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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lord Charles Cornwallis...

is a name that is inextricably linked with the British surrender at Yorktown and the end of the American Revolution in the popular imagination. Few think of him as more than a stand-in stereotypical upper-crust British big-wig who pretentiously overplayed his hand and lost. In the film The Patriot, he is depicted as a rather ineffectual clothing obsessed fop. But beyond the Online Movie Database, he was a much more multi-faceted and unique individual who prided himself on standing out from the crowd, and whose military abilities were far from paltry.

     Cornwallis was a child of England’s hereditary nobility, and had the oldest family and bluest blood of any of the major British commanders who served during the American war. He was schooled at Eton a rough-and-tumble, make-a-gentleman-out-of-you-the-hard-way institution for upper-class lads. They worked hard and played hard in an atmosphere of almost electrically charged competition. Whilst involved in a heated game of hockey, the young Cornwallis got whacked in the face with a fellow player’s stick. The bearer of said stick would go on to become the Anglican Bishop of Durham. (I suppose he was preparing to teach people to turn the other cheek!). Poor Cornwallis wound up with a permanently damaged left eye, which tended to wander out of focus, leaving him slightly visually impaired and making some people rather uncomfortable upon first meeting him.

    But none of this kept the enthusiastic teenager from pursuing a career in the military. He adored the army, and proved eager to be a part of the action on the continent during the Seven Years War. He even tried to volunteer with the allied Prussian forces in order to get into the thick of the fighting, and action which had been expressly forbidden by King George II. Fortunately, his father managed to extricate him from the situation, but the young man was setting the stage as something of a rebellious individualist. He would tend to follow this trend when he entered politics and took his ancestral seat in Parliament. When the direct taxes on America were first being proposed, Cornwallis was one of only 6 MPs to vote against it. He showed himself to be quite sympathetic to the plight of the colonists in his voting record overall, and would go on to write, “They are Englishmen, such as we, and are simply defending their rights.”

    Meanwhile, Cornwallis’ personal life took a turn when his father died, making him, as the eldest son, the next Lord Cornwallis of the ancestral estate at Culford in the English countryside. As the new head of the family, it was his duty to make sure that his younger brothers were established with meaningful careers and his younger sisters married off to men of good blood and bank accounts. All this hustling around made Cornwallis quite tuckered out, but he did manage to set aside a little “me time” and courted Jemima Jones, the daughter of a middle class army officer. As a nobleman, Cornwallis was boldly breaking convention, but he was seriously smitten. Perhaps he was sick of arranging marriages for all his siblings, and became more firmly determined that he would marry for love.

    Jemima was everything he wanted in a woman: beautiful, intelligent, independent-minded, with just the right combination of fire and grace to make the relationship inspired. She also dared to break the code of age for women, and openly discussed politics with Cornwallis. He relished in it, and when confronted with the fact that she had neither title nor lands, he replied that he already had those. He was more than happy to share them with a woman such as Jemima.

To be continued…

Friday, May 22, 2015

The History Texts of Anne W. Carroll: Part I

     During my years of being homeschooled through high school, I was introduced to the Catholic history text books of Anne W. Carroll, published by Seton Home Study Curriculum in Front Royal, Virginia. For 9th-10th Grade, the text assigned was Christ the King: Lord of History. For 11th-12th Grade, we moved on to Christ and the Americas. These books have been pretty standard fare for Catholic homeschool students since their publication in the 1980’s, and have been given rave reviews in Catholic curriculum catalogs because of their unique approach to the historical method.

    In the prologue of the first volume, Mrs. Carroll explains her belief that every history book has a given perspective colored by the biases and personal opinion of the author. Hence, in her history books, she lets us know that she intends to be unabashedly proud of the role of Catholicism in the shaping of Western Civilization, and always makes the Incarnation of Jesus Christ stand center stage as the defining historical event. Likewise, she refuses to allow herself to be locked in the box of political correctness in order to win a seat in the secular market-place, and staunchly sticks with the hearty traditional “B.C.” and “A.D.” as opposed to insipid modern “B.C.E.” and “C.E.”.

