Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Martyrs of the English Reformation
On this date in 1970, Paul VI canonized 40 martyrs of the English Reformation, including Anne Line, 10 Jesuits, and an Augustinian friar (John Stone). Among the Jesuit martyrs are Edmund Campion, Henry Walpole (a lawyer who appears to have been brought to conversion by witnessing the execution of Campion in 1581), Robert Southwell, and Thomas Garnet. John Finnis and Patrick Martin have argued ("Another Turn for the Turtle," Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 2003) that the martyrdom of Line inspired Shakespeare's poem "The Phoenix and Turtle." A bit from their piece:
[Henry] Garnet, the Jesuit superior in England, reported Ann’s execution to Rome with priestly words of consolation and edification. This poem’s way of proceeding is different. More reticent, artificed, opaque and resonant than our discussion may suggest, it makes no display of Catholic belief, or even of common Christian hope for life beyond death: there is resting “to eternity”. But the poem’s Reason, while insistent that Love—pre-eminent to Jesuit teachers, as Faith to the Protestant—“hath reason” even where “reason hath none”, does not permit itself Garnet’s confidence: that Ann Line died a saint to (or through) whom, not for whom, one should sigh one’s prayers. “Death is now the Phoenix’ nest”: no retailing here of pagan-Christian phoenix allegories of rebirth and immortality. There is loss which, though not annihilating, is irreversible: from “now” on, “Truth may seem but cannot be . . . Truth and beauty buried be”.
And in a recent review in the TLS by Anna Whitelock of a book by John Guy on the later years of the reign of Elizabeth I, Whitelock notes the role of the Queen herself in all of this--gruesome reading, but a caution against whitewashing English history:
For many readers it will doubtless be Guy’s vivid account of Elizabeth’s cruel methods against Catholics or suspected traitors and the climate of terror amid economic crisis and political and social discontent that is most striking and unfamiliar. Guy convincingly argues that Elizabeth sanctioned, and even encouraged, the activities of the notorious Catholic-hunter and rackmaster Richard Topcliffe, who tortured suspects in a “strong room” in his house in Westminster. Indeed, “strong archival evidence exists that she knew him personally, thoroughly approved of his activities and received reports directly from him rather than through intermediaries”. The smoking gun which proves her acquiescence in some of Topcliffe’s worst atrocities lies buried in Burghley’s papers. When the Jesuit priest Robert Southwell was arrested in 1592, Topcliffe wrote to tell Elizabeth how the prisoner was shackled to the wall in his “strong chamber” and had responded to interrogation “foully and suspiciously”. Topcliffe sought the Queen’s permission to “enforce” the prisoner “to answer truly and directly”, by stretching him out against the wall using “hand gyves” (iron gauntlets). Although the Queen’s reply to Topcliffe’s letter was not written down, the fact that he proceeded with the torture methods he had described and with no further warrant as the law required, is in Guy’s view “chilling proof that she gave her consent in the full knowledge of what he was about to do. Topcliffe would not have dared to act as he did had the Queen forbidden it, and she was far from squeamish”. Moreover, when, after a two and a half years of solitary confinement in the Tower of London, Robert Southwell was finally brought to the gallows at Tyburn, Elizabeth specifically ordered that he be forced to endure extra suffering, and after being hanged, Southwell should be cut down while fully conscious and disembowelled. This was no one-off. Ten years earlier, she had issued similar orders when William Parry, a failed assassin, made the journey to Tyburn. After just one swing of the rope he was cut down from the gallows on Elizabeth’s order and while he was still fully conscious, had his heart and bowels ripped from his body with a meat cleaver. Finally, after he had let out a “great groan”, his head and limbs were severed from the corpse and the head set on London Bridge as a warning to others of the “terrible price of treason”. So much for Good Queen Bess.