Page 3, 30th September 1955

30th September 1955
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Page 3, 30th September 1955 — THE TUDORS AND A MACHIAVELLI
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THE TUDORS AND A MACHIAVELLI

By

Fr. J. B. Crehan

ENGLAND UNDER THE TUDORS, by G. R. Elton (Methuen. 25s.).

REPLACING the volume by A. D. Innes in a well-known series. Mr. Elton has chosen as his main interest in this Tudor summary the development of governmental organisation.

He is not a Parliament-fanatic, but his hero, for the first part of the way at least, is Thomas Cromwell. He is held to have done more than any other to fabricate the modern structure of English government; he is given credit for knowing what he was about and he receives more attention in the book than any other figure apart from Henry VIII and Eliza beth.

If one takes the point of view that the noblest work of a statesman is to advance the material well-being of his country and the smooth organisation of its administration, then Cromwell might hear away the prize, but if in right reason the statesman has a duty to foster and promote belief in God, freedom and immortality and to show favour to revealed religion, he is no better than a new Machiavelli.

Cromwell's pullers

THE sudden fall of Cramwell in 154(1 led to the impounding of his papers, with the unexpected result that now he is a much clearer figure than his master Wolsey and much of his apparent originality may be simply due to the fact that we can see what he did hut cannot tell what his predecessors had done. Mr. Elton says that it is doubtful if Cromwell ever read Machiavelli, whereas Cardinal Pole clearly

states that he did. and recommended the book to others, with the advice that a statesman should try above all to ascertain the secret desires of his ruler and then arrange for these to he satisfied with the least possible disturbance. When Pole put him the case of Nero. who secretly desired to murder his mother Agrippina, the parallel with Henry VIII was clear enough.

One's confidence in Mr. Elton is not enhanced by finding that he dismisses Pole as " art honest man, but a polemical writer in the medieval tradition "; the greatest English humanist of his age cannot be written off so easily.

:1"e 'V evidence ANYONE who undertakes to write a textbook gambles with Time, for in the interim before the publication of his work so much new material may accrue as to upset his carefully balanced judgments.

Mr. Elton has been fortunate in that he is himself a pioneer in the study of the 1530s. hut he will need to revise part of his later chapters in view of the new "Spanish Calendar " for Mary's reign (which makes his ascription of chief blame for the burnings of heretics to Mary and Pole unsound) and of the remarkable evidence produced by Fr. Hicks (in " Archivum Historicum S.J." this year) about the game of poker that was played for the Succession in the last four years of Elizabeth between Essex. Cecil, James in Scotland and Fr. Persons at Rome, The centenaries of schools and colleges that have been kept this year might also suggest to the author that the reign of Mary was not after all quite so sterile as he maintains.

In his efficient bibliography he owns to rising the first two volumes of Fr. Philip Hughes's work on the Reformation but could not use the third, which would help him to a nicer appreciation of many points of the Elizabethan religious policy.

Detachment

FROM his own stand point of the paramount importance of statecraft Mr. Elton can afford to judge the religious upheavals of his period with some detachment; he has. for instance, no illusions about the break that came with the events of 1534. which in his own words made the Church in England into the Church of England. He judges that the martyrs under Elizabeth suffered on religious grounds, especially as the mitigation of the Bull of excommunication brought by Campion and Persons in 1580 "saved the priests from having to pronounce on political issues."

But this same detachment makes him miss the importance of such things as the Elizabethan progaganda of confusion, which made out that the restored Book of Common Prayer was quite Catholic and would have been approved by the Pope if only Elizabeth had consented to go to Trent: this story was only scotched when the decision of Trent on attendance at Protestant services gradually became known, chiefly through the tract which Fr. Persons had printed on his secret press in 158(1. Before that many had drifted into Protestantism. not because they acquiesced but because their minds were confused, just as those who attend the services of " progressive Catholics " in the occupied countries are confused to-day.

It is only when one has some appreciation of the Catholic faith that one can hope to understand the period of the Reformation.




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