Friday, May 7, 2010

Risky business

Here is a book waiting to be written, though not by me because I am too busy with Pennario.

Isn't it odd that in Tudor England, so many of the great British composers were Catholic?

There was William Byrd, above.

Thomas Tallis.

And the melancholy god of the lute, John Dowland.

Wow, these men all look pretty much alike. Perhaps they are in fact the same person!

But seriously. This seems like an unusual situation, all of them being Catholic in an era when that took great courage. It makes me wonder about the theory I have read about, that Shakespeare was Catholic. Judging from these three -- and there are more, I just can't think of them right now -- it seems to have been the thinking man's religion.

Wikipedia suggests that Dowland was defiant about his faith, even working behind the scenes for the Vatican. Elizabeth was supposed to have said that he "was a man to serve any prince in the world, but [he] was an obstinate Papist."

It is hard even to imagine his courage. In Elizabethan England you could get executed simply for being Catholic. The memory was still recent of how Henry VIII had beheaded Sir Thomas More in the public square because he would not renounce his faith. Here he was the Chancellor of England, one of the king's closest friends, and he went to the block with his wife and children watching.

And he got off easy next to some of the others. They would execute Catholics in terrible ways. Hanging, drawing and quartering seems to have been a common way to do it. That happened to a London bookstore owner who would not stop selling Catholic books.

Anyway, given the situation, it seems amazing to me that these composers were Catholic, stuck to their guns and seem to have gotten away with it.

Elizabeth must have liked their music an awful lot.

1 comment:

  1. This is a bad example, but I still laugh. Dying for one's faith reminds me of the scene in Annie Hall where, after seeing "The Sorrow And The Pity" Annie wonders how she would hold up under torture. Alvy tells her "Are you kidding? All they'd have to do is threaten to cancel your Bloomingdale's charge card and you'd tell them everything." I think it's notable that in spite of the times, those talented people were tolerated enough so they could die natural deaths.