Magazine article The Spectator

34 Catholic Beauty Jonathan Bate Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition

Magazine article The Spectator

34 Catholic Beauty Jonathan Bate Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition

Article excerpt

34 Catholic beauty Jonathan Bate Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition:

Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations by Eamon Duffy Bloomsbury, £20, pp. 256, ISBN 9781441181176 In 1992 the Roman Catholic historian Eamon Duffy of Magdalene College, Cambridge published a large book called The Stripping of the Altars. Deploying a wealth of evidence, Duffy argued that the English men and women of the 16th century, especially in the provinces, did not really want to be 'reformed'. They liked their old Catholic ways. The feasts and festival days fitted with the rhythms of the rural year. The architecture, furnishings and images of late medieval churches had given stability and comfort to parish communities. The common people only ever became reluctant Protestants.

It is often said that history is written by the winners. Duffy and his fellow 'revisionists' were seeking to overturn a Protestant, Whiggish narrative that had been engrained - and perhaps forced - upon the English psyche for generations, from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563) to Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall's Our Island Story (1905):

Now began the most terrible time of Mary's reign, for it required more than a few words from King, Queen, and Pope to make England again truly Roman Catholic. The Protestants would not give up their religion. Mary was determined that they should. Those who refused were imprisoned and put to death in the most cruel way. They were burned alive.

Or, in the immortal words of Sellar and Yeatman's parody of Miss Marshall:

'Broody Mary's reign was, however, a Bad Thing, since England is bound to be C. of E. , so all the executions were wasted.'

Now that the Queen has shaken hands with Martin McGuinness, we no longer need to choose between Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess

Duffy is an excellent historian and he

would be the first to admit -- indeed, he

says as much in the concise introduction to

this new collection of his essays -- that the

truth, as is nearly always the case with grand

historical narratives, lies somewhere in the

middle ground. Now that the Queen has

shaken hands with Martin McGuinness, we

no longer need to choose between Bloody

Mary and Good Queen Bess or Archbishop

Cranmer and Cardinal Pole (a pairing that

is the subject of one of Duffy's chapters).

Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition consists almost entirely of previously published essays, one of them dating as far back as 1988. …

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