The light of England shall never be extinguished
Murder in the Cathedral - an old struggle to govern these islands
As dusk fell on 29th December 1170 the four knights came into Canterbury Cathedral from the cloister. The monks had barred the doors against them , but Becket had them unlocked, with the words “I will not have the Church made a castle”. The Knights accused him of treachery to the King. Becket responded “ I am no traitor, but the Archbishop and Priest of God”. His words were provocative to ears wanting reassurance that he accepted the King’s authority.
The knights were convinced of Becket’s guilt and proceeded to attack him. His last words were “ For the name of Jesus and the defence of the Church, I am willing to die”, as he was hacked down in the north west transept of the great church. He had picked a fight with the power of the Crown which he largely lost when alive, but extracted some concessions from the monarch when dead. He gave to Canterbury a Saint and a story which led to large numbers of pilgrims and the business they brought in for 368 years.
This dark event on a dark day late in the year 1170 has left its scars. Its shadow has a long cast. To this day there is a huge empty space behind the high altar of Canterbury, the Trinity Chapel and its marble pavement, where Becket’ shrine shone adorned by gold and jewels until Henry VIII had it removed and plundered in 1538. Even today Becket is clearly too contentious a figure to justify some reconstruction or commemoration of the tomb in the prominent position where it lay for so long.
Henry VIII, like Henry II before him, saw Becket’s allegiance to God, to the Pope and to the Catholic Church as treachery to the King who had sponsored him and nominated him for the archbishopric. He wanted all record of Becket’s allegiance to a higher or non English power expunged, as well as welcoming the redistribution of wealth which the plundering of the monasteries and the shrine permitted.
When Henry VIII completed his reformation of Church-state relations, he ensured that no Archbishop of Canterbury could appeal again to the Pope and his secular allies on the continent in the way Becket had appealed between 1162 and his death in 1170. The struggle between Church and State was also a struggle between English and continental power, with Becket appealing to foreign Kings as well as to the Roman curia.
When I first had the story told to me on a dark winter evening in the cloisters of the Cathedral the conflict seemed to be one of the past. I was born into what appeared to be a settled country where power came from an elected Parliament, which could decide the laws and run the administration without foreign interference. Whilst I hated the butchery and barbarity of the knights, I had some sympathy with the King’s wish to be master in his own kingdom. The murder of Becket meant the most powerful monarch London had seen had to put on sackcloth and wend his way in sorrow as a penitent in Canterbury. The man who was King of England, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Anjou and Maine, and lord of much of Ireland was damaged by the violent acts of his supporters. It deflected him for a bit from getting more control over clerical matters, but did not stop the wish in England to establish authority here at home. It is only in more recent years the secular authority has been casual with our right to self government through its signature of several centralising EU treaties.
And this was posted on the EU Referendum blog:
Be of good comfort, Master Ridley
The last words of Bishop Hugh Latimer to Bishop Nicholas Ridley as they were both being burned at the stake in Oxford (the Memorial is one of that city’s tourist attractions) for refusing to recant their Protestant views were supposed to be:
Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.
It is always useful to look at historical antecedents, both in this country and elsewhere and it grieves me, as a supposedly trained historian (stop giggling at the back), that so few of the eurosceptic movement at its widest know or care about history. In fact, too many are proud of their ignorance.
I am not suggesting that anybody is about to be burned at the stake or even arrested for inconvenient opinions. I have, in the past, drawn certain parallels and pointed to certain differences between our fight now against an enemy that is inside and outside the country and a similar fight during the sixteenth century.
Now I wish to refer to something else that is happening. In my opinion there is much to be of good comfort about (not excellent comfort, just good). After all, Bishop Latimer was uttering those words when matters must have looked quite bleak to him and his fellow martyrs, not just for themselves but for their country and her people.
I have tried to steer clear of the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty on this blog (though, as ever, I have recorded an interview for the BBC Russian Service on the subject) because I do not hold with hysteria. All that weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Please. A little self-control is required, not to mention a little straight thinking.
In the first place, this treaty does not destroy the country any more than the previous three did. As I recall (and my memories go back to the Maastricht Treaty when I became actively involved in the eurosceptic movement) similar weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth took place then as well.
The only people who can destroy Britain are the people of Britain. Admittedly, they are going the right way about it, what with not knowing any history and refusing to learn how to use the greatest language in the world, English, but there is a deal of spoiling in a country and a nation.
This brings us back to the question of British national identity, a topic I have written about a great deal in the past (being half-Hungarian I am the right person to pontificate) and on which I shall write again in the very near future. Can’t leave it all to my colleague, excellent though his pronouncements are.
As it happens, I think the latest treaty is appalling and many of its provisions will be very destructive. I also think that coming out of the EU and rebuilding a country afterwards will be very difficult, especially as we neither can nor should go back to the unsatisfactory status quo ante bellum and many reforms will be needed.
Nevertheless, I take great comfort from recent developments. The shenanigans around the treaty and the blank refusal to ask the people about it have raised many millions of hackles across the European Union. Even supporters of European integration are annoyed and many of them are beginning to wonder whether their support makes as much sense as all that.
Above all, however, the promoters of the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty have solved a nagging political problem for us. They have destroyed the strongest argument the europhiliacs have ever had and that is the one of inevitability.
For decades we have all had to struggle against the inevitability argument, which was supplemented by the “people would like it if they understood it” argument. Well, what price either of them now?
If it is so inevitable and so obviously attractive, why is the Constitutional Reform Lisbon Treaty being smuggled through in such a convoluted manner? If it is so inevitable and so obviously attractive why are you so scared of asking what people think of it, ladies and gentlemen of the euophiliac tendency?
So be of good comfort. That candle has been lit. It may gutter and be windblown but it shall never be put out.
There, my ration of optimism is all used up.
It is encouraging indeed, for Dr Richard North's blog eschews just about everything to do with 'religion', preferring instead the secular myths, and Mr Redwood's blog carries no reciprocal link to Cranmer, despite his decision to include all the other 'top Conservative blogs' named in Iain Dale's 2007 Guide.