The Martin Marprelate Controversy
The Martin Marprelate Controversy
The late 1580s witnessed the publication of numerous pamphlets both in condemnation and in defense of the Church of England. As tensions rose, so did the charges of blasphemy and treason, resulting in censure of many strident reformers. The appearance of a number of Puritan tracts, critical of the Anglican Church and Archbishop John Whitgift, written between 1588 and 1589 under the pseudonym Martin Marprelate, generated a scandal throughout the country. This controversy led to the arrest and torture of several writers and the growth of a large “anti-Martinist” faction.
The true identity of Martin Marprelate remains unknown. The tracts are known to have been a collective effort by over twenty publishers and radicals, but authorship is still an issue of some contention. For many years, John Penry of Wales was thought to be the author, but he has since been identified as the supervisor of the publications. He likely had a significant influence in the tracts' Presbyterian assertions, however, and receives credit for coordination of the operation. Most modern scholars agree that the Marprelate tracts are probably the work of Job Throckmorton, a member of Parliament and an eminent Puritan activist and writer. The printing was performed by Robert Waldegrave and John Hodgkins in various locations throughout the country, as authorities pursued the alleged criminals. In August of 1589 the producers were finally apprehended near Manchester, where all were arrested on charges of treason and tortured until all accomplices were betrayed. Throckmorton was arraigned for treason, but was released on a technicality, and those who had allowed the works to be printed in their residences were heavily fined. Penry, initially escaping authorities, continued publication until 1592, when he was finally captured and hanged as an enemy of the State.
The first Marprelate work, known as the Epistle, appeared in October of 1588 at Molesey in response to A Defence of the Government established in the Church of England, by John Bridges, the dean of Salisbury. Although at first glance its satire is personally targeting Bridges, it is actually aimed at the entire Episcopal office and includes individual assaults on and gossip about specific bishops. The rapidly ensuing Epitome (published November 1588) continued in this vein, further insulting Bridges as well as the bishop of London, but establishing a less frivolous tone. The Marprelate pamphlets incited a reply from Thomas Cooper, the bishop of Winchester. In An Admonition to the People of England Cooper dryly disputes points made in the Epistle. However, its tedium only sparked Marprelate's subsequent retort in Certaine Minerall and Metaphisicall Schoolpointes (February 1589). In a parody of Cooper, Marprelate organized his argument into thirty-seven points, wittily treating issues from theology to taboo scandals. This was only a provisional work, however, intended to provide an immediate reply to Cooper before a more refined statement could be written and issued. In March of 1589 Marprelate published Hay any worke for Cooper, defending both his Presbyterian contentions as well as the use of satire as an appropriate form of literature for his arguments. As the Church became increasingly incensed, it secretly commissioned contemporaries John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, and Robert Greene, among others, to respond to these tracts. They produced Pappe with an Hatchet, An Almond for a Parral, and various anti-Martinist plays and shows. Undeterred, on 22 July 1589 Marprelate issued Theses Martinianae, a compilation of over one hundred beliefs and criticisms—ostensibly a stray work of Martin's published by his younger son, Martin Junior. Nine days later The just censure and reproofe of Martin junior was printed, in which Martin's elder son, Martin Senior, scolds his younger brother for publishing their father's miscellaneous work. This was the last publication of Marprelate before the company's apprehension, at which time the incomplete More worke for Cooper was destroyed. However, before their subsequent arrests, Throckmorton and Penry issued their last pamphlet, the The protestatyon of Martin Marprelat (September 1589), in which they evaluate the endeavors of Martin Marprelate, summarize the manuscript of More worke for Cooper, and decreed that “Martinism” would not terminate with the end of their tracts.
In its era, the Martin Marprelate scandal was one of the most significant rebellions against the Church of England. It suggested that restrictions on free speech could simply not restrain the voice of dissent, and made a mockery of not only the Church, but more personally its bishops. Bureaucrats in particular worried that Marprelate's “dangerous example” might, as Lord Burghley wrote, “encourage private men … to subvert all other kinds of government under Her Majesty's charge, both in the church and common weale.” The Marprelate tracts' stylistic attributes and satiric approach also embraced a sense of wit and disregard for conventions that astonished contemporaries. Even in the Church-sponsored venture to combat Marprelate's work, Lyly, Nashe, and Greene were hired specifically to mimic Martinist satire so that they might appeal to Marprelate's audience. Scholars have further noted that the authors' imitation of Marprelate did not end upon completion of their contracted work, but permanently influenced the artistic development of each writer. Today Marprelate's work is considered to be among the best English satire produced in the sixteenth century. While most of the analyses written in the last century focus on ascertaining verifiable authorship of the tracts, the recognition of Martin Marprelate as one of the most influential rebels of the Elizabethan era is undisputed.
