Monday, June 13, 2022

Elegant Reprints of Robert Hugh Benson Novels of the English Reformation

Back in January, we mentioned the Cenacle Press website of Silverstream Priory. Since that time, much has transpired! In addition to its hundreds of items of various sorts and provenances, Cenacle Press has now turned into a full-fledged publishing operation, specializing in reprints of old classics as well as new works.

Robert Hugh Benson needs no introduction here. Two of his best historical novels, The King’s Achievement (about Henry VIII, Thomas More, John Fisher, et al.) and By What Authority? (about Elizabeth, Edmund Campion, et al.) have just been released in new editions, which are distinguished by five features that set them apart from other versions available online: (1) they are unabridged, unlike the American editions; (2) they are newly typeset, with a very readable font; (3) they have newly-commissioned illustrations by a Polish artist ; (4) they contain interesting forewords by Joseph Pearce; (5) they support the monastic community.

When I first read those books years ago, they pierced me to the quick, and I still consider them among the most vivid windows into the English Reformation period. My wife and I used them for homeschool history & literature. In September 2021, I shared at NLM a poignant scene from By What Authority? in which a secret recusant Mass is described.

Quick summaries of the novels (from the Cenacle Press site):

The King’s Achievement: One of the most coldly calculated acts of Henry VIII during the Reformations was the dissolution of the monasteries. Monks and nuns were driven from their cloisters; the abbeys were plundered and turned over to greedy courtiers. From these ignoble proceedings came Robert Hugh Benson’s inspiration for this great historical novel, the story of a house divided against itself. The Torridon brothers are sworn to serve different masters; one is a monk, in love with the Mass and the Faith of Ages, the other an agent of Thomas Cromwell, in love with a protege of Sir Thomas More. Among the giant figures who move through the tale are those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the ruthless King Henry VIII, and the grasping Cromwell. Their actual deeds are carefully woven into this harrowingly romantic tale of the attempted destruction and resilience of the Catholic Faith in England.

By What Authority?: The fates of two young people caught in a conflict of ideals is the theme of this stirring and tragic novel, set in the England of Elizabeth I. At a time when following the Old Religion resulted in penalties stretching from heavy fines to imprisonment to death, Puritan-bred Anthony and Isabel Norris find themselves drawn to the Church of their forefathers. Underlying their heroism in their struggles and conflicts with Protestant England is the strength and vitality of Catholic Church supporting and drawing the characters into Her embrace. In a story which delves into the deepest reaches of the Catholic and Anglican dilemma, Benson weaves together the lives of his characters and their encounters with central figures in English Reformation history in order to praise and defend the England that was, the England that is truly England, the Catholic England.

To read more, see Joseph Pearce’s recent article “The Genius of Robert Hugh Benson” at The Imaginative Conservative.

Links to purchase:
The King’s Achievement
By What Authority?

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