The Marprelate Controversy, Part II

I know you’ve all spent the past week wondering who was involved in the Martin Marprelate controversy and whatever became of them all? You’ll be relieved to know that I intend to answer those questions here and now, in an essay that has mushroomed beyond all reason. Warning: this puppy is LONG. (Here’s part I, in case you missed it.)

Martin’s minions

At least 23 persons were involved in the production of Martin’s works, ranging in social statusPress1520 from a knight to a cobbler.

John Penry

The only person to hang in the aftermath of the Marprelate controversy was John Penry, whom Wikipedia calls a Welsh martyr. He was hanged for religious reasons, so I guess he qualifies. He discovered radical Protestantism at Cambridge, like so many others, and devoted his life to that cause. He wrote a few radical tracts prior to these events, including A Treatise Containing the Aequity of an Humble Supplication Which Is to Be Exhibited unto Hir Gracious Majesty and This High Court of Parliament in the Behalfe of the Countrey of Wales, That Some Order May Be Taken for the Preaching of the Gospell among Those People. (Whew!)

That book was considered so dangerous that all 500 copies were confiscated, Penry was tried by the Court of High Commission, and committed to the Gatehouse Prison for a month. He was characterized as an Enemy of the State, which he resented enough to push harder. He is generally regarded as the “business manager” of Martin’s works, recruiting the printers, helping find hiding places for them and their presses, and running materials back and forth.

When the archbishop turned up the heat in autumn, 1588, Penry scarpered off to Scotland, but his whereabouts were known. Lord Burghley pressured King James to banish him, if he couldn’t bring himself to extradite the man to England. Penry had influential supporters in Scotland too, pushing back against Burghley’s demands. The Puritan cause was overtly and covertly supported by many men and women in high places in both countries.

Finally, in August, 1589, Penry was banished from Scotland. He left his wife in Edinburgh and fled all the way to the outskirts of that fair city, where apparently he lurked and continued to write. Such was law enforcement in those days! He could have lived quietly until the fuss died down and led a long, comfortable life, but ideologues seldom choose that path. Penry was drawn back to England in 1591 by the arrest of some especially incompentent Puritan conspirators. Then back to Scotland for the birth of a daughter, appropriately named Safety. Then back again to London to rouse some rabble in Islington with the London Separatists, where he was finally caught by the authorities. He was tried, sentenced, and executed with astounding dispatch, being hanged on 29 May, 1591, at St. Thomas a Watering in Southwark.

Printers & other helpers

edinburghRobert Waldegrave, assisted by Henry Kildale, printed Martin’s Epitome in East Molesley, the Epistle in Northamptonshire, and the Mineralls and Hay Any Work for a Cooper in Coventry. Then things got too hot for the hot-headed Waldegrave, who fled to La Rochelle in France, where he continued to print radical works by Penry and Throckmorton. He then moved to Edinburgh, where he kept right on going. The English complained, but the Scots replied that Waldegrave had promised to stop printing the offensive materials, assuring Lord Burghley that the printer “was very sorry for his faults.” Besides, Scotland really needed a skilled printer; an interesting side view of the whole matter. Waldegrave lived another 13 years in Scotland, printing some 120 books. A productive life.

John Hodgskins was the next of Martin’s printers. He printed Martin Junior and Martin Senior in Wolston, Warwickshire. He and his team were captured after moving to Manchester and setting up there to print More Work for An Cooper. They were caught in August, 1589. Hodgskins spent 10 months in the Tower and was then moved to Marshalsea. In spring 1591, he was tried at the court of the Queen’s Bench for printing a book which contained “a malicious intent against the queen” in violation of statute law. Hodgskins denied that the Martinist works contained any such malice towards Her Majesty. He was judged guilty of felony, but solemn persons argued in his favor and he received the queen’s mercy in 1593 and was released.

Hodgskins’ assistants were Valentine Symmes & Arthur Thomlyn. We’ll leave Thomlyn in obscurity, but Symmes deserves a story of his own. If I were a devout Presbyterian looking for a protagonist for an historical novel, I’d pick Symmes and do the inside story of Martin Marprelate.