      I admire her uncompromising boldness in declaring and defending the faith, and her ability to balance this with a fluid story-telling style. In each book, she covers a huge swath of time in a pithy manner, and while there are certain aspects I wished she’d covered instead of others, every historian must make their own call in that area. She also has a good handle on when to break up chapters into more palatable sections for students.

    One of the main aims of her writings is to counter-balance the “Black Legends” that have been foisted onto the story of the Church through the lingering Protestant Whig interpretation of history, and she does an admirable job of it. She explains that the Middle Ages were not half so backward as secular history books often insist, and illustrates how they sparkled with great cultural and academic achievements, borne out of cohesion and shared vision of a united Christendom. She also demonstrates the benefits of the feudal system and the concept of Christian monarchy. When focusing on the contributions of the Church in building up Civilization, and the Saints in building up the Church, she always shines.

      However, while the heart of her literary works is in the right place, I’m afraid that there are some noteworthy flaws with regards to making her personal opinions sound like some sort of defined “Catholic position” which does not exist. Moreover, quite a few of these frankly-expressed opinions are tainted by imbalance and inaccuracy, exchanging depth and complexity for an overly simplified version of historical events.

    Many of the “heroes and “villains” are far too easily designated as such without exploring the gray areas of their character or the human dimension; causes and effects are often distorted or condensed to fit a strictly religious interpretation; and the author’s own heavy-handed style and refusal to leave barely anything to the judgment of the reader has the potential to disenchant Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I don’t think this was necessarily intentional on her part, but her eagerness to counteract the lies told against the Church seems to have pushed her in the opposite direction, making for dogmatic, agenda-driven history indeed.

    As a freelance student of British history, I could particularly identify this in the sections dealing with happenings in the British Isles and her colonies. I shall try to list some of the areas that struck me as in need of further explanation and/or revision in hopes that perhaps these changes may ultimately be made in the Seton publication. Also, I might just indulge my own penchant for some historical story-telling elaboration, in hopes that it will prove of interesting extracurricular material. 


    To start off with an example, Mrs. Carroll is not at all shy about taking sides in many of the complex struggles for the crown of England, and stating in a matter-of-fact way which contestant was the “rightful king” and which was the “usurper.” This trend starts slowly in the chapter “The High Middle Ages” in Christ the King: Lord of History. Of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, she writes:

    “William Duke of Normandy, who had only a slight claim to the English throne, invaded England and fought Harold, who had no real claim at all.”

    I would agree that both claimants had tenuous claims to the throne, but I don’t understand why she made it sound that William had any better claim than Harold. Upon the death of King Edward the Confessor, who died childless, there was a serious question as to who should inherit the crown. William was a distant Norman cousin of King Edward; Harold Godwinson was Edward’s brother-in-law from a powerful Saxon warrior family. Both claimed that they had been chosen by King Edward to inherit the throne. Who can say with any accuracy which had a better claim?

    William the Conqueror was certainly eager to be his own promotional manager, claiming that Harold had ceded any claim to the throne while he was being entertained at William’s court in Normandy and managing to receive papal backing for his invasion plans. Also, William had a wonderful way of tying himself to ancient legends and reading into omens…so for example he identified himself with King Arthur’s Britons, who had founded Brittany in France after being chased out of Britain by the invading Saxons who founded England centuries earlier.

    Just to clinch the connection, William insisted that the comet he saw shooting through the night sky on the eve of his invasion was in fact the same one Uther Pendragon had seen to foretell the birth of King Arthur. And less romantically…he managed to convince his soldiers that, when he unceremoniously tripped and tumbled as he first set foot on English soil, landing flat on his royal face, the earth was really “reaching out” to embrace its rightful king! Hey, whatever works…

    All that having been said, reasons could be given for seeing Harold as having a closer link with the spirit of King Arthur, since he was acting as a freedom-fighter defending natives of the British Isles against the invasion and ultimate suppression of foreign invaders. J.R.R. Tolkien certainly took this view, and dearly wished that the Anglo-Saxon England which inspired his epics endured unadulterated by “foreign” influence. In college, he even made a fuss about wanting to start an alternative history discussion, doing away with the whole nasty 1066 debacle!

