The Religious Politics of Hellsing Ultimate
Hellsing Ultimate is Japan’s take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Set in London in the 90’s, the OVA series follows Abraham Van Helsing’s descendant, Sir Integra, and her vampire servant, Alucard, as they fight threats to the Hellsing Organization and England. The main villains are the Nazi group Millenium, led by the war-crazy Major. However, there is also a conflict between the Protestant Hellsings and Catholic Iscariot Organization.
Obviously, Hellsing Ultimate takes some liberties in portraying both the Catholics and Protestants. However, the OVA throws in enough references to religious history that make it somewhat accurate. It would probably be a good idea to go over the history of Protestantism in England.
Hellsing Ultimate portrays the Catholics as incredibly hostile towards the Protestants. However, for much of England’s history, the roles were reversed. England remained part of the Catholic Church until 1534, after Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry VIII an annulment for his first marriage. The infuriated king proclaimed the Act of Supremacy, making himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Church and government officials were ordered to take the Oath of Supremacy or face execution.
When Mary I ascended to the throne in 1553, she repealed the Act of Supremacy. Simultaneously, she gained a reputation (and the nickname “Bloody Mary”) for persecuting Protestants. Her pro-Catholic policies were reversed by Elizabeth I; under her rule, priests were hunted, Mass was banned, and people were tortured and killed. Situations worsened following the Gunpowder Plot, an assassination attempt on King James I in 1605 by several Catholics. The men were killed, and the Popish Recusants Act introduced another oath of allegiance, besides forbidding Catholics from holding positions as lawyers, physicians, and government trustees.
When Charles I became King, he was more lenient towards High Anglicans, ringing alarm bells for Protestants (especially Puritans). His preference for making decisions without consulting his subjects didn’t help matters. Things came to a head, culminating in the English Civil War (1642-51) between the “Roundheads” (Parliamentarians) and the “Cavaliers” (Royalists). Charles I was eventually captured, tried, and executed for high treason in 1649. He was succeeded by Oliver Cromwell, who was a dedicated Puritan and ruthless towards Catholics (more on him later). The British government gradually became more lenient towards non-Church of England Protestants, but Catholics were still under persecution until the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829.
So, the anti-Catholic sentiment held by Integra Hellsing and the anti-Protestant sentiment held by Anderson and Maxwell are not far off from what actually permeated the air in the 16th to 19th centuries, although it feels somewhat exaggerated for the 90’s.
The first confrontation between Alucard and Father Anderson takes place in the fictional town of Badrick, Northern Ireland. It is a fitting setting for a clash between the vampire and paladin, as Northern Ireland (and Ireland) have both been the centres of religious conflict. Before discussing Northern Ireland specifically, it would be best to talk about Oliver Cromwell, as it was through him that Protestantism really took hold in Ireland (and since Alucard uses the Cromwell Invocation when he fights with his vampiric powers).
Oliver Cromwell ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to 1658. A strict Puritan, he instated laws prohibiting partying, brightly colored clothing, and even Christmas celebrations. Following England’s Civil War, Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 in order to settle the chaos there. The Irish Catholics, angered by attempts to impose Protestant laws on them (and English settlers arriving to claim their land), had been in a state of rebellion for eight years. About 3000 Protestants had been killed and many settlers had returned to England.
Cromwell’s campaign lasted from August 15, 1649 to May 26, 1650. Many towns and villages were seized by the English, and much of the land was later confiscated by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland (1562). Cromwell was particularly known for his cruelty on two separate occasions, during the Siege of Drogheda and his attack on Wexford. On both occasions, both soldiers and civilians were killed, some even after surrendering. Needless to say, Cromwell remains a controversial figure in history.
Ireland was resettled by many English settlers, particularly in the northern country of Ulster. After the Act of Union in 1801, the Catholics started calling for more independence, which was supposedly granted to them in 1920. However, Ulster and other counties remained under England due to the majority of Protestants. The hostilities between the Protestants and Catholics spilled over into the Troubles (1960s-1998), with casualties on both sides. The Troubles ended with the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, and Northern Ireland has remained part of the United Kingdom ever since. Interestingly enough, some polls suggest that Northern Ireland will lose the Protestant majority, due to a rise in both the number of Catholics and atheists.
