism and a book of homilies were put into preparation and an English prayerbook for private use was immediately published.

Unfortunately. very many priests resented the reforms and "wished the Cardinal back in Rome." The main reason seems to be the member of priests who had apostasised and married in the previous reign. When the Anglican settlement allowing a married clergy was reenacted by Elizabeth I, about three-quarters of the Marian priests conformed without protest. Against such men, Pole was powerless.

In his choice of bishops, however, he was successful. His sureness of touch here may be gauged by the fact that, whereas in 1535. under Henry VIII. every Catholic bishop but one—St. John Fisher had betrayed their faith in order to retain their sees, in 1559. of Pole's bishops, when faced with the same choice under Elizabeth. all but one resigned theirs sees rather than betray their faith.

This suggests that Pole had at least chosen the right men to carry out this great Reformatio Angliae—the true Reformation of the English Church which was never to take place. But three years was not long enough to establish it.

The depths of dishonesty

YET quite apart from the lack of time and the enormity of the task, there was another factor which made for failure. Both Mary and Pole were essentially good people. Even Pollard admits that Mary was "the most honest of the Tudors". Even his most fanatical Protestant contemporaries had nothing but good to say of Pole. Both Queen and Cardinal were, that is to say, totally unfitted politically speaking — to deal with the situation confronting them.

As Fr. Philip Hughes has put it: " No more than Mary was the Cardinal fitted by nature to deal with the varied human vileneas that at around the Queen's council board."

Their own honesty made them incapable of realising the depths of dishonesty in others. With Elizabeth professing and practising Catholicism and with Cecil even more extravagantly heading the parishioners at Wimbledon in going to confession, carrying two rosaries, attending Mass with scrupulous regularity and even doing a little local preaching on his own account in Lincolnshire, how could Mary assume that they were intriguing with the French for her murder and the re-establishment of Protestantism by revo

lotion and foreign invasion ?

Less good ,people might have guessed it and there is something comic—were the issues not so tragic—in Cecil writing to Pole for a dispensation not to fast on Fridays because fish upset his stomach.

Smithfield fires

THE state in which Mary's predecessors had left the exchequer; the fantastically bad weather of the reign (by conapanisen with which the summer of 1958 has been excellent) which sent food prices soaring to new heights; the perpetual Nees of the French and the Protestatas; the flood of seditious propaganda directed by Cecil's brothel-in-taw abroad and stored in the cellars of Elizabeth's London house; the reluctance of Parliament to grant sufficient money; and, above all, the monumental unpopularity of the Queen's Spanish husband — all these militated against Mary. They are the commonrplace of political histories of the reign and were contributory causes of her failure.

There remain the "fires of Smithfield." No one excuses what has been characterised by the Anglican Miss Prescott, in her life of Mary, as " the panic reply of a social and political order threatened by a force which seemed determined on nothing short of anarchy " and by Fr. Philip Hughes as " the criminal folly of the Marian repression of heresy." But it is necessary to point out that it looms far larger in subsequent propaganda than it did In contemporary fact. Of the Protestants who suffered, the Anglican historian Canon

Charles Smyth has shown that all but 91 would have been burnt by Cranmer as "anabaptist" heretics had Edward VI lived; and of the 91 nearly all, including the leaders, were in any case under sentence of death for high treason as implicated in Northumberland's attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Also, it was the orthodox Lutheran Protestants in Germany who described the English victims as " the Devil's martyrs."

Mary's tragic failure

THE relevant point, however. is the contemporary effect on Mary's and Pole's popularity. As long ago as 1910, W. L. Williams wrote in his introduction to the Everyman edition of Froude's "Reign of Mary Tudor":

"The nation as a whole seemed to acquiesce in the persecution. The government was weak, there was no standing army and Mary. like all the Tudors, rested her authority on popular sanction. Parliament met regularly.

"It was not the submissive Parliament of Henry VIII. It thwarted some of Mary's dearest projects.... But it never remon strated against the persecution of Protestants. It cheerfully revived the old acts for the burning of Lollard heretics. Froude suggests that Englishmen were aghast at the use to which they were afterwards put. But though Parliament after Parliament had been summoned after the Smithfield fires had been lit, there was no sign of disapproval or condemnation.

"When Edward died, there was an instantaneous return to Catholicism. When Mary died, Elizabeth had to walk warily in bringing about innovations in religion."

The more one knows, the truer this judgment appears and the more tragic appears Mary's failure.

The root cause of the failure was, unfortunately, the same as the beginning of the destruction of Catholicism under Henry VIII. All the Protestant plots and propaganda would have failed had the leading Catholics of the time remained true to their calling.

St. Bernadette once said that she feared only one thing in the world —had Catholics. There are few examples of the devastation they can cause more striking than their behaviour during the fifteen hundred days during which Mary and Pole tried to restore the reality of the Faith to an absolved England.

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