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Fourteen "Continuity" versus "Change": Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
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The Henry Bradshaw Circle

A controversy over continuity or change flourished at the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. Serious studies of the English coronation first appeared in the 1800s; there were published such classics as Arthur Taylor, The Glory of Regality: An Historical Treatise of the Anointing and Crowning of the Kings and Queens of England (London, 1820); T. C. Banks, An Historical Account of the Ancient and Modern Forms, Pageantry and Ceremony, of the Coronations of the Kings of England (London, 1820); and William Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae , 3 vols. (London, 1846–1847). It is this last work that introduces the origins of the controversy, for Maskell wrote not as a restrained, dispassionate scholar, but as one possessing deep religious convictions that gave his writing a strongly teleological quality. He was steeped


in that High Anglicanism that found rich expression in the Oxford Movement and which set some of its adherents, including Maskell himself, on the spiritual road to Rome. At this juncture a few words on the Oxford Movement are appropriate.[1] Led in its early stages by John Keble (1792–1868), John Henry Newman (1801–1890), and Edmund Pusey (1800–1882), and destined to exert a profound influence upon nineteenth-century Anglicanism, the movement first bloomed in the 1830s and 1840s. It sought to elevate certain principles in the struggle to restore High Anglicanism to preeminence in the church; those principles included veneration for ancient liturgical practices. The main thesis advanced by the Oxford Movement may be summarized as follows, although with much simplification and therefore distortion: the Anglican Church was the depository of "authentic" or "pure" Catholicism, which Rome had foresaken. It had preserved Catholicism through many trials and tribulations, but now stood in danger of betraying its mission: in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Evangelical wing of the church had acquired excessive influence, while the church as a whole was tending to slip into an easy-going Latitudinarianism. If the Anglican church were to remain faithful to its calling it must diminish the influence of the Evangelicals and restore High Anglicanism with its stresses upon tradition, apostolic succession, authority, and a liturgy based on ancient ritual.

Maskell (c. 1814–1890) found in High Anglicanism a religious ethos conducive to his own spiritual development; indeed, like John Henry Newman he was to evolve beyond High Anglicanism to become a convert to Roman Catholicism, in his case in 1850. Before that he acquired public notoriety in 1840 when he attacked the bishop of Norwich, Edward Stanley, for his Latitudinarianism. Maskell, who had entered holy orders, was appointed rector of Coscombe in Devon in 1842; he resigned on his conversion in 1850 but spent the rest of his life in the west country writing upon matters of antiquarian interest. Many of his works dealt with aspects of liturgy, including his Monumenta Ritualia . Its pages contain abundant material on English coronations and remained a standard work of reference on the subject into the twentieth century.

His interpretation of the coronation was to help initiate the late nineteenth-century debate in two respects. First, the general proposition (which runs through many of his early compositions) that the Anglican church had preserved authentic Catholicism over the centuries, incorporated a subsiduary thesis that the church likewise had preserved authentic coronation ritual. The one followed from the other; and just as the ceremonial of Anglican worship stretched back across the centuries in magnificently uniform prospect (admittedly with some lapses along the way!), so did that of the English coronation whose purity and consistency in essentials had been defended by the church. "Continuity" was the hallmark of the coronation.


Second, Maskell's presentation of the coronation suggested that the "protection" given to the ceremony by the Anglican church both symbolized and helped to create a uniquely "English" association between church and state. From at least the tenth century a form of "national synthesis" between church and state existed, which had no exact parallel anywhere in Europe. The association served both parties immaculately: the king, possessing certain ecclesiastical attributes, helped the church to defend itself against heresy or deviation, while the church helped to preserve the legitimacy of monarchy and the purity of the coronation. This tradition of mutual aid helped to explain the capacity of the Anglican church to avoid the errors into which Rome had fallen; it also saved the monarchy from degenerating into the absolutism and despotism that afflicted so many continental dynasties. Viewed from this perspective, that most controversial of episodes, the "Henrician Reformation," ceased to represent a major rupture in traditional relations between church and state; it became a restatement or reinterpretation of those relations, even if the minutiae of Henry's conduct (especially his matrimonial escapades) hardly commended themselves to a sensitive High Anglican of the Victorian age!

