I am currently reading the Children of England by Alison Weir. This is perhaps that last book I will read for pleasure before the semester starts. Surely by then, I have to deal with academic readings.
The book is about the relationships of Henry VIII’s successors – Edward VI, Jane Grey, Mary and Elizabeth I. Much has been written about the four heirs to the throne, but the author claims that few has been as thorough as his book in examining their relationships.
I have read the book for some time now, and tonight I stopped at the Chapter when Jane Grey-Dudley was executed. Jane was executed as she was accused of high treason for assuming the throne after Edward VI died, disregarding Henry VIII’s will of succession which put Mary as the next in line to the throne. I felt sorry for Jane. She did not want to usurp the throne in the first place. It was the Duke of Northumberland who forced her to accept the throne for his own advantage, not hers. Immediately prior to Edward’s death, Northumberland married Jane to his son. Having in mind that Jane would be enthroned by himself as the Queen if Edward died.
Mary who succeeded in overthrowing Northumberland and his cronies knew that Jane was nothing but an instrument of Northumberland. Although she refused repeatedly to behead Jane at the Tower of London, she was finally made to agree by Renard and his councilors following the massive rebellion that was opposed to her marriage to Philip II of Spain. Jane knew she was innocent but I was impressed with her calm and accepting disposition following the announcement of her death. It made a great impression on me when she said that her mortal life would end in return for an immortal one. Such words indicates her understanding and devotion to the Christian faith.
Unfortunately, I find it hard to accept that many of these people in 16th century England were truly devoted but unknowing of the Christian faith. For Christianity is a religion of love and love can not dwell in the hearts of those who kill innocent people. Edward VI was a devout Protestant but had persecuted Catholics. Mary was a devout Catholic but had persecuted Protestants, including Jane Grey.
In judging England’s monarchs at the time, I do not want to commit an error by putting judgement to people who did not have the benefit of a hindsight of the consequences of their actions and the understanding of human rights that our generation now have. But I don’t think that that makes the people during the reformation not culpable for their actions. The book shows that people had knowledge of the moral implications of their actions. But conscience had to be set aback for political and other ulterior motives.
In reading the book I realized that religion was not at play in much of the religious persecution and wars that took place in Europe, England most specifically, during the Reformation Era. It confirmed my belief that it was politics, not religion, that made people fight and kill each other. Queen Mary was merciful but when Renard, the Imperial Ambassador of the Hapsburg to London, persuaded her to agree with harsh laws, she turned into a truly bloody Mary. The conflict in itself was caused by the rivalry of the Emperor and Henry II of France. Each of which used their respective ambassadors to perpetuate rumors, encourage rebellions and cause disunity in the government to ensure that England would be at their side. The Protestant and Catholic English bishops were powerless. They were nothing but instrumentalities to be used for political purposes. I could not speak though authoritatively for the pope. But the way I understood it, religion was used as nothing more than a prefix or a mark that would distinguish which supported whom.
It therefore pains me to see how religion is slandered and hated across the Western World, and increasingly in Asia. For such hate is based on the misunderstanding of religion’s role in history. It is the same as a person whose name is used by an impostor, and that person is tried and punished for a sin he has not committed.
The Christian Faith preaches justice. Justice means giving a person his due. And Jane Grey-Dudley was an innocent who did not deserve punishment. But why did God let her suffer. I can not know exactly but I believe there was a greater purpose for it.
But the lack of clear answers must not make us blame God for letting bad things happen. All of what happened was done by men and women who by their own free will chose the path of evil. God can not choose for themselves because he created men free. And God has one word. He will not take away what He’s given until its allotted time.
This explanation cannot be accepted by many modern historians. For they removed God out of history. Believing that it was the belief in the Almighty that brought peril to humanity. They are wrong. And our approach to history which is increasingly becoming mechanical is wrong. And the reason why we fall to the same mistakes as that of our ancestors is because we choose to look at history and not learn from it.
And I think reading the book inspired me the more to learn from history and not learn history.