4 May 2014

Continuities; and the English Martyrs

On May Day I went into town early; I avoided the drunken excesses around Magdalen and went to S John's for the madrigals from their tower at 7.00. Nice. Afterwards, I went, as one does, to the exquisite Renaissance quadrangle at the back, with its statues of blessed Charles at one end and his much loved (does anybody now read the Court Masques of the 1630s?) Queen, Henrietta Maria, at the other.

Walking home, I began to wonder about the assertion, now I think pretty well an orthodoxy, that until the Stuarts brought about the invention of a characteristic and distinctive Anglicanism, the Church of England was just any old Proddy Boddy, more concerned with asserting a rigid rupture between itself and the dark days of Popery, that with discerning continuities. Possibly S John's College might incline us to nuance that judgement.

S John's was founded as a distinctively Counter-Reformation college during the reign of Good Queen Mary; some of its original vestments, including a banner given by a Campion, survive. During the reign of Bloody Bess, it was a hotbed of 'Church Popery' ... dons and undergraduates who conformed outwardly and occasionally but who awaited better days. It had sort of annexe, Gloucester Hall (where Worcester College now stands), which was rather more resolutely recusant. Not surprisingly, there were repeated defections to Douai (now incarnated in Allen Hall) from both of these.

But then, under James I, appears the figure of blessed William Laud of St John's College, one of those for whom the Church of England was not to be defined simply by a detestation of Rome.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a prosopographical study of the role S John's (and other Oxford colleges more generally) played in that fascinating half-century in which a distinct prejudice for continuity rather than for rupture did survive as a powerful intellectual force, with the allegiance of a numerically significant faction among the clerisy.

Eamonn Duffy brought to us the vivid figure of Parson Trichay. West Country historians, less glamorous than Duffy, have brought to us the less sharply focused but very interesting Parson Tregeare and his possible circle. How many Catholic-minded clergy, probably mostly Marian survivors, still survived well into Bloody Bess's reign to provide a spring-board for the Stuart Renaissance?

I think 'Find the Continuities' would be a jollier game than McCulloch's simplistic model.

But I'm not a historian, just an ignorant classicist meddling in a field where I lack competence.

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