Bibles play a significant role in Wolf Hall. We know Thomas Cromwell kept an illegal Bible, printed in English, in his home. He meets with a group of early Protestants who are smuggling religious writing into England — and several of those men are burned at the stake for it.
Owning a Bible in Tudor England was no small thing. But owning a small Bible?
Smithsonian Magazine has an article on their site about a “pocket-sized” Bible and how, at long last, it has returned to Canterbury Cathedral after 500 years.
The Bible — the Lyghfield Bible as it is known — is beautiful in the way you want a 500+ year old Bible to be beautiful, but I’m actually more interested in this topic that sort of glances to the side.
History is a collection of events, he said, as if you were new, and had never heard the term “history” before in your life. It’s a collection of events that objectively has no right or wrong side, usually, Nazis in the White House and the rest of the world notwithstanding; it just has winners and losers, and those can be good losers and bad winners as easily as contrariwise.
Prior to 1540, England was Catholic. After 1540, it was Anglican. The trappings didn’t change, really, necessary. It wasn’t like a yeoman named Jack walked into cathedral one Sunday and said, “The fuck?” The church looked the same, the liturgy was essentially the same. Where the money went — the tithes, etc. — and to whom the priests reported: all of that changed. Where before it was to Rome, and the Pope, it was now to England, and the King. (Henry.) (The Eighth?)
Those in support of Catholicism in England point to the schools — for example, Cardinal Wolsey seemed to found schools as often as he sired children. They point to the continuity of pastoral care, from Paul, upon whose rock Christ built his first Church, up to Pope Paul III, who also looks a little like Leo Tolstoy at a Fancy Dress party. Detractors might try to argue profligacy, and fiscal mismanagement — but show me an organization that doesn’t have just a hint of that, but don’t. Don’t show me that organization. I’m bored already imagining the two of us having that conversation. “Where do you keep the forks?” I’d ask. “I need something to stab into the back of my hand.”
Basically, I’m suggesting that if you have any anti-Catholic arguments about Catholicism in England in the 1500s, you probably just straight-up have a problem with Catholicism — or popery — and that’s fine. I just want you to be honest about that bias.
If you’re in support of Anglicanism, and Henry’s move to rid England of monasteries and churches, you can point to a lot of skeevy things going on in convents and monasteries. (Just a lot of bathing suit areas in various states of covering and uncovering.) You can use one of Henry’s own arguments: that reporting to Rome is reporting to a foreign nation, and not something an independent monarchy has any business doing.
Was it right for Henry to dissolve the Catholic church and flood out the monasteries? (Do you really want roads filled with monks in itchy wool? This is not a dating site.) It’s an interesting position for Henry to take, especially since he had been named Defender of the Faith. Was England better under Rome? Much like the Bible that started this whole post: every question is correct and incorrect depending on how close to Schrodinger’s Cat they are.
The Bible that finally found its way home has a story to tell, but not a conclusion. That’s for us to decide.