Before 1066 and All That
As a brief respite from the turmoil in Church and State these days, I’ve been indulging myself with a very pleasant read through Alfred Duggan’s novel (1960) The Cunning of the Dove – a fictional re-creation of the turmoil in Church and State in the days of King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Some things, it seems, never really change.
Duggan was a friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, a conservative Catholic, a powerful yet graceful writer who deserves to be better known for a series of novels set in the Middle Ages. As Waugh wrote of him: “This century has been prolific in historical novels, many garish, some scholarly. I know of none which give the same sense of intimacy as Alfred’s – as though he were describing personal experiences and observations.”
There’s probably no more realistic and insightful account of the life of a saintly king. Saintly rulers are a great rarity: after St. Edward there’s St. Louis and – who? Duggan’s novel raises a question: Can a saintly man also be a good ruler? To run the worldly city well requires worldly – not merely heavenly – virtues. Hence his title, which shuffles the Gospel verse so that the innocent dove (Edward) is as cunning as the serpent.
A hard truth, one that a Christian instinctively resists.