Saturday, January 8, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 9

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 9


Henry gave it one more college try in his attempt to conquer France by besieging Boulogne in 1544. After failing one more time at his second favorite hobby (the first was certainly not palace building) he went home to England and died in 1547. He was succeeded on the throne by little Edward, his nine-year-old son by Jane Seymour.

Edward Seymour was the long dead Queen Jane’s brother and uncle to the boy King Edward (keep your Edwards straight. It’s very important.) Uncle Edward seized power and named himself Duke of Somerset and ran England. Meanwhile, little King Edward VI, despite the fact that he was a child, was a committed Protestant and had his little mind set on obliterating popery (the religion, not the scented candle) from England. Remember Cranmer? Ann Boleyn’s friend? He was a real survivor, at least up to this point. With Archbishop Cranmer’s help little King Edward published the Book of Common Prayer with its Protestant order of service. The book was not appreciated by the remaining Catholics, especially those in Devon and Cornwall, where people spoke a form of Gaelic and English, a more foreign language to them than was Latin. Thus erupted the Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall which Uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, now Lord Protector, put down by killing one in ten of the Cornish population.

The rebellion hardened little King Edward’s determination to get rid of the remaining Catholics in the country including his older sister Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a staunch Catholic. She simply refused to stop going to Mass! He was on good terms with his sister Elizabeth, a Protestant, though not a very staunch one (there’s that word again).

Lord Protector Somerset (Uncle Ed Seymour) then kidnapped little King Edward, taking him to Windsor Castle in order to maintain his hold over the growing boy, but Uncle Ed Seymour was overthrown by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, who then appointed himself Duke of Northumberland. Dudley wanted to make England completely Protestant and to get rich in the process. He stripped the churches of their Catholic art and so created the unadorned style associated with Anglican/Episcopalian churches today, which some modern Catholics are so fond of imitating. (If you want to see what an English church looked like before John Dudley got his mitts on them, visit St. Gregory’s on the north side of Chicago, a gem of English art.) Little King Edward VI became ill in 1553, and his sister Mary the very, very Catholic, was next in line for the throne. At John Dudley’s (Lord Northumberland) urging, little King Edward, now about 15, young but determined and desperate for a Protestant heir, changed his father's will to allow a cousin, Lady Jane Grey, to become queen. It seemed the only way to keep the English people from returning to the Catholicism to which many were still loyal. Besides, Jane just happened to be married to John Dudley’s youngest son Guildford.

That would have started the Dudley Dynasty. Those English have a way with names. Just nine days after the boy king died, Mary Tudor’s supporters escorted her to London and installed her as queen. Jane and her husband were later executed. All those politicians who had ardently supported Jane now ardently supported the Catholic Mary, especially when she told them they could keep the land, houses and money they had stolen from the monasteries. What? Politicians flip-flopping? Unheard of!

The reign of Queen Mary went swimmingly at first. She pardoned most of Jane’s supporters. She didn’t even execute Jane until Jane’s father tried to depose Mary and put his own daughter back on the throne. Things only started to go downhill when Mary announced that she was going to marry the Spanish prince, Philip, her very, very Catholic cousin. She was as committed to making England Catholic as her brother had been to making England Protestant. Being a Tudor, she knew only one way to do it, well, two ways. In addition to the family hobby of beheading, she shared her father’s interest in burnings at the stake. Her Spanish husband, whom people sometimes blame for the executions, actually told her lighten up on the violence. It only made the Protestants look good. He actually insisted that she spare her sister Elizabeth who was really trying to look like a good Catholic. Mary succeeded in burning about 280 heretics, earning her the name of Bloody Mary. She had a series of false pregnancies, Prince Philip gave up and went back to Spain where the weather was better and he would be king of a large part of the world. Mary died on November 17, 1558. Oh, by the way, one of the people she burned at the stake was Archbishop Cranmer. I guess he wasn’t much of a survivor after all.

Her sister Elizabeth, age 25, succeeded her as Elizabeth I of England, Gloriana, the virgin queen, guiding light of the Elizabethan age. Don’t believe everything you read. Elizabeth was as crazy as a bedbug. She was, after all, a Tudor. Elizabeth was a Protestant, not very much of a Protestant, but a Protestant none the less. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn who, with Cranmer, had brought Protestantism to England. The bishops of England had a little more starch at that time than under the reign of Henry VIII. They mostly refused to have anything to do with Elizabeth’s coronation. She finally got the Bishop of Carlisle, Owen Oglethorpe, to perform the ceremony. (You gotta love those English names.) When Oglethorpe used some Catholic parts of the coronation ceremony, Elizabeth got up and left. Elizabeth quickly introduced the Act of Uniformity and the Act of Supremacy, making the Church of England Protestant and confirming what her father, Henry, had said all along. She was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. From then on it was required to attend Church of England services every Sunday. All clergy and government officials were required to swear an oath recognizing the Church of England, its independence from the Catholic Church, and Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church. If they refused the oath once, they would have a second chance. If again they refused to swear they were thrown out of office and their property was confiscated.

