May 29, 2014

When the Tudors sacked the culture of a 1000 years

How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation by Dominic Selwood

The last 30 years have seen a revolution in Reformation research. Leading scholars have started looking behind the pronouncements of the religious revolution’s leaders – Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley – and beyond the parliamentary pronouncements and the great sermons. Instead, they have begun focusing on the records left by ordinary English people. This “bottom up” approach to history has undoubtedly been the most exciting development in historical research in the last 50 years. It has taken us away from what the rulers want us to know, and steered us closer towards what actually happened.
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The conclusion of this modern grassroots scholarship is that bulldozing the Catholic Church off the face of medieval England was not a “bottom up” revolution in which Henry merely acquiesced to his people’s wishes by throwing off a widely hated foreign domination. To the contrary, it looks increasingly like Henry and his circle imposed the Reformation “top down”, unleashing 100 years of deep anger and alienation that was only overcome by sustained politicking and ruthless force. Politics and economics have always fitted together snugly, and it was no different in Henry’s day. By spreading some of the lands and wealth stolen from the monasteries, Henry was able to create a firm coterie of influential landholders who had a financial interest in seeing the reforms through.
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To change a country’s religion lock, stock, and barrel was no easy task. In the end, it took Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. ….. Cromwell’s plan only needed three steps: outlaw everything to do with Catholicism; denigrate and malign it at every opportunity in official pronouncements and sermons; and execute anyone who objects.
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Henry and his inner circle of politicians and radical clerics put to death hundreds of dissenters, pour encourager les autres. None of these people were plotting to kill him or destabilise his rule. Their “treason” was to oppose the destruction of their religion or the despoiling of their property. The brutal strangulation, emasculation, disembowelling, beheading, and quartering they endured as traitors was hideous, as was the total absence of any form of due process or justice.
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And following Edward’s reign, Elizabeth I repeated the command and finished what he had started. The result was the wholesale destruction of a millennium of irreplaceable English craftsmanship in windows, statues, frescoes, and paintings. The Tate recently estimated that over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries. Oxford’s vast Bodleian, for instance, was left without a single book.
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In the process of all the destruction, it was not just traditional day-to-day spiritual life, the free medical and social care provided by the monasteries, and a country full of creative thought and art that were obliterated. The reformers hacked out and discarded an entire slice of England’s history, alienating the English from an especially vibrant part of their own amazing past.
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We are the only European country to use the phrase “the Dark Ages” for the medieval period, and in large measure it is because we have retrospectively made it dark. Henry VIII started it by denigrating and destroying the intellectual, artistic, and spiritual output of ten centuries, emptying out cathedrals and library shelves, leaving them barren and devoid of any human ingenuity or beauty.
Posted by Jill Fallon at May 29, 2014 9:05 AM | Permalink