in Tudor England is a 2006 reprint in
paperback of an academic treatise by Professor Lacey Baldwin Smith. The
seemingly bungling plots and bizarre schemes of Tudor times are now related to
Baldwin Smith describes the fierce opposition to the pagan practices of Rome that followed the import of Bibles in the English tongue, and the subsequent
overthrow of idolatry. He goes on to describe the battle to preach and teach
from the open Bible, and then, once biblical Christianity was established, the
need to counter an endless flood of Counter Reformation intrigues from the
book sets out to show Tudor Christians in a poor light and it calls for an
answer. Professor Smith asks, “Why did traitors indulge in a variety of
sedition so unbelievably bungling and self defeating in character that it is
difficult to believe they were totally sane?” and, “Why did society see in such
performances, motives and actions dangerous to all established order, both
human and divine?”
‘Neurosis and paranoia’
Smith’s answer is that the Reformation had so divided the land that it had
provoked a sinister, deep seated and irrational “neurosis” amounting to a
paralysing state of paranoia. Despite caveats and balancing phrases this
remains his contention.
“Most distressing of all,” he says, “Christ’s seamless
cloak of religious unity that had given spiritual warmth and solace to all
believers was in tatters, torn to shreds by Martin Luther’s stand.”
professor considers it to have been Luther’s fault that, “All had become
unhinged, and change was on the march in raucous and atrocity committing
battalions unimaginable in the past”. The Glorious Reformation was, to
professor Smith, a virulent virus that generated, “a paranoid response to
life”. He considers that, “Protestantism was a peculiarly demanding and
immoderate creed, an absolute message that only met with partial success”.
The great Antichrist
Smith argues that Lutheranism’s “partial” success fuelled, “a new urgency as
Protestant reformers set out to sanctify the world and do combat with [here he
quotes Archbishop Cranmer) that triple crowned monster and great Antichrist ,
the Pope in Rome.”
believes that Protestantism was fundamentally pessimistic: “Of all people
Protestants were most prone to expect the worst ... there was in Protestantism
throughout the century a sense of panic and extreme urgency for two cosmic
forces stood poised and ready for combat. There were, wrote one passionate
reformer [he is now quoting the martyrologist John Foxe], two churches, the
church of Christ militant and the church of Antichrist and ... this church of
Antichrist may and doth err, but the church of Christ doth not”.
Hence Professor Baldwin Smith contends that all national
life in England under the Protestants was filled with, “anxiety bred of
spiritual agitation and a sense of terror that the beast was at the gate”.
the one hand there were the Romanist doctors who insisted that, “whatever is
contrary to the [Roman] Catholic faith is heresy,” and on the other hand there
was William Tyndale’s insistence that, “It is impossible to preach Christ
except thou preach against AntiChrist” (see illustration).
were the Protestants paranoid, were they frightened of mere shadows conjured up
by their own fevered imaginations, or were they soberly opposing a growing
menace pledged to destroy them? Was their caution unnecessary, “curcifying for England” or was it well justified?
Archpriest William Allen
Smith calls as a principle witness none other than Romanist Archpriest (later
Cardinal) William Allen, leader of the Roman Catholics of England. Allen’s description
of this pitiful, Protestant hysteria as he saw it, is found in his A True
Sincere and Modest Defence of English Catholics That Suffer For Their
Faith Both at Home and Abroad, 1584. (See Box.)
what sort of witness is Allen? He had been banished to Rome some twenty years
earlier on lavish pensions from Phillip II and the Pope. Even his own Romanist
biographer acknowledges he was talking rubbish. “Allen .. . had his weaknesses
... most serious of all ... was a failure to realise that, as the years go by,
a country and its people may so change as to become well nigh wholly
different”. His most serious failing was, “entire ignorance of the movements
and feelings of his country”.
for Allen’s remark, “cannot a ship appear on any coast ... but it is for
invasion of the realm,” [see box] did not everyone know that Phillip II was
building a mighty Armada? And was not Allen acting as Phillip II’s
propagandist, his Joseph Goebbels, in 1588, the year of the Armada, when
Allen smuggled into England his continental‑printed work, An Admonition
to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland Concerning the present Warres
made for the Execution of His Holiness Sentence [Pius’ V Bull of 1570 excommunicating
Elizabeth I] by the Highe and Mightie King Catholike of Spain?
