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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XVII. The Marprelate Controversy

§ 10. The Protestation

At this juncture, the bishops succeeded, at last, in silencing their voluble antagonist by seizing his press and arresting his printers at Manchester. Martin died with defiance on his lips. His last tract, The Protestation, plunges at once into the question of the late capture, declares that it can do Martin no harm as the printers do not know him and proceeds to rail against the bishops as inquisitors and butchers. It is noticeable that Martin has almost entirely dropped his comic tone; and, as if he realised that the time for such a tone had passed, he emphatically declares “that reformation cannot well come to our church without blood”—a phrase which, while it ostensibly refers to the blood of the martyrs, leaves it open for the reader to understand the blood of the bishops. He bids his readers believe “that by the grace of God the last yeare of ‘Martinisme’ … shall not be till full two years after the last year of Lambethisme,” a prophecy which received a curious fulfilment in the appearance of a pamphlet in imitation of Martin a year after Laud’s execution. The climax of the whole tract is reached in the “protestation,” or challenge, to the bishops to hold a public disputation upon the points of disagreement between puritan and prelate, its author proclaiming his readiness to come forward as the public champion of the puritan cause, for which, should he fail, he is willing to forfeit his life.

The Protestation is, strictly speaking, the last of the seven Marprelate tracts that have come down to us. But there is an eighth, A Dialogue, printed by Waldegrave in the summer of 1589, which, obviously, is Martinist in sympathy and purpose, and which deserves mention even if it cannot claim a place among the other seven. In 1643, it is interesting to notice, it was reprinted under the title of The Character of a Puritan … by Martin Marprelate; so that there was evidently a tradition which assigned it to our jester-puritan. The style of the whole is quite unlike Martin’s; but it may be that the dialogue form would put considerable restraint upon his natural exuberance. This very form suggests that maker of dialogues, John Udall. He had spoken the prologue to the Marprelate drama in his Diotrephes; it would seem fitting, therefore, that the epilogue should be his also. But, however this may be, the tract, if not Martin’s, is interesting as a proof that there was at least one puritan who sympathised with his methods. “The Puritanes like of the matter I have handled but the forme they cannot brooke,” our tractarian writes in Martin Junior; and it is worthy of notice that, while he constituted himself the spokesman of puritanism, he was far from being in touch with its spirit. The “preachers,” as we have seen, looked with great disfavour on his levity. Thomas Cartwright, the leader of the movement, was careful to dissociate himself at the very outset from any suggestion of sympathy with him. Richard Greenham, another celebrated puritan and tutor of the still more celebrated Browne, actually went so far as to preach against The Epistle in a sermon delivered at St. Mary’s, Cambridge. “The tendency of this book is to make sin ridiculous, when it ought to be made odious;” so ran the text of his condemnation. These words lay bare the very springs of puritanism and teach us not only why Martin failed to win puritan support, but, also, why the whole movement, despite its many obvious excellences, did not succeed, in the long run, in winning over the most intellectual forces of the nation. The puritans banished the comic muse from England. She returned, in 1660, as the handmaid of Silenus.