Valentine Symmes

Symmes proofread Martins Jr. and Sr. He was an employee of Hodgskins and testified “fully and freely,” so he wasn’t arraigned. He might have been tortured to get that information. It was a common method of eliciting testimony from accomplices in those days. I’ve written about the uses of torture in this period before.type

By 1594, he was back in business as a printer, but in constant trouble with his guild, the Stationers Company, for the next nineteen years. Carlson describes minor infractions, such as “breaking order” and “printing a thing disorderly.” Symmes pirated a popular grammar, of all things, infringing on the profits of the original publishers (not the authors, they get squat). For that, he was ordered to bring his press to the Stationers Hall and his type was melted. Yow!

Then in 1599, in a delicious irony, he printed a book by Thomas Nashe, one of the most memorable anti-Martinist pamphleteers — Nashe’s Lenten Stuff. Nashe must have known of his publisher’s history. But this book, along with a few others, was deemed so offensive by the archbishop that he forbade all printing of satires, epigrams, and plays without authorization of the Church. Further, all works by Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey (Nashe’s favorite verbal opponent) were to be seized and none of their works printed hereafter. 

A traditional bookbinder.

If, like me, you’re now dying to read it, you can: Nashe’s Lenten Stuff. Warning: it’s pretty weird, but after several seconds of assiduous skimming, I haven’t noticed anything offensive.

How about that Valentine Symmes! He’s less of an ideologue, like Penry and Throckmorton, and more of a guy who just likes challenging the authorities. You’d think the authorities would find a way to imprison him, but no, he lives free in the city of London. He was fined on a semi-annual basis for some disorderly production or other, some of his books being burned by the High Commission. He was barred from printing altogether from 1608-1610.

None of that seems to have slowed him down. Between 1594-1612, he printed at least 164 books, about 9/year, including a folio edition of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays. He printed works by many authors, including Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare, and yet he doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia page! I really need to get this guy into my series somehow.

Minor players

Minor players were the bookbinder, Henry Sharpe and the many who helped distribute the finished books: Humphrey Newman,a cobbler in the employ of Job Throckmorton, John Penry, Mrs. Waldegrave, Henry Sharpe, John Bowman, and Augustin Maicocke. Richard Holmes & Mr. Grimston of Northampton transported paper, ink, type, and equipment.


Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire was the highest ranked of Martin’s supporters. His second wife was the daughter of Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of his nephew, King Edward VI. Credentials! Sir Richard fathered twenty children, between his first and second wives. What became of that crowd is not recorded. He was a prominent member of the Puritan party in Parliament, so there would have been little surprise when he was revealed as providing room on his estate for Waldegrave and company to print Martin’s works. 

An engraving of the Star Chamber, 1873.

John Hales, Sir Richard’s nephew, was persuaded to find a safe house in Coventry for Waldegrave’s press.

Mr. and Mrs. Roger Wigston hid the second press team, led by Hodgskins, in their house in Wolston, Warwickshire.

These four were arrested after the press was discovered in Manchester and arraigned together before the Court of the Star Chamber. Sir Richard and his nephew claimed to have had no idea what sort of things were being printed in their houses, denying all knowledge of Martin Marprelate and rejecting all idea that they in any way intended any malice towards the queen. They got off with a few months in prison (Carlson doesn’t say which ones) and stiff fines: Sir Richard had to cough up L2,000, while his nephew paid 1,000 marks (L666 13s. 4d.)

Mrs. Wigston is my favorite of the Harborers. She “readily confessed that her zeal for the reformation in God’s church” motivated her involvement, but claimed that her husband didn’t know anything about it, being “neither over curious nor meddlesome.” The couple spent some beanstime in prison. He was fined L333 and she was fined L1,000, telling us that the court knew perfectly who wore the Puritan pants in that family.

Another woman committed to the cause was Mrs Elizabeth Crane, who hosted Waldegrave and company in her home in East Molesley, Surrey. This is near Hampton Court palace. She refused to take an oath or consult a lawyer or cooperate in any way with her trial. She spent time in prison and was fined L666 for contempt of court and another L500 for harboring Martin’s press.