Oh read ouer D. Iohn Bridges / for it is a worthy worke: Or an epitome of the fyrste Booke / of that right Worshipfull volume / written against the Puritanes / in the defence of the noble cleargie / by as worshipfull a prieste / Iohn Bridges / Presbyter / Priest or elder / doctor of Diuillitie / and Deane of Sarum. Wherein the arguments of the puritans are wisely prevented / that when they come to answere M. Doctor / they must needes say something that hath bene spoken. Compiled for the behoofe and overthrow of the Parsous / Fyckers / and Currats / that have lernt their Catechismes / and are past grace: By the reverend and worthie Martin Marprelate gentleman / and dedicated to the Confocationhouse. The Epitome is not yet published / but it shall be when the Bishops are at conuenient leysure to view the same. In the meane time / let them be content with this learned Epistle. [The Epistle] (satire) October 1588
Oh read ouer D. Iohn Bridges / for it is worthy worke: Or an epitome of the fyrste Booke / of that right Worshipfull volume / written against the Puritanes / in the defence of the noble cleargie / by as worshipfull a prieste / Iohn Bridges / Presbyter / Priest or elder / doctor of Diuillitie / and Deane of Sarum. Wherein the arguments of the puritans are wisely prevented / that when they come to answere M. Doctor / they must needes say some thing that hath bene spoken Compiled for the behoofe and overthrow of the...
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SOURCE: Arber, Edward. “The Origin of This Controversy.” In An Introductory Sketch to the Martin Marprelate Controversy, 1588-1590, edited by Edward Arber, pp. 55-75. London: English Scholar's Library of Old and Modern Works, 1879.
[In the following essay, Arber reprints a representative portion of the writings of John Penry, as well as some of the Marprelate texts, making a stylistic argument for Penry's direction of the controversial works.]
So far as it can be traced to any precise words or acts, the Martin Marprelate Controversy arose out of the following printed words which were published on or about the 1st March, 1587. Speaking on behalf of the Welsh nation, John Penry urges—
For what will our children that rise after vs and their children say, when they shal be brought vp in grosse superstition, but that it was not Queene Elizabethes will, that we their Parentes should haue that true religion she professed, made knowen vnto vs. Will not the enemies of Gods truth with vncleane mouthes auouch that shee had little regarde vnto true or false religion anie further than it belonged vnto hir profite? I would some of them did not slaunderously cast abroade amongst our people, that she careth not whether the gospel be preached or not preached. If she did wee also shoulde bee most sure to enioy it after twenty eight yeares and...
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SOURCE: Anselment, Raymond A. “Rhetoric and the Dramatic Satire of Martin Marprelate.” Studies in English Literature 10, no. 1 (winter 1970): 103-20.
[In the following essay, Anselment examines Marprelate's treatment of rhetoric in the tracts.]
In defining the illusive qualities which constitute the uniqueness of Martin Marprelate's satire, critics have stressed its affinity with theatrical tradition. Contemporary Elizabethans, irately opposed to Martin's blasphemous disregard for conventional methods of religious disputation, condemned him as a “stage plaier” whose behavior seemed a deliberate imitation of the popular jester Richard Tarlton.1 Modern scholars, now acknowledging Martin among the first great English prose satirists, still emphasize his theatrical associations; Martin remains for them a disciple of Dick Tarlton, a “comic monologist” who “contrives to make the printed page produce comic effects that are theatrical in nature.”2 These conclusions provide valuable bases for analyzing the dramatic nature of Marprelate's satire, but they tend to minimize an obvious and fundamental influence. Despite its kinship with the theater, Marprelate's informing vision is directly indebted to rhetoric.3 Indeed much of Martin's uniqueness and significance depends upon his adaptation of a well-established rhetorical tradition as both a source of direction and...
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SOURCE: Carlson, Leland H. “Martin Marprelate: His Identity and His Satire.” In English Satire: Papers Read at a Clark Library Seminar, January 15, 1972, pp. 3-42. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1972.
[In the following lecture, Carlson provides an overview of the Marprelate tracts, reviewing the conclusions of previous scholars and assessing the plausibility of sixteen candidates as the author of the works.]
The mystery of Martin Marprelate's identity has persisted for almost four hundred years. It goes back to October, 1588, just three months after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Although Martin's satire is well known, his identity remains an enigma, since he used the pseudonyms of Martin Marprelate, Martin Junior, and Martin Senior. Pseudonymous and anonymous works are exceedingly numerous, as I discovered in consulting the nine volumes of Halkett and Laing, where I found approximately 66,500 entries. There are many good reasons why people use pseudonyms, but Martin Marprelate did so for the simple reason that he did not enjoy the air in the Clink.
The Marprelate problem has been studied more or less carefully by some twenty-five scholars. Dean Matthew Sutcliffe published the best book on the subject in 1595.1 In the seventeenth century George Paule, William Camden, Thomas Fuller, and Peter Heylin briefly discussed the subject. In the eighteenth...
