The Noble Martyr: A Spiritual Biography of St Philip Howard
by Dudley Plunkett, with a foreword by the Duke of Norfolk
This book is published at a very timely moment. With Hilary Mantel’s final novel in her Tudor trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, climbing up the best seller lists, it is good thing that those readers should remind themselves of other aspects of the era of Tudor tyranny.
This book focuses on what it means not just to be a saint, but to be a martyr. And though the gross nature of martyrdom is largely a thing of the past across Europe, in parts of Africa and Asia it is an everyday threat, a daily reality for the Christian minorities in several cultures.
Compared with say Edmund Campion, John Gerard or Henry Garnett, Philip Howard may well be an unfamiliar name. As there has been no full length biography since 1857, or any modern editions of his writings, this is hardly surprising. Dr Plunkett has done a service to readers far beyond the Diocese of Arundel in rescuing the saint from near oblivion.
This small book is not of course a full biography, but a “spiritual biography” , which draws largely upon St Philip Howard’s own prison writings and his poetry The author (who studied at Oxford, LSE and Chicago University), and who has several other books to his credit (including Queen of Prophets: The Gospel Message of Medjugorje) takes the view that though many, if not most, English people conformed to the new religious regime introduced by the Tudors, they did so in the way many conform these days to the largely secular society of our time.
Yet such are the curious contradictions of English life that the foreword is written by the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal of England and the country’s premier Catholic peer, who could be said to lead the Catholic interest in the House of Lords. Thus the saint’s family remain at the heart of the British establishment.
But this book wishes to draw the reader into the saint’s interior castle, into the nature of his own spiritual exerpiences. From this he arrives at his conclusions regarding the enduring relevance of his witness, and the need to fully reclaim all the Forty English Martyrs for modern devotion.
In some ways the author is impatient perhaps with the average Catholics of today whose witness takes other forms. But it enables Dr Plunkett to write about those who have on principal resisted the whims and furies of tyranny.
For Irish readers it provides a comparison with our own martyrs”
This is a very useful addition to the small library of books dealing with the English martyrs which are accessible to ordinary readers, and will be welcomed as such.
For Irish readers it provides a comparison with our own martyrs. Most of Ireland confessors and martyrs are clustered into the years of the republican Commonwealth, a reminder that removing a monarchy does not remove from some democratic leaders the temptation towards tyranny; though these days that tyranny may well disguise itself as a call to a truer way.