    The issue of papal backing for William is pretty much irrelevant with regards to a “Catholic Perspective” on the whole event, since the papacy at the time was just as much of a political entity as a religious one, and would make political alliances that could not be held as universally binding upon the Catholic faithful. Needless to say, at this time, both Normans and Saxons were loyal children of the Church, so there really should not be spiritual overtones read into the pope’s decision on William’s behalf. Let it be known that, down the road, another pope would pay the English a similar favor in their conquest of Ireland. The rest, although the poor pope certainly couldn’t have known it at the time, is history.

    While on the subject of the Norman Conquest, I can’t help but wish the author had mentioned Hereford the Wake, the great Saxon outlaw hero considered to be one of the inspirations for the legends of Robin Hood in later generations. In the aftermath of the invasion, he defended his impoverished countrymen from their brutal Norman overlords, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. And yes, he was obviously a very Catholic hero too, although he was non-too-fond of self-serving Norman clergymen, just like Robin Hood. Still, his famous super-sword was said to have been entrusted to him by Saxon monks, blessing him for his mission among the people.

    Hereford was said to be the son of Lady Godiva, a Saxon noblewoman from the court of King St. Edward the Confessor, whose personal piety, generosity to the Church, and charity to the poor were well-known in her fact, more well-known than her ride through the streets of Coventry ostensibly “naked” (probably meaning clad only in a simple under-garment shift) to convince her husband that true beauty was a matter of inner nobility not rich garments, urging him to alleviate his heavy taxation of the people of the city.  

    Another interesting legend from the era has to do with what really became of the would-be-king Harold after the battle. The officials retelling from the Norman ascendency was that he was killed by an arrow in the eye, and his body was dismembered by his enemies in the aftermath. Only his mistress, Edith Swan-Neck, was said to have been able to identify his remains. However, there is an alternative ending to the tale, cherished by generations of Saxon mothers who also reared their children on the adventures of Hereford the Wake.  

     So the story went, Harold escaped the battlefield and took refuge in a monastery beside the River Dee. There he became a monk, and lived out his days learning that this simple godly life was more fulfilling than all the days he might have spent as king. There is a delightful English folk song called “Miller of the Dee” which may hearken back to this story, as a certain “King Hal” is portrayed walking along the river and hearing a very contented miller sing, “I envy no one, no, not I, and no one envies me”. The king counteracts him, “Say no more, if you’d be true, that no one envies you…Your miller’s cap worth my crown, your mill my kingdom’s fee…Such men as you are of the best, O Miller of the Dee!”

    Whether or not there’s any truth in the legend, I think it’s safe to say that the above realization of what a truly meaningful life consists of could be one of the most profound epiphanies to come out of the complicated and colorful Norman Conquest.


      I wish I could say that the above discrepancy over whether William or Harold had a better claim to the throne was the worst things got with regards to Mrs. Carroll’s statements of support for one kingly claimant over another. But as we move onto the chapter “England Against the Faith”, she makes an even stronger show of support for King Richard III over King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485:

    “The throne was in the hands of Richard III of the Yorks. He was challenged by Henry Tudor, who had no real claim to the throne but who was supported by the Lancastrians. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard was killed. Henry found the royal crown hanging on a bush and promptly placed it on his own head, beginning the Tudor dynasty. Thus Henry VII came to the throne by force and was not the rightful king.”

     How can she possibly say that just because Henry came to the throne “by force” he was somehow illegitimate? His rise to power came out of the War of the Roses, inter-family political struggles in which every claimant was trying to take or hold the crown through aggressive means. Given all the chaos, there is certainly no logical reason for making Henry disqualified for the throne. Basically, whoever could grab it got it. As I said, I appreciate the author’s vision of Christian Kingship in this period, but the reality was often a pretty grubby business, not half as dependent upon rights of succession as the ability to gain and hold power.

