Belloc versus Tolkien: Two Views of Anglo-Saxon England

hastingsEditor’s Note: Joseph Pearce has written this article to commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which falls on this day.

Picture the scene. An expectant audience, which includes the great Catholic writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, awaits the arrival of another great Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc, the latter of whom has been invited by the University chaplain, Monsignor Ronald Knox, to give a talk to the Catholic chaplaincy at Oxford University. Seated just behind Tolkien as Belloc gives his talk is the celebrated Jesuit Fr. Martin D’Arcy, who records what subsequently transpired in his memoirs:

In his talk Belloc came out with one of his pet themes: that the Anglo-Saxons were utterly unimportant in the history of England. Now, there was present on this occasion a man who was probably the greatest authority in the world on Anglo-Saxon subjects and was the professor of Anglo-Saxon history [sic] at the time. He is presently professor of English Literature at Oxford. The man’s name is Tolkien, and he was a very good Catholic …. Well, Tolkien disagreed profoundly with Belloc on the question of the Anglo-Saxons. He was sitting just in front of me, and I saw him writhing as Belloc came out with some of his more extreme remarks. So during the interval, I said to him, ‘Oh, Tolkien, now you’ve got your chance. You’d better tackle him.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Gracious me! Do you think I would tackle Belloc unless I had my whole case very carefully prepared?’ He knew Belloc would always pull some fact out of his sleeve which would disconcert you! Now, that was a tremendous tribute from probably the greatest authority in the world at the time on that particular subject.*

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