Benson and Redeeming History

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from Essays "The Death-Beds of "Bloody Mary" and "Good Queen Bess"
Robert Hugh Benson

" 'BLOODY MARY,' a sour, bigoted heartless, superstitious woman, reigned five years, and failed in everything which she attemptcd. She burned in Smithfield hundreds of sincere godly persons; she went down to her grave, hated by her husband, despised by her servants, loathed her her people, and condemned by God. 'Good Queen Bess' followed her, a generous, stout-hearted strong-minded woman, characteristically English; and reigned forty-five years. Under her wise and beneficent rule her people prospered she was tolerant in religion and severe only to traitors; she went down to her grave after a reign of unparalleled magnificence and success, a virgin queen, secure in the loyalty of her subjects, loved by her friends, in favour with God and man. "

So we can imagine some modern Englishman summing up the reigns of these two half-sisters who ruled England successively in the sixteenth century -- an Englishman better acquainted with history-books than with history, and in love with ideas rather than facts.

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I'd like to read more of YOUR opinion about the facts. Bloody Mary burned Thomas Cranmer at the stake for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church but, despite his weaknesses and inconsistencies, The Book of Common Prayer is a treasure to me. Thanks for the very interesting entry.

Dear Psalm41:

I wonder if the issue is not more disparity in representation. "Good Queen Bess" executed innumerable Catholics and laid upon them progressively more horrendous burdens. St Edmund Campion and St. Robert Southwell are only two amongst hundreds, and perhaps thousands of Victims.

St. Thomas More encouraged the persecution and execution of Tyndale, but is no less a saint.

No one should have been executed for their faith. But is "Bloody Mary" worse than Henry VIII and "Good Queen Bess." The essence here is the reportage. Mary is always "Bloody Mary" but she was no worse than Elizabeth, just a good deal less popular.

My opinions on the matter are: look at history and learn from it. Avoid brandishing the heretic brand and avoid divisiveness over inconsequential issues. This is the path it takes, and even if that path is mostly milder in the first world, in the third world, it is still often the path trodden over disagreements in faith. Let us love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and let us regard the horrors of the past as exactly that.

By the way, I agree with you on Cranmer's translation, but please note that he was not entirely innocent of malfeasance himself, and his execution wasn't entirely based on "heresy"

"Edward died in 1553, to be succeeded by his half-sister, Queen Mary I, who had been brought up a Catholic and wished to return the country to its former faith. Added to that she had personal reasons to dislike Cranmer as, by annulling her parents' marriage, he caused her to be declared illegitimate. Politically, he had, under pressure, signed in favour of proclaiming Lady Jane Grey as queen in place of Mary. Mary had him removed from office, imprisoned and charged with both treason and heresy on February 14, 1556. In an effort to save himself, he recanted his anti-Catholic position"

But, really, that is all an aside. Why does Mary become "Bloody" and Elizabeth is all roses and lollipops?

In sum, no one is clean in history, and we should be honest about the wrongs each has done. Mary hadn't long enough a reign to do what Elizabeth eventually accomplished so she is remembered only for her reign of terror. But I would attribute much of that to the fact that she learned well from her father who seemed to have little compunction in executing two close friends--St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More.



Thanks so much for the food for thought. I think your blog reflects I Cor. 13:4 more than any other I've read. I tend to think in terms of good v. evil, I'm myopic in this regard, but am trying to work on it -- instead of planning our lives to abhor what we perceive as evil, we should plan our lives around loving our brothers and sisters in spite of the existence of evil.

You mentioned St. Thomas More. I remember reading that as he was about to be executed, he forgave his executioners and said he looked forward to dining with them at the Lord's table. (Or something quite similar and much more eloquent than what I just expressed.)

Dear Psalm 41,

Now you have me blushing. I greatly appreciate your kind and encouraging words, and I do look to those verses among others as standards which I constantly fail to meet, but always hold up before me. Thank you.

St. Thomas More did indeed forgive his executioners and all involved in his trial and death. That, in part, is why he is a Saint and I am not yet. I don't know if I could do that. I pray I am not so tried. But should it come to pass, I pray to pass that test as well. (Despite his unjust persecution of Tyndale, St. Thomas More is still one of my favorites.)





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 4, 2005 9:15 AM.

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