    I must wonder, could her support of Richard be so definite because his rival, King Henry VII, was the father of King Henry VIII who tore England away from the Catholic Church? Some Catholic speculative historians have taken this line of thinking, but it really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In the case of Henry Tudor, it is impossible to blame him, a practicing Catholic, for the degenerate behavior of his son who would go on to betray the Church. Who’s to say that Richard III’s hypothetical son might not have done the same in the midst of the political turmoil that accompanied the Protestant Revolt in the aftermath of a national civil war?
    Henry was a pretty crafty character, and like William the Conqueror before him, was an expert in the game of political propaganda. He made the most of the Welsh blood on his father’s side of the family, and announced that he too was riding on the fame of good ol’e King Arthur and would be fulfilling the prophecy that the Red Dragon (representing the Celts) would triumph over the White Dragon (representing the Saxons). Frankly, it was a pretty far-and-away analogy for the War of the Roses, but his arrival from France still got the Welsh bards inspired and singing:

    “When the bull comes from the far land to battle with his great ashen spear/To be an earl again in the land of Llewelyn/Let the far-splitting spear shed the blood of the Saxon on the stubble…When the long yellow summer comes and victory comes to us/And the spreading of the sails of Brittany/And when the heat comes and when the fever is kindled/There are portents that victory will be given to us…”

    The singing inspired fighting, and even many Welshman who had sworn fealty to Richard quickly doubled back on their word to fight for Henry. One Welsh nobleman had even declared that horses would have to gallop over him before he would betray Richard…and then promptly lay underneath a bridge so that horses could indeed “gallop over him”, freeing him from his oath so he could join Henry’s army! The young would-be-king was ecstatic at his popularity among the people of Wales, and took the Welsh St. Arnel (said to have banished a dragon deep into the mountains of Cymru) as his patron, who he later claimed had saved his ship from a terrible storm before he finally safely landed in Milford Haven.

    But with or without all these promotional pluses, many contemporaries were thrilled by the young Henry’s overthrow of King Richard, a man many thought to be ruthless and power-hungry, even willing to illegitimize and possibly murder his nephews in order to take the throne “by force”! So the nursery rhyme goes: “The cat, the rat, and the level dog (Richard’s cronies) rule all England under the hog (a part of Richard’s coat-of-arms)”. Of course, whether he was the monster portrayed in the works of Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare is highly debatable, and the recent discovery of his remains and their internment in Leicester Cathedral has set the stage for a more balanced evaluation of the man. But at best, he was mixed, and there are enough valid reasons to suppose that at least a portion of the accusations against him are worthy of belief.

    My personal opinion on Richard is that he was an intelligent and ambitious individual, who did indeed have his eye on the throne, and may have used some scurrilous means of obtaining it. But once in power, he proved to be a fairly competent and conscientious ruler, improving the justice of the courts, generously supporting the church, and impressing visitors with his hospitality and excellent conversation skills. But he could also be brutal clinging on to power, and he made his fair share of enemies for his good and bad points alike (trying to clean up judicial corruption often has nasty repercussions…), leading to his overthrow. But my opinion aside, it is the very spirit of open-minded debate and discernment that is essential to historical studies, and should never be shut down by an author’s opinion validated by imaginary religious mandate.

    Also, while in the mode of discussing the War of the Roses, it would have been interesting to have been introduced to two other characters from the era that I think would have made wonderful reading in a Catholic history text, both of which were on the Lancastrian side. One was the saintly yet ill-advised King Henry VI, who Richard III’s brother, Edward IV, brutally deposed, imprisoned, and most likely assassinated.

    This much-maligned monarch was a man out of step with his time because he was too far ahead of it. He wanted to end the ongoing wars with France, and had a vision for England to become a center of learning and the arts, a repository of culture and higher education that would attract the admiration of all Christendom. He founded King’s College in Cambridge, and designated the organization of King’s College Choir, whose glorious music continues to be one of the jewels of British culture. He despised the barbarities and his age and the loose morals of the court, and strove to do away with the moral obscenities around him and end capital punishment for his fellow Christians within his realm.

