Wednesday, July 19, 2017

History's Lessons Lost

Not being able to foretell the future is excusable, but forgetting the past is not.  Deliberately destroying the past is even worse but oh so much fun for the destructive. The aftermath is as  uncomfortable as having ants in your chain mail underpants. It can throw a chap off his horse. This is especially unfortunate for the future when it happens at a fork in the road.

I was reminded of this the other day by my friend Laramie Hirsch who set me off listening to others in the bars as I pulled pints and wiped tables. Someone had shown one of those now-frequent videos of people being asked simple questions at the American seaside: you know the sort (I shall endeavour to show one below) "What does July 4th celebrate?": "From whom did we gain Independance?" You might think every American could answer those but no. Many just have no idea.

Even when one consults a history teacher (hah!) in schools, all a child gets is mendacious myths and mantras. Quickly forgotten.  The truth is rarely known, to be forgotten too.

It was 'British taxes'. It was 'no representation'.  

No. It was religion. And it stems from religious disagreement way, way back. And not just 'religion' but heresy.

Again our western world faces an inplacable religious enemy. We are dealing with it as poorly and short-sightedly as we ever did.

Laramie was talking of Lord Baltimore, who had established the Colony of Maryland. The British had sent many a fine chap to the New World, and some of the talk later in the bars turned to that and to why it was the way it was. Religion again. Not Pure religion but Puritans. And Protesters. We have a lot of protesters in the street these days and they seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Today it is stopping you saying what you want, how you want: it was the same back then. And the violence has not changed much either. And the PC Puritans are a long way from pure.

Laramie was saying:

George Calvert, properly known as Lord Baltimore, had the idea of establishing a New World refuge for the fiercely persecuted Catholic Englishmen, and so Maryland would be the place where they could practice the Faith freely without fear of being arrested.
Maryland was named for Mary the Mother of Christ. 
So, why is there no Catholic paradise in Maryland today? What was the problem for Maryland from the outset? A lack of spine, force, and conviction.

Lord Baltimore was a convert from Protestantism. As such, he had the bright idea of giving non-Catholics the same freedom in his colony. But even this concession to the Protestants drew heavy protest form the Puritan government of Virginia. 
One can see the same sort of false thinking in places where Muslim mayors are elected and Sharia Law infiltrated. 
As Charles Coulombe explains in his book, Puritan’s Empire:

Maryland was, of course, a different case. Like his father and grandfather, the third Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert, allowed Protestants to freely settle in Maryland and enjoy full civil rights. By 1689, they were a majority of the population. A group of the more wealthy and influential formed, when the news from London arrived, the Protestant Association. On July 27, the Association seized the capital at St. Mary’s City. In 1690, King William officially took control of the colony, and voided the rights of the Catholic proprietor. The Assembly made it illegal for Catholics to hold office in Maryland.
Lord Baltimore was timid with the Faith. How was Catholicism to find a refuge, when one of the first orders was that “all Acts of the Roman Catholic Religion…be done as privately as may be”?

To make matters worse, Lord Baltimore did not establish the Catholic Church as Maryland’s religion. The other Puritan colonies were all too happy to put Puritanical laws on the books that would penalize Catholics. However, Lord Baltimore feared any resemblance to his hateful neighbours.

Instead, Lord Baltimore demonstrated his weakness and granted the Protestants equality.
Insult was later piled on top of the Catholic Marylanders’ grievous mistake:
1704 saw a political victory for the Protestants in Maryland as great as Moore’s in Florida was for Carolina. In that year the Assembly passed the Act to Prevent The Growth of Popery. This prohibited Catholic worship and forbade priests to make converts or baptize any but children of Catholic parents. The wealthier Catholics of the colony petitioned for a temporary reprieve from the first clause in respect to private homes; in an extraordinary move, Queen Anne intervened to make the exception permanent. Because of this, Catholic Maryland survived.

