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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

§ 11. The authorship of the tracts

Before turning to the answers that Martin evoked from the episcopalians, a few remarks may be hazarded as to the authorship of the series of pamphlets that bear his name. An attempt has been made to father them on Henry Barrow, the separatist, whom the congregationalists regard as one of the founders of their church, and who, at the time, was lying in the Fleet. The theory is ingenious, but quite untenable. The Marprelate tracts were the product of the presbyterian, and not of the independent, or separatist, movement. Udall, Field, Waldegrave, all who were known to have been connected with the production of the tracts, were “church discipline” men, who wished to reform the church from within. True, Penry joined the separatists in 1592, but, by that time, Martin Marprelate was ancient history. Further than this, it has recently been pointed out that Hay any worke contains a passage in reference to the question of tithe-taking which could not possibly have been written by a separatist. In point of fact, most authorities are now agreed that the choice lies between Throckmorton and Penry. Possibly, the tracts, which exhibited two styles, or, at least, two moods, were the result of their combined energies. Two critics, with a special knowledge of Penry’s writings, have rejected the theory of his identity with “Martin” in the strongest terms; but, as they are here obviously alluding to Martin the humourist, their disclaimer does not really affect the possibility of Penry’s responsibility for the theological passages, though there is absolutely no evidence involving him even to this limited extent. On the other hand, there seem to be very strong reasons, even if they do not amount to actual proof, for assigning at least the comic portions of the tracts to Job Throckmorton. In 1589, Waldegrave had printed a tract entitled M. Some laid open in his coulers, which, almost without doubt, is Throckmorton’s, though the signature I. G. at the end has led many critics to attribute it to John Greenwood, Barrow’s friend and fellow prisoner—a theory which, like that ascribing the Marprelate tracts to Barrow, collapses before the theological test. Dr. Some was a busy controversialist on the Whitgiftian side, and this pamphlet against him was one link in another chain of polemical writings, the particulars of which it is not necessary to examine here. Suffice it to remark that Some attacked both Penry and Barrow; and, therefore, it is probable that the author of M. Some laid open, who had no desire to divulge his identity, intentionally adopted Greenwood’s initials in order to throw dust into the eyes of the authorities. Style may be a doubtful touch-stone for the test of authorship; but one cannot conceive that anyone familiar with the tracts of Martin could fail to see the same hand in M. Some laid open. In every way, it is similar, in that boisterous, rollicking, hustling manner of speech which has won them a place in the literature of the nation, and it deserves to share that place with them. For the rest, if further information regarding Throckmorton’s real position in this famous controversy should be needed, there remains the valuable, if ex parte, testimony of Matthew Sutcliffe.

This man was a protégé of Bancroft and became provost of his college at Chelsea for the training of theological controversialists. In 1592, appeared an interesting little tractate, under the title of A Petition directed to her most excellent Majestie, dealing with the legal aspect of the controversy between the bishops and the puritans, dwelling, at considerable length, on Udall’s trail in 1590 and, incidentally, clearing Martin of certain charges of conspiracy and high treason which Bancroft had levelled against him. In the course of the argument, the author has occasion to refer to a publication by Sutcliffe entitled An English Treatise. In December, 1592, Sutcliffe replied in An answere to a certaine libel supplicatorie, in which he accuses Job Throckmorton of being implicated in the “making of Martin.” This, in its turn, called forth an angry, but scarcely convincing, rejoinder by Throckmorton, which Sutcliffe, in 1595, reprinted with running comments of the most damaging nature in An Answere unto a certaine calumnious letter published by M. Job Throkmorton. The value of this book lies in the fact that Sutcliffe bases his indictment upon evidence which has since been lost. Wherever it is possible to check them, the facts brought forward cannot be invalidated; and an attentive reader of the tract will find it difficult to avoid agreeing with its author that “Throkmorton was a Principal Agent” in the Marprelate business, “and the man that principally deserveth the name of Martin.”