    Unfortunately, he was far from politically savvy and far too trusting of those around. After being overthrown, he had a nervous break-down, but bore all of his sufferings in prison with great resignation and dignity, asking only that he be allowed the Eucharist, his prayer books, his pet canary, and pet lap dog for comfort. After the gentle king was “found” dead, many of the common people began to pray to him for intercession, believing that he had been murdered and, in a sense, martyred by the power-hungry and corrupt. The cause for his canonization was begun, but unfortunately King Henry VII proved too cheap to carry it to fruition, and Henry VIII’s little apostatizing escapade killed it stone dead. But nevertheless...I for one would like to see the cause reopened!

    The other character of note from the era was the formidable Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother. A short and sturdy little girl, and one of the last hopes for the House of Lancaster to make a come-back after their multiple reverses of fortune, she was married at age 12 and gave birth to her son at age 13. Her small son had to be taken away from her and spirited off to France for fear of him being assassinated by the Yorkists, and Margaret would later disguise herself in man’s apparel in order to visit him. Later, when Henry made his bid for the throne, Margaret worked behind the scenes in the royal court, winning support for him and assuring that the coup would be successful.

    In spite of her various intrigues on behalf of her kith and kin, she was a very pious woman, known for being actively involved in Church affairs and giving generously out of her coffers. Her chaplain in later years was Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, who would be martyred under her off-the-rocker grandson, Henry VIII, who had by then usurped the title “Head of the Church in England”. I would have loved to have had granny around to give him a piece of her mind during the proceedings…and a good whacking with a royal wooden spoon to boot!


(End of Part I)

The Battle of Hastings, 1066

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Honor of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales...

whose feast is the 4th of May, I am going to explore some of the what I believe to be a “spiritual vacuum” that has opened up in Britain, starting with the rending the of Christendom under the Henry VIII during the 16th century, and the innumerable ramifications that continue to effect the British national consciousness in the present day.

    The unbiased reader must acknowledge that the Catholic Church, in spite of many failings of her members, has been a source of infinite good in the history and development of mankind. She was a major source of preserving order and learning after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and integral in the rise and development of Western Civilization. Since it was separate from any governmental organization that sprang up, it also served as the potential conscience of those government systems as something above and beyond them. In theory, it was the spiritual power, distinct from the temporal powers of given countries. It provided a cohesive front for Christendom, welding together many feudal states into one.

    The division of Christendom started out as a reaction against the corruption that had entered the Church due in large part to the temporal power assumed by the clerics. However, the Reformation was not at all a “reforming” movement, but rather a revolt. This is something that both Catholic and Protestants should be able to agree on today, just based on the historical fact. It did not seek to refurbish the house, but rather pull it down from its foundations. It did not seek to go for marriage counseling, but declare a bitter divorce. It did not merely oppose the injustices and corruption; if Luther and his fellow religious rebels had merely stuck with those principles, they may have become great saints of the Church.

    But instead, these would-be-reformers attacked and re-wrote doctrine, and as such set themselves up in opposition to the Church Magisterium. It was a declaration of war against the unity of Christendom. It was challenging the very bedrock of their civilization. Of course it was bound to have political repercussions, and the generators of the revolt expected no less. What they did not expect was that their fiery, often honestly heart-felt convictions would open the door to spiritual luke-warmness across Europe and the world through the political domino effect. Nowhere was this more obvious than in England under Henry VIII.

     By establishing the Church of England, he essentially assured that the religion of the country would be a religion of nationalism. It was not a matter of moral convictions, but political convenience. Although Henry himself remained a doctrinal Catholic in all but Papal supremacy and had not intended any major change in overall belief within his kingdom, his power-hungry actions were one step down a slippery slope. The dissolution of the monasteries, using their wealth to fill the king’s coffers and their lands to reward the king’s high-born henchmen, was a visible sign that the spiritual powers in England were being forcibly absorbed by the temporal.

