William, Mary, and the Last Martyr of the Protestants

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July the 12th is ‘Orange’ Day, celebrated still with a particular fervour in Northern Ireland, commemorating the defeat of the Catholic Stuart King James II and VII of England and Scotland respectively, as well as of Ireland, by the forces of the Dutch and Protestant William of Orange (named after a region in Holland, and not the apparently colour of his skin) and his wife, Mary, who was also his cousin, as well as James’ own daughter, who had been raised Protestant. The battle took place near the Boyne River in Ireland, outside the town of the Drogheda, on the north-east coast, and the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ has been celebrated ever since as the definitive defeat of Catholic monarchy, and ‘Papism’ in general in once-merrie England, and the triumph of good old staunch ‘Protestantism’. Of course, there are many stripes of Protestants in England (and more so elsewhere) as is inevitably the case when one leaves the fold of the one, true Church. After all, one fervent Orangeman – for so Protestants were called in Ireland –  by the name of C.S. Lewis, was quite orthodox, and would hardly recognize the current teachings of the Church of Ireland; then again, he would also likely be more Catholic than many modern ‘Catholics’.

July 12th is also, by one of those coincidences of providence which I quite enjoy, the death day of the last martyr of the Protestant persecution of Catholicism, Saint Oliver Plunkett. The good priest spent most of his priesthood in Rome, due to the ruthlessness of the persecution, not least under another Oliver, Cromwell by name, who, as ‘Lord Protector of the Realm’, enacted laws putting priests to death upon sight. Oliver was a nephew of Thomas Cromwell, henchman and bully boy for Henry VIII, but who eventually lost his head, as he had arranged the beheadings of so many others (Thomas More and John Fisher amongst them) over his arranged the disastrous marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleves.

Plunkett eventually returned to Ireland in 1670, after being made a bishop, and right away began an energetic apostolic ministry – fighting drunkenness amongst the Irish clergy, declaring Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint, which reminds me of the old joke about why God gave drink to the Irish: So they wouldn’t take over the world, with sort of sincere apologies to anyone of non-Irish descent. But, then again, perhaps that original Garden was in Ireland, and drifted off from Africa after the Fall…

Anon, Father Plunkett founded a Catholic College at Drogheda, attracting 150 students – which Cardinal Newman would later claim as the ideal number for a liberal arts college. In fact, this has come to be known as ‘Dunbar’s number’, the limit in any group wherein they can truly get to know each other, and the leader can know each person by name. ‘Companies’ in the army follow this rule, as do troops of chimpanzees, funnily enough; or so I recall reading somewhere.

Forty of the students were Protestant, making Plunkett’s school the first integrated educational institution in the now-divided land, and which might have held great promise, until its closure in 1673, under the strict anti-Catholic laws of the Test Act of the same year. Good Bishop Plunkett himself was rounded up in the obviously-false ‘Titus Oates’ plot of 1678, charged with treason and, even though his innocence was known throughout the land, was hauled to Britain, and, after a formulaic fifteen-minute jury deliberation, declared guilty. Sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, he said, ‘Thanks be to God’, and thus has the distinction of being the last martyr of the so-called ‘Reformation’, put to death on the very same day, July 1st in the old, Julian calendar (the 12th in the new, Gregorian) as the fateful Battle of the Boyne twelve years later.

So what might have been, and may yet be again, began and ended at Drogheda. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of William and Mary has not turned out all that gloriously. The British Isles are now experiencing the tragic effects of her separation from the Church and her moral foundation, her identity, family life and culture gutted out, the hollowness filled with an inebriated and drug-addled hedonism and hooliganism, and the sad religion of ‘football’; Islam waxes strong to occupy what is left, as one may evince from the most popular boy’s name in London, which isn’t Jack, or even Jill.

But God never abandons us, nor our countries. As the Psalm says, take delight in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart.

Would that the Brits would take those words to heart, and that King James and Bishop Plunkett had it right all along. The Church, with all her own truly glorious truth, beneath the maelstrom of wars and persecutions, endures unto the end.