New light on the life of a King of guileless piety
I WAS very pleased to receive news of the Henry VI Society's latest publication, "A Fifteenth Century Pilgrimage in Honour of King Henry VI". The Henry VI Society is a most admirable body which, in the bare 15 years since its foundatio-n, has made a great mark with its enthusiasm and occasional, n-lost welcome, note of eccentricity.
One of its patrons is Major John Stourton, a colourful and extremely individualistic former Conservative MP. His brother, England's premier baron, was the late Lord Mowbray — the family name of the Dukes of Norfolk in Richard 11's time. The family tree, in fact, has been fairly flowing with old Catholic sap for a formidable amount of years. Prime tribute must, however, be paid (apart, of course, from the society's scholarly secretary, Miss Loan Lee) to the founder president, my good friend Mgr Clement Parsons. For some time now he has lived, as a sort of retired elder statesman, at St Edmund's College, Ware.
One might almost hope that when the seminary finally uproots itself to settle down in London, Mgr Parsons could somehow contrive to stay on at Ware to hallow the surroundings with his continued presence, like Firs in the Cherry Orchard.
I remember with gratitude and nostalgia times spent in his room when visiting the college. the room was a veritable "don's delight", generously stockpiled with learned tomes, maps, manuscripts, and "many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore."
* * * * "A Fifteenth Century Pilgrimage" is aptly titled. It brings together — under Miss Lee's editorship — a selection of writings, talks, poems and references to Henry VI from a large variety of sources. It thus does in reality provide a pilgrim's progress through places, persons and things— artistic, historical and literary — illustrative of the life of the man many believe to have been the only real saint among English sovereigns. The controversy about Henry's personality will not come to an end as a result of this publication. Hopefully, in fact, it may be stimulated into renewed life.
The conventional explanation of Henry's inadequacy as a king because of psychological factors is not, of course, accepted. But they are not wholly rejected in the sense that there is a psychology of saintliness which, when it appears in the very literal and simple form that it appeared to do in the case of Henry, becomes, in its own right, an absorbing study.
The saddest part of the whole diagnosis is the murky light obliquely thrown on the institutional life of' the day, both secular and ecclesiastical. Its widespread corruption and worldliness made Henry's guileless piety all the more startling by contrast.
Truly, unlike the Church of his day, he inherited nothing, good or bad, frosts the partly pagan legacy of the Renaissance. History, however, has been even more unfair to Henry than merely to explain his troubleridden reign in insensitively conventional terms. Indirectly the shadow thus cast over the • half-century of his reign, which correspond for all but nine months with his mortal life, have obscured the origins of two of England's most precious jewels among educational foundations: Eton College and King's College, Cambridge.
Armed with this book, the modern pilgrim could be well equipped to explore either of these shrines of learning; both contain relics, real and artistic, of King Henry, and so of course does Windsor, his birth and burial place. (The useful short biography of Henry VI in the Windsor Series, by the way, is just being reprinted.) The well-illustrated "Pilgrimage" volume is, meanwhile, available at such bookshops as Mowbrays, the St Paul Book Centres, the CTS, the stalls at St George's, Windsor, and Westminster Abbey, and costs only £1.50.
* * * * While on the subject of publishers and publications, I am sorry to say, first of all, that in my effort to correct an earlier omission with regard to the now well known Leisure Craft Books, a misprint crept in; the address, as given, of the publishers — Search Press, Limited — consequently caused puzzlement. The correct, full address of the firm is 2 to 10 Jerdan Place, London SW6 (Tel.: 01-385 6261).
Further apologies to any and all concerned.
Secondly, it has struck me that the latest crop of publishers' catalogues, listing forthcoming titles till the end of the year, seem in some cases glossier and more elaborate than ever. I gather that any faint-heartedness in the direction of such particular expenditure is thought to be a potentially damaging concession to the demands of spiralling costs.
Certainly the latter are having terrifying effects on book prices. Some of the new lists are almost beginning to look like catalogues of rare and precious, de luxe objects. One theme crops up twice in different forms among publishers' new wares, exemplifying the maxim that if you want to read a book about something you must plan to write it; then a book on the subject will immediately appear.
* * * * It was at the beginning of this year that a publisher suggested I should write a book on how the "home fires" kept burning between 1939 and 1945. No one, as far as he knew, had written an illustrated popular history of the Second World War. Now this had been done by Asa Briggs's enterprising wife Susan who, for some years now, has been collecting ephemera of the war.
Thus Weidenfeld, in September, will publish her "Keep Smiling Through" as a record of the "Home Front" which will bring back vivid memories of ration books, gas masks, the original "Dad's Army," Woolton Pie, and the rest. The book seems to have slipped under the rising price barrier and will be published at £4.95 despite containing more than 400 illustrations, many in C olour.
Coming the same month — this time from Jonathan Cape — will be another overdue gapplugger about the war. Dr Paul Addison has turned his attention to the wartime Administration of Churchill with reference to its purely political effect on domestic British history.
With war mercilessly exposing the nation's ills, an interparty Administration, with strong Labour elements, was impelled to be a major instrument of reform. The result was the most spectacular step forward in social fields since the great Liberal era of 1905 to 1914.
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I was lunching at a club the other day and talking to a wellknown writer who, that weekend, had been to Sunday Mass at a "Mass centre" which had some of the attributes of a classic priest's hiding-hole — or, at least, judging by his description, the aura of a "secret" place for attending some illicit form of worship. Such "clandestinity" never loses its fascination.
It has played a large place in English history, whether with regard to saying and hearing the Mass that the Pope has wished should be said or, ironically, hearing the Mass the Pope has wished should not be said And much attention has lately become focussed on Harvington Hall in Worcestershire.
Michael Hodgetts, the erudite editor of The Catholic Record Society, made Harvington the subject of his study in a series on Elizabethan priests' holes in the latest edition of "Recusant History." I gather from Mr. Hodgetts that Tim Matthew's article on Hatvington (of earlier this year) led to an encouraging increase in bookings for the Pendrell Hall
All of which prompts mention of the worthwhile work of the Catholic Record Society whose secretary, Miss Rosemary Rendel, it is not possible to praise too highly. Rosemary manages to find time from many other activities (including the care of her distinguished ex-diplomat father, Sir George Rendel) to look after this society, the only one which exists, to make available in print the primary material necessary for a detailed study of Catholic history in England and Wales since the Reformation.
"RecusantHistory" is the society's semi-annual research journal. It is published every April and October.
As an example of the work going on quietly behind the scenes by dedicated Catholics, that of the Record Society must rank high. It is such Catholics who deserve the biggest and best of the bouquets; while the brickbats must go to the tiresome and intolerant cranks (such as myself).
But please don't send any brickbats next week. I shall be in Biarritz strolling on The avenue Edouard VII, now seemingly more romantic than ever. Such is the power of television,