Wolsey as a sensible man of the world, More as a monster: a frankly biased interpretation that just won't wash. For Ridley...

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STATESMAN AND SAINT: Wolsey and More, A Study in Contrast

Wolsey as a sensible man of the world, More as a monster: a frankly biased interpretation that just won't wash. For Ridley (Garibaldi, Napoleon and Eugenie), More had the makings of a Nazi or NKVD apologist. Even Hans Holbein the younger's portrait of More shows us ""the fanatical eyes and mouth of the heretic-baiter peer[ing] out from under the mask of the benign father."" This ""strange, tortured, cruel man"" never showed any tenderness or love, says Ridley, except to his daughter Margaret. The evidence for all this, however, is rather thin. During More's 2(apple) years as Lord Chancellor rive heretics were burned at the stake (the figures for Wolsey's early years axe not much better), undoubtedly with his firm approval. On the other hand, Wolsey aided and abetted Henry VIII's imperialistic schemes which, as Ridley admits, led to ""the deaths of many soldiers killed in wars and of women and children left to starve to death in the Boulonnais and in Teviotdale."" But More the ruthless servant of orthodoxy is somehow infinitely worse than Wolsey the compliant servant of autocracy. And what of all the testimony to More's humanity and charm? Ridley will not hear of it--in fact he won't even let the reader hear of it: he actually suppresses the immortal story of More's wisecracks on the scaffold (though he doesn't spare us the most tediously detailed accounts of Wolsey's diplomatic missions). Ridley is miffed that writers from William Roper to R. W. Chambers to Robert Bolt have, like the Catholic Church, canonized More; but the way to correct such idealized treatments is not through character assassination.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1982

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1982