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John Wayne had "True Grit"

Yesterday I watched the original "True Grit" starring John Wayne. Though it was a good movie, I do not think it is worthy of comment here, but I would like to write something about John Wayne.

John Wayne is the epitome of an American hero. According to Wikipedia, "He has become a symbol of American man." He was a great individualist, both on screen and in his private life. The Duke got married and divorced three times to Latin American women. I would guess that his individualism made living with him very difficult for Latin American women, for whom families are more important than individual persons, and men are not expected to be alone. I can understand this cultural difference, for I am an Anglo-Texan, raised in a W.A.S.P. family, but I am now living in Laredo, on the border with Mexico, and over ninety percent of the inhabitants of this town are Hispanic. All of my relatives and all of my old friends moved out of their parents' houses and lived alone for some years before getting married and having children. I moved out of my parents' house when I was twenty-one, and I am still single now at age thirty-eight. The great majority of Hispanics and Mexicans and South Americans, on the other hand, live with their parents' until they get married, even if they are over thirty. In my culture, it is normal for a person to live alone for some years during his or her life. In the Latin American culture, on the other hand, most people never live alone. I can imagine how difficult a marriage would be between an Anglo-American man who is accustomed to spending much time alone and a Latin American woman who has never spent time alone and expects her husband to spend all of his spare time with her. Now this must relate to the Middle Ages, or else I would not put it on this web page. In the Middle Ages, I think, people were more akin to what Latin Americans are today than they are similar to Anglo-Americans, of whom John Wayne is the epitome. The population of the world was much smaller in the Middle Ages than it is now, so people then could have lived apart in isolation, but they chose to live together in villages. The poor lived in 1-room cottages; women did work in those cottages with their daughters while men worked with their sons in the fields surrounding (or near to) those cottages. Most people did not travel much, except for war or pilgrimage, both of which were normally done in groups. Nobles lived in castes with their knights and servants. Monks lived in common, sleeping in large dormitory rooms with other monks, eating with other monks in refrectories, working with other monks in the fields, or studying with other monks at the schools. Few people spent much time alone. There were some hermits, but they were a very tiny minority of the population.

John Wayne was Protestant (raised as a Presbyterian), but he raised his children Roman Catholics, and when they got married it was the Archbishop of Los Angeles who performed the ceremonies. It is thought that John Wayne converted to become a Roman Catholic two days before he died. I found all this personal information about John Wayne's religion, by the way, at I do not know if he converted or not; either way, he was Protestant for most of his life, so I think of him as a Protestant. His father did not lecture him much when he was a child, but he did teach him one thing above all else: Always keep your word. This, I believe, is very American Protestant, not very Medieval Catholic. American Protestants believe that GOD is THE WORD, and a personal relationship with HIM is essential for Salvation. Furthermore, their religion is founded upon the Bible, which is a book with many words in it. On Sundays they go to church to listen to preachers deliver sermons composed of words. Their whole religion is about THE WORD and about words. The Roman Catholic religion is different. Most Catholics do not have a personal relationship with THE WORD, never read the Bible, and go to church to receive the sacraments, not to listen to a sermon. For Protestants, words are sacred, therefore a man should always keep his word. For Catholics, words are unimportant, so there is nothing wrong with making promises and not keeping them. The Catholics who care about words and keep their promises are those who have contact with Protestants and learn from them the sacred nature of words. J.R.R. Tolkien was Roman Catholic, and he loved words more than anyone else I know of, but he lived in a Protestant country, and during his early childhood his family was Protestant. Would Tolkien have been Tolkien if he had been born to a Catholic family in a Catholic country? I doubt it.

John Wayne was very patriotic, that-is-to-say he loved his country the United States of America. This also is very Modern, therefore unmedieval. Nation-states as we know them did not exist in Europe during most of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages began with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. For the centuries that followed that catastrophe, Western Europe was politically splintered into numerous barbarian tribes ruled by chiefs. The strongest or smartest or luckiest of these chiefs grew in power until they ruled small kingdoms. Charlemagne, who lived from 742 until 814, expanded his kingdom to form an empire larger than any European country today except Russia, but before he died he made plans to divide his empire between his three sons. The death of two of his sons caused the empire to remain united under Charlemagne's surviving son Louis the Pious, but it was then split between the three sons of Louis the Pious. This shows the difference between the Medieval mindset and the Modern mindset. In the Middle Ages, warriors were loyal to their chief, or to their baron, earl, count or duke, or to their king or emperor. They fought for their lord, that-is-to-say the man who had authority over them and whom they believed to be a representative of GOD for them somewhat like a priest represents GOD, but in a different way. They had no loyalty towards and did not fight for their country. A 'country' had little meaning to them as most never went more than twenty miles from their place of birth and so felt no bonds with anyone outside of their own village. A person living near Lyon, in what is now, but was not then, southern France, would be just a foreign to a person living near Paris as would be a German or an Englishman. Loyalties were personal. This was true at both the top of society, and at the bottom. Peasants had no notion of a nation-state, and kings considered their kingdoms to be their own personal property, which they could and did dispose of at will, as was demonstrated by Charlemagne who intended to give each of his three sons a large portion of his empire, rather than keeping it together as any modern ruler would. No President of the United States has ever, to my knowledge, had even the slightest thought of dividing the country amongst his children, giving a few states to each one. The United States is an entity that exists apart from its rulers. Political organizations during most of the Middle Ages did not exist apart from their rulers. Because of all this, a medieval person could not be patriotic. Before going on, I want to mention that the situation explained in this paragraph began to change well before the Middle Ages ended. The Kings of England and France began to practice primogeniture around the year 1100. By primogeniture, they would pass their entire kingdom on to their eldest son, thereby keeping it together. This practice led to the creation of the first nation-states in Western Europe - England and France - which inspired real patriotism during the Hundred Years War of 1337 to 1453. So patriotism began during the Middle Ages, but not until near the end, so it was not really Medieval, and so John Wayne would be out of place had he lived then.

Last, and of least importance, John Wayne was physically big - over six feet tall. There were some Medieval men, especially among the Germans, who were over six feet tall, but most people back them were well under six feet tall. The average height for a male was a few inches shorter then than it is now, so John Wayne would have been unusual because of his height, but not entirely extraordinary.

So, as far as this web page is concerned, John Wayne is a symbol of what medieval man was not.

Before I finish this, I point to the fact that I have equated Roman Catholicism with the Middle Ages. Some, for example Thomas Cahill in his book Mysteries of the Middle Ages, claim that because the Middle Ages happened before the split between Catholics and Protestants, the Christian Church was therefore neither Catholic nor Protestant. According to him, the Christian Church at that time contained elements of what after Martin Luther would eventually be found only in Protestant churches. In the Middle Ages, for example, the Christian Church was not as unified as it became early in the modern period, and so much diversity was allowed. I disagree with Cahill on this point. The Christian Church was not as unified then as it later became, but that was because technology was primitive and therefore communication was difficult. Christians in Ireland had different practices than Christians in Italy, but that was not because they believed differently, rather it was because they lived far apart, without much contact, and so their customs developed differently. What is more, though there was some divergence between people in one region and people in another, it seems that almost all of the people in the same region held the same beliefs. In modern times, which began with two events: the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and the Beginning of the Protestant Reformation caused by Martin Luther, individuals hold religious beliefs that are different from those of their neighbors and even their own family members. John Wayne is the perfect example: he was Protestant, but he married Roman Catholic women and sent his children to Catholic schools. People in the Middle Ages did not do such things. So I would say that the Middle Ages in Western Europe were Roman Catholic. If you disagree with me, then please write a comment.