It survived in tatters, never becoming what it was supposed to be. 
While the Catholics of Maryland were fully prepared to be merciful, be tolerant, embrace pluralism, 
and pretend there was unity, in reality their enemies stood next to them the entire time holding concealed knives behind their backs.
But, one might ask, why did Catholics feel safer there than in what was once Catholic England?  Why were so many people eager to escape Protestant England.  So We heard of the great exodus and what caused it. From Katrina Gulliver: a fine gal who was plied with drink for the evening.
Why the English sailed to the new world, Emigrants reviewed

How the Puritans, not the Pilgrims, colonised America

What led a person in 17th-century England to get on a ship bound for the Americas? James Evans attempts to answer that question by exploring both the push and pull factors involved.
His descriptions are vivid, so the reader can imagine the life choices that would lead to one finding oneself heaving up over the side of a small ship somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, or watching the burial at sea of a fellow passenger, and hoping to God one had made the right choice. 
God, of course, was a big part of the choice for many of them.
The Mayflower pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, are the quintessential ‘religious liberty’ seekers, so many of whom headed across the Atlantic. They had already been in exile in Holland for 12 years, when the arrival of Spanish authority was likely to put them in danger again.
It is easy to imagine their desire to be free from persecution. What is harder for us to imagine is the depth of their faith: today, when Anglican is almost a synonym for agnostic, the absolute belief in the providence of the Lord that led this group to take such risks is hard for us to grasp.

The emergence of the Pilgrims, a small separatist group mostly from Lincolnshire, at just a time when settling in the Americas became a viable option, was one of history’s coincidences. 
They did not seem destined for historical importance. Their settlement in Plymouth was tiny, and within 50 years it would be surrounded, swallowed up by the Puritan great migration that followed (the Pilgrims and the Puritans were not the same group, although Evans seems to think they were).

But by another twist of history, during the Protestant revival in the 19th century, the historical reputation of the Pilgrims got the wind behind it. 
Conscious efforts to build a national identity in the United States — including the invention of Thanksgiving — turned the Mayflower group into the Pilgrim Fathers, spiritual ancestors. 
Even now most people think they were the first English settlers in America (never mind that Jamestown beat them by more than a decade — royalist, tobacco-planting pirates didn’t really fit the national image).

The focus on New England also means we tend to forget that only a minority of colonists went there. 
Of the 180,000 Britons who shipped off to North America during the 1600s, 120,000 went to Virginia.
Unfortunately, while the Puritans in New England multiplied, their Chesapeake cousins died. Perhaps 10,000 people arrived in Jamestown between 1607 and 1624: only 1,275 of them were alive at the end of that period. Even after 1630, the death rate in Virginia was double that in Massachusetts. These figures improved over time, but a mortality gap would remain for the next 200 years.

Many of the English who went to Virginia were indentured servants. 
Later, some 50,000 were sent from Britain's overcrowded jails as convicts to America. Not many Americans are even aware of that. It was the 'Revolution' that saw the following tranches sent to the second New World down under. 
Evans classifies his emigrants by theme headings including ‘liberty’, ‘fur’, and ‘king’; for the indentured he has the motive ‘despair’. He reminds us that these were volunteers who had signed up for their situation. The changing economy in England during the 17th century meant there were plenty who were willing to trade several years’ labour for cash and land at the end.
Somewhat like the Roman  Legion practice, but of shorter duration and less battle.
Of course, the recruiters presented an overly rosy view of life in the colonies, and many would have regretted their choice as they lay dying of hunger or fever in Virginia.

Evans is good on the internal conditions in Britain that made so many want to leave, and he relates in a readable style the lives of people who chose to make the journey. Unfortunately, we know little of what became of many of them. Their personal choices can only be guessed at from limited records.

The literate middle classes were obviously more likely to leave accounts, and those who went for political or religious reasons were generally keen to make this known. But records are fragile. Evans mentions the relatively high literacy rate in New Amsterdam, meaning much more was written down of life in the Dutch territory. He does not mention the archive fire in Albany in 1911, in which many of those papers were lost, being perhaps the reason so little can be found of his New York subjects now.
Nonetheless, some records thought lost are found, as with William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, his account of the Mayflower voyage and settlement. The manuscript disappeared during the Revolutionary war, and in another of history’s accidents, wound up in the Bishop of London’s library, where it was found in 1850.
Bradford’s story of the Pilgrims’ lives is as vivid as any retelling, with the kind of human moments that remind us they were not so different from us. Soon after arrival, one ill pilgrim ‘lay cursing his wife, saying if it had not ben for her he had never come this unlucky viage’.
OK, that is clear although it just touches the surface. Follow through in the corner yourselves with a few pints. It still doesn't explain why England was in such turmoil. So let us look at that. In a word, 'Reformation'. It was anything but, very much in line with the modern use of the word 'reform'. That is, Cant.

