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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

§ 12. The theological reply to Martin

We must now leave the puritan lines, and, crossing over into the episcopal camp, discover how the forces of authority met Martin’s fierce bombardment. A close examination of the bishops’ counter-attack will reveal three distinct phases in their tactics, each involving a different section of their supporters. Martin found himself opposed, not only by the heavy battalions of theology, but, also, by the archery of dramatic lampoon and the light cavalry of literary mercenaries. The theological attack, which need not long detain us, was undertaken, it will be remembered, by Thomas Cooper, bishop of Winchester, in his Admonition to the People of England, published in January, 1589, and written as a reply to Martin’s Epistle. The book is of no value from the literary point of view. It answered Martin’s raillery with serious rebuke, and was so lacking in humour as to attempt to refute categorically every accusation against the bishops to be found in The Epistle. For all this, Cooper, alone of the controversialists, earned the approval of Bacon, in his Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England, a short treatise written about this time on the main points of the ecclesiastical dispute. Cooper won Bacon’s praise because he remembered “that a fool was to be answered, but not by becoming like unto him.” It is evident that the directors of the episcopal campaign did not agree with Bacon and Cooper, for theological argument was soon laid aside and the methods of defence readjusted to changed conditions. The only theological contribution to the controversy, after the Admonition, was the publication, in March, 1589, of A sermon preached at Paules crosse the 9 of Februrarie … by Richard Bancroft D. of Divinitie. This sermon, which was revised and enlarged before being sent to the press, was an assertion of the divine right of episcopacy as against recent attacks upon it, Martin’s being especially mentioned. Bancroft, who, later, was to succeed Whitgift in the primacy, was, at this time, a rising man in the church and found in the Marprelate controversy an excellent opportunity of proving his mettle. The energy of the pursuivants who rode up and down the country to find the Marprelate press, the vigorous detective measures that were resorted to for the discovery of Martin’s identity and the crowning triumph in Newton’s Lane, Manchester, may all be traced to his untiring exertions. But more than this may be laid to his charge. As Whitgift himself tells us, he was the moving spirit in the new phase into which the controversy now entered. At his suggestion, the Bridges-cum-Cooper method was laid aside and certain writers of the day were retained, possibly at a fee, to serve the episcopal cause by pouring contempt upon its enemy. The result was a second series of tracts, none of which are of any great literary merit, being, for the most part, as Gabriel Harvey described one of them, “ale-house and tinkerley stuff,” but which have acquired a certain amount of importance from the fact that John Lyly and Thomas Nashe are generally supposed to have been engaged in their production. The new policy began to take effect in the summer of 1589, during the four months of Martin’s enforced silence, and its first fruits were some verses of very inferior quality and a Latin treatise. The possibility that the famous Euphuist and his friend were, in part, responsible for these effusions, alone makes it necessary to record their titles. A rimed lampoon calling itself A Whip for an Ape, in reference to the fact that “Martin” was a common name for a monkey, appeared in April, followed, shortly afterwards, by a second, similar, but slightly inferior in style, under the title of Mar-Martine. These clumsy productions provoked a reply in verse no less clumsy from some worthy person, with the pseudonym Marre Mar-Martin, who points out that, while Martin and Mar-Martin are at loggerheads, the protestant religion is in danger from the papists. The impartial attitude maintained by this writer has led to the conjecture that he may be one of the Harvey brothers, but there is no evidence to support it. Such thin verses, whether impartial or antagonistic, were not likely, in any way, to affect the Martinist cause; still less was the sententious pamphlet Anti-Martinus, signed A.L., and entered at Stationers’ Hall, on 3 July, 1589, which addresses itself to the youth of both universities and solemnly ransacks the stores of antiquity for parallels to, and arguments against, Martin.

The poverty of invention and execution displayed in this first period of the anti-Martinist attack may be attributed to the fact that the bishops’ penmen were engaged upon other matters. There are many indications that the summer of 1589 saw the appearance of certain anti-Martinist plays upon the English stage. Unfortunately, none of these have come down to us, probably because they never found their way into print. We may, however, learn something of them from various references, chiefly retrospective, in the pamphlets issued on both sides. These scattered hints lead us to infer that Martin had figured upon the London stage in at least two plays, if not more. In one of them, apparently a species of coarse morality, he appeared as an ape attempting to violate the lady Divinity. Another, which was played at the Theatre, seems to have been more in the nature of a stage pageant than a regular drama. Other plays may have been acted; but the authorities, finding this public jesting with theological topics unseemly, appear to have refused to license any more after September, and, early in November, put a definite stop to those already licensed and any others that may have defied the censor. But the suppression of the anti-Martinist plays could not banish the topic from the stage. Martin was the puritan of popular imagination, and the dramas of the time are full of references to him.