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THE DOWRY OF MARY Raymond Edwards and Mgr John Armitage
All booklets are published thanks to the generosity of the supporters of the Catholic Truth Society
Contents PART I England as Mary’s Dowry: its Meaning and History by Raymond Edwards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 PART II Devotion to Our Lady in England by Mgr John Armitage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 1. Mary’s Yes at the Annunciation – Our Response . . . 2. Share My Joy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. The Rededication of England as Mary’s Dowry 2020 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Act of Dedication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Image page 26: Dowry Painting of Our Lady of Walsingham by Amanda de Pulford. All rights reserved. First published 2020 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, London SE11 5AY. Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. © 2020 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. www.ctsbooks.org ISBN 978 1 78469 632 0
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On 29th March 2020, the Bishops of England will formally rededicate our country as the Dowry of Mary. This will take place in cathedrals, parishes, schools and religious houses; where people are not able to attend a public dedication, they may make their own commemoration at home or wherever they may be. To many Catholics, and probably to most nonCatholics, this may seem a curious thing for our bishops to do, and to invite us to take part in. But it is worth taking a moment to understand the history and theology of this event before passing it over with only a raised eyebrow. This pamphlet tries to answer some obvious and reasonable questions we may have about the Dowry of Mary. It also says something about its place in English history, and in the devotional life of the people of England for centuries.
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PART I ENGLAND AS MARY’S DOWRY: ITS MEANING AND HISTORY In common usage, insofar as it is a word in common usage these days, a dowry (a word that stems from the same root that gives us the word endowment) is normally thought of as a gift (perhaps of property, but more usually money) that accompanies a woman on her marriage: it is a transfer of wealth from the wife’s family to her and her husband on their marriage. Nineteenth century novels are full of the complex, difficult or competitive circumstances that might arise from a young woman’s possession of, or need for, a handsome dowry. This is not the sense of the word we are dealing with here. Under English common law, and some other legal systems, a dowry might be something else altogether: not a gift from the wife’s family to the married couple to accompany wife-to-be, but instead a gift from the husband to his wife on the occasion of their marriage. It would normally be a substantial property settled on her and under her sole legal control; its primary purpose was to allow her financial independence in the event she should become a widow, rather than having to rely on the good will of her deceased husband’s family.
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Historically, the terms dower and dowry are variants of the same word, and are used indifferently in both these senses.1 Contemporary usage however tends to distinguish dowry “property brought by the bride to her husband on marriage” (so, a transfer of property from the wife’s parents to the new household), from dower, “property assigned by a husband to his wife, usually on their wedding day, for her maintenance in widowhood”. This second sense is particularly important under English law, where women (unlike those living under most continental legal systems) could own property in their own right, independent of their husbands. English law was careful to define and protect the rights of property held as dower, which a husband was unable to touch nor was it liable for any debts to be discharged at his death. Various different types of dower were recognised by law; almost all of them were abolished by Act of Parliament in the nineteenth century. However, this usage survives in the word dowager, “woman whose husband is dead and enjoys a title or property derived from him”: as, for instance, the Dowager Duchess of Loamshire. Habitual visitors to historic 1 AN dowarie, OF douaire, MedL dotarium cl Lat dos, dot- “dowry” from dotare, “endow”. C.T. Onions (Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology) has dowry s.xiv (R. Mannyng) “money that a wife brings her husband”; and dower also s.xiv, “dowry” in same sense (Chaucer, Clerk’s Tale IV.807, “‘and thilke dowere that ye broghten me / Taak it agayn; I graunte it of my grace. / Retourneth to youre fadres hous,’ quod he.”, and 30 lines later (IV.848) dowaire in the same sense). Onions also gives an obsolete sense of dower (s.xiv), “portion of a deceased husband’s estate allowed to a widow”.