     Under Edward VI, Henry’s surviving son who was dubbed by the Protestant faction “the English Josiah”, a doctrinal shift took place in favor a low-church Protestantism, complete with a full-scale “stripping of the altars” and the rejection of such things as Transubstantiation, the Communion of Saints, Marian Devotion, Priestly Celibacy, etc. At least it can be said that these changes generated by the young Edward, his uncles the Seymour brothers, and Archbishop Thomas Cramner were at least partially based on genuine conviction. But even through these acts of removing the visible aspects of religious ceremony so distinctly Catholic, they were setting the stage for secular ceremony to take its place for the Protestant populace.

     Under Queen Mary I, the Catholic daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragorn, an effort was made to bring England back into the fold of the Catholic Faith and heal the schism of her father and reverse the heresy of her brother. But in a land of split allegiances, her burning of heretics, although certainly not unusual for the era, attracted negative press, which was compounded by her marriage to King Philip of Spain, who seemed more interested in using England to bolster his own continental ambitions as opposed to being a proper support for his wife. In the end, Mary died broken and betrayed, her well-intentioned plans having back-fired miserably.

     Next came Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, for whom he had broken with the Church in order to marry. Imprisoned by her sister Mary for suspected plotting, she was ambitious, clever, shrewd, and determined to reign and rule a queen, unmarried and unattached to anything that might check her power. She had lied to her dying sister and promised to uphold the Catholic Church, but upon ascending the throne quickly reneged and claimed the title Head of the Church in England. Although she said she would not “look into the windows of men’s souls”, this was nothing more than a ploy to avoid to the bad publicity that haunted Mary.

     Steps were taken to eliminate Catholicism within her realm, making the Catholic priesthood a crime punishable by banishment or death. Those who hid priests or were caught attending mass were susceptible to the same punishment. When Pope Pius VI made the understandable although politically unwise move of excommunicating Elizabeth which effectively relived subjects of their oath of allegiance, the persecutions against Catholics in England and Ireland grew worse. At the same time, Elizabeth tried to enliven the newly cemented Anglicanism by preserving some of the “smells and bells” of the old faith and introducing a new and powerful secular element to give religious fervor to the project: Nationalism.

     This was the age of the Sea Dogs, pirates for Queen and Country, whose anti-Catholicism was unleashed upon the prosperous Spanish colonies in the New World. Their razing and pillaging earned them infamy, but since England had set itself apart from the rest of Christendom and their religion was in effect England herself, the rules of the high seas mattered naught and could be easily absolved by the Head of the Church, Queen Elizabeth, who was more than happy to knight their leader, Sir Francis Drake. All this did nothing smooth out relations with Spain, who understandably sought to rid themselves of a thorn in their side.

    The result was the launch of the Spanish Armada, which ended in total disaster, causing relief for most of the English, Protestant and Catholic alike. The Black Legend began to be cultivated, painting anything Papist as perverted and superstitious, the opposite of everything Englishmen wanted to be. The propaganda seeped in thoroughly, and after the death of Elizabeth, new divides took full shape within the Anglican Church, between those who were closer to Catholic practice and those who were further afield!

    In the reign of James I, the first Stuart king to rule England and Scotland, factions such as the Puritans and Separatists either wanted to purge or separate the Anglican Church because, in their opinion, it was still far too Papist. They, too, faced persecution, convincing many of them left the country and founded settlements in the New World. But they needn’t have worried about their king being a Catholic-lover. The Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes and his fellow disillusioned Catholics certainly didn’t improve his opinion of them, and this attempt to blow up the king and parliament assured that James would continue the persecution begun under Elizabeth, even though his own mother had been the very Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, from whom he had been taken as a baby by the Protestant Lords in Scotland.  

     But it was in the reign of James’s son, Charles I, that the factions within the Anglican Church exploded in full light. Charles, although still anti-Catholic, was much more sympathetic to a high-church form of worship, and tried to force it on low-church sympathizers in Scotland and England. This was one of the main triggers of the English Civil War, a bloody contest that ultimately resulted in the overthrow and execution of the king and a Puritanical government that devolved into a police state bent on enforcing personal morality. It was also during this time that Oliver Cromwell led his army into Ireland and, fueling them with exaggerated stories of atrocities committed against Protestant settlers by Irish rebels, wiped out or sold off half the very Catholic population.

