Page 6, 18th December 1970

18th December 1970
Page 6
Page 6, 18th December 1970 — A Tudor giant — English and Catholic to the last

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Locations: York, Rochester, London, Windsor


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A Tudor giant — English and Catholic to the last

by Canon


Courtiers of Henry VIII by David Mathew (Eyre and Spottiswoode 65s.) ARCHBISHOP Mathew, from his retreat at Stonor Park, continues to regale us with his erudition which is never tedious and his understatements which are delightful.

As he himself puts it in the Preface, "I suppose that what one really needs in any approach to any series of historical events is the possession of imaginative sympathy." And he adds: "In this case one feels especially I think for those whose high position had left them friendless like Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn. Both came in time to have one solitary supporter in the sovereign who destroyed them."

For Henry even there is no explicit condemnation, for the historian and the priest is ever mindful of the divine warning "Judge not." But he lets the facts speak for themselves, and the gradual ruin of that once promising but spoilt young Renaissance prince, with his growing selfishness, is obvious.

It seems to me the great merit of all Dr. Mathew's work that he tries to see, and succeeds always in seeing, things from the point of view of even the least sympathetic characters he describes, and realises that truth and charity are akin, "tout comprendre est tout pardonner,"

This attractive and beautifully illustrated slender book studies various groupings of Henry's courtiers, the old families left over from the Wars of the Roses, semi-royal Houses, offshoots of the Plantagenets like Buckingham and the Poles, ultimately destroyed by the insecure Tudor, the newer men like the House of Howard. and the much newer men created by Henry such as Cromwell and sosmany others.

The splendours of the Cloth of Gold are set before us vividly in those pen pictures at which the author is so adept To the Great Cardinal he is fair: "Cardinal Wolsey loved glory, but he was not covetous. there was no touch of meanness in his disposition."

One has only to contemplate the glories of Hampton Court and Christ Church, or to read Shakespeare's most moving lines on the fall of Wolsey, to realise that here was a certain greatness. At the same time one cannot but feel that another very different Cardinal, the Bishop of Rochester, would hardly have classed him amongst the "golden priests" whose paucity he bewailed when he wrote "There be now many golden chalices but few golden priests."

The austere Yorkshireman is well drawn as he sits in his draughty palace overlooking the Medway at Rochester, never meddling in court circles, always intent on his flock. One can well imagine Catherine of Aragon, so typically Spanish and Castilian, daughter of the great Isabella, having much distaste for the Cardinal of York, and much respect for him of Rochester. Again Shakespeare puts the words in her mouth on Wolsey's fall: "Of his body he was ill, and gave the clergy had example." "La mujer espanola" is to this day a healthy corrective to the permissive society and its softness so often confused with charity.

The contrasting characters of the generous More and of the inscrutable Duke of Norfolk are well brought out. We all know the story of Norfolk's expostulation with More when he came to dine at Chelsea and found the Lord Chancellor taking off a surplice after singing at Evensong in Chelsea Old Church—"God's Body, a parish clerk, my Lord Chancellor, a parish clerk, you demean the King's office and your own," and the answer he got. Norfolk's principle, like that of most men (and bishops) of his time was embodied in the advice given by the Bishop of London to the Carthusians when they sought counsel from their Father in God on the Royal Supremacy: "Ira Principis moss est."

We see the Carthusians, recently canonised, in this hook, and remember the excellent book of the Brothers Mathew on "The Carthusians and the Contemplative Life" in which

the atmosphere of that London Charirrhouse on the eve of the crisis is sn well described, since [Jr. Mathew knows himself from exp-,srience the austere and peaceful life of the Charterhouse. There indeed values would mean everything.

It is significant that the firmast stand, apart from More. war, taken by the one bishop who lived as a bishop, and by the most contemplative Order, A lesson perhaps in our times to those who say that the contemplative life is irrelevant and that activism is all that matters. I remember the late rardinal Bourne saying that el-let/ever he had a matter of sIrPa i moment to decide for his dio,-fY.lie would go down to PAtt.iminster and find in those men who had given up the world a surer judgment than he could find anywhere else.

I am glad to have this opportunity of saying this, as in my parish of Chelsea I have always been acutely aware of the immense benefit conferred on us by a humble and hidden community of contemplative nuns who pray day and night before the Blessed Sacrament on the site of Thomas More's house. The King's Road hurries by a few hundred yards away, little suspecting what is being done for it.

There are admirable vignettes of the subjects of the Holbein portraits, including lesser known figures such as the young Hanseatic merchants then resident in London. It is not only the Court, but the period and the personalities which are portrayed. To all with historical imagination this book will commend itself; for those who lack it the book is a MUST . . . Its effect on such may be a revelation like going into the Tudor room in the National Portrait Gallery, which with the other historical rooms has been so imaginatively renovated by the present Director Roy Strong.

Dr. Mathew resists the old Catholic temptations of a gibe at the King's deathbed, the stories of the black dog licking the blood when the huge body burst as it lay in the desecrated abbey church at Syon on its way to Windsor. Instead of these lurid, though possibly true scenes, Dr. Mathew records: "The King lay dying in the winter weather at St. James's Palace." "I think that the hulk of the evidence shows that he died as he had lived, a strict Henrican Catholic. He was a man singularly tenacious of his own judgments."

Dr. Mathew stresses his great Englishness, his lack of a deep knowledge of the Continent. in which Wolsey far surpassed him.

The hook ends, with admirable restraint, with a quotation from the King's Will: "He desires that he he laid in the choir of his college at Windsor and that an altar shall he founded for the saying of daily Mass, while the world shall endure."

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