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Monday, October 5, 2015

Pursuing Jesuits with Charles Kingsley at Clovelly

In Charles Kingsley's Elizabethan Era novel Westward Ho!, one person Amyas Leigh distrusts is his cousin Eustace. This has less to do with the fact that Eustace and his father are Catholic, than it does with the fact that Eustace often lies to him. One thing that Amyas, his brother Frank, and his friend Will Cary discover is that Eustace is secretly working with the Jesuits. One evening, the brothers follow him, and discover Eustace meeting two Jesuits who have landed in the dead of night along the shores of Clovelly, a village a short ride from Bideford, along the northwest coast of Devon in England.

While Queen Elizabeth allowed her subjects to practice Catholicism, she forbade missionary activity is forbidden. So the Jesuits lie about their names and identities when they sneak into England. They also hide the tracts they have smuggled in. 

Through Amyas' life and adventures, Charles Kingsley links religion with nationalism. The Pope has blessed Spain's efforts to invade England, depose Queen Elizabeth, and forcibly convert all British citizens back to the true faith. Given that, it's not difficult to understand how most English citizens of this era might have viewed their fellow Catholics as disloyal and unpatriotic. 

Tension and fighting between England and Spain will ultimately culminate in the Spanish Armada. Compared to that massive attack on England, the nighttime landing at Clovelly at first seems an entertaining but insignificant event in Kingsley's novel. But the discovery of the Jesuit landing, and the resultant fight, will alter the course of Eustace's life, and by extension, significantly affect Rose's future. Before, he may have wrestled over his love for Rose (Yes, he loves the Rose of Torridge as well) and his yearning to join the Jesuits. The encounter, and resultant fight, force Eustace down a road leading to heartache, treason, and death.

It's easy to walk along this rugged, forested coast, and imagine Amyas, Frank, and Will Cary defending England against a small incursion of tract-carrying Jesuits.

So thick are the trees, bushes, and flowers outside Clovelly that, at times, all sight of the coast and the ocean disappears. Beware the temptation to venture off the path though, or you might find yourself unexpectedly falling into the sea. If that happens, you'd better hope a few of those evangelical Jesuits are trying to beach their little boat along this rugged Devon shoreline. Sometimes, we all need a helping hand, even if that hand belongs to a tract-wielding Jesuit.

Along the coastal walk, one place to stop and rest is this heaven-sent gazebo.

There, beneath angels' wings, you can rest, eat your lunch, and imagine pursuing Jesuits with Amyas, Frank, and Will. 

Or you can follow my wife's lead, and take a moment to sketch some of the beauty surrounding you, amid a landscape little changed since Charles Kingsley wrote Westward Ho! in 1855.

Dragon Dave

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