Dominic Selwood helped us out here with some back and foretell. Dominic is a historian, author and barrister. 
What Catholic England would look like today

If the English Reformation had never happened our cathedrals would blaze with colour, our monasteries would house the homeless and our nation would be less gloomy.
The 19-year-old King Henry VIII took to the field arrayed in cloth of gold and blue velvet, all spangled with golden hearts and K’s for his 25-year-old wife, Katherine of Aragon, whose honour he defended as “Sir Loyal Heart”. The joust was the most lavish of Henry’s reign, celebrating the birth, 10 days earlier on New Year’s Day, of their son, Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall.
The Field of the Cloth of Gold.
Henry VIII and Katherine went on to preside over England’s first truly Renaissance court, where the progressive influence of Thomas More and Erasmus brought a gentle but keen appreciation of the classics and humanities. 
When Henry died an old man, he was mourned as our greatest scholar king.
Remember, Dominic is telling how it could have been: should have been, 
His son, King Henry IX, acceded to the throne, inaugurating one of England’s most luminous reigns. He sponsored the maritime genius of Drake and Raleigh, oversaw England’s first substantial colonies in the New World, and witnessed the consolidation of England and Spain as Europe’s leading Catholic powers.

Of course, that is not what happened. 
Personal tragedy struck just 43 days after Henry’s glittering joust at Westminster. Out of the blue, the seven-week-old prince died. Distraught, Katherine repeatedly tried again. Over a period of eight years, her agonising labours produced two sons and four daughters, but all except Mary were stillborn or died as infants.

Undeterred, Henry became fixated on a male heir to secure his lineage (ironic, given that two of his daughters rank among England’s best-known rulers). 
With increasing tunnel vision, he proceeded to scythe through wives and advisers in an orgy of beheadings.

Years earlier, Henry had been a stalwart of the Counter-Reformation, tearing into Luther’s theology in Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (1521), a heartfelt defence of Catholic beliefs. 
Had his monomania for a male heir not led him to co-opt Protestantism as a utilitarian tool to secure a divorce, he would no doubt have continued his strong public support of Catholic teachings, which he always maintained in private.
It is a sad testament to the power of the Spin Doctor that so many today revile Catholics. They simply mouth mantras invented by the raging Henry's staff of psycho-sychophants. 
Although Henry’s marital intrigues inflicted serious damage on traditional English religion – most notably in the asset-stripping of over 800 monasteries – 
it was Edward VI who bulldozed Catholicism off the English landscape, 
....smashing up parish churches and bulk-importing foreign Protestants via an open-door immigration policy for the continent’s ambitious Lutherans and Calvinists.
Just as Europe is mass-importing Muslims. 
But let’s rejoin the story with Henry VIII, and ask what would have happened if Henry and Katherine had never divorced. How might England be different today?
First, the Reformation would almost certainly not have reached England, then known affectionately for the deepness of its Catholic faith as “Mary’s Dowry”. 
There were few Protestants this side of the Channel, and nothing suggests they would have grown in any significant numbers. So, like most of continental Europe, England would have remained Catholic.

There would have been no Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Stuarts, or the need to pass over 50 Catholic heirs before giving the throne to the acceptably Protestant Hanoverians. There would be no Bonfire Night or Guy to burn on November 5 each year. And Nelson would not have fought the Spanish at Trafalgar, so the centre of London might now commemorate some other victory: as Geneva Square, perhaps, marking a long-forgotten dust-up with Alpine Calvinists.

Geopolitically, the most significant consequence would be that the great colonisation of the New World – by England, Spain, Portugal and France – would have resulted in uniformly Catholic settlements in North America. 
There would have been no Puritan “Pilgrim Fathers”, who, like Catholics, were criminalised in England from 1559 for not attending the shiny new Tudor Church. Although Catholicism is still comfortably the world’s largest Christian denomination, the Protestant bond linking England with her former colonies is the ideological cement of a shared modern “Anglo-Saxon” identity. 
(It is an odd image, seeing as the Anglo-Saxons were firmly Catholic.)

England’s cultural and political links with Europe would be deeper, and we would look to the continent for “special relationships”. This is what Henry VIII was aiming for by marrying Katherine. 
The Tudors were young, with a fragile and complex claim to the English throne. By contrast, Katherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, los Reyes Catolicós, as well as aunt to the Holy Roman Emperor. She outgunned Henry by a country mile, and was even directly descended from a fistful of Plantagenet kings of England.