Catholics and Nazis in World War II
The third episode of Hellsing Ultimate introduces Enrico Maxwell, a scheming bishop (later archbishop) hell-bent on exterminating Hellsing. In one scene, Maxwell interrogates a priest who lived through World War II, accusing him of aiding Nazis in exchange for being turned into a vampire. He specifically names the ratlines that led to Argentina.
It is important to remember that, regardless of religion, it was usually one’s ethnicity or political loyalties that determined a person’s actions during the War. And since the Catholic Church is spread over many countries and nationalities, it is not surprising that there were as many people who supported the Nazis as there were who fought them.
The Catholic Church’s involvement in the Second World War was and remains a thorny issue. Officially, the Church maintained neutrality (partly to safeguard the Catholics in Germany); behind the scenes, however, was chaos. Many Church figures acted against the Nazis, denouncing their policies in Sunday sermons and hiding both baptized and unbaptized Jews. The Vatican’s neutral zone proved instrumental for smuggling both Allied troops and Jews to safety.
Others, however, tried to negotiate peace between the Church and the Nazis in order to stop the spread of Socialism. Alois Hudal went one step further, praising Nazi policies in his book The Foundations of National Socialism and caring for Nazi POWs. He was influential in helping to set up the ratlines, which were escape routes used by Nazis to flee from Europe. Argentina was only one of several different countries in South America that became Nazi “hot spots”. Hudal was later found out and banned from Rome, living the rest of his days outside the city.
Hellsing Ultimate’s Papal Army is composed of several religious orders. Four are based on actual orders that existed in medieval times, the exception being the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword (from the Indiana Jones franchise). Hellsing’s Knights also look less like priests and more like Klu Klux Klan members with their white outfits and pointed hats. This is highly ironic, as the Klu Klux Klan is anti-Catholic.
The Iscariot Organization, the Vatican’s secret organization and rival to the Hellsings, is also partly based on an actual group. There are unconfirmed rumours that the Vatican at one time had a secret intelligence service, called alternately the Entity and the Holy Alliance. The Paladins, led by Anderson, might be based off the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The Iscariots share similarities with the Jesuits: they are fearless, willing to risk death to carry out their mission. They are zealous for the Catholic Faith, citing Scripture while hacking at ghouls and vampires. They are especially vehement about protecting the Church from heathens and nonbelievers – which includes Hellsing, since both Maxwell and Anderson see the organization and the monsters it is fighting as one and the same.
Things have changed, however, since the 16th century. In the spirit of Ecumenism, both Protestants and Catholics are trying to sort out their differences and heal the divide. Ever since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), there has been more dialogue between Catholics and Protestant. Marriages between Catholics and Protestants are now allowed, and priests from both churches can now come together and celebrate liturgy. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was also established during Vatican II, with separate commissions for Muslims and Jews, aimed at inter religious dialogue with other faith communities.
Relations between real-world Catholics and Protestants may be warmer now than the uneasy truce between the Iscariots and Hellsings at the end of Hellsing Ultimate, but there still is a ways to go. And with new generations untouched by Catholic/Protestant prejudice or violence, it will only get easier.
Kiprop, Victor. “Religion Demographics of Northern Ireland.” WorldAtlas, Apr. 16, 2019, worldatlas.com/articles/religion-demographics-of-northern-ireland.html.
McIlvenna, Una. “What Inspired Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary’s Gruesome Nickname?” History, Oct. 25, 2018, https://www.history.com/news/queen-mary-i-bloody-mary-reformation.
Wikipedia contributors. “Alois Hudal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Nov. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alois_Hudal.
Wikipedia contributors. “Acts of Supremacy.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Nov. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Supremacy.
Wikipedia contributors. “Popish Recusants Act 1605.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Apr. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popish_Recusants_Act_1605.
Wikipedia contributors. “Charles I of England.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Nov. 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_I_of_England.
“Cromwell in Ireland”. The Cromwell Association, http://www.olivercromwell.org/wordpress/?page_id=1837
“Northern Ireland: A brief background to the conflict”. Passage, https://passage-new.cappelendamm.no/c453153/artikkel/vis.html?tid=498532
“Iscariot (Section XIII)”. Hellsing Wiki, https://hellsing.fandom.com/wiki/Iscariot_(Vatican_Section_XIII)
“Papal Knights”. Hellsing Wiki, https://hellsing.fandom.com/wiki/Papal_Knights
What do you think? Leave a comment.