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The Dowager Countess of Grantham Invites the Primate to Tea


The No Anglican Covenant Brigade, in an attempt to halt the Covenant juggernaut, has tried reasoned analysis, expostulation, satire and mockery.  This blog alone has invoked, inter alia, Cassandra, Elizabeth I, Trollope and inter-galactic law. Though some members have been tempted, the group has not yet resorted to sabotage or blackmail. Although the time may yet come for the dreadful final option of the Charge of the NAC Brigade, there remains another possibility.


It is time to send in a Great British Battleaxe. Surely even Archbishop Rowan would quake in his shoes if faced with one of these in full sail? Margaret Thatcher in her prime perhaps? But no real woman can truly match the great battleaxes of fiction: Mrs Proudie, Lady Bracknell, Lady Catherine de Bourgh or, her latest triumphant incarnation, Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, the real star of Julian Fellowes’ latest entertainment, Downton Abbey.


From this impressive list, let us choose the Dowager Countess for this important role. She is so clearly a woman of unshakeable self-confidence, at her prime in the Edwardian era when her class was at its most supremely confident.  After many years of practice in  bending the local clergy to her will, (as is apparent from this scene requiring her to persuade the vicar to perform what he regards a dubious marriage), she is surely as ready as anyone to take on the Archbishop.

[Spoiler warning for American viewers – this clip is ahead of you]


Let us imagine the meeting. Holding court at Highclere Castle, Lady Grantham invites the Archbishop to break his journey to the ancient diocese of Winchester, where he is visiting the new bishop. While perched on an uncomfortably spindly French antique chair, the Archbishop is obliged to balance his teacup, saucer, teaspoon, side plate, cucumber sandwich and starched organdie table napkin. (Gamesmanship was not the invention of Stephen Potter, he merely named an ancient social ruse for discomfiting one’s opponent).

Lady G: So do explain to me, Archbishop, what is this Covenant that one hears so much about in Church circles?

Archbishop: [embarks on long-winded explanation]

Lady G: [interrupting] So in future, we shall have to find our vicars from amongst those of whom you personally approve, not just those who have been ordained?

Archbishop: Well no, it won’t really work quite like that,…

Lady G: But you don’t know how it’s going to work out, do you? You produce pages and pages of small print, which you expect us all to sign up to, and you throw in everything but the kitchen sink without explaining how you can put two mutually exclusive provisions in the same document. Did you think we wouldn’t notice, just because the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral comes at the beginning and this unspeakably unChristian section four comes at the end? The Highclere Women’s Institute discussed the whole thing at our meeting here last week, and we are all agreed that it is the most appalling document. For goodness sake, Archbishop, you really must do something to extricate us from this quagmire you have dragged us all into!

Archbishop: [chastened] Well I don’t see how we can get out of it now. I keep asking ‘what is the alternative’!

Lady G: Really Archbishop! Yes, we hear you asking, but why aren’t you listening to the replies? There are plenty of alternatives. Gracious me, I can’t think why you don’t simply say God has told you to go back to the first principles of Hooker and the Quadrilateral. Everyone is free to interpret Anglicanism for their own time and place, using scripture, reason and tradition. What’s wrong with that? Nice, simple and clear.

Archbishop: Yes, but you see many of the Provinces will simply not accept the way other Provinces interpret Anglicanism.

Lady G: So?

Archbishop: So they are threatening to leave.

Lady G: Well, let them do so. What a fuss, all because you seem so determined to let the tail wag the dog. Extraordinary!

Archbishop: But the Anglican Communion will break up! And while I am the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Lady G: If they leave, they leave. At least what remains will still be a communion of Anglicans. And most will rejoin in time, you’ll see. For goodness sake, man, pull yourself together!


16 comments on this post:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Brilliant, Laura. You should write for television, m’dear. Don’t you wish we had Dame Maggie on our side fighting against the misbegotten covenant?

Lay Anglicana said...

Oh, I do, I do! Somehow I think a Lady Grantham is the only person who could stop him now. I just can’t think of any real life battleaxe who would be as good.