Her servant, Nicholas Tomkins, spilled the beans about the press in her house. We don’t know what motivated him to betray his mistress. Fear of the authorities? Or something more personal? In an Agatha Christie story, he would turn out to be her unrecognized nephew, son of the brother she cruelly thwarted, driving him to an early death and thus impoverishing his widow and children.

Martin’s Mirrors

When Martin Marprelate looked in the mirror, who did he or she (or they) see? Over the nearly four hundred years since the last of Martin’s works, The Protestatyon, was published in October, 1589, some 22 candidates have been proposed. None of those candidates were women, which is ridiculous when you think about it.

Women wrote religious works; it’s one of the few genres they were allowed to create non-lady-hobys-diaryanonymously. Lady Anne Bacon was renowned in Calvinist circles on the Continent for her translations of religious works. Her sister, Lady Elizabeth Russell, wrote poetry, among other things. Devout ladies like Margaret Hoby kept diaries of their religious activities. These weren’t published in their day, but the historians dickering over Martin’s identity knew about them. Still, not one ever suggested Martin might have been a woman. That sort of blindness simply cries out for a novel, in my mental universe.

One of the first suspects to be interrogated was Giles Wigginton, a cantakerous former Cambridge scholar and lifelong thorn in Archbishop Whitgift’s side. Wiggy had been in and out of jail for seditious preaching for many years. He was arrested in December, 1588, and brought to Lambeth Palace by boat. During the journey, he lectured his captor, Anthony Munday, at length for serving on the wrong side. He continued that attitude throughout his interrogation. Carlson describes his behavior as “evasive, obdurate, saucy, insinuating, or silent.” He scolded the archbishop for trying a simple man for something great lords and ladies did with impunity (owning a copy of Martin’s works.) Wigginton was committed to the Gatehouse prison for some long period of time.

John Udall was also suspected in his time, thanks to his religious writings and prior acts of rebellion. He was arrested in January, 1589, and tried as the putative author of the Demonstration of Discipline, which was said to reveal a malicious intent against the queen. Unfortunately, none of the witnesses could be rounded up to testify. The jury decided he was guilty anyway (which he was), but he wasn’t sentenced for over a year, during which he lived in the Gatehouse Prison and wrote numerous letters to people like Sir Walter Raleigh, seeking aid in persuading Her Majesty to offer clemency. Some merchants among his supporters came up with a scheme in which Udall would go serve their purposes in Guinea or Syria, not returning until the queen allowed it. What an offer! He didn’t get the chance to try that route, because he died in prison in 1593.

Henry Barrow and John Greenwood.Stained glass windows in Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, England

John Penry was the odd’s-on favorite in his day. I discussed him above. Carlson rules him out on rhetorical grounds. Penry was evidently a plodding writer, incapable of Martin’s sparkling with.

Several known clergymen known to be Puritans were proposed by someone over the course of the controversy, including Walter Travers and Thomas Cartwright. Less serious suspects were prominent men like the Earl of Essex and Robert Cecil, son of the Lord Treasurer. The Lord Treasurer’s chief secretary, Michael Hickes, was also suspected by some historians. A strong case was made for Henry Barrow, another very hot Puritan with a quick quill. He would have to have been exceedingly clever to pull Martin off, since he was imprisoned in the Fleet during the whole period in question.

Carlson makes the best case for his candidate, Job Throckmorton. The Throckmortons, whose principal estate is Coughton Court in Warwickshire, were a family of religious extremists. The ones who lived in the grand house were Catholics. Job’s father Clement was a moderate Protestant. His uncle, Sir Nicholas, was one of Queen Elizabeth’s diplomats. OK, neither Clement nor Nick was particularly extreme.

