I do wish certain English Catholics would get round to reading, or re-reading, the life of St. Edmund Campion, rather than invoking the spirit of La Grande Terreur in regard to a matter which, when all is said is done, does nothing but betray the fallen nature of Man; a fact now so well-established one would have thought it would not require further iteration.
Their heritage is martyrdom for The Faith Of Our Fathers; not my fathers, actually, but theirs. It was their fathers who kept their faith 'in spite of dungeon, fire and sword'; not mine, but theirs. The life of Maximilien Robespierre, an over-opinionated provincial lawyer probably being worked from the back by the Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome (a type this writer knows quite well), has nothing to teach them.
What they might not realise is that by invoking les tricoteuses, they're putting themselves firmly in the camp of the same viciousness that murdered St. Edmund. In his book 'The French Revolution', the late, great Christopher Hibbert recounted the fate of a courtier once more grand than France's much libelled queen -
"Another noblewoman who was guillotined at this time was the aged widow of Marechal the Duc de Noailles, Marie Antoinette's 'Madame L' Etiquette', whose senile eccentricity it had become to write long letters to the Virgin Mary on the subject of prudence and protocol in Heaven. They were answered by her confessor who signed himself Mary but who, on one occasion, committed on Her behalf some solecism which led the Duchess to comment 'But then one ought not to expect too much of Her. She was after all a bourgeoise from Nazareth. It was through marriage that she became a connection of the House of David. Her husband, Joseph, would have known better.'
The old, demented Duchess was arrested in July with her daughter-in-law, the Duchesse d' Ayen, and her grand-daughter, the Vicomtesse de Noailles. They were taken to the guillotine watched by the Abbe Carichon who took advantage of a blinding rainstorm which slowed down the carts to give them absolution... -
'There was a large circle of spectators (wrote the Abbe), most of them laughing, ''There she is! There's the Marshal's wife who used to have a grand carriage. Now she's in a cart just like the others..."
I now found myself facing the steps to the scaffold against which a tall, old white-haired man was leaning. He was to be beheaded first. He had a kindly face...Near him was a pious-looking lady whom I did not know; Mme de Noailles was immediately opposite me. She was dressed in black and sitting on a block of stone with wide staring eyes...
When all is ready the old man goes up the steps. The chief executioner takes him by the left arm, the big assistant by the right and the other by the legs. They lay him quickly on his face and his head is cut off and thrown, together with his body, into a great tumbril, where all the bodies swim in blood. And so it goes on. What a dreadful shambles it is! The Duchess is the third to go up. They have to make an opening in the top of her dress to uncover her neck...'
The Abbe Carichon's account of his ministry over, Hibbert continues,
'Robespierre witnessed none of the victims perish. He had once expressed the opinion that public executions coarsened and brutalised the character of the people. But he made no move to stop them'.
An appalling snob she might have been, but in later life Madame L' Etiquette probably never hurt anyone. Just like the 'tall, old white-haired man' with a kindly face whose name is lost to us, she was put to death because of what, not who, she was; just like Edmund Campion; just like the other great English saints of the so-called 'Reformation', itself nothing more than a Tudor-era English national creation myth of astonishingly durable power; and just like our brothers and sisters currently being martyred in Kerala and Orissa, provinces of a nuclear power in which children live on the streets.
To see that era of history, of all eras, used to make any point is cheap; and any point that is made by its use is automatically cheapened by it. Very sad.