According to a Thomas More expert, PBS’ “Wolf Hall” is more than anti-Catholic, it’s also anti-history.
On Facebook, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia shared a link to a piece by Travis Curtright, Ph.D., author of “The One Thomas More” and research fellow at The Center for Thomas More Studies. published at Public Discourse.
In it, the author disputes the historical underpinnings of the British mini-series currently airing Sundays on PBS’ “Masterpiece.” It’s based on books by author Hillary Mantel, whose own anti-Catholic sentiments I discussed here in an earlier post at my Patheos blog, Pax Culturati.
But the defamation of Catholic Saint Thomas More and the lionization of Thomas Cromwell is less about what really happened in Tudor England and more about what’s happening right now.
As the debate over religious liberty and freedom of conscience rages in the media and matriculates through the court system, Catholics often return to the example of More, at one time the right-hand-man to England’s Henry VIII.
Opposed to the king’s desire to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon because of the Catholic Church’s prohibition of divorce — Henry had already sought papal dispensation to marry Catherine in the first place, since she had an unconsummated and ultimately annulled marriage to his brother — More’s refusal to acknowledge Henry’s re-marriage to Anne Boleyn, and thereby declare Catherine’s daughter Mary a bastard, ultimately cost him his head.
But one man’s champion of conscience is another man’s traitor to state authority — especially when the state has also declared itself the arbiter of morality, as Henry VIII did when he claimed the headship of the Church of England.
Rather than loyalty to the Vicar of Christ on Earth and obedience to Christ and His Church, More was expected to be loyal and obedient first and foremost to an earthly king, and that he could not do.
On the other hand, Thomas Cromwell, who succeeded More at Henry’s side, rejected the pope and the Church in favor of his royal master — who wound up having him executed anyway.
Cromwell, a dedicated Protestant, should have paid more attention to Psalms 146:
Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save.
Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
that day all his planning comes to nothing.
In his piece at Public Discourse, Curtright looks at the historian that Mantel relied upon for her narrative and outlines how many scholars have refuted his version of the events:
Because the plot of Wolf Hall relies on [Tudor scholar G.R.] Elton’s characterizations of Cromwell and More, Mantel writes as if the last thirty years of research in the Tudor period never happened. Though many prominent historians of the period—such as John Guy, Brendan Bradshaw, and Eamon Duffy—have refuted Elton’s claims about More already, George Logan most recently assembled a team of international scholars to reassess More’s life, writings, and political actions in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More (2011). These scholars put to rest the most inflammatory claims of Elton and his school. Instead, Logan’s team finds More to be a superlative humanist scholar and, as the chapter on statesmanship claims, the historical record reveals “a statesman of conscience” and one of “extraordinary insight and foresight.”
Click here to read the whole thing.
And remember, while it may be very entertaining to watch, put no trust in historical fiction.