It is the 10th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1658.
It was the year that Oliver Cromwell died and with his death, the rebirth of Christmas. As a reminder, Cromwell was the Lord Protector of the British Isles during the Interregnum, that period after Charles I was killed before Charles II took the throne in 1660 for the restoration of the monarchy. Cromwell deserves much of the scorn brought upon his name, but perhaps he gets off the hook, a little, for banning Christmas.
On yesterday’s show, we heard about the original American war on Christmas. We saw that the Puritans made such a fuss about Christmas being a papist invention to delude the masses. Cromwell was a Puritan, and he didn’t like Christmas, but he just kept the anti-Christmas tradition going. That was a dark time for yuletide revelers. “The Holly and the Ivy” was a protest song. Father Christmas was a symbol of resistance, and contraband figgy pudding could land you in hot water. One influential pamphleteer wrote: “More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides ... What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used ... to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.”
And then Cromwell died, and then his very unsuccessful son botched the position, and when the monarchy was restored, and then Christmas made a roaring comeback. Diarist Samuel Pepys wrote about the magnificent meals, wine, and entertainment, which would set the template for English and American Christmas traditions.
Among other things restored during the restoration was the Church of England. After the Puritan scare, the Restoration and Georgian church would find its place as an ecclesiastical authority, a relatively toothless political body, and sometimes benign cultural reliquary.
Today we remember one of the very curious characters in the English church of this period. On this, the 10th of December in 1658 that Lancelot Blackburne, the pirate cleric and Archbishop of York, was born. Blackburne was educated and the Westminster School and Oxford, taking his ordination in 1681. But rather than take up a church position, he sailed to the West Indies. What happened there is up for question, but we have some clues. There is a record for Lancelot Blackburne being paid 20 pounds by Charles II for “secret services” relating to booty in Antigo. Blackburne himself is said to have confessed to sailing with pirates, but he suggested he was merely their chaplain. Blackburne’s secret didn’t scare off many. In fact, upon returning home, he made his way through the ranks quite quickly.
Horace Walpole would write of Blackburne:
“The jolly old archbishop of York, who had all the manners of a man of quality, though he had been a buccaneer and was a clergyman, but he retained nothing of his first profession except his seraglio” (A “seraglio” is a kind of harem.)
Blackburne became a favorite of the future king George, who reportedly needed the Archbishop to guide him through a personal issue with the Queen and perhaps a mistress. Furthermore, a poem from the time was entitled “‘Priestcraft and Lust, or Lancelot to his Ladies, an Epistle from the Shades.” So, maybe he was more rapscallion than religious or more pirate than a priest, or perhaps the rumors of him being a buccaneer colored all subsequent stories told about him. Lancelot lived a long life, dying in 1743 at the age of 84. Lancelot Blackburne was born on the 10th of December in 1658.
The reading for today comes from Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset.
“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans--and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused--and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Christmas Corsair and Buccaneer of Boughs, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.