‘The wicked Jesabell’
rants on in the same vein of sanctimonious propaganda: “We [he includes himself
amongst threatened Englishmen from his distant sinecure in Rome] now by way of
rigour and extreme Justice be both charged and chastised for tolerating the
wicked Jesabell not now ... a prophetesse ... but the very cheefe spirituall
governesse under God to . . . deceive God’s servants”.
solace were English romanists to derive from this tender ministration of mother
church in sending a deadly invading armada against them and their country? It
was that, “in this one woman’s condigne correction God’s mighty arme may be
feared and glorified ... This much my good lordes and most deere friends I have
thought good to forewarn you”!
God, Protestant caution was in the event fully justified and both the Armada
and Allen’s standing amongst English Romanists was destroyed.
The Calais plot
reviewer of Treason in Tudor England comments upon “the sheer
stupidity of some of the treason plots they hatched”. The reviewer says that
his favourite plot was that to seize Calais in 1540, by one Gregory “Sweet
Lips” Botolf. The seizure was to take place in “herring time” (Sept 29 ‑
Nov 30) when Calais would be crowded with herring buyers and sellers. By the
8th of April, however, the conspirators were under arrest. Stupidity and loose
talk had given away the game.
conceived or not, this Romanist plot was a serious one. The pale of Calais, with its 120 mile surround, had been English territory since the reign of Edward
III. It was a vital artery for trade in tin, lead, cloth and wool, and it
accounted for a third of all customs revenue. When the Reformation began, there
was the same struggle for possession of Calais as there was for England. This was heightened by Calais role in providing passage for Bibles and travelling
reformers. Rome wanted Calais at all costs.
was a papist thief who had fled to Rome to seek advancement by offering the
Pope and Cardinal Pole the pale of Calais on a platter. He had recruited
others to create a major diversion by sneaking 600 men beneath Calais’ walls whilst the others opened the gates under cover of “herring time” bustle. The
plot failed with Botolf himself escaping justice through papal contacts while
others were executed at Tyburn. Botolf’s greed may have overcome his caution
but does this make the plot futile? (Calais was finally lost by bloody Mary in
Adam Damlip hung
account opens with plotter Adam Damlip standing outside Calais’ gates awaiting
admission. He has been to Rome where he claims he has rejected, “such
blasphemy of God, contempt of Christes true religion, locens of life and
abundce of all abhominations and filthines (as the mother or sink of sinne)
that it abhorred his hart.” It transpires he had been approached there by
Cardinal Pole to be a papal agent but rejected the advance.
Calais Protestant, William Stevens, then seeks to get Damlip licensed to preach
within the port, both to contend for Christ and against “that Antychrist of
Rome, that auncient enemy of God and all Godly religon: the pope”. To this
end, “Steuens at the opining of the gates brought him vnto the lorde Lisle . .
. the kinges deputy of the toun and marchis of Callis,” who readily agreed that
Damlip, “should haue ... his licence ... so to do”. Damlip
preached so well to the “souldiers and commoners,” that, “the saide lorde
deputy and a great part of the councell, gaue him maruelous great praise and
thanks for it”. (Botolf was in the retinue of this same Lord Lisle and it was
access to the Lisle papers that gave Professor Smith the details he relates.)
wonder that before long the tide turned. The whole duplicitous matter is
detailed by Foxe, with Damlip finally hanged drawn and quartered and gruesomly
display on these same Calais gates. The final indignity was that the charge
was treason and not heresy based on accusations from Cardinal Pole. And many
others, including Damlip’s converts, similarly suffered.
Foxe did not overstate the danger in which the Protestants of Calais found
themselves in those early days of the Reformation when every stratum of
society, from the highest to the lowest, was polarising into Protestestant and
Cardinal Allen and 'Protestant paranoia'
they [the Protestant establishment] show themselves to be so terrified
by God in the death of so many martyrs [traitors and spies ‑
mostly Jesuits) which they in a kind of extreme desperate obstinacy and
obduration, do daily kill; and yet are to appalled by the truth and common
sense of all men that they dare not or are ashamed to execute them for
religion, whereby even now in the vaunt of their wealth peace and
prosperity, they show such extraordinary fears, as is a wonder to behold ...
Wherein their misery is so lamentable, as we construe it, the perplexity
which God hath driven them unto, so terrible; that there is not a poor
priest, that can enter to say Mass but they imagine he bringeth their
destruction. There cannot a ship appear on any coast nor any prince’s
preparation for his own affairs ,but it is for invasion of the realm.
There can be no college founded to relieve men’s banishments abroad, not
given to any Catholic either in camp or court, but all is against their
state; every man crying out (here he turns to Latin) The Romans will
come and destroy our nation.”