     When the monarchy was finally restored under King Charles II, the morality and religiosity of the court and country, which had been brutally enforced under Cromwell, collapsed in a heap. It was as if after breaking off with the rest of Christendom, the people of England had a hard time knowing whether to be religious fanatics or amoral derelicts, or perhaps a little of both! While some good Protestant clergymen certainly tried, there was little real religious authority left to lead the flock. Everything was an experiment, and every time something went a-foul, a new one was struck up lickety-split. But one thing could be counted on: if something really awful happened, the Bogie-men Catholics could be blamed. Such was the case with the great fire of London, unleashing a new wave of hatred against the small body of Catholic recusants left.

     King Charles shocked his kingdom by following the lead of his brother and converting to Catholicism. Then that very brother, James II, inherited the throne and proceeded to try to give religious freedom to everyone involved so as to free up his fellow Catholics being persecuted. The very anti-Catholic population went bonkers. James handled the situation badly, responding haughtily to critics and banishing or imprisoning them for refusing to bend to his will. When his infant son James was born, and baptized a Catholic, the parliament went bonkers and invited his son-in-law, William of Orange, to come over from the Netherlands and sieze the throne.

    William, a Dutch Calvinist who was ironically allied with the Papal States against France at the time, agree to take up the offer in order to secure an English alliance. He proceeded with a letter of Papal support and an army stacked with Catholic mercenaries. But of course the Protestant historians preferred to overlook those minor details, and his successful invasion and overthrow of his father-in-law. One way or another, his ascension to the throne, along with his wife Mary II, came with the newly installed law that no Catholic could ever sit on the throne of England, and Penal Laws were enforced to keep the Catholics from owning property, weapons, or getting a good education. These laws were particularly harsh in Ireland, where a new Protestant hype-league was spawned called “The Orange Order”.

    During the subsequent reigns of Queen Anne and the four Hanoverian King Georges, religious life in Britain took a downward spiral. Everyone was sick of religious infighting, and just threw up their hands with almost all the experiments except a luke-warm state-run Anglicanism that was more a matter of social status than religious belief. Certainly, there were some devout Anglicans who took their religion seriously, including King George III, but they seemed to be the exception instead of the rule. Indeed, the spiritual vacuum was opening ever wider, creating an apathetic society that gradually became more dependent on nationalism for its identity.

    A good example of this is when the British captured Quebec, they took down a Catholic French statue of St. John the Baptist and erected on of British General James Wolfe. Meanwhile, Westminster Abbey, once the site of saints and kings, had since become a resting of predominately “secular saints.” While I have nothing against Gen. Wolfe or the present residents of the Abbey, the embrace of purely secular culture was nothing more than a blatant disconnect. One might “drink like a Londoner” and “swear like a Briton” and it was considered normality, but religion became more-or-less a thing viewed as hypocrisy by the masses.

    In the British military, a moving microcosm of British society, religion sunk to an all-time low. Much of this was because upper-crust Anglican chaplains tended to be out-of-touch with the men, and were there only to provide some sense of outward structure. But few were willing to put their lives on the line for their men, and viewed it as merely another job for a salary as opposed to a mission for the salvation of souls. Of course, there were exceptions here as well, among Anglicans and other Protestant ministers of the gospel. But again, the problem remained, because the clergymen were seen as merely another wing of the secular authorities. Indeed, history shows that for a church to truly make a difference, it has to be independent of the state for its own safety.

    In response to the obvious, more splinter-off groups sprung up in order to rekindle the flame of religious fervor, including the Methodist movement of John Wesley who made all the world his parish. At the same time, the laxity in views on religion that came with the Enlightenment also enabled a broadening of religious freedom for many, including the long-suppressed Catholics. It allowed others with Catholic sympathies more freedom to express this, and in spite of continued anti-Catholicism among the population, this gave rise to the Oxford Movement in the 19th century. But with the rise of Empire under Queen Victoria came the full blossoming of that jingoism that equated religion with the state. As the Sea Dogs had found it convenient to commit crimes in the name of Queen and Country, so did many war-mongering imperialists.