Job, however, was one of the leading Puritans. One of the precipitating events of the Marprelate affair was his speech to Parliament in 1587 criticizing Her Majesty’s policies regarding the fully Protestant Low Countries. He also cast aspersions on King James of Scotland, which cause the English authorities to try to arrest him. He fled and started writing anonymous diatribes. Well, this is what you do, isn’t it? He fled to his sister’s house in Hillingdon, near Uxbridge, which now is in West London and has a tube stop. Handy when you can flee with your Oyster card!

This is what grabs me about this conflict: how easy it was to flee and hide a press and print whatever you like and distribute widely, even with the full power of the government on your trail. These people weren’t afraid of their government either, or not much, in spite of spending time in horrible prisons (less horrible with friends to provide comforts) and being interrogated. Lesser folk might be tortured to get them to betray their co-conspirators, but that wasn’t really very common and was mainly used for those suspected of collaborating with the Jesuits. These radical Protestants seemed to be confident that they wouldn’t suffer much harm, even if they were caught.

Throckmorton must somehow have met with Penry and Hodgskins, each of whom had his own cause for disgruntlement, and come up with the scheme. If Throckmorton is Martin — the author — the main plot must have been his idea. “I have this idea for a book,” he must have said, “if you can figure out how to produce it.”

Throckmorton wrote other books, published openly under his name, during the Marprelate period, including the riveting The State of the Church of England Laid Open in a Conference betweene Diotrephes a Bishop, Tertullus a Papist, Demetrius an Usurer, Pandocheus an Inne-Keeper, and Paule a Preacher of the Worde of God, aka the Dialogue. Most of the first printing was confiscated and burned by the bishops, but this book enjoyed two further editions, in 1588 and 1593. 

I can’t see when he left his sister’s house to return to his own home in Haseley, Warwickshire to write some of Martin’s works in comfort. Hodgskins eventually implicated him and he was indicted in the summer of 1590 for “disgracing Her Majestie’s government and making certaine scornful and satyricall libells under the name of Martin.” He met this charge with legal adroitness which I am not going to detail, because I’m running out of steam. He’s a very well connected and well educated gentleman, comfortable with speaking and writing to those at the very top, including Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton.

He wasn’t arrested during this time, but came and went freely t London. He appeared in Westminster to answer the bill of indictment in 1591, Easter term, after mollifying everyone with his cleverly written letters. The queen extended her clemency, and he got off. When questioned, he said, “I am not Martin. I know not Martin.” He lived to the ripe old age of 56, dying, we suppose, of natural causes.

And so endeth the lesson.


Carlson, Leland H. 1981. Martin Marprelate, Gentleman: Master Job Throkmorton Laid Open in His Colors. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library.


The Marprelate Controversy, Part I

In late October of 1588, a stack of pamphlets by an individual named Martin Marprelate hit the London streets. The literati, which included merchants, skilled tradesmen and women, and the whole court of Queen Elizabeth I, were appalled, amused, vindicated, or outraged, depending on their position on the spectrum of Protestant religious politics. And not just the literate: these pamphlets were widely read in taverns, homes, and the back rooms of workshops. Elizabethans had a great appetite for religious works in general, and Martin’s were especially entertaining.

The first book was simply titled The Epistle. It launched a furious pamphlet war that lasted for a full year. But Martin — that wily renegade — remained anonymous during his lifetime. We’ll discuss the centuries-long debate about Martin’s identity next time.

I first read about the Marprelate Controversy a few years ago when I was researching Puritan conflicts for Death by Disputation. It piqued my interest because it reminded me of a blog war — the sort of furious exchange that flares up so easily on the Internet. And it involved that Master of Chaos, Thomas Nashe. And Francis Bacon wrote an advice paper about the controversy, one of his earliest preserved works. So I decided to make it the setting for the fourth Bacon mystery, Publish & Perish.

Strike and counter-strike

Martin’s Epistle was in most ways justone more blast in a long-running Battle of the Tracts. For p1-bridges-defenceexample, John Field and Thomas Wilcox published a Presbyterian manifesto in June 1572 titled An Admonition to the Parliament. Later that year, Job Throckmorton published a Second Admonition to the Parliament.