Although David Starkey and others are championing a movement for historians to assert that England has a minimal shared cultural history with Europe, this view is light on history and heavy on 2015 Europolitics. 
Before the Reformation, England was an integral, interconnected and longstanding pillar of European Christendom.
Now, of course, like America, it is barely even Christian, although there are pockets of fine, faithful christians and even Catholics to be found in both nations. Generally being beset by 'modernism'. 
Another difference would lie in the words of Shakespeare, whose influence continues to shape our language and identity. He was writing when the Triple Tree at Tyburn was busy with Elizabeth’s religious and political enemies, executing up to 24 people at a time.
A tad too close to Muslim practice today. 
Like all Elizabethan writers, Shakespeare chose his words with caution. Speculation about whether he was a secret Catholic rumbles on; the evidence may suggest his father was. But it is self-evident that, if the political climate at Elizabeth’s court had not been so toxic, Shakespeare would have been freer to write without sensing her secret police at his elbow. If the environment were different, who knows what works he may have left us.

There would be no concept of “the Dark Ages”, 
....which exists as an idea uniquely in the English language – largely because the Reformation destroyed centuries of medieval colour and beauty. 
Until the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, our cathedrals were exploding with polychromy. There was nothing dark about them. Neither was the medieval world intellectually penumbral. Monastery, cathedral and university libraries were piled high with the weight of Christian and classical learning.

What brought darkness were mobs of iconoclasts and book-burners under successive Protestant regimes – vandals who destroyed 90 per cent of England’s historic artistic heritage as surely and mindlessly as ISIS is pulverising Iraq’s. 
If the Reformation had not reached England, our precious and irreplaceable heritage would have been spared the hammers, pickaxes and bonfires. Moreover, the austere grey puritanical gloom we now associate with medieval churches might today be the riots of colour and vibrancy they were always intended to be.

The Church would not, of course, have stood still. 
Humanists such as the Catholic priest Erasmus and the layman Thomas More were spearheading an intellectual renewal, broadening the medieval scholastic vision to include history, poetry and increased priestly education. If the violence of the Reformation had not intervened, perhaps they would have quietly opened up new avenues.

For instance, key biblical books had long been available in the vernacular: like the fourth-century Bible in Gothic, the Wessex Gospels of 990 or the 12th-century Ormulum. 
Luther and Tyndale were doing nothing new in the act of translating Scripture. English Catholics in exile published the official Douay-Rheims New Testament in English in 1582, a full 29 years before the Church of England brought out its literary masterpiece, the King James Version of 1611.

With no Reformation, maybe “the spacious, luminous world of Catholic humanism” (in Evelyn Waugh’s words) would have overseen an English scriptural renaissance, but without the bloodshed that scarred our country for centuries. The project would doubtless have appealed to one of the most eloquent Englishmen of the day, who could so easily have ended up as Cardinal Archbishop Edmund Campion.

Even if Henry had not detonated the Reformation under English society, the religious landscape would nevertheless look vastly different today. Europe has become a more global and areligious place, with traditional faith in steady decline. Nevertheless, a Catholic England (even if increasingly secular) would have defining characteristics, and it is worth mentioning three.
Pre-Reformation English spiritualty was vibrant, exuberant and community-centred. It was a celebration of colour, folklore, faith and song. The sober changes brought by Protestantism have undoubtedly made us a more dour, serious and less effervescent people.
Catholic England also revelled in the public spectacle of mystery plays, in which cities vied to outdo each other, roping in hundreds of participants. It is hard to see why this would have died out if it had not been stamped out. So today, in addition to Morris and maypole dancing and school nativity plays, our folk traditions might still include mystery plays. They would perhaps be secular, satirical theatre by now, but after watching London’s ever-grander New Year celebrations, there is no doubt we still love a spectacular son et lumière to tell the world we are here.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a good case for thinking the welfare state would have assistance.
When Henry took the throne, England was carpeted with monasteries.
Many would have closed naturally over time as the world modernised. 
But forcibly ripping them out of the English landscape destroyed an identifiable sector of society devoted to caring, feeding, housing, healing and educating. When Wolf Hall’s Thomas Cromwell talks superciliously about legions of indolent monks growing rich on dodgy relics, he is spinning Tudor high propaganda, not history.

