Friday, October 09, 2009

Bloody Mary

This morning I read Hilary Mantel's review of Eammon Duffy's Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor.

Whilst generations of English historians have concurred that Mary and her bishops were deluded reactionaries fighting inevitable intellectual change, Duffy insists that traditional faith was resilient at this time and that the Queen and Archbishop Pole demonstrated that a conserted campaign of state terrorism really can set back an idea that could otherwise consider that its time has come.

There were 284 executions, a very public "theatre of cruelty, with both sides performing for each other and for any uncommitted onlooker." The number of protestants prepared to bear witness and burn might ultimately have been small, Mantel agrees, but the genie of free thought was certainly out of the bottle:

"An Essex servant girl, Elizabeth Folkes, aged 20, was asked what she understood about the nature of the Eucharist. Did she believe in a ‘substantial and real presence’ in the host? She answered: ‘It was a substantial lye, and a reall lye.’ She had been questioned once and let go, she had been given her chance, and so although the judge wept when he sentenced her, she was burned with five other humble people outside the town walls of Colchester. Rawlins White was burned; he was an illiterate Cardiff fisherman. William Hunter was 19 years old, a silk-weaver’s apprentice; a priest sneered at him: ‘It is a merye worlde when such as thou arte shall teache us what is the truth.’ Thomas Tomkins, a weaver, was burned after Edmund Bonner, bishop of London, had forcibly shaved off his long evangelist’s beard ‘so he wold loke like a catholike’ even if he wasn’t one, and had held his hand in a candle flame to give him a foretaste of what was in store for him if he failed to recant."

If you recanted, you still burned, but only up to the point of your earthly death, or so the Bishops believed. Clergymen wandered amongst the crowd gathered for the executions, ready to provide ad hoc spiritual commentary, while informants noted down the names of anyone showing undue compassion for the heretics on the barbecue.


2 comments:

Mark said...

Thank God only the Catholics persecuted dissenters!

El Blogador said...

Sure, the boot went back on the other foot when Elizabeth took over. Duffy's point is that had Mary not succumbed to the flu epidemic her campaign of repression might just have restored England to the Papal fold.