Both books attacked the Book of Common Prayer, vestments, prelates, and unlearned non-preaching clergy — the eternal targets of the religious left. These ardent Protestants wanted a complete Reformation: a church scrubbed clean of all traces of Catholicism. (I blogged about Protestants behaving badly back in 2015.)

John Whitgift, then Dean of Lincoln, responded with An Answere to a Certen Libel Intituled, An Admonition to the Parliament. Then John Cartwright, another Presbyterian, responded in 1573 with A Replye to an Answere Made of M. Doctor Whitgifte...

You get the drift. You’re half asleep already, I can see you nodding out there. So was everyone outside a very small circle of theological pedants and Presbyterian activists. Then Martin came along with his sprightly wit and his clever mockery and all  England sat up and started paying attention.

The immediate cause of the Marprelate controversy was the publication in 1587 of a large tome of 1,401 pages by John Bridges, dean of Salisbury, entitled, A Defense of the Government Established in the Church of Englande for Ecclesiasticall Matters. You can imagine how many people read that one.

I won’t type in the whole blurb on the front page shown here. It basically lists the previous works that it’s responding to, including everything by John Calvin, Thomas Beza, and all the other wild-eyed radicals who would replace the established church of England with a tetrarchy of doctors, pastors, governors, and deacons, who received their office through elections. We’re nodding and saying, “Uh-huh,” waiting for the radical part to happen, but for the Elizabethans, this was tantamount to turning the natural order of the universe on its head.

These 1400 pages were too much for Martin Marprelate. He set up a secret press in East Molesley (near Hampton Court) and got busy.

A Tiny Taste of Martin’s Madness

p1-martin-epistleIt’s very hard to find anything in the Epistle that doesn’t require a raft of footnotes. I’m just going to give you this for flavor and explain the barest minimum. You’re not going to race off to print up a counter-blast, so you can just enjoy it impressionistically.

This extract comes to us from the Oxford Shakespeare site, referenced below. It’s from somewhere near the start of the 47-page book.

“They are petty popes and petty Antichrists whosoever usurp the authority of pastors over them who, by the ordinance of God, are to be under no pastors. For none but antichristian popes and popelings ever claimed this authority unto themselves, especially when it was gainsaid and accounted antichristian generally by the most churches in the world for the most part. Therefore, our lord bishops (What sayest thou, man?) our lord bishops, I say – as John of Canterbury, Thomas of Winchester (I will spare John of London for this time, for it may be he is at bowls, and it is pity to trouble my good brother lest he should swear too bad), my reverend prelate of Lichfield M. Marprelate, you put more than the question in the conclusion of your syllogism. with the rest of that swinish rabble – are petty Antichrists, petty popes, proud prelates, intolerable withstanders of reformation, enemies of the Gospel, and most covetous wretched priests. This is a pretty matter, that standers-by must be so busy in other men’s games! Why, sauceboxes, must you be prattling? You are as mannerly as bishops (in meddling with that you have nothing to do) as they do in taking upon them civil offices!

(“At bowls” means bowling, not drinking ale from a bowl.)

You don’t need to know anything about Protestant politics to recognize the challenge in this passage. Nobody likes to be called a popeling! Try it on your friends if you don’t believe me. Swinish rabble is a solid insult even today. Saucebox is kind of cute to my ear. You could call me a pert little saucebox without earning my wrath. It may have been so in Martin’s time too.

This is Martin’s genius. He taunts and he teases, but most of all he pleases. Imagine how much fun this would be to read out loud to your fellow apprentices, stealing a break in the back of the shop or hanging out together after a hard day’s work at the local alehouse. Hilarity, with that oh-so-desirable edge of real danger, because the Epistle was banned.


I can type about as fast as I can read black letter, so I typed the front page shown here in modern English for your amusement.

“Oh [?] read over D. John Bridges / for it is a worthy work:

Or an epitome of the first book of that right worshipfull volume / written against the Puritans / in the defence of the noble clergy / by as worshipful a priest / John Bridges / Presbyter / Priest or elder / Doctor of Divinity / and Dean of Sarum. Wherein the arguments of the puritans are wisely presented / that when they come to answer Mr. Doctor / They must needs say something that hath been spoken.