Medieval monasteries mostly grew because ordinary people gave them money to conduct charitable works. On the eve of the Reformation, most wills, even by people of modest means, contained donations to religious houses for the relief of the poor. 
A century later, this Christian tradition was gone. 
Before Henry and Cromwell, London alone had 35 religious hospitals, including St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas’s, which are now both over 800 years old. 
Religion was inseparable from community caring.

The Reformation’s wholesale replacement of a Catholic framework devoted to the needy (salvation by faith and works of mercy) with a Protestant one of Bible study and personal prayer (salvation by faith alone) altered our society fundamentally, refocusing us into ourselves and cutting off an entire infrastructure of charity. 
If we still had monasteries with the money to heal, feed, clothe, educate and offer hospitality to the poor, I doubt we would have nearly so many in our society sleeping rough with nowhere to go.

Finally, it would be fascinating to imagine what England might feel like today. On the negative side, we would probably miss the familiarity of our parliamentary system, whose development was keenly informed by the individualism of Protestant thinking. And we would also mourn the absence of Church of England choral music, which is undoubtedly one of the finest gems in our country’s cultural heritage.

More broadly, to envisage a modern Catholic England, there is little point looking to other countries as examples. Like food, humour, clothing and music, a country’s religion is uniquely shaped by its people’s national characteristics. 
English Catholicism has always been a good-humoured affair: more Friar Tuck than Venerable Jorge, the grim Name of the Rose villain. 
For instance, the Inquisition never set foot in England, largely because our ancient common law is adversarial, relying on witnesses and jurors not judicial inquiries. (Well, there was one exception – the trial of the Templars – but you can blame the French for that.)

England’s Catholicism has always been, and remains, a very English affair. It is as quintessentially subversive and quirky as warm beer, cricket, Winston Churchill and the shipping forecast – a formative and integral part of English culture that deserves to be recognised and acknowledged.
Ah, what might have been.

Peoples and Nations come to forks in the road and often take the wrong path.  They do so more often when history is forgotten or deliberately and violently expunged.

Now, that questioning of ignorant folk we started with. Look, listen and weep. 

And have some long, cool drinks. On the House.
(This is a Catholic Tavern, after all)



  1. History is a lesson that we should learn from so that we do not perpetuate the same mistakes.

    Sadly, for various reasons (the human species) never learns from past mistakes.

    1. Perpetual thickness. We live 'hope' rather than knowledge.

  2. The Reformation was a catastrophe, no question about that.

    But without the Reformation could the Catholic Church have withstood the onslaught of modernism? It's had no success at all in withstanding modernism and liberalism in countries like France. Even Ireland now seems to be just another secular state.

    Perhaps a more interesting question is this. Would capitalism have turned out differently had there been no Reformation? Would we have ended up with a less evil form of capitalism?

    Because make no mistake, it is capitalism that has been the deadliest enemy of Christianity.

  3. In retrospect the most fatal event in English history was Bosworth Field. If Richard III had won there would have been no Tudor dynasty. Therefore no Reformation in England. It's also quite possible that Scotland would have remained an independent nation, which in the long run would have been better for both the Scots and the English. There would have been no Civil War and no Cromwell as Lord Protector, so relations between the English and the Irish might not have been irretrievably poisoned.

    The Tudors were always going to be a disaster. A thoroughly degenerate family.

    1. Your two comments open very large barrels of wormy things Hahahahah. Yes it is from small(?) events that large changes stem and we can only guess at the possible outcomes that might have been. As to the Church surviving, yes it would have and it would have changed just slowly and effectively. But it was not to be.The outcomes of battle engagement can cause significant upset of best laid plans, but the engagement in totally unecessary wars - such as the American Revolution - should have been headed off by wiser heads who had more time to think of what they were doing. The loss to America has been incalculable, though they do not know it.

    2. Dfrodoom, sir. An aside on a different matter.

      I tried to respond to a piece on your blog regarding the emotional thinking of the ladies, with its reference to tarot and horoscopes. Nice piece, by the way. My comment and tale was too long however for your comment system. So I would like to send it to you.

      Can you send me your email? On the left side of the Tavern page, scroll down a way, you will find a Post Box. Messages sent via that will come directly to me but not get published in these comments. Having your email at hand I will gladly sent my long comment, which may well amuse you.



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The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..