5 February 1771|
St. Thomas Street, Winchester, England
|Died||17 July 1851(aged 80)|
Rev Dr John Lingard (5 February 1771 – 17 July 1851) was an English historian, the author of The History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII, an 8-volume work published in 1819.
Born in 1771 in St Thomas Street in Central Winchester to recusant parents, John Lingard entered the English College at Douai, France, to commence training for the Catholic priesthood. In the English College, he excelled in the humanities before beginning the study of theology. Narrowly escaping attacks by mobs at the time of the French Revolution upon war declaration between United Kingdom and France, he returned to England in 1793 where he concluded his theological studies and was ordained. He then taught philosophy and, in 1805, wrote a series of letters which, after their publication in a periodical, were collected as Catholic Loyalty Vindicated. In 1806 the first edition of The Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church appeared, a development of his informal lectures.
The principal object of his major work, The History of England, is to emphasise the disastrous effects of the Reformation. The book was later expanded by the author and the title changed to reflect the period covered. As each additional volume appeared the History's reputation increased, while Lingard continued to revise and improve the whole work. Most of the earnings from this project and his other writings were directed towards the educating of students to the priesthood.
In his style and presentation of English history, Lingard demonstrates the prevalent manner of Catholic scholarship – he gives, for example, no indication that he is a priest on the title page, and professes emphatically to be writing an impartial history. But in a curious turnaround, his History by its very impartiality is a Catholic apologetic, and Lingard's desire for impartiality is a reflection of the Catholic political and intellectual situation in the Emancipation era.
The Catholic position in the early nineteenth century, politically speaking, was that of a minority body, allied to the Whig-Radical-Dissenting political grouping, and seeking religious and political freedom. This alliance encouraged Old Catholic intellectuals to present their arguments in 'liberal' and 'reasonable' form – the argumentative advantage in this being that it presented Catholics as enlightened and tolerant, and their opposition as prejudiced and bigoted.
Lingard himself argued that one of his chief duties as an historian was:
"to weigh with care the value of the authorities on which I rely, and to watch with jealousy the secret workings of my own personal feelings and prepossessions. Such vigilance is a matter of necessity to every writer of history ... Otherwise, he will be continually tempted to make an unfair use of the privilege of the historian; he will sacrifice the interests of truth to the interests of party, national, or religious, or political." (J. Lingard, "History of England", vol 1, 6th edition, London: Charles Dolman, 1854, p. 6.)
Lingard adopted a non-controversial and sober approach to history with the emphasis on incontrovertible fact and using primary rather than secondary sources. In the History, Lingard faces the task of convincing Protestants of the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, while maintaining an unbiased presentation of historical truth. He possesses little sense of "preaching to the converted" (in a very literal sense), and aims his work more at influencing Protestants than placating his Ultramontane opposition. In a letter of 18 December 1819, Lingard wrote: "... my only chance of being read by Protestants depends upon my having the reputation of a temperate writer. The good to be done is by writing a book which Protestants will read." (Lingard to Kirke, in Haile, Bonney, Life and Letters of John Lingard, 1771–1851, London: 1912, pp 166–67).
Lingard's History is also an apt demonstration of the advantages a Catholic historian of the time may have had, in terms of impartiality. Lingard's religion had to a large extent isolated him from the mainstream nationalism which surrounded Protestant historians, as well as from the growing "providentialist" concept of history. Lingard's strength of argument, however, continued to be popular, and the influence of Protestant animosity for Catholic apologetic also led him to develop a keen critical judgement. He was devoted to absolute accuracy and detail and the History was a groundbreaking work in its use of primary sources. Lingard made extensive use of Vatican archives and French, Italian, Spanish and English dispatches, document collections and state papers – the first British historian to do so. The peripheral nature of English Catholicism put him in a position of "outside observer" to much of English intellectual culture, and this is reflected in his historical works. Despite this distancing effect, however, Lingard maintained an active interest in politics all his life and was a noted pamphleteer.
The edition that is usually seen is a 10 volume set, "to the Accession of William and Mary in 1688." There is an enlarged 13 volume set published just before Lingard's death which was his final revision, "to the Commencement of the Reign of William the Third." The History was abridged and revised adding material to bring its treatment up to the then present and used as a text in English Catholic schools during the nineteenth century.
Lesser known than Lingard's historical works is his anonymously published translation of the Four Gospels in 1836. The title page reads simply that the work is "by a Catholic." Lingard departed from usual Catholic practice by using early Greek manuscripts rather than the Latin Vulgate as the principal basis for the translation. This resulted in such renderings as "repent" rather than "do penance" (Matt 3:2). His willingness to depart from Catholic custom contrasts with his contempt for the Protestant concept of "private interpretation" of Scripture. In a note to John 1:1, he states, "Hence it happens that men of every persuasion find confirmation of their peculiar opinions in the sacred volumes: for, in fact, it is not the Scripture that informs them, but that they affix their own meaning to the language of Scripture."
Lingard's work influenced Francis P. Kenrick (1796–1863), Roman Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia, and later Archbishop of Baltimore, who published his own translation of the Four Gospels in 1849. By 1851, Lingard felt sufficiently confident to publish a new edition of his Four Gospels in his own name.
William Cobbett used Lingards history as an unbiased reference source for his own History of the Protestant Reformation in which he puts forward the argument that the reformation had disastrous consequences for the ordinary people of England. His work would in turn be influential in the passage of the Catholic emancipation bill by preparing the way for public acceptance and the minimisation of sectarian violence.
Lingard was accorded no recognition by the British intellectual establishment. History of England is a substantial scholarly work which gave full treatment to the history of England. From 1811 until his death in 1851 Lingard spent most of his life in the village of Hornby near Lancaster, where he devoted himself to his study and writing. A quiet, gentle man, he was well liked by the residents. Lingard's popularity as an historian had its day, but his contribution to historical method came at a critical point in British intellectual history. That he was also a Catholic priest, in a turbulent time for the Church in England, makes that contribution all the more interesting.
In 1821 Pope Pius VII honoured Lingard with a triple doctorate – in theology, canon law and civil law – and a few years later Leo XII conferred upon him a gold medal generally only given to cardinals and princes. There is even strong evidence that he was made a cardinal in pectore ("in the breast") in 1826. This meant that the Pope could have announced the appointment publicly at some future time.
In the last few decades a number of books have been devoted to Lingard. They include Peter Phillips, ed., Lingard Remembered: Essays to Mark the Sesquicentenary of John Lingard’s Death (London: Catholic Record Society, 2004); Edwin Jones, John Lingard and the Pursuit of Historical Truth (Brighton, England, and Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2001); John Trappes-Lomax, ed., The Letters of Dr. John Lingard to Mrs. Thomas Lomax (1835–51) (London: Catholic Record Society, 2000); J.A. Hilton, A Catholic of the Enlightenment: Essays on Lingard’s Work and Times (Wigan, England: North West Catholic Historical Society, 1999); Joseph P. Chinnici, The English Catholic Enlightenment: John Lingard and the Cisalpine Movement, 1780–1850 (Shepherdstown, West Virginia: Patmos Press, 1980); Donald F. Shea, The English Ranke: John Lingard (New York: Humanities Press, 1969). An older and still indispensable work is Martin Haile [pseud. for Marie Halle] and Edwin Bonney, Life and Letters of John Lingard, 1771–1851 (1911).
- "Peter Phillips, 'Lingard, John (1771–1851)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2008 (subscriber access only)". Retrieved 22 May 2008.
- "John Lingard", B. Ward, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911.
- William Cobbett, A History of the Protestant Reformation, Fisher Press, 19994, ISBN 1-874037-10-8