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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 fully share Cliodhna Dempsey’s concern (The Tablet, 12 July) over some recent comments by Pope Francis on Scottish independence.
However, one would hardly expect every occupant of the Holy See to possess an intimate knowledge of the part which the papacy over many centuries has played in support of Scottish nationhood. Even among the Scottish Catholic laity this aspect of our history is not as widely known as it should be. I feel that readers of The Tablet might be interested to learn a little of that history.
As an independent nation Scotland had close relations with the medieval papacy even before the wars of independence in the 13th and 14th centuries. During those wars the Scottish clergy were very supportive of the long struggle of Robert the Bruce both to secure the throne and to assert the independence of Scotland, a struggle that culminated in the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320. This historic document, addressed to Pope John XXII, led to the eventual recognition of Bruce’s kingship. Until the Reformation there was a close relationship between the papacy and the Scottish church and monarchy. Our three medieval universities were all papal foundations and lavish papal gifts to the Stewart monarchs were a recognition of their importance in European politics. Of course all this changed after 1560, but during the years of exile and persecution Rome continued to play its part in ensuring the survival of the Scottish Mission as separate from those of England and Ireland. In the less hostile climate of the 19th century the papacy once again reaffirmed Scottish identity when Leo XIII restored the Hierarchy in 1878, thereby recognizing Scotland as a nation albeit as part of the United Kingdom. More recently our historic identity has been reaffirmed by the papal visits of John Paul II in 1982 and Benedict XVI in 2010. Now as we stand on the brink of a referendum it is to be hoped that both Rome and the Catholic hierarchies of these islands are fully aware of the historic importance of the long relationship between the Holy See and Scotland.
Alastair Cherry, Edinburgh
To reduce the complexities involved in the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and Scotland’s departure to the historical event of ‘’the buying of votes a handful of aristocrats’’ in 1707 is simplistic in the extreme. Cliodhna Dempsey , I am afraid, is letting her heart rule her head. Surely she is aware of the anti-Irish/Catholic immigration elements in the formation of what became the Scottish National Party? Or of the leader of the SNP who in the 1980s infamously called the then Pope an ‘’alien’’ and Argentina a ‘’priest-ridden country’’. The Irish and Scottish situations do not bear any real comparison.
Scotland is geographically, ethnically and historically tied to England and Wales in a way that Ireland could not possibly have been. Polls have consistently shown that the majority, if not the vast majority, of the people of Scotland wish it to remain so and a No majority seems certain in September. The Pope’s remarks on Scotland were merely stating truths.
Alexander McKay, Edinburgh