16 October 2018

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is, essentially, the Sacring Place of English Kings and - since the invention of the 'United Kingdom' - of the monarchs of that protean political institution. It is rendered suitable for the former purpose by the presence of the shrine of S Edward the Confessor ... whose joyful festival we kept last Saturday.

There was, at the beginning of the modern era, an attempt to make the Abbey something more. In 1485, one Henry Tudor had, with very scant title, seized the throne of England. Marrying a Yorkist heiress did nothing to suppress agitation by those who wanted a Sovereign of the Blood Royal (indeed, his new mother-in-law joined those who were plotting against him); and, since Nature abhors a vacuum, whenever he executed Plantagenets, low-born Pretenders emerged from the woodwork. Foreign monarchs were cautious about betrothing daughters to the family of such a parvenu and unstable 'monarch'.

So he attempted to embellish his tenuous claim in two ways. By calling his son Arthur, he attempted to cast over his dodgy dynasty the mantle of the Once and Future King. And another name with incantatory potential was that of 'Henry'. Accordingly, the old Lady Chapel of the Abbey was demolished so as to be replaced by a new spectacular perpendicular chapel, where Tudor and his family were to be buried, but which, technically, was to be the shrine of a great royal saint who would match the S Edward who was enshrined nearby. Pope Julius issued bulls authorising the introduction of the cause for the canonisation of Henry VI (just as 'the divorce' was to be Henry VIII's Great Matter, so the canonisation was the Great Matter of Henry VII), and for the translation of his body from Windsor to this new chapel. Henry VII was seeking to cloak himself in the aura of the saintly Lancastrian, 'our Uncle of blessed memory', whose name, and whose descent from Catherine de Valois, he shared; and the very steps up to the chapel were to be endowed with indulgences. The building was adorned with all that was most sumptuous in the decorative arts of medieval England and of renaissance Italy.

In the twentieth century, there were admirers of Henry VI, especially Old Etonians, who revived the aim of securing his canonisation. However, so far ... perhaps PF ...

It is perhaps amusing that the last heir of the House of Stuart to prefer a claim de jure to the Three Crowns should have been His Most Eminent Majesty King Henry IX Cardinal Bishop of Frascati.

Hindsight informs us that there never was to be a Tudor King Arthur I. Nor did the politically-motivated campaign come to fruition of a canonised Saint Henry VI who would swell the pilgrim numbers in the Abbey. In fact, that England of popes, pardons and chantries had less than forty years to run before the Great Plunder.

But things seemed quite different at the start of the sixteenth century.

After all, the principal truth that the Muse of History teaches us is how very often the utterly unexpected is what happens.

A comforting thought during this present pontificate.

4 comments:

Sprouting Thomas said...

Domine, Jesu Christe, qui me creasti, redemisti, et preordinasti ad hoc quod sum; tu scis quæ de me facere vis; fac de me secundum voluntatem tuam, cum misericordia. Amen.

Whether or not the King is a saint, his is surely a prayer capable of making them (and Ley's choral setting is a 20th century treasure).

The King was in Rouen, preparing for his solemn entry and coronation at Paris, between April 1430 and November 1431. The Rouen burial service contained the responsory:

Christe qui me creasti, ecce spiritum quem dedisti presento. Sancte Redemptor, quia spes superest nulla, iam miserere. Bone Jesu, ne reminiscaris delicta iuventutis meae; sed pietate qua me redemisti memorare.

Did he hear these words there, did they stick in his mind? Did they come back to him at the execution of St Joan in the same city, in May 1431?

John F. Kennedy said...

"...at the beginning of the modern era,"

You fooled me regarding the time period you planned to cover.

Bill said...

The Stuart memorial in Saint Peter’s in Rome includes Henry IX. It was said to have been paid for by George III or the Prince Regent (George IV). A C20 restoration was supposedly funded, at least in part, by the then Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Tony V said...

First get Henry VI elected pope. Then canonisation is a mere formality.