Maria Dowling (1955-2011) R.I.P

Maria Dowling (1955-2011) R.I.P.

Maria Dowling, a distinguished historian, colleague and friend died last month after a long struggle with Parkinson’s.

Like me Maria was a Roman Catholic and like me she was fascinated by the the religious, political and cultural events of the sixteenth century when England’s church separated itself from its communion with Rome and created Anglicanism.

We both grew up in a world where the received historical wisdom was that this was a necessary if painful religious change caused by the innate corruption of medieval Catholicism. Moreover, as the loss of Calais enabled England to acquire a world Empire instead of being hedged by petty European concerns, so, once freed from the detestable enormities of the Bishop of Rome, England was free to pursue her manifest destiny to first establish parliamentary government and later to finally establish parliamentary democracy. As ever with such theories facts were moulded to fit into the schema…

The tracery of the absurd historical shrine erected to Bluff King Hal and Gloriana reflects the worst grandiosities of Edwardian Imperial pretensions. It also still informs much of the Tudor history taught in our public education system. It commands the airwaves and popular images of the Tudors presented in film and theatre. Like King Arthur’s Camelot, facts and fiction are elided to compose an epic story that’s not real history but that has, nevertheless, become deeply embedded in the English psyche.

Maria’s careful scholarship helped debunk so much of the nonsense that’s been written and spoken and most tragically still is talked of the early Tudors and also about the state of Catholicism in England on the eve of the Reformation.

Maria understood more than anyone about the reform agenda of the Humanist bishops and the Humanist court inspired by Catherine of Aragon. She understood what composed a Humanist education. And in a manner that would have pleased Erasmus she was unsparing in her pursuit of truth from the basis of informed knowledge. Maria’s interest in the education of Henry VIII’s three extraordinary children helped modern scholars to better understand subsequent events of their respective reigns. It also helped scholars better understand the atmosphere of all the Renaissance courts which were organised along similar lines…

She wrote a wonderful book on Bishop John Fisher…not a catholic martyrology…but a vivid biography. She taught for many years at St Mary’s University College in Strawberry Hill. She was a gracious teacher, a kind scholar, a convivial colleague and possessed of a mischievous sense of humour.

Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord, let perpetual light shine upon her and may she rest in peace. Amen.

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