One of my favorite authors was recently referenced in a monastic text we are reading at table, Margaret Malone’s Living in the House of God. In the section on solitude, Malone cites a passage from the literary critic John Bayley, describing his marriage to the great novelist Iris Murdoch:
“So married life began. And the joys of solitude. No contradiction was involved… To feel oneself held and cherished and accompanied, and yet to be alone. To be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude’s friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself.”
As is our custom during the Triduum, we put aside regular table reading, and read the four passion accounts from the Gospels in sequence.
We are currently reading Living in the House of God: Monastic Essays by Margaret Malone, SGS.
We finished Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses a few weeks back. While an excellent narrative history of fifteenth century England, the book does not lend itself easily to being read at table. It is hard to keep all the players straight when you are only hearing the book read, and not seeing the words on the printed page. You almost have to do homework (e.g. looking up royal genealogies) to keep up with table reading. How many Dukes of Clarence were there? How do you keep all the various Richards and Edwards straight?
Given that King Richard III will be reburied in a few weeks, reading about the wars of the roses was in fact timely. Jones claims that the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York did not end the tensions of Lancaster versus York. In fact, he opens the work with a story of the judicial murder of the last Plantagenet, Margaret Pole, during the reign of Henry VIII in 1541. Margaret Pole, the niece of two Yorkist Kings, was not only a countess in her own right, but is considered a Blessed by the Catholic Church. The dynastic struggles of the fifteenth century are seemingly replaced (and transformed) by the struggles of Protestant versus Catholic in the next century’s English Reformation.
Late last week we finished reading Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses, and began reading a series of two talks by Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., a monk of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, on “Monasticism and the New Evangelization.” These talks were published in the December 2014 issue of the American Benedictine Review.
In Dan Jones’s book on the Wars of the Roses, there is this interesting passage on Benedictines in the fifteenth century:
Katherine de la Pole, abbess of Barking, had every reason to be pleased with the religious house over which she ruled. The elegant, richly furnished buildings of the abbey, set around the large double-fronted church of St. Mary and St. Ethelburga, enclosed one of the wealthiest and most prestigious nunneries in England, home to around thirty ladies in holy orders, served by a large staff of male servants and priests. Wealthy daughters and widows from the titled aristocracy and upper gentry came to Barking to retire from the world as inmates, where they followed the Benedictine Rule in a life of prayer, charity, high-born company and scholarship. Good connections had, over the years, brought Barking money, property, honor and fame: Katherine – who as abbess held the same privileged rank as a male baron – controlled thirteen manors and lands in several different counties, besides the hundreds of acres that surrounded Barking itself. [page 67]
Fascinating, but what is the connection to the Wars of the Roses? In 1437, Barking Abbey became the home of two boys, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Edmund would later become the father of Henry Tudor, who would reign as Henry VII, bringing the Wars of the Roses to an end.