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TAG | Henry VIII

Henry and BecketAccompanied by somewhat morbid spectacle, a fragment of the elbow (!)  of Thomas Becket  (1118-70), an Archbishop of Canterbury who came to a rather sticky end, has been briefly returned to England.

The BBC reports:

A bone believed to be a fragment of St Thomas Becket’s elbow has been carried into Canterbury Cathedral, 845 years after he was murdered there. St Thomas was killed by four knights inside the cathedral in 1170 after he fell out with King Henry II.

The fragment is now kept in Hungary. It had arrived on loan.

BBC:

King Henry II [had]  made his close friend Thomas Becket Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161. The friendship came under strain when Becket stood up for the church in disagreements with the king. In 1164, Becket fled to France, returning in 1170.

On the 29 December 1170, four knights, believing the king wanted Becket out of the way, murdered him in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became a focus for pilgrimage.

…The shrine at Canterbury containing most of Becket’s remains was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII when the practice of venerating saints was condemned.

To say that that is a rather incomplete description of the split between Henry and the archbishop is an understatement.

But first the Catholic Herald:

[Westminster’s] Cardinal Vincent Nichols encouraged priests to persevere in their ministry despite distressing circumstances, during his homily yesterday for the Jubilee of Priests at Santa Maria Regina degli Apostoli alla Montagnola in Rome.

The cardinal said: “A priest who is always complaining about his troubles, about his lack of free time, about his lack of money, about his companions, about his bishop, is a counter-sign. Yes, there is hardship; but, yes there is faithfulness; yes, there is resurrection, the true source of our daily hope, joy and perseverance.”

The Cardinal also mentioned the visit of the Hungarian relic of St Thomas Becket as a reminder of the saint who “became a symbol of the resistance of the Church to powerful and unscrupulous rulers”, saying that Thomas should be an “inspiration” for all priests.

Hmmm

Take a look at this from The Spectator, written back in 2012:

Accommodation between the temporal and spiritual swords, Guy passingly indicates, was getting harder. The claims of papal sovereignty and church or canon law, backed by powerful ideals of spiritual authority and moral regeneration, were ever extending. Becket and his associates liked to invoke the Church’s ‘liberty’ against forces of tyranny and oppression. What they meant was its right to independence of, and immunity from, the secular power, through papal protection and the exemption of the clergy from the courts that tried and punished the laity. Any king worth the name, brutal or not, would have fought back.

What the church was after was not religious liberty (not a commodity much in evidence in early-Medieval Europe), but religious privilege (not least the clerics’-and cleric was a widely defined term on that era— immunity from the law of the land), a theme that still resonates in today’s political debates.

That Cardinal Nichols fails to acknowledge this is…telling.

Over at the Huffington Post, Ronald Lindsay of the Center of Inquiry weighs in:

 What was the nub of the dispute between Henry II and Becket? Henry—who is rightly considered a ruler who did much to reform the English legal system, laying the foundation for English common law—wanted clergy accused of serious crimes tried in secular courts. Becket insisted that clergy be tried only in ecclesiastical courts. These courts were ineffective and lax, allowing many serious offenders to escape punishment. Church discipline was as meaningless for clerical murderers and thieves in the 12th century as it has been for clerical sexual predators in our times. It’s worth noting, by the way, that as much as one-sixth of the male population in England could claim “the benefit of clergy.”

Becket’s defense of special privileges for clergy didn’t justify his subsequent murder, of course, but neither should his murder transform him into someone who should be honored for his advocacy of religious freedom. He didn’t advocate religious freedom; he obstinately argued for immunity from the law for the church and its clergy.

As Lindsay notes:

The blurring of the distinction between true religious freedom and special privileges for the religious has, unfortunately, affected current public policy debates. In the last few years, not a day goes by when someone isn’t invoking religious liberty when they really mean religious privilege.

And then there is the national issue. It is (or ought to be) a fundamental principle that English law is determined in England.

The Spectator:

Conflicts over rights of law and property assumed in Becket’s mind, as he steeped himself in biblical and theological study, a cosmic import. Quickly the quarrel spread to Rome and to the courts of Europe. How international it now looks, set as it was in a Europe to which the Church gave a coherence that modern bureaucracy cannot match.

The Reformation, by nationalising the Church and subjugating it to the state, ended all that. Henceforth Henry II’s interpretation of Becket’s international lobbying as treason, questionable at the time, would seem uncontentious. Henry VIII had Becket’s shrine demolished and despoiled. ‘There appeareth nothing in his life’, the Tudor king proclaimed, ‘whereby he should be called a saint, but rather esteemed to have been a rebel and traitor to his prince.’ Even Charles I, whose readiness to back an archbishop of Canterbury bent on restoring lost powers of the Church would baffle his subjects and help cause the civil war, declared, to the relief of the earl who heard him, that ‘he thought Thomas Becket as arrant a traitor as ever was’. The state had won.

No, the nation had won. Henry VIII was, to say the least, an accidental liberator, but he had established the principle that in England English laws prevailed.

Writing in 1972, as Britain teetered on the edge of joining what is now the EU, the British politician Enoch Powell, undeniably controversial, and undeniably erudite, wrote this:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event.

Indeed. And the same was true of the dispute between Becket and Henry II, a dispute on which Becket was on the wrong side.

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Jan/16

23

The Vatican and Brexit

henry-viiiThe Roman Catholic Church has always been somewhat suspicious of the nation-state, an institution it regards as an obstacle to its own claims of universal authority, so this story from the Daily Telegraph comes as no surprise:

The Vatican wants Britain to stay in the European Union, the Pope’s foreign secretary has declared.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, suggested “Brexit” could weaken Europe.