Compiled for the behoof and overthrow of the Parsons, / Vicars, / and Curates / that have learned their Catechisms / and are past grace: By the reverend and worthy Martin Marprelate gentleman / and dedicated to the Convocation House.

The Epitome is not yet published / but it shall be when the Bishops are at convenient leisure to view the same. In the meantime / let them be content with this learned Epistle.

Printed overseas / in Europe / within two furlongs of a Bouncing Priest / at the cost and charges of M. Marprelate / gentleman.”

What’s the hubbub, bub?

Why did this cause such an uproar? Edward Arber sums it up thus: “[T]he Martinist attack was the Newwhip-for-ape School of young Radicals attacking the Old School of aged Conservatives.” The Bishops — the Old School — were too rigid to seek compromise, inflaming the controversy by their overly harsh attempts to suppress it.

It’s October, 1588. Elizabeth has been on the throne for 30 mostly peaceful years. The established church has been carving its middle path between Catholicism and Calvinism all this time, parish by parish, Sunday after Sunday. The English have just chased the mighty Spanish Armada into the North Sea, crippled and defeated. Hard-core Protestants believe the time is right for another major push against popery and its seductive trappings — incense, elaborate costumes and rituals, and worst of all, a hierarchy of semi-noble bishops. Out with them!

I don’t want to repeat my earlier blog, so I’ll just say the Puritans wanted purity. Everyone should read the Bible for themselves. Priests should be pastors of flocks, preachers of the Word, not ignorant repeaters of Latin mumbo-jumbo. Churches should be governed by parishes through elected councils of elders.

OK, you say. What’s wrong with that? Well, one thing leads to another, you know. If you let people choose their own priests and then their own church governors, next thing they’ll be clamoring to choose their own Sheriffs or even their own Members of Parliament. (Back then MPs were selected by the local gentry & nobility.) Once that starts happening, they’re going to want more. They’ll want to depose their God-given monarch and rule themselves. Revolution! Chaos! Disaster!

How not to put out a fire

thomas nashe
Thomas Nashe, from a pamphlet mocking him

By March of 1589, Martin had published 4 works: the Epistle, the Epitome, the Mineralls*, and Hay Any Work for Cooper? (Hay = Have you. Cooper = Thomas Cooper, Bishop of Winchester, who foolishly tried to silence Martin by admonishing him with still more snooze-worthy theology. Also, coopers make barrels.)

* A single-sheet broadside known as the Mineralls, it set forth 37 ‘minerall and metaphisicall Schoolpoints to be defended by the reverend Bishops’, thus offering a satirical ‘Quintessence’ of all ‘Catercorner divinitie.’

** Catercorner divinitie refers to the Canterbury caps, distinctive caps worn by the Church of England clergy. Curiously, ‘catercorner’ does not acquire the meaning ‘diagonal’ until the nineteenth century, according to the OED, who apparently neglected to read Martin Marprelate. Ah, now I see the verb ‘cater’ means ‘to set on a diagonal,’ going back to the Elizabethan period. Funny how that evolved, huh?canterbury_cap

Several minor players had been apprehended in East Molesley and in Northamptonshire, but they didn’t know who Martin was nor where the press was hidden. In spite of their best efforts for five long months, the authorities have not been able to acquire one solid lead.


Robert Greene in his shroud, from a pamphlet mocking him. Still scribbling after death, you’ll notice.

June rolls around and things are quiet. Not a peep from Martin since Hay Any Work. If you were the Archbishop of Canterbury, you might pat yourself on the back, happy that all your diligent bush-beating had driven the scoundrels off to Scotland or the Low Countries. Alas, Archbishop Whitgift could not leave well enough alone. It wasn’t enough just to silence Martin. He had to be sure that Martin’s wit wasn’t still raising laughter around the hearth. He wanted to win the hearts and minds of the populace.

