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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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I am extremely concerned by the following statement, made recently by an official spokesperson of the Anglican Cathedral in Leicester, concerning the planned nature of the proposed reburial of King Richard III:
”It’s an Anglican Church, so Anglican,” Liz Hudson, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Leicester told Decoded Past. “The Roman Catholic Church did not exist at the time, the State church was Catholic but there was no distinction.”
Surely this statement reveals a rather frightening lack of understanding and knowledge of religious history. As I’m sure readers of The Tablet are already well aware, Catholic means universal, and the official position of the Catholic Church – as stated for example in 1864 – is that that the Roman Church is not just one fragment of the Catholic Church (as some Anglicans maintain), but that the Catholic Church, headed by the Pope, is the only one. In fact, the term Roman Catholic was only introduced in the seventeenth century - by Anglicans!
The historic reality is that the Catholic Church, of which Richard III was undoubtedly a sincere, practising member, did exist in the fifteenth century and still exists today. The Anglican Church is a fragment, split off from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century by the Tudor dynasty which had violently ousted Richard III. This split came about for political reasons. And, significantly, the true nature of the result was clearly recognised, even in the sixteenth century - as is revealed by the actions of Queen Mary I and her government, when they sought to rectify the error.
For the result of the split was that the Anglican Church was recognised by Catholics as being in various ways improper. For example, Anglican religious orders are not, and have never been, recognised by the Catholic Church. (See the statement, Apostolicae Curae, made by Pope Leo XIII in 1897.)
As for King Richard III, there is no possible question of the fact that he was a Catholic. He would not have described himself as a Roman Catholic, merely for the simple reason that that term had not been invented during his lifetime. Nevertheless, it is absolutely certain that Richard III was not an Anglican!
Dr L J F Ashdown-Hill, leader of genealogical research and historical adviser, 'Looking for Richard' project, Lawford