The Historical Process

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Thomas, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

    Sep 25, 2003
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    Hilary Mantel, twice a Booker Prize winner, has given a lecture on the process of the historical novelist.

    “It is quite possible for competent historians to come to radically different conclusions on the basis of the same evidence.”

    And some nice comments …

    “Evidence is always partial.

    “Facts are not truth; information is not knowledge; history is not the past.

    “History is the method we've evolved of organising our ignorance of the past. It's the record of what's left of the record.

    “It's the positions we've taken, when we stop the dance to note them down. It's what's left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it. It's no more the past than a birth certificate is not the birth, the map is not the journey, the script is not the performance.

    “Its the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses combined with the incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them.

    And it’s the best we can do ...


    The difference between a historian and an author is made plain as day in the first two books of Mantel’s Tudor trilogy, 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bringing Up The Bodies'.

    They are terrific reads, and the first book made great TV (and earned the brilliant Mark Rylance critical the popular acclaim he so rightly deserves), but they are not history.

    According to such luminaries as Simon Schama and David Starkey, it flies in the face of the documentary evidence.

    Mantel’s anti-Catholic stance is currently fashionable, and in her books she has reversed the long-standing view of the main players, that Thomas Cromwell (Protestant) was a loathsome character and Thomas More (Catholic) a man of singular nobility who stood up to the king and paid for it with his life.

    In Wolf Hall however, More is a rabid, heresy-hunting, scrupulous prig, while Cromwell is the subtle, sensible, family-loving, man of affairs who gets things done. All of which, according to the historical record, is rubbish. Even David Starkey, the president of the UK’s National Secular Society, finds “not a scrap of evidence” for Mantel’s recasting of the More-Cromwell tale; Mantel’s plot, he claims, is “total fiction.”

    Another famous historian, Simon Schama, has written that the documentary evidence he examined “shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.”

    The English Reformation is one of those hoary old myth-clouded events that is well overdue for re-examination. Like the Crusades, Galileo and the Inquisition, it’s the go-to event in history for the Catholic critic, and most of what is said is the product of centuries of Protestant propaganda, so steeped as we are in this retelling of our past it has become for us a fact.

    Eamon Duffy produced an extraordinary vision of those troubled times in The Stripping of the Altars. There he demonstrated beyond doubt what Schama had alluded to, that Henry VIII was a proto-totalitarian who imposed a version of Christianity on England, against the will of the great majority of plain folk, so that he could divorce and remarry.

    By the time of Elizabeth I, the people were so fed up of Catholics burning Protestants and Protestants burning Catholics, that her wily old adviser Francis Walsingham suggested the crime be changed from being a Catholic to being a traitor — treason was far more palatable a reason to burn a man than the finer points of theology — and the torture and killing went on with renewed vigour. Elizabeth killed far more than 'Bloody Mary', and her father before her had done for ten times more! Mary was far more lenient than Elizabeth in cases of civil crime, but Mary was Catholic, ergo the Protestants spun the myth of her reign ...
    StevePame and A Cup Of Tea like this.
  2. StevePame

    StevePame Administrator Admin

    Mar 17, 2015
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    I'm not disagreeing with your stance by saying Elizabeth was also a lot subtler in her execution of people (regardless of the crime). It is much harder to make someone a martyr when they quietly disappear in the night (or at least aren't burned alive at Smithfield).
  3. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

    Sep 25, 2003
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    Hi Steve —
    It was a problem of the Church's own creation.

    Pope Pius V issued a bull in 1570 declaring "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime", to be a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her, even when they had "sworn oaths to her", and excommunicating any that obeyed her orders.

    "We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication."

    The bull provoked the English government into taking more repressive actions, especially against the Jesuits, whom they feared to be acting in the interests of Spain and the papacy. It also meant that adherence to catholicism now rendered an Englishman a traitor, so any Catholic could be burnt, this time for treason, something which the general public were far less inclined to forgive.

    At the request of the Jesuits and to relieve the pressures on Catholics in England, Pope Gregory XIII issued a suspension of the bull in 1580, explaining that Catholics should obey the queen outwardly in all civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow.

    In 1588, Pope Sixtus V, in support of the Spanish Armada, renewed the solemn bull of excommunication against Queen Elizabeth I. During the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada however, most of the Catholic residents in England remained loyal, and that those who were a real threat to the throne, like William, Cardinal Allen and Robert Persons, were already exiles.

    It was bad move by the pope, and it cost the church dearly, and the English Catholics suffered because of it.

    It was this experience that led the cardinals to prevent the Pope from excommunicating Hitler, on the basis that such a move would allow him to declare all Catholics guilty of treason. Whether the Church knew at this time that once the 'Final Solution' of the 'Jewish Problem' had drawn to a conclusion, the Jesuits were next on the list for extermination, having consistently challenged him during his rise to power.
    StevePame likes this.
  4. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ....whys guy.... ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

    Jan 9, 2004
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    I don't know enough about the Catholic / Protestant sparring in England to have anything to say, this is the most I've read on the subject in any one place at a time that I can remember.

    I would remind though, that the Pope and Hitler signed a Concordat, roughly equivalent to a treaty, in 1933. Called the Reichskonkordat, my understanding was it was hoped by the Vatican to usher in a new Holy Roman Empire, as advertised by the Nazis as a new "thousand year reign." Hitler's infatuation with Charlemagne was no small coincidence.

    As for:
    I believe I have said similar things many times here in the past. As with all symbolic reasoning, it is easy to mistake the symbol for the thing. That said, it is also imperative in my opinion to know where you come from, in order to better understand where you are going to. Or as George Santayana is famously quoted as saying, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

    So while I have said many similar things as your above quote, yet I do not reach the same conclusions. History is indeed the past, but it holds great relevance for the present, and the only means we have to foresee the future. George Orwell did a wonderful job doing precisely that.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2017
  5. Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine Junior Moderator, Intro Moderator

    Sep 15, 2003
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    As one professor (if not more) has said "History is always told by the 'winners', and it's usually 'his-story'."

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine

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