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Both sides suffer from ‘bad history’

SIR – It was a relief to learn that Michael Maslinski had his complaint upheld about the BBC’s documentary Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents and its suggestion that Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators had received “God’s blessing” for their murderous enterprise from Fr John Gerard, his 10-times great uncle (Feature, May 18).

Unfortunately, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation period is replete with such “bad history”. English Catholics have suffered from it rather more of course, having been as it were on the losing side. The Elizabethan courtier and man about town Sir John Harington summed it up succinctly: “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? – For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Happily, this has come to be well understood by responsible historians. As Christopher Haigh (a non-Catholic historian) put it: “Since the Protestants won in the end, we were taught how they got their victory,” but after describing how the “Protestant” version came, in the course of time, to be regarded as untenable, he continued: “So, the English Reformation was rescued from the Protestants. But now – if I may put it so – it needs to be rescued from the Catholics.”

Bad history is one thing but selectivity and seeing things from our own perspective is a very human failing and will doubtless

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