Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sins Of The Fathers . . . And Of Kings

(This Throwback was first published 24 March 2015 on the blog Nisi Dominus)

  530 years is a long, long time to wait.  Thursday [March 26th 2015] England’s King Richard III, the last English monarch to die in battle, and one of the last English kings to die a Catholic, will, finally, receive a Christian burial.  Not a Catholic funeral, unfortunately, but his interment in the Anglican Cathedral of Leicester will be a great improvement over the hasty, unmarked burying of his desecrated corpse after the Battle of Bosworth Field 530 years ago.

Richard III
     Richard remains one of the most controversial of British kings.  He assumed the throne when his twelve-year-old nephew Edward V was declared illegitimate by Parliament. Edward and his younger brother Richard were sent to live in the Tower in London (which was not yet used exclusively as a prison), and their uncle became King Richard III.  The two boys disappeared from public view and just two years after his accession Richard was deposed by Henry Tudor, who then became Henry VII.  Richard has been suspected of having the “little princes” murdered  ever since, although historians today (for instance, Paul Murray Kendall) acknowledge that there is no evidence that he had anything to do with their deaths, and that Henry Tudor had far more motive to kill them than Richard did.*
     As interesting as it would be to speculate on the probable guilt of the various parties involved (and of course it would be), that’s not the purpose of this blog.  Instead, I’d like to focus on what can happen when we let desires untamed by a properly formed conscience have free rein.  The connection here is that Henry VII, who drove Richard from the throne, in time bequeathed the throne to his son Henry VIII, who separated the English Church from the Universal Church and made himself its head.  Henry’s action had profound consequences, and not only the destruction of Catholic culture and a century and a half of strife and bloodshed in England (which was, in itself, more than enough).  Some historians (such as Warren Carroll)  believe that the separation of the English Church went a long way towards ensuring that the Protestant Reformation became a permanent feature of religious life in Europe, and did not remain a largely German affair.  In later years, the spread of the British Empire ensured that the split in the Latin Church was spread over the whole globe.

Henry VIII
    And all because of Henry VIII’s wandering eye.  He did not set up his own church for theological reasons (he never considered himself a Protestant), nor was he compelled by a groundswell of anti-Catholic feeling in England.  Rather, he was motivated by his failure to produce a male heir with his wife, Catherine of Aragon, coupled with an ardent desire to indulge in a more intimate relationship with one of Catherine’s ladies, Anne Boleyn.  Anne’s price for returning the king’s affections was that she be allowed to take Catherine’s place.  Since the Pope was unwilling to grant Henry an annulment, the English monarch simply made himself the pope of England, and, as far as he was concerned, the problem was solved.  While it is possible that a Plantagenet descendant of Richard III, had he ruled instead of Henry, might also have split with Rome, it seems much less likely, since the actual break was not precipitated by external forces, but was closely tied to Henry’s character.
     However decisive Henry VIII’s libido might have been for the creation of the Anglican Church, however, there would have been no Henry VIII to have caused the split had it not been for another king’s lust.  That king is Richard III’s elder brother, Edward IV, father of the little princes who were allegedly murdered in the Tower of London.  Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a sudden and inadvisable match, came as a surprise to his family and advisors; he married her not because it was an appropriate marriage for an English monarch but because, as with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII a couple generations later, it was her price for returning the king’s affections. Elizabeth brought her family with her, of course, whose ambitions after Edward’s death were so alarming that many nobles and Parliament called upon the late king’s brother   Richard to serve as protector of the young Edward V and his brother.  Soon it seemed expedient to remove the twelve-year-old king altogether in favor of his grown-up and capable uncle, especially after another sexual indiscretion of Edward IV’s came to light which allowed Parliament to declare Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville null, and the boy-king illegitimate.  In other words, Edward’s lust-driven behavior in one instance created the unstable situation that made the deposition of his son desirable, and his libidinous behavior in another instance provided the grounds to do so.  Consequences of these indiscretions can still be seen around the globe more than half a millennium later.

The Marriage of Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville

     Few of us, of course, can expect our misdeeds to have anywhere near the impact of those of Edward IV or Henry VIII.  Nonetheless we can see, as Scripture tells us, how “the iniquity of fathers” is visited “upon children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation” (Numbers, 14:18). Indeed, for centuries.  The point is, we have no way to predict how far-reaching the consequences of our own sins will be, and how long they’ll last.  As we’ve seen, one of the greatest contributors to poverty and other social ills today is the break-down of sexual morality (see “Where Have All The Fathers Gone”). The next time we are tempted, we might do well to remember what happened when Edward and Henry went astray.

*In brief, while Richard might fear that the princes could become a rallying point for those disaffected with his rule, they had been formally removed from the succession by act of Parliament, and he had been legally crowned.  Henry, on the other hand, came from a line that had been exc luded from the succession generations earlier by Henry IV.  He needed both Richard and the princes dead, because the justification for his rebellion was that Richard was a usurper: if so, then Edward V, and not Henry Tudor, was the rightful king; if not, then Richard III was the rightful king, and Henry simply a traitor.  Either way, no Henry VII.  

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