In 1569, the north of England, where Catholicism was still strong, rose up in rebellion against Elizabeth, as it had against her father, and thousands died. It is debatable that these were martyrdoms, but they certainly died because of resistance to the prohibition of Catholicism by Elizabeth. She executed 221 people outright for their Catholic faith. It became a crime punishable by death to be a priest, or even to harbor a priest, as it was to attend Mass. Inadvertently, Catholics did everything possible to keep Elizabeth on her throne by excommunicating her and trying to assassinate her, and trying to invade England by means of the Armada. Our bad, but one must remember that thousands were dying in England and Philip of Spain thought it was his duty to save them by means of the Armada. Far fetched by our standards, but not by theirs.

Let’s talk about the Armada for a moment. Sir Francis Drake -- as portrayed by Errol Flynn in one of his best swashbucklers, “The Sea Hawk” (1940)-- had spent 1585 to 1587 robbing Spanish Catholic colonies in the New World and attacking the Spanish port of Cadiz. He made sure that Elizabeth got her share of the plundered churches and colonies and she winked at his piracy. No matter what a swell picture Sea Hawk was, Francis Drake was a murdering thug.

Rathlin has been the site of a number of infamous massacres. An expedition in 1557 by Sir Henry Sidney in 1557 devastated the island. Francis Drake was the perpetrator of the massacre of Rathlin Island in Ireland in July 1575. Elizabeth’s favorite, the Earl of Essex ordered Francis Drake and John Norreys to kill about six hundred women and children of Clan MacDonnell, who had taken refuge on the island. We all know that the Spanish were nasty and the English noble. We see it in the movies all the time. After, all, we Americans learn our history and our theology from television. The myth of the nasty Spanish and the noble English is called the Black Legend. Look it up some day.

When, in 1587, Elizabeth beheaded her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots who had fled to her for help, and whom most of the world regarded as the legitimate queen of England. King Philip II finally had enough and launched the Armada (fleet) in 1588. When it failed largely due to poor planning, bad weather and that sneaky Catholic hater, Francis Drake, Philip had the bells of all the churches in Spain rung in thanksgiving for the defeat. It was the will of God. Philip, like his father, was very staunch.

It is still rather ironic that Mary succeeded in killing only 280 Protestants give or take, giving her the name “Bloody Mary” while Elizabeth and her administration managed to kill thousands of Catholics for which she is called “Good Queen Bess.” As her reign ended, prices rose and the standard of living fell. Catholics were more and more persecuted and she created a system of spies and propaganda to weed out any criticism of her regime.

Elizabeth never married. She dallied with favorites and strung along foreign princes. In her old age she loved the flattery of younger men and was unable to face the fact that she was no longer the young princess. Her refusal to marry meant that there was no clear heir to the English throne when she died, and this will prove interesting in our next Episode.

She died in April of 1603. It is said that she stood for hours on end, knowing that when she sat, she would never stand again. Some say it’s a myth, but she is thought to have said as she died, “All I posses for one moment of time....” In all of Anglo-American history there are few lives as sad. She had seen countless of her own family executed for God alone knows what reason. She lived under the constant threat of violent death. Her only goal in life seems to have been to survive. Her last word seems a little more plausible than some scholars admit.

For our purpose in figuring out how things in the Catholic Church of the late 20th century got so screwy, Elizabeth’s contribution is really quite simple. She wasn’t much of a Protestant, but she certainly didn’t like Catholicism. She really didn’t care that much about the whole business. She cared about Elizabeth, and she was going to have a Church that did what she wanted, an English Church. She liked the grandeur of Catholic liturgy, and so retained bishops and priests and sacraments and vestments. She did not, however, like all that supernatural religious nonsense that gave those priests real power. She would have power; they would be ornamental and useful for the creation of the myth of Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s handlers found just the right man to succeed her, a Scotsman, James Stuart for whom the Church of England was just right, not too Catholic, not too Protestant.


1 comment:

  1. There ARE alternative accounts of the Bloody mary legend...