     As the years passed, the nation of Britain became more intrinsically linked to her empire. The supposed superiority of the British system became the new religion, to be spread to the four corners of the earth. However, the glory days of empire began to lose their sheen. Two world wars changed the landscape of the national consciousness, and when the empire began to collapse, the country began to lose its sense of identity. With this loss of national identity, came the reopening of the spiritual vacuum that Nationalism had previously filled. Also, even the loose trappings of religiosity began to fall apart, as out-and-out Atheism came into vogue. But Atheism, if followed to its logical conclusion, is an embrace of cynicism, and as such, never fills that emptiness within the human soul. Another ingredient will be sought out and found.

    Recently, a new form of nationalism has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of cynicism and disillusionment with church and state, taking on attributes that tap into some deeper spiritual longing. British nationalism is now old hat and considered repugnant, and but are we not seeing a rise a sense of Scottish nationalism, with all the same negative qualities of self-proclaimed superiority and isolationism? It also makes the same attempt to make a god out of a secular state, with ideal of independence as a religious cult. But too many it seems like a spiritual oasis in the midst of the dryness that settled over the whole idea of Britain like a desert storm. If you’ll notice, many Scottish Nationalists really do take their politics to heart…perhaps even deeper than that. Any affront against the SNP is a personal affront and fly up in a fury at any opposition, almost as if they are defending a dogmatic creed.

    In another avenue, there is the rapid rise of radical Islam, which has captured the imagination of many Brits, especially among the young population. It is seen a romantic and passion-driven alternative to lax and lazy Christianity meshed with the heresy of British-ism. Never mind the shocking violence it advocates, wreaking havoc on the Christians on the Middle East, and the sheer treason that it involves against Queen and Country. At least it is not luke-warm. It is something to seek one’s teeth into. If Man cannot have one thing, he will have another. As Chesterton said, “If men stop believing in God, they will not believe in nothing, but believe in anything.”

    The root of this desperation to find fulfillment can be traced back to the false concept that any secular state can take the place of religion, or that any secular ideal can replace God in the human psyche. It never can, although such an attitude is often portrayed as wonderfully intellectual and modern. It is the pinnacle of Humanism, and that is its folly, for Humanism as a religion is merely inward-gazing self-acclamation. It always fails to satisfy. Let the Scottish Nationalists work their woe; in the end, their creed will prove itself as hallow as the British Nationalism of yore, if not more so. It seeks nothing but to manipulate the people into destroying the good along with the bad that is a part of Britain, and abandoning honor and sound thinking in favor of Kool-Aid-drinking hysteria. This secular cult, like the last one, is doomed to crumble.

    Such is the tragedy that will continue to repeat itself if the British people do not rediscover the importance of religion, true religion, that reaches for some transcendent reality that probes the depths of desire and understanding. Paradoxically, if they wish to save their country that they once worshiped and that sorely let them down, they must cease to make it the center of their universe. They must look to God as their top priority, and all other elements will fall into their rightful places, avoiding love-hate extremes. One must not worship one’s nation, nor make it their religion. They must not put her on so high a pedestal that she will topple and fall. We must expect imperfections, and learn to deal with them in love and true patriotism, through the grace of God who will never fall short of perfection.

    I have always maintained that beneath the surface, the Brits with their pomp and ceremony and constant spiritual searching are still cultural Catholics. I still maintain it. In days of old, they were one of the most Catholic parts of Christendom, called “Our Lady’s Dowry.” The pillagers of the past may have disillusioned themselves with the corruption of Catholic churchmen, but the constant experimentation has left nothing new in way of purifying fallen humanity, but rather created a series of disillusions and deceptions.

     With all the present political disillusionment and uncertainty over the future of the UK, perhaps it is now time to look to the English Martyrs and their sacrifices. As Campion said, “So the faith was planted; so it must be restored.” He was speaking of the hearts, minds, and souls of the British people, who I will never cease to pray will again discover that Christ alone is worthy of adoration, and that His gift of the Catholic Church is a true home for all spiritual pilgrims in search of that all-consuming love that transcends earthly goals and expectations.
A wooden carving of the Catholic English Martyrs