16 January 2012 07:38
16 January 2012 00:14
leonardoricardo said...

Oh, this is good. May I, oh please, oh please please, your Lauraship… may I use the whole kit and kabuddle at mi blog? I love it, you´re brilliant and I need you so! Lord knows we all do!

Rudyard Heppleworth Clark-Gomez

Lay Anglicana said...

Of course, I would be honoured.Thank-you (I am only sorry that I was asleep when you wrote this and you are probably asleep now…)

16 January 2012 07:41
16 January 2012 00:24
JCF said...

Great recap, LA. But be careful about the clip: I almost played it, and it’s in the future of where we are in DA Stateside! (i.e., Spoilers!)

Lay Anglicana said...

I’m so sorry, JCF! I have put a spoiler warning in now. Who would the American equivalent be, I wonder?

16 January 2012 07:42
16 January 2012 02:20
UKViewer said...

A brilliant exposition. I’m wondering if you might just invite the Arch Bishop to tea yourself.

Than, I’d love to be a fly on the wall, listening in. I fear the Arch Bishop would choke on his teacake.

I wonder if every congregation or PCC wrote to him, giving their reasons for rejecting the covenant, would he listen?

On the evidence so far, I very much doubt it.

Still, if the covenant is brought in, we’ll arrange for the Welcome team to issue a pair of hand cuffs, ear muffs and blind folds to all our congregation members, as clearly they shouldn’t be listening for the Holy Spirit when they say NO TO THE COVENANT.

Lay Anglicana said...

Oh, UKViewer, you’ve got my number absolutely! I wish, I wish, I could take tea with Archbishop Rowan. It is my greatest fantasy that I could talk him out of the Covenant single-handed. But I need the back-up of Highclere, a butler and parlour-maid, and a lineage that goes back to William the Conqueror. My only hope in real life is the Queen…

16 January 2012 07:46
16 January 2012 06:19
UKViewer said...

Perhaps HM The Queen, might just invite him for an interview without Coffee. As we used to describe it in the Army. You normally knew that there was some displeasure going to be expressed at the meeting.

I held a few of my own as well and always got the point across. Perhaps I should ask the Arch Bishop to attend our PCC Meeting and explain himself. Suitable penalties could be exclusion in accordance with the terms of the Covenant.

I might resort to the Dunces Cap in the corner as well. 🙂

16 January 2012 09:49
Lay Anglicana said...

I do love the thought of you inviting ++Rowan to an ‘interview without coffee’! (That’s one I want to be a fly on the wall at)

It occurs to me that a Dunces Cap is not unlike a mitre in shape…

16 January 2012 11:45
leonardoricardo said...

Done! Off with someones head (or whatever body part is handy)!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for the splendid introduction, Leonardo! If this doesn’t kill it off, I don’t know what will…

16 January 2012 18:47
16 January 2012 18:17
Richard Haggis said...

Sorry to be slow off the mark, but this really is great fun! I’m wondering about Baroness Warnock – is she an Anglican? She’s certainly terribly clever, and he’d respect that. Who do we have in Synod representing the universities, surely none of them could put up with this twaddle? And why all this talk of people “leaving” the Anglican Communion? You can’t leave something that doesn’t exist, and you can’t be an Anglican if you walk out of the room just because someone won’t agree with you (or obey you).

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for the suggestion of Baroness Warnock -it’s a good one. It really doesn’t matter what denomination she is, or even if she is an atheist (which somehow I think is unlikely) – one of the ideas behind tackling the great British public as a whole is that the attempted transformation of the Church of England into something so profoundly un-English should worry the nation as a whole on political grounds.
I think the Anglican Communion probably does have a legal existence through the 1888 Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral, which was an international agreement of Anglicans? Or do you know this not to be the case?

17 January 2012 07:14
17 January 2012 06:57
Muthah+ said...

Wonderful! I too want to steal it for my blog spoilers

Lay Anglicana said...

Of course I would be thrilled and honoured, Muthah+!

19 January 2012 21:23
19 January 2012 20:17

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