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properties will have come across the occasional Dower House, which is normally a smaller house within the estate of a larger one where such a widow might live. If we say that England is Maryâ€™s Dowry, then, we are saying that our country is (in some sense) in a particular way dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is her own and inalienable possession, given over to her for her exclusive use. Where does it come from? Whilst there is some evidence for it in medieval times, the modern use of the title Dowry of Mary for England dates from 1893. In May 1893, the Bishops of England, led by the then Archbishop of Westminster, Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, issued a pastoral letter announcing that, at the suggestion of the Pope, Leo XIII, they proposed to renew the ancient dedication of England to two of its sometime primary patrons, the Virgin Mary and St Peter. The Pope had suggested this in February that year, in his response to an address presented to him by a group of English pilgrims who had come to Rome to congratulate Leo on the fiftieth anniversary of his being made a bishop. The group was led by the Duke of Norfolk, then as now Englandâ€™s premier Catholic layman, but was presented to Leo by Cardinal Vaughan, who had arrived in Rome the previous month to be made Cardinal at the consistory.
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Vaughan had been made Archbishop of Westminster on 29th March 1892; part of that entailed receiving a pallium from the Pope. Vaughan might have travelled to Rome and received it in person; instead, eager to celebrate his enthronement in an English setting, he was enthroned on 8th May 1892, at the then pro-cathedral of Our Lady of Victories in Kensington. But when made Cardinal, he was happy to travel to Rome to be invested, and to prolong his stay to take in the Popeâ€™s anniversary celebrations. This accounts for the presence of Cardinal Vaughan, the Duke of Norfolk and miscellaneous English pilgrims in Rome that February. But it does not explain why the Pope made this suggestion. It seems unlikely that Leo XIII should have come up with the notion of the renewal of Englandâ€™s ancient dedication to the Virgin Mary wholly unprompted. The simplest explanation would be to suppose that Vaughan had introduced the idea at some point in the previous month, and that Leo was happy to make the suggestion his own. Supposing this to be true, we then need to ask where Vaughan might have come across the idea. Herbert Vaughan was of course eldest son of an old recusant family, the Vaughans of Courtfield, and if there was any context where memory of this old title might have lingered, it might have been amongst such people. But he need not have looked back so far. A book had appeared only seventeen years previously that, had he noticed it,
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would have brought it firmly to his attention. We do not know for sure that Vaughan read it, but it was several times reprinted; a revised edition had appeared as recently as 1890. In 1875, then, an English Redemptorist, Fr Thomas Bridgett, published a book titled Our Lady’s Dowry: How England Gained and Lost that Title.2 It is a historical study of Marian devotion in England, with particular focus on the title The Dowry of Mary (Dos Mariae, Our Lady’s Dowry, Mary’s Dowry, The Dower of Mary and similar variants). Bridgett cites various seventeenth century writers who mention it as “a former title of England”; at least two of the English seminaries in Spain had paintings, presumably of sixteenth century or later date, showing the Virgin Mary extending her protection to England, or to English seminarians, and one of them explicitly stated Anglia dos Mariae, “England is Mary’s dowry”.3 The title is certainly used in the fifteenth century. The English army before Agincourt, according to the contemporary source Thomas Elmham, asked the intercession of Mary, protectress of her 2 The 1875 text I have seen describes itself as the second edition, but I have seen no earlier date for this text. 3 St Gregory’s Seminary in Seville had a painting of Our Lady with arms outstretched over the heads of English seminarians with the inscription, Anglia Dos Mariae, “England is the Dowry of Mary”. At the base of the picture there is a further Latin inscription that reads, in translation: Britain, once converted, was the first one to give the sceptre to Our Lady’s Son, and from then on England has been known as the Dowry of Mary. Thus, we give back the gift, Holy Mother, and pray you to defend, mercifully and with justice all those who are trying to recover it.
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dower. His verse account of Henry V’s life has the English army at Agincourt’s battle-cry Virgo Maria fave, propria pro dote; Georgi Miles, et Edwarde, rex pie, confer opem.
Literally, this is “O Virgin Mary, support your own dowry; George the knight, and Edward, holy king, grant your help.” Fr Thomas Bridgett rendered it “Our Lady for her Dowry; St George and St Edward to our aid!” which seems a fair guess at how it might have run in English.4 Earlier still, in 1399 (or more probably 1400), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, had in a letter to his fellow bishops named England as Mary’s Dowry. We will come back to Arundel later. So much for some attestations. But where did it originate? The idea of a dowry or dower, as we have seen, implies a gift; and, in this case, the gift of an entire country. The only authority able to make the gift of a country is, in pre-modern terms, the monarch; so we are looking, in all likelihood, for something done, and probably done formally, by a king of England. Some writers have suggested that the title is ultimately of Anglo-Saxon date, perhaps eleventh century, and instituted by Edward the Confessor. There is exactly no evidence 4
See Bridgett in Historical Papers (London, Catholic Truth Society, 1894), pp.166-167.
