Saturday, January 22, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 11

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 11


Let us pause to look at some dates, not the edible kind. Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor) ruled England from 1558 to1603. King James ruled England from 1603 to 1625 and his son, Charles Stuart, a.k.a. King Charles I of England, ruled from 1625 to 1649. So, you have 100 years of the Church of England and Tudors/Stuarts, and what a century it was!

Elizabeth wanted a church that looked Catholic but thought Protestant, as had her father, Henry, before her. Her cousins the Stuarts thought that was just fine. Beginning in 1559, all English citizens were required to attend Church of England services on Sundays and holy days. One was fined for each service missed. Those conducting unauthorized services were fined more heavily, imprisoned and occasionally executed for sedition.

Calvinists and Catholics were not happy with the Elizabethan compromise. For Catholics it was too Protestant. For Calvinists it was too Catholic, or as they would say “popish.” (I’ve always thought that was a swell word.) Calvinists were not one cohesive group. There was a spectrum of Calvinist opinion. Some Puritans could put up with Anglican worship, but others, called Separatists or non-conformists, would have none of it. An Anglican Archbishop, Matthew Hutton, could not abide Calvin’s separatist followers, but showed some sympathy for Puritans expressed in a letter to Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I in 1604:

“The Puritans, whose phantasticall zeale I mislike, though they differ in Ceremonies and accidentes, yet they agree with us in substance of religion, and I thinke all or the moste parte of them love his Majestie, and the presente state, and I hope will yield to conformitie. But the Papistes are opposite and contrarie in very many substantiall pointes of religion, and cannot but wishe the Popes authoritie and popish religion to be established.” (Apparently people in merrye olde England had an odd way of spelling.)

A particular group of radical Separatists in the town of Scrooby (name not made up) in Nottinghamshire, England, were persecuted by King James’ government. In 1607 Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York, raided homes and imprisoned several members of the Separatist Puritan congregation, so they abandoned England with its established church that smacked of popery, with its priests and bishops and vestments and superstitious rituals that looked suspiciously like Mass. They fled to Holland, where they found themselves second class citizens even among their Dutch Calvinist co-religionists. They were unable to speak the language and could barely get work and, heaven forfend, their children were becoming just too Dutch! So it was off to the wilderness of America to invent Thanksgiving and televised football.

In 1620, the Scrooby Separatists, later called Pilgrims by William Bradford, arrived in what is now Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. Upon landing they found some mounds that turned out to be native graves which they promptly robbed. Taking some of the provisions for the dead which had been placed in the graves, they also found an iron kettle in which they placed some of the corn they found and re-buried the rest to use later as seed corn. William Bradford wrote: “They also found two of the Indian's houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colors. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, - as about six months afterwards they did.”

So began the story of the first Thanksgiving: grave robbing and home invasion. It all sounds a little like a Calvinist version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In a short time most of the settlers had become ill, and ridden with scurvy. It was December and there had already been snow. As they explored the area, they saw their first native people, who fled from them. It was not the first time that the locals had met the English. The English had already been there for fishing and trade even before Mayflower. One local tribe, the Pokanoket really disliked the English after a bunch of them had been rounded up, taken on board ship and shot.

Captain Thomas Hunt, a slave hunter also came calling and captured a couple dozen natives to sell as slaves back home in Europe. One of them was the famous Squanto. Admittedly, he sold his captives in Catholic Spain, but when some Franciscan friars found out what he was up to, they freed the Americans, and taught them Christianity. Squanto convinced the friars to let him try to return home. He made his way to London, worked on his English, and managed to sail back home. There he found his entire village dead of European diseases and pilgrims living on his family farm. He spoke English well and was able to mediate between native and thus insured the colonists’ survival. The colonists returned the favor by almost completely wiping out the native population who, as the years went by, had the temerity to fight for the land that they had once owned.

Let us briefly return to merrye olde England, which was becoming less and less merrye. King James was not the Separatists’ idea of a Godly sovereign and so more of them decided to move to America. In 1621, a second ship carrying more colonists came from England, boosting the population to 85. In 1623, it was up to 180. In 1630 it was around 300 and in 1643, around 2000. Between 1630 and 1640, in the so-called Great Migration, 20,000 settlers arrived in Massachusetts. Perhaps the Indians should have put up a fence or something at the border.

The Puritans were abandoning England by the boat load, literally. James was bad enough but his son, Charles, was worse. He wanted to move the Church of England away from Calvinism and even married a Catholic French Princess in 1525, and that was the last straw. A series of events began that eventually ended in Charles being beheaded by the parliamentary Puritans; a king of England losing his head over a woman. Now there’s a switch.

The Calvinists in Parliament decided that they could manage without the King and his popish relatives, and so in a series of civil wars that lasted from 1642 to 1655, they overthrew the royalist government and, in 1649, cut off Charles’ head. They declared a Commonwealth ruled by a Council of State, which included Oliver Cromwell, a general of the Puritan forces. The royalists were finally completely defeated in one more Civil War and during which Cromwell conquered Catholic Ireland. The butcher's bill for keeping England Calvinist and Protestant was incalculable, almost one million people in England Scotland and Ireland taken as a whole, lands of which Cromwell was the Lord “Protector”. Forty percent of Ireland’s population died of war and manufactured famine in one of the most brutal ethnic cleansings in history. At the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649, Cromwell's troops massacred nearly 3,500 people after the town's capture, soldiers, civilians, prisoners, and Roman Catholic priests, burning many of them alive in their church. Cromwell wrote of the event:

“I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.”

This was just one of many massacres. In addition to the starvation and murder of at least 600,000, some 50,000 Irish were sold as slaves during the time of the English Commonwealth. Oliver Cromwell is certainly among the greatest mass murderers in human history. Curiously enough, the last battle of the English civil wars was fought in America. In 1655, at the Battle of the Severn, Puritans defeated the governor of Maryland, William Stone who was fighting to restore his government in the colony and its policy of religious toleration.

Once again what has this to do with the Hootenanny Mass? The heart of the matter is found in the Mayflower compact. It is the foundational document of the country even more than the Declaration of Independence and almost no one has ever heard of it. Before getting off the ship the colonists created a form of government that depended on nothing but its own will. “(We) Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic...” the document read. Not God not King, not custom nor law, but, “(we) the body politic.” In this document, the modern world was born, and nothing is so modern as the Hootenanny Mass and all that came with it. We will govern ourselves. Not popes nor bishops, nor kings nor customs.



  1. Dear Father K-I-A (not to be confused with a certain imported automobile…):

    As there are few comments on your series, I wouldn’t want you to feel that you are casting ‘pearls before swine’ (though I’m sure history teachers often feel that way!). I’m really enjoying your historical narrative. It makes history come alive and with humor. If history teachers taught like that I’m sure more students would take an interest in the subject!

    Perhaps a book might be in the offing…?

    And, as I’m ‘just up the road’ from you - sorry about your Bears, but we needed some good news here in Wisconsin also…

  2. I remember the Hootenanny Mass. What a laugh riot! Unfortunately never got to experience the Bossa Nova Mass. Question...what did Michael rowing a boat ashore have to do with Catholicism? Who perpetrated these Masses?