Sunday, June 20, 2010
It has been awhile since I just sat down and read a straight history book. It has been long overdue. I had forgotten how much fun it is.
I recently finished a tattered old paperback called Tudor England by S.T. Bindoff. This book, originally published in 1950, was volume number five in the Pelican History of England.
A lot went on during the Tudor Dynasty in England. Everybody knows about King Henry VIII's female problems. Henry's "Great Matter," trying to secure a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, eventually led to the English Reformation. In 309 concise pages it's all here, from Henry Tudor picking up King Richard III's crown off the ground at the Battle of Bosworth to the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.
All Tudor fans know the gory details about sex and beheadings, but did you know that Henry VIII debased the value of coins in order to finance his wars? Or that Edward VI's regent Somerset debased the coinage even more? Bindoff goes into great detail about the economy and finances. It's obvious to me that those old Tudor monarchs and their advisers knew a lot more about economics that the current rulers of the United States of America.
In his discussion of the English Reformation, Bindoff says this about the so-called Elizabethan Settlement of the religious issues in England, which I found to be fascinating:
The Elizabethan Church was designed to appeal to the lukewarm multitude, and it enlisted lukewarm support. To most Members of Parliament, as to most Englishmen, its chief merits were negative. It had no Pope, it had no Mass, it made no windows into men's souls, it lit no fires to consume men's bodies. The fact that it also kindled no flame in men's hearts, if hardly a merit, was less of defect in that most men's hearts were not inflammable. But the new Church had by no means rid itself of all the features which had excited the ordinary man's hatred in the old. It had banished the Pope, but it still kept two dozen 'petty popes' in its bishops; it had abolished the Mass, but not ignorance and inefficiency among its ministers; it made no windows into men's souls, but it still made holes in pockets. It abounded with pluralities, sinecures, licences, dispensations, officials, fees.
Bindoff goes on to say that Puritans, those who thought that the new Church of England was not Protestant enough, were just as persona non grata in the Anglican Church as Catholics. In other words, the Protestant Anglican Church was from the beginning a mediocre faith for mediocre believers. As a former Anglican himself, The Bad Catholic humbly submits that that is what the Via Media really means.
Bindoff's chapter called The Sea and All That Therein Is covers Sir Francis Drake and the "Sea Dogs" and the attack of the Spanish Armada. It is some of the best narrative history which I have read in a long time.
Just because books are old, doesn't mean that they aren't good. As a matter of fact, most old books are a lot better than new ones. Bindoff's history of Tudor England is a winner.