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SOURCE: Kendall, Ritchie D. “Martin Marprelate: Syllogistic Laughter.” In The Drama of Dissent: The Radical Poetics of Nonconformity, 1380-1590, pp. 173-212. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
[In the following essay, Kendall compares Marprelate's nonconformist approach to religious literature to that of Thomas Cartwright and others. He also explores the author's use of a persona, notes his fervent religious conviction, and discusses his identity.]
Robert Codrington, the seventeenth-century biographer of the earl of Essex, records a now-famous encounter between that aspiring young courtier and his volatile sovereign.1 Elizabeth, so the story goes, was excoriating the libelous attacks of Martin Marprelate upon her bishops before certain members of the court. Among her audience was Essex. Observing the queen's displeasure with the unknown satirist and reminded of the prohibition against his work, Essex is said to have plucked the offending volume from beneath his robes, exclaiming in mock terror, “Why, then, what will become of me?” The incident, if true, would seem to substantiate the extravagant claims Marprelate himself made for his popularity among the English nobility. “I have been entertained at the Court,” he writes in his second satire. “Every man talks of my Worship. Many would gladly receive my books, if they could tell where to find...
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SOURCE: Black, Joseph. “The Rhetoric of Reaction: The Martin Marprelate Tracts (1588-89), Anti-Martinism, and the Uses of Print in Early Modern England.” Sixteenth Century Journal 28, no. 3 (fall 1997): 707-25.
[In the following essay, Black explores the negative reaction resulting from the breach of religious and political norms by the Marprelate tracts.]
On November 15, 1588, the antiquary Francis Thynne wrote Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister, to lobby for a position in the College of Arms. His letter is ostentatiously allusive, a rhetorical display designed to prove himself fit for office. Unfortunately for Thynne, the theme he is best able to embroider is that of bad luck and missed opportunity: “Your Lordship may suppose,” he begins, “that I have muche idle tyme and litle wisdome, to write so often & spede so seldome.”1 Thynne had “knockt to late” to be considered for several positions recently available in the College,2 so in the spirit of disinterested public service he brings to Burghley's attention the sorry state of heraldry in general and the shortcomings of the college's current officers in particular. Employing occupatio for the purpose, he prefaces a litany of incompetence with the disclaimer that he “will not Anotomyze every perticular default of everye manne and matter in that office. (Lest I might be counted one of thee...
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SOURCE: Griffin, Benjamin. “Marring and Mending: Treacherous Likeness in Two Renaissance Controversies.” The Huntington Library Quarterly 60, no. 4 (1999): 363-80.
[In the following essay, Griffin examines the Marprelate controversy from the anti-Martinist side and explores the similar “Oldcastle controversy.” Then he analyzes the development of Marprelate's persona as a method of partially averting social condemnation.]
Give losers leave to speak” is a proverb going back to the sixteenth century. In this essay I want to discuss two literary controversies of that century, paying attention to the way the losers speak. In controversies, attention generally focuses on the winners: we read Martin Marprelate much more readily than Mar-Marprelate, 1 Henry IV in preference to 1 Sir John Oldcastle; and of course the list could be extended: Nashe rather than Harvey, Pope rather than Theobald. We are assisted in this by the incorporation of the “victorious” works into a canon; but we need not see the canon as being created by an abstract and external power. Part of the debate is carried on internally, as the works themselves maneuver to exclude, to deprive, to push their way in. Here I intend to trace the intricate mechanics of literary quarrel in the Marprelate controversy of 1588-90 and in the “Oldcastle controversy” that erupted after the production of Shakespeare's 1 Henry...
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Anselment, Raymond A. “The Marprelate Tracts.” In ‘Betwixt Jest and Earnest’: Marprelate, Milton, Marvell, Swift & The Decorum of Religious Ridicule, pp. 33-60. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.
A commentary on the satirical nature of the Marprelate tracts.
Arber, Edward. “An Introductory Sketch to the Martin Marprelate Controversy.” In An Introductory Sketch to the Martin Marprelate Controversy, 1588-1590, edited by Edward Arber, pp. 21-35. London: English Scholar's Library of Old and Modern Works, 1879.
Provides background information on the conflict, including extracts from relevant documents and lists of Puritan objections.
Baldwin, T. W. “Errors and Marprelate.” In Studies in Honor of DeWitt T. Starnes, edited by Thomas P. Harrison, Archibald A. Hill, Ernest C. Mossner, and James Sledd, pp. 9-24. Austin, Texas: Humanities Research Center, 1967.
Detects two jests in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors that are aimed at Martin Marprelate.
Carlson, Leland H. Martin Marprelate, Gentleman: Master Job Throkmorton Laid Pen in His Colors. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1981, 445 p.
Makes the case for Job Throckmorton's authorship of the Marprelate tracts.
Coolidge, John S....
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