Friday, July 16, 2010

Anti-Catholic junk history II: Mary I killed 284, Henry VIII up to 72,000 – but it's 'Bloody Mary' and 'Bluff King Hal'
Mary I and her husband Philip of Spain (National Portrait Gallery)

It seems the phenomenon of Protestant propagandist misrepresentation of English history is inescapable this week. First, the Orangemen paraded inaccurate images of the Battle of the Boyne; now the London Dungeon is in trouble over its advertisements featuring “Bloody Mary” Tudor – Queen Mary I – on the London Underground. The complaint against the Dungeon is not that it perpetuated a sectarian myth but that it terrified children by juxtaposing a normal portrait of the Queen alongside one of her transforming into a flesh-eating zombie.

Actually the image does not appear any more terrifying than the average poster advertising horror videos or heavy metal bands; but the Advertising Standards Authority has prohibited further use of it. The poster was promoting a new show entitled “Bloody Mary”. A Dungeon spokesman was quoted as saying: “Bloody Mary killed over 300 heretics during her reign but was one of Britain’s lesser known villainous figures, overshadowed by her notorious father Henry VIII. The object of the advertising was to show the dark side of her personality and portray her as a villain.”

In other words, to promote junk history. Well, the London Dungeon is hardly an academic institution and at least he had the grace to admit that Henry VIII was “notorious”. That raises the question: why, in that case, devote a show about an “evil” monarch to Mary I, rather than Henry VIII? Because that is the black legend that has been perpetuated by establishment propaganda since the reign of Elizabeth I, is the evident answer. Even today, schools and universities are still subject to the mythology created by Sir Francis Walsingham and other creatures of Elizabeth, carried on by Victorian poets – “Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain…” and all that tosh.

Mary I burned 284 Protestant heretics, according to John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which is unlikely to be an underestimate. Estimates of the number of executions carried out by Henry VIII range from 57,000 to the 72,000 claimed in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (the mass murder following the Catholic rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace should be taken into account). The troops of his son Edward VI massacred more than 5,500 Cornish Catholics in the wake of the Prayer Book Rebellion. Elizabeth I was more sparing of formal executions, though St Margaret Clitheroe was pressed to death at York and Mary Queen of Scots beheaded; but the butchery in Ireland was appalling. There, Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene, supported a policy of extermination by artificial famine on a scale that was not exceeded until Stalin in the 1930s.

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

So, why is it “Bloody Mary”, but “Bluff King Hal”, when the executions he ordered exceeded his daughter’s by more than 56,000 at the least? Why not “Bloody Harry”? Obviously, because he was the founder of the Church of England. That did not prevent him from burning the more advanced Protestant Anne Askew, who had the privilege of being racked in the Tower of London by the Lord Chancellor in person, which suggests that the divisions between conflicting wings of the Church of England were at least as vicious then as now.
The most recent study of Mary’s reign, Eamon Duffy’s Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor, authoritatively demonstrates that England at her accession remained a Catholic country at heart and was relieved to return to the practices of the old faith, which had not been abandoned out of mass apostasy but only in obedience to the personal policy of Henry VIII, enforced by terror.

This country remains marinated in anti-Catholic mythology as a consequence of centuries of relentless propaganda by establishment interest groups. The cult of “No Popery”, enshrined by statute in the Act of Settlement and currently being ventilated in opposition to the papal visit, is the one tolerated prejudice in an age of hysterical paranoia against “discrimination”. Fun venues such as the London Dungeon are hardly to be taken seriously; but it could be argued that in perpetuating anti-Catholic mythology in children’s minds it is pursuing a course that would get it into serious trouble if directed against any other minority group. The root problem is historical illiteracy and it will take the reform of weightier institutions than the London Dungeon to correct that.

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