Dr. John Lingard (5 February 1771 – 17 July 1851) was an English Catholic priest, born in St Thomas Street in Central Winchester to recusant parents and 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. He also authored the very popular Catholic hymn to the Virgin Mary titled Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star.
Born in 1771 in Winchester, John Lingard entered the English College at Douai, France, to commence training for the priesthood. There 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).
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