He placed the anti-Martin campaign in the able hands of Richard Bancroft, Canon of Westminster. Bancroft had the bright idea of engaging the most popular pamphleteers of the day to write counter-strikes against Martin Marprelate. In short order, pamphlets with sober titles like Mar-Martine, Bait for Momus, and A Whip for an Ape were rolling off the legitimate presses, with anonymous authors. Soon more appeared, like A Countercuffe Given to Martin Junior, written in the inimitable style of Thomas Nashe. I doubt his identity was ever much of a secret. The other works have been attributed to John Lyly, the most respected poet of the 1580s, and Robert Greene, far and away the most popular writer of the 1580s and 90s.

Richard Bancroft. Cheery fellow, ain’t he?

Before you could say “Martin is an Asse,” skits and puppet shows were being performed all over London – on the stage, in the yards of inns, even on street corners. Actors and poets mocked Martin with full Elizabethan glee, whipping clowns in Ape costumes all around the town. Everyone went mad for the antics of the anti-Martinists. Things got so wild that by November the authorities had to close the theaters.

Hiring satirists to write scurrilous counter-blasts is guaranteed not to cool things down. It’s like hiring Chris Rock to refute the Obama birth certificate people. And sure enough, taunting Martin drew him back out again, to publish two more works: Theses Martinianae by so-called Martin Junior, and The Just Censure and Reproofe of Martin Junior by another pseudonym, Martin Senior.

The point of creating Martins Jr & Sr was to show that Martin was Legion. Slay one and a thousand others would leap up in his place to press the same demands.

A press to impress

Maybe Bancroft’s strategy wasn’t so bad after all. Martin’s pressmen had to move from Surrey to Northamptonshire to Warwickshire to Lancashire, fleeing from the Church’s pursuivants. he printers finally made a mistake inAugust, dropping some pieces of type outside their hiding place in Manchester where they were hastily printing More Work for An Cooper. Someone spotted the distinctive bits of metal in the road and called the authorities, who swooped in and arrested three men.

They were interrogated in November and more conspirators were uncovered, who were interrogated in printersturn. By February of 1590, the Privy Council had interrogated everyone involved except Martin. The poor ones were imprisoned, some of them for more than a year. Prisons were harsh places, although these men could count on local sympathizers to bring them food. The gentlemen and gentle women received stiff fines. Martin disappeared into legend.

It wasn’t easy to produce an inflammatory pamphlet in 1589, but it could be done, with organization, connections, and money. You needed a skilled printer with at least one assistant, a press, a set of type, and paper. You’d also need a skilled binder and someone to distribute the works. You couldn’t just stack them in the corner of a legitimate bookseller’s shop.

Printing was smelly too. It involved antimony, copper, and arsenic. Type was washed with a potash solution. And you needed space to hang the pages to dry.

A skilled printer with his assistant could disassemble a press, load it onto a cart, cover it with straw, and cluck his horse into motion to drive up to some cooperative gentleman’s – or gentlewoman’s – manor house, tucked into its private estate away from prying eyes. You’d have to the bribe the servants, but odds are they would share their master’s religious views and willingly supply meals and clean linens for the unnamed guests in the barn. God’s work, from their point of view.

Still, there would be deliveries, tinkers, neighbors, and relatives who did not share your views. Rumors spread. Martin’s pressmen picked up and moved after every other publication. They lived on the run for nearly a year, separated from their homes and families, limited to each other’s company. And they never knew who Martin Marprelate really was.

A wild year. You can watch a demonstration of a Gutenberg press in this fascinating video.


Francis Bacon released his answer to all this in November, for private circulation at Court only. He’d been working it all summer. His Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England was typical of Bacon’s advice letters in every way: rational, reasonable, considerate of all sides, and largely ignored in terms of public policy. It’s still perfectly readable, in case you’re interested.

Read it at

Part 2 of the Martin Marprelate controversy.


Arber, Edward. 1895. Martin Marprelate: The Epistle. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co.

Carlson, Leland H. 1981. Martin Marprelate, Gentleman: Master Job Throckmorton Laid Open in His Colors. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library.


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