A modern commentator doubtless would find much that was defective in the implications of Maskell's work; but this scholar found general support among a group of remarkable writers who studied coronations in the 1890s and early 1900s. Serious coronation studies in English rarely have flourished as they did at the turn of the century. To appreciate how abundant in scholarship those years were one has but to recall such names as Wickham Legg, Wordsworth, Macleane, Dewick, and others who brought to the subject minds of high caliber and a historical methodology based on the newest ideas. Although these writers published a variety of books and articles, the medium through which they announced some of their most original propositions, and the one which served to define them as a "school," was the Proceedings of the Henry Bradshaw Society. Bradshaw (1831–1886) spent most of his career at Cambridge University Library, where he was librarian from 1867 until his death.[2] He too was High Anglican, although he repudiated some of the more extreme views of some of his associates. He also tempered his regard for ancient liturgy with a desire to submit liturgy to historical analysis. He conveyed his enthusiasm to other scholars, who formed the society and journal named after him. The aim of the Henry Bradshaw Society was to track down old liturgical texts chiefly, although by no means exclusively, deriving from the church in England (coronation records were considered to come within their purview), to publish them, and to accompany the printed texts with explanatory introductions and annotation. The Proceedings of the society are representative of the late-Victorian penchant for basing historical research as much as possible on original sources. The late 1800s were a time when in England as on the continent the great official archival collections


were being organized, important private collections were being made available to scholars, and when documents of many types were being printed in bulk so as to distribute the "raw material" of history as widely as possible.[3] The Henry Bradshaw Society conformed to the age as it published an impressive corpus of annotated texts. The Proceedings included ample material on coronations of the medieval and early-modern periods; every student of English coronations has cause to feel a whole-hearted gratitude to the Henry Bradshaw circle whose scholarly labors laid the foundations of later coronation studies.

The publications of the Bradshaw group nevertheless did not go unquestioned either in their method or in their import. For all the apparent objectivity with which members of the group undertook their research, critics discerned a tendentious character in their writing: a strong desire to vindicate the High Anglicanism of the Oxford Movement and its latter-day disciples. Those who deprecated the work of the Henry Bradshaw group held that the "disinterestedness" of much of its research was putative; they chided Bradshaw scholars for having employed methods that appeared to be "scientific" but which in practice were leading to predetermined conclusions. When such charges were applied specificially to coronations, they reproached the Bradshawists for having reinforced without discrimination the thesis suggested by Maskell: English coronation ritual maintained its consistency save in peripheral or unimportant detail, this continuity exemplifying the unbroken association between church and state which underpinned English liberty in politics and right belief in matters of religion.

The most comprehensive assault on the Bradshaw group came from the pen of a Jesuit, Herbert Thurston, whose book, The Coronation Ceremonial (London, 1902),[4] attempted to set the record straight. He stated his objections to the Henry Bradshaw scholars:

But I must confess that while paying tribute to the pains spent by some of the Bradshaw Society editors in editing texts, the net result of all that was then written seems to me profoundly disappointing. Of scholarly and impartial discussion of the many complicated problems suggested by the Coronation Service there is hardly a trace. The whole effort of the writers engaged was to make this question of ritual subservient to a highly controversial purpose, bolstering up a set of highly disputable propositions regarding the ecclesiastical character of the Sovereign, and the supposed independence of the English Church before the Reformation, which no Continental scholar, or for the matter of that no English scholar outside the Ritualist camp, could for a moment regard as established. The mot d'ordre seems to have been given in certain articles of Dr. Wickham Legg, and writer has followed writer echoing his words, quoting his proofs, even exaggerating his conclusions, without contributing a single new fact and hardly so much as a new illustration. Practically speaking, the history of our Coronation Orders still stands where Mr. Maskell's Monumenta Ritualia


left it years ago. . . . The one aim of all concerned has seemed to be to ignore all the connections and parallels which link the English Ordines to Rome and Germany, except in so far as a reference to foreign usages might occasionally be made useful to enforce some pet Anglican theory.[5]

Thurston's general broadside included some specific targets. One was the historian Henry Wakeman whose Introduction to the Church of England (London, 1896) vigorously expounded a self-confident, High Anglican interpretation of the history of the church (the final chapter of the book—"The Oxford Movement, 1833–1896"—was nothing less than an apologia; it defined the movement as, "the complete reaction against the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century"[6] ). Another was F. C. Eeles, author of The English Coronation Service: Its History and Teaching (Oxford, 1902), who stressed the "Englishness" of the coronation ceremony, and the "priestly" nature of the king. But the Jesuit was not merely negative in his remarks; he attempted to correct these Anglicans in three principal areas.

First, Thurston conceded that the "continuity" thesis regarding the ritual of the coronation was tenable with tolerable justification as far as Charles II. But the coronation of James II and even more so that of William III and Mary, included such striking deviation from tradition that a neutral observer surely would conclude that a change of character had indeed taken place; and further, that no English coronation since then had fully restored pre-1685 ritual and meaning.[7]