In an interview with ITV, the English cleric who has a weekly meeting with Pope Francis, gave a clear signal of Rome’s view of the best outcome of the forthcoming in/out referendum on continued EU membership.

“The Holy See respects the ultimate decision of the British people – that’s for the British electorate to decide,” he said.

“But I think we would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe.”

No, Brexit would not weaken ‘Europe’, and, if it dealt a blow to the EU (which is something very different), it might well even strengthen it. The EU, based on post-democracy and an ideology imposed from the top, may appeal to the Vatican, but it has evolved into a catastrophe for the peoples of Europe. Under the circumstances, anything that might ‘weaken’ it (and, regrettably, Brexit could easily have the opposite effect) is only to be welcomed.

As to the Vatican and specific question of Brexit (the UK’s departure from the EU), perhaps it’s appropriate to revisit yet again what the British politician Enoch Powell had to say  back in 1972 about Henry VIII’s assertion of English independence from Rome:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event.

The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

Britain did, of course, go on to join that ‘Common Market’, not least because most Britons did not understand that ‘ever closer Europe’ meant what it said.

It’s time to reverse that now.

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Aug/13

31

Desperate

Henry VIII 2Writing in the Catholic Herald, a priest, Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, compares Kim Jong-Un with Henry VIII, the king who (according to paper’s headline-writers “founded the Church of England”: nope, it was Elizabeth I who did that, but no matter):

…The court of Mr. Kim might well be riven by deadly infighting. Indeed, it would be surprising were it not. If Mrs. Kim has persuaded her husband to get rid of Ms Hyon, this was no more than what went on in another court. Anne Boleyn constantly nagged Henry VIII to have Katharine of Aragon and her daughter the Lady Mary executed; she was also keen to see Cardinal Wolsey go to the block; as it turned out, he resisted her nagging at least with regard to the Queen and the Princess, and in the end had Anne executed, about which she could hardly complain.

There are other parallels with the Tudors. Mr. Kim seems to favour novel methods of execution. Ms Hyon was machine gunned; Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword rather than the axe, even though, as the historian Alison Weir has pointed out in her excellent The Lady in the Tower, a sword may in fact be much more painful. But Mr. Kim goes further than Henry VII ever did. He had one general, according to the Telegraph, executed by mortar round, which is highly original.

The idea of guilt by association is also reminiscent of Tudor times. When Anne Boleyn fell, her uncle the Duke of Norfolk was keen to show his disapproval of his niece, and presided at her trial and voted for her death. When he second niece to marry the King, Katharine Howard, fell, his protestations were even more voluble, especially as several members of the Howard family spent some time in the Tower, thanks to guilt by association. Katharine Howard’s brothers rode through the City of London in their best clothes in a bid to disassociate themselves from the wretched girl’s misfortune; it was a move that worked.

Just as both of Henry’s wives, and indeed his other victims, may have been condemned on trumped up charges, so it seems that Ms Hyon and her colleagues were condemned to death for incoherent indeed contradictory offences: for making pornographic videos of themselves and for the possession of Bibles. The pornography charge sounds as convincing as Anne Boleyn’s alleged witchcraft.

We may well condemn what happens in North Korea, but this sort of thing is to be expected in places where there is no rule of law beyond the will of the presiding autocrat, who is anything but benign…

It’s a silly comparison. Henry the Liberator was a savage man in a savage era, but regardless of his motives, he established the principle that Englishmen should be governed by English laws, a principle that—more or less—endured until Britain joined what became the EU.

At this point, there’s no better course than, yet again, to quote the (admittedly controversial) English Conservative statesman, Enoch Powell:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event…

The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

And childish, ahistorical comparisons with a psychotic North Korean playboy will not change that fact.

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Jun/12

23

“A European Church”

Iain Martin, writing in the Daily Telegraph:

The Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council, headed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has made a submission on Europe to the Foreign Affairs select committee.

It urges the Government to be more constructive and positive in its attitude to the EU, and warns that David Cameron’s “veto” last December cost the UK credibility. Leaving the EU would be a “travesty”, they claim. Quite a lot of Britons now disagree and think that leaving would be rather a good idea. But the Archbishops explain that they are speaking out because the C of E is “by virtue of its history a European Church”.

Good grief. If the Church of England doesn’t even understand the circumstances of its birth, then how can it expect anyone else to care about what it says?

Quite.

The British politician, Enoch Powell, a British politician who took the role of the Church of England (if not necessarily either its beliefs or its clergy) very seriously, would have been unsurprised by the invincible ignorance of these archbishops.

Here’s what he had to say back in 1972:

The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event.

That’s true, if one considers that Powell was writing in an English context: Henry went to his deathbed considering himself a good Catholic. His dispute with Rome was not over theology, but power. Henry wanted more of the latter (and Anne Boleyn too) but the underlying (and ultimately more important) question was whether England should be governed by English laws or those of some alien authority. Henry VIII, quite correctly, if for self-interested reasons, said that the law begins at home.

Back to Powell…

The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].

That was not something that Thomas Becket (not so surprisingly a traitor in the view of both Henry VIII and Charles I—the last Anglican saint) would have understood or appreciated, so good riddance to him. But Becket was at least Archbishop of Canterbury nearly four centuries before Henry VIII declared England’s independence.He has an excuse, of sorts. The current Archbishop, Rowan Williams, does not. The explanation for what he has said about Europe rests, as it has done so often throughout his disreputable and unpleasant career, in his willingness to put ill-thought, but fiercely-believed, dogma (usually of a leftish variety) before honesty. His upcoming resignation cannot come soon enough.

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