Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The other Boleyn Girl

The Third programme in the history of Christianity concentrated on the English Celtic dimension and which in some respects mirrored the change between the original Christian sects and the creation of an authoritarian state leaning religion as a consequence of the involvement of the Emperor Constantine.

In Britain there was some development of Christianity between the creation of a state citizen religion following the conversion of Constantine and the demise of the Roman Empire. However what remained was not a religion of any of the Kingdoms and marauding bands, but of Holy Men leading lives borne from the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings which advocated a simple life of peace, contemplation, reading and writing around which other men and women attempted to follow example. These men had established smaller religious communities in Ireland following the work of St Patrick in the 4th and fifth centuries and others, in Scotland where the Romans had redefined the boundary with the Roman Wall series of Forts from North and South Shields, to Newcastle and Carlisle but which a different times had extended South to York. The most famous community established in the Scotland was at Iona on the West Coast. These were areas where the Romans had not extended their influence.

This was true for the later developments at Lindisfarne, the Holy Island on the North coast of Northumbria, opposite Bamburgh Castle the home of its King and then on the Southern bank of the River Tyne and the Northern Bank of the River Wear with the monasteries of St Paul and St Peters The Holy Men and those who supported them were interested in the development of their religion separate from the intrigue and warring of the Kings. The main centre for development of the Roman from of Christianity had been at St Albans from the third century AD and with the collapse of Rome the rest of England and Wales reverted to the worship of more ancient Gods which Christian historians have broadly labelled as pagans although many of their rituals were incorporated into British Christianity and where the emphasis was on the climate and the provision of food and shelter, as well as protection from the violence of others.

This form of an inclusive indigenous Christianity would have continued except for three developments over the centuries until the victory of Alfred the Great of Wessex over the Viking Norsemen. In the rest of Europe the Church had moved towards the austere monastic life promoted by Saint Benedict and where I have visited the hermit cell and Monastery at Subacio as well as the Monastic Order at Monte Casino, the site of one of the horrific battles of World War II. It was the Benedictine movement which had the greater influence in the UK than the former state religion of Rome led by the Pope although the Rome attempted to exert influence with the appointment by Pope Gregory of Augustine who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 598 AD and half a decade later a Synod was held at Whitby in an attempt to link Anglo Saxon Catholicism back to the rule of the Roman based Pope. Under the leadership of Canterbury and others the attempt was made to spread Roman Catholicism into Germany and the Scandinavian Countries over subsequent generations.

In Northumbria there were two of the most important developments of British Christendom. This was the creation of two works. The Lindisfarne Gospel of the sixth century remains the greatest work of British Christian Art and I as mentioned in my travels last summer it was Aldred of Chester Le Street in County Durham, now the home of Durham County Cricket Champions, who translated the text into the first English language Bible four centuries later.

The second work was by the Venerable Bede who started his monastic life at the Benedictine Monastery at Monkwearmouth, Sunderland and then commenced the great work at the twin Monastery on the banks of the River Tyne, Jarrow- the Church of St Paul. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People was completed about 731 and was not only the first description of the Catholic Church in the British Islands but the first written history and is the first known reference to the diverse population of the greater part of the British Islands as English. This was not a political, economic or social description but a religious one.

It can be argued that without the invasions of the pagan Vikings across Britain, a British form of Catholicism might have flourished and prevailed and the subsequent developments from the behaviour of Henry VIII and Reformation might have been significantly different. For decades as the Vikings raped and pillaged and subdued the local Kingdoms. Christianity was in retreat with the monks of the North East abandoning the East Coast for the West.

It tends to be forgotten that the greater part of the British Islands were controlled by the Danes and their laws in the ninth century. In Jarrow the shopping centre is known as the Viking centre and there is an art work of a Viking at one end as well as of the more recent Jarrow March at the other. In South Shields the only shopping development for more than fifty years after the reconstruction required by the bombing of World War II was named the Denmark Centre.

It was not until the Danes attempted to take over the lands of the King of Wessex that Alfred commenced to do battle and by the end of the ninth century he had driven the majority back into Europe while those who had established British roots were forced back to Northumbria and the southern East Coast. Having secured military victory on land Alfred turned his attention to coastal protection and in effect founded the British Navy. He also abolished the Dane Law and created a new law based on a mixture of Mosiac Law with Celtic and Pagan Anglo Saxon. However he created not just an English political state but also social and cultural one and became regarded as a Saint by the Catholic Church. This was because of his encouragement to the Roman Church and the priority he gave to the translation of important works of the day into the English Language, including philosophy and the works of St Augustine as well as protecting and making known the works of the Venerable Bede. However the impact was to move the Catholic Church away from the monastic and Celtic original from with its emphasis on simplicity and peace to becoming the religion of the stare, power and wealth.