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for this statement. Certainly, Anglo-Saxon England had a strong and developed theology and practice of Marian devotion – the feast of the (immaculate) conception of the Virgin Mary was celebrated in England, uniquely in Western Europe, by the early eleventh century, and survived the deliberate efforts of the Normans to suppress it. Celebration of this feast spread from England to the rest of Western Christendom.5 But the projection into a preConquest past of the title Dowry of Mary seems wholly fanciful, another instance of the Anglo-Saxon origin myths beloved of English antiquarians (who have confected similar imaginary pedigrees for the process of trial by jury, and indeed parliamentary procedure as a whole). The earliest identified use of this title seems to be in about 1350 by John Lathbury, a Franciscan theologian, in his well-known commentary on Lamentations:6 “it is commonly said that the land of England is Mary’s dowry”.7 One historian suggests this may be seen in the context of an effort made by the king, Edward III, in the 1350s to extend the range of England’s patron saints. As well as a See the essay by Edmund Bishop, reprinted in his Liturgica Historica (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1918), pp.238-259, and the summary of Bishop’s work in Nigel Abercrombie, The Life and Work of Edmund Bishop (London, Longmans, 1959), p.108.
See Nigel Saul, For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England 1066-1500 (London, Random House, 2011), p.208. For Lathbury, see Beryl Smalley, English Friars and Antiquity (Oxford, Blackwell, 1960) pp.221-239, and A.G. Little, The Greyfriars in Oxford (Oxford, Oxford Historical S,ociety, 1892), pp.235-236.
Dicitur enim vulgariter quod terra Anglie est dos Marie. (Smalley, op. cit. p.223)
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renewed emphasis on St George (previously claimed as patron by, amongst others, the French kings), royal art of these middle decades of the century (the wall paintings in St Stephen’s chapel in Westminster, for example, and the Great Seal made around 1360) portray the Virgin Mary as protectress of the realm, alongside St George.8 The wall paintings in St Stephen’s chapel are worth noting. We now think of the Palace of Westminster as a synonym for Parliament, but it was for centuries primarily a royal palace; Parliament, when it was summoned, would meet in one of its chambers, or nearby in the Abbey. The main chapel of the Palace of Westminster was dedicated to St Stephen; there was a smaller lady chapel annexed to it. In the immediate aftermath of the English Reformation, Edward VI (Henry VIII’s strongly Protestant son) had these chapels converted to chambers where Parliament might meet. The existing walls, which were painted, were covered with oak panelling. This panelling remained in place until 1800. In that year, after the Act of Union joined the English and Irish Parliaments together, the Parliament chamber needed to be enlarged. In the course of this, the sixteenth century oak panelling was taken down, and the medieval wall paintings were discovered, and observed 8 See Nigel Saul, op. cit., pp.206-212. Edward III made St George patron of the Order of the Garter in the 1340s, and founded a priestly college at Windsor to make intercession to St George. It is at this time that he begins to be portrayed alongside England’s long-standing patrons St Edward the Confessor and St Edmund, King and Martyr.
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to be in excellent condition. Contemporary reports state that, behind the Speakerâ€™s chair, there was a painting of the Virgin and Child, with St Joseph; King Edward III, his queen, and their children were also shown, making an offering to Our Lady. Fr Bridgett speculated that It may either have commemorated an historical event, or its execution may be considered an historical event in itself. It is not, nor does it record an act of private devotion... Acolytes were holding lighted tapers and two angels were represented as taking part in a solemnity. It is the consecration of England, through its Sovereign to the Blessed Virgin. It was before the eyes of every King and noble until hidden by Edward VI. This is certainly possible, but cannot be asserted as fact without further evidence. Unfortunately, these wall paintings were destroyed, along with the great majority of the medieval fabric of the palace, in the great fire of 1834. In any event, it was clearly likely that particular marks and titles of Marian devotion were receiving royal encouragement. However, there is no particular event that has yet been identified as the occasion of a formal dedication. This official encouragement of Marian devotion reached a further level in the following reign.
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