In St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle to the right of the altar is the grave and memorial of King Henry VI. Although his reign was in several respects a failure, I revere him for his piety and faithfulness, especially in his foundation of King’s and Eton Colleges. So his grave is a place of pilgrimage to me as is the place of his murder, a small chapel in the Tower of London.
The odd thing is the man likely responsible for Henry’s murder, Edward IV, is buried to the left of the altar almost directly across from Henry VI. No, I’m not a fan of Edward IV. I’m no expert on him, but I and most think him the murderer of Good King Henry, and that’s enough for me to despise him. But to pile on a bit because I want to, the Crowland Chroncle informs us he was “a gross man . . . addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion.” His decadence damaged his health, leading to an early death that left his young sons Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, vulnerable to yet another probable regicide, Richard III. So, no, I like Edward IV not. But I did already say that, didn’t I.
But here’s another thing that may seem odd to some: I do like it that the two adversaries are buried across the quire* from each other in the same royal chapel. Oh, I might inwardly hiss when I pass the monument to Edward IV, but I want neither his bones nor his memorial removed and certainly not vandalized.
For the pious but largely ineffective Henry VI and his dissolute murderer Edward IV are connected not only in their War of the Roses rivalry. They are both part of the fabric of St. George’s Chapel and of the history of England. They and the memorials they inspired should neither be forgotten, hidden, or removed.
Most English, particularly the older English, get this approach to history and memorials. Yes, not all English – the Puritans beheaded and toppled quite a number of statues, and street mobs today, inspired by their counterparts in the erstwhile colonies across the pond, make even the Puritans look reasonable. But for the most part the English way is that history is something to be studied, remembered, celebrated, preserved, and even lived in. They are less prone than Americans to put barriers around their history. When I first visited, I was amazed how often you can walk in the streets and churches and literally touch history although that is sadly becoming less the case due to the current predations and overall devolution of Western society.
Yes, said celebration goes for the villains, too. There is a parish church right by York Minster, I can never remember its name. (I looked it up. It’s St. Michael le Belfrey.) But I well remember that it is where Guy Fawkes was baptized because they make a point to remind you every time you enter the place. They are downright proud of it though they certainly do not approve of attempting to blow up king and parliament.
The popular old English ditty that begins “Remember, remember” certainly applies to Fawkes and to all of English history, villains, failures, heroes, and all.
History does have its heroes, all imperfect, and villains. The way to deal with the imperfections and villainies is to remember them and learn from them, not to vandalize or remove their memory, nor to give way to those who would. Not only the English but even God demonstrates this by the scriptures he has given us. A significant reason so much of the Bible is, well, R-rated and unlikely to be included in children’s bibles is the Lord is very honest about the history of his people and their sins. He, too, wants us to remember and learn from history, not obliterate it.
And be warned that removing history the mob does not like often leads to creating far worse history. See the French Revolution and the (not-so) Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution for starters.
As for me, I like my scriptures, history, and churches the way I like my single malt scotch whiskey – well aged, honest, straight up, and undiluted. History and good whiskey cannot be fully comprehended and appreciated otherwise.
The lessons from God and the English and even the Scots for certain mobs and their enablers are obvious. Not that they will listen.
*I use the archaic spelling of “quire” to refer to the part of the church building, not the singers and chanters.
(The photo of Wells Cathedral is Mark Marshall’s.)