It was entirely accidental that earlier in the day I had decided to view a DVD film The Other Boleyn Girl, about the second wife of Henry VIII Ann and her sister Mary and which led to break with Rome and the creation of the Church of England. As is well known this was nothing to do with Christian theology or Practice but to sanction the actions of a murderer and lecher. I will leave to another time the impact of this bastard and schizophrenic religion on England and the British Islands to this day.

The film is a mockery, a travesty of the historical facts. It is also not a good film although it engaged and was enjoyed and as such I disagreed with the majority of film critics who disliked it intensely. The film appeared to have two main objectives, the first was to demonstrate how wicked was the British aristocracy operating an authoritarian patriarchy over women, prostituting their wives and daughters for personal wealth and power. The second was argue that Ann not only brought her execution upon herself but was deserved because of the way she treated and humiliated her sister. Most critics gave a cheer when she lost her head and our sympathies were misguidedly left with Mary. The only individual who appeared to have any integrity as was the situation in real life was Henry’s first wife, the Spanish Catholic, Catherine of Aragon.

The Boleyn sisters were an established part of the aristocracy and no different from any of the other families who wanted power within the Court and State and who arranged marriages with the approval of the Court for this purpose. The film begins with Ann’s uncle and father deciding that their opportunity had come when the Queen was unable to try again to a son in situation where there was no provision for her only Roman catholic daughter, Mary, to succeed to the throne. The men planned a royal visit to their home and for Ann to become the King’s mistress. She already had a relationship with a noble officially engaged to someone else and admitted that she had slept with him. In the film this is covered up but Ann disgraces herself by showing off her horsemanship at the hunt in which the King falls and is injured. Ann is packed off to the French court in disgrace although none of this is true and had been to the Court as part of education.

The film pretends that in this situation the younger and married sister Mary is instructed to attend to the king and then to become his mistress with the husband made a privy Councillor as a reward for giving up his bride. The film suggest that while the husband was a wham bam thank you mam lover, the King is lovingly tender to his new mistress and she falls in the love and becomes pregnant but is forced to lie in to save the pregnancy on recommendation of the doctors. Others are already grooming Jane Seymour to replace her and therefore the family resort to bringing back Ann who is reported to have become political and socially astute through her experience at the French Court. Jealous of her sister she matches the king in terms of wit and holds out against his passion on the basis of annul the marriage and marry me or nothing. In this she is successful and in effect banishes her sister and her son away from Court as happens to the former Queen.

In fact it is known that old sister Mary, not the younger, was also educated at the French Court where she established a wild reputation including an affair with the French King although this has not been substantiated. It is known that she also had an affair with Henry but there is dispute that he fathered her children. She is known to have struggled as a widow but remarried and lived in seclusion away from the court. From the two children of the first marriage conceived during her relationship with the King (hence the question mark over their paternity) came a number of important characters in British History- Winston Churchill, Elisabeth Bowes Lyon- The Queen Mother, Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York and Charles Darwin.

It is correct that Ann was set up by her family to become the Kings mistress and that in part because of his infatuation and personality he cooked up the grounds for an annulment of the marriage and was therefore able to marry Ann thus causing the break with the Pope and Rome and creation of the Church of England and the martyrdom of Thomas Moore, and John Fisher whose school I attended. This led to the rise of the power of Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer, who had been the Boleyn family priest and who declared the marriage to Catherine of Aragon void. All would have been well if the first born had been a son but the birth of a daughter Elizabeth meant that her older half sister Mary was a threat and this led to Mary being raised separately from her Roman Catholic mother.

It can be said that Ann overplayed her hand creating a court of 250 servants, behaving as a wife as she had a mistress, but failing to produce an heir, a major problem when Catherine of Aragon died and leaving the way open for Henry to declare his second marriage illegal and thus make himself available for a third marriage with the blessing of church and state. The Kings desire for a son and the machinations of Thomas Cromwell led to the creation of charges against Ann and her brother involving a plot o kill the king and incest. All this was prefabricated as by then the King and made Jane Seymour his mistress and determined to rid himself of Ann and marry Jane. And so another glorious period in the history of church and state came to an end as the devil took control of both.

I enjoyed an hour long reprise of the main story line and character histories of Lost from 3 to 4 but became so tired that I could only watch the opening of the two part start to the new season before going to bed and hope to make it this time for the later start at 10 after the next episode of 24. I watched the first part of Ice Dancing but missed out on Lark Rise and the draw for the fifth round of the FACup in which Sunderland or Blackburn are at home to Coventry and a good change of making progress, This only further underlined the failure on Saturday. I cooked the large round bacon joint in the early morning and enjoyed a chunk as breakfast and then cooked a chicken for an early lunch which I consumed with four large well roasted potatoes. I was satisfied for the rest of the day and did not eat again until the early of the following morning.

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