Second, at no stage could the pre-1685 ceremony be said to have been wholly "English"; that is, immune from outside influences. Thurston examined the four known recensions of the medieval coronation Order. The first or "Egbertine" (fragments of which he traced to the ninth century, the main copies coming in the tenth) he considered to reveal some Scottish or Gallic influences, although no Roman.[8] The second, or "Order of King Ethelred," he placed in the tenth century as having been used at the coronation of Edgar in 973. This recension augmented the first by drawing upon ritual of the coronation of Emperor Otto the Great. Thurston's source on this point was Anton Diemand, Das Ceremoniell der Kaiserkrönungen von Otto I bis Friedrich II (Munich, 1894), who indicated the links with the coronation of Edgar: "But of all this our liturgiologists tell us nothing. It would involve the suggestion that, when the English Churchmen before the Conquest wanted to enhance the dignity of their liturgical forms, they turned their eyes Romewards and borrowed Rome prayers. So Dr. Diemand is left out in the cold. There is not one of the Henry Bradshaw editors, so far as I can make out, who so much as condescends even to mention his book."[9] Of the third Order Thurston has little to say; he devotes only one paragraph to it, asserting that Norman influences are traceable in the prayers.[10] The fourth and most important recension, copied in the Liber Regalis preserved in Westminster


Abbey, contains, he says, "fresh prayers which seem to be borrowed from the Roman Coronation rituals."[11] This was the recension used at the coronation of Edward II and which was the model for all other coronations to 1685.

The third respect in which Thurston sought to remedy the "shortcomings" of the Bradshaw editors concerned those qualities of the king attested by the coronation. Here the objects of his displeasure were Wickham Legg, Eeles, but especially Douglas Macleane's The Great Solemnity of the Coronation of the King and Queen of England (London, 1902). These authors, he protested, alleged that pre-Reformation coronations portrayed the king as a priestly figure who in certain senses shared spiritual authority with the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Thereby, Macleane and others were able to construct the elaborate but erroneous fiction that when Henry VIII assumed headship of the church no revolutionary change was implied, doctrine was unaffected, the king was doing little more than refining a traditional relationship. Here, argued Thurston, the High Anglicans most grievously were at fault. In their desire to expound their understanding of the Anglican church, and in the interests of communicating their vision to others, they were guilty of abusing historical truth. Thurston devoted a whole chapter of his book to a demonstration that the English coronation never recognized spiritual authority of the king within the church.[12] For Thurston the Reformation emphatically marked a breach with the past; the post-Reformation Church of England was not that of the pre-Reformation era. In this, as in the history of the coronation, the Henry Bradshaw group had contrived a continuity not borne out by the facts.

It is no part of the present exercise to attempt a detailed assessment of the tenability of Thurston's objections to the content and implications of the publications of the Bradshaw circle. It can be noted, nevertheless, that even a writer broadly sympathetic to his position—Dom C. Smith in an article published in 1953[13] —conceded that Thurston overstated his case. For one thing the Bradshaw group did not take continuity as implying immutability. Dewick, Wickham Legg and others were aware—indeed, they had demonstrated—that coronation ritual evolved over the centuries. In a somewhat rough-and-ready simile, coronation ritual may be likened to a plant: it grows, produces new foliage, buds and flowers, shedding dead leaves in the process, but it remains the same plant. Similarly, it would be naive to pretend that English coronation ritual did not change during the course of the Middle Ages; but the essence of the ceremony remained unimpaired; it was still the "English" coronation. In short, the concept of continuity was capable of comprehending change of a certain order. An example of this mode of reasoning is an article by H. A. Wilson in 1901 in which he surveyed the four recensions of the coronation Order,[14] drawing heavily on Henry Bradshaw Society publications for his material. His conclusion was that, "The general tendency in the development of the service down to the formation of the


fourth order is towards accretion."[15] From coronation to coronation the ceremony grew in complexity, some features being discarded; yet in all essentials it remained the same down to the early-modern period.[16] Change in ritual was reconcilable with the concept of the continuity of the coronation. Again, the Bradshaw group was by no means ignorant of, or blind to, interaction between English and continental coronations. A publication such as E. S. Dewick (ed.) The Coronation Book of Charles V of France , (London: Henry Bradshaw Society, vol. 16 1899) was at pains to acknowledge the similarities between the English and French ceremonies. It is possible to query the manner in which the Bradshaw editors treated cross-currents between English and the continent, but it would be false to suppose that they depicted English coronations as the product solely of native traditions untouched by outside influences.

English coronations, and that part of their history related to the question of continuity or change, were absorbed into a campaign for the "soul" of the Anglican church. We would do well to avoid an attitude of censoriousness toward scholars involved in the controversy. For all the lip-service paid to Ranke and his disciples with their call for "objectivity" in the writing of history, and for all the meticulous attention paid by scholars to primary sources, most historians in late-Victorian England sensed a duty to seek moral, religious, political laws in history which would raise English civilization to ever more splendid heights. Even the greatest scholars were inveterate searchers after "Truth" in their study of the past, being ever prepared to point to a moral or to read into history signs of the present times.[17] Inasmuch as the Bradshaw circle derived certain lessons from history, lessons that confirmed their own religious convictions, they were typical of the age. It should occasion no surprise that they used their scholarship as they did.

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Fourteen "Continuity" versus "Change": Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
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