274 Not to Destroy but to Build


Catherine Willoughby leaves England to become one of the Marian Exiles.

When Pole told parliament that he came to build he meant what he said, and would deliver, in part. But maybe as many as a thousand people would not wait to test his words and left for exile.

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For Mary, Pole’s return was another proud moment, everything that she had wished for and worked for. On 22nd November 1554 she took the unprecedented step of actually going to parliament in person to give her assent to a bill repealing the attainder passed by her father’s parliament against Pole. On 24th November She met the Papal Legate at Whitehall alongside her husband, and to her joy not only was she able to greet the Pope’s representative back to England, but she had confirmation that she was pregnant, because as Pole stepped forward and greeted her with the words ‘Hail Mary’, which I think qualifies as a theological gag, Mary felt her child move within her. Once the formalities were completed in parliament, surely all her people would return to the true church, she would have a son and the sign of God’s favour would be the restoration of the world as her mother would have recognised it.

Pole moved on to London home of the ABC, Lambeth Palace, it’s former master Cranmer now gone, and started preparing for the all-important meeting with Parliament, which came on 28th November, when he faced the expectant and probably slightly worried faces of both the house of Lords and the house of Commons. I doubt he had much preparation to do – since I’d like to bet he’d been writing this speech for the last two years. He had a job to do; he had to be firm – after all the lot facing him had been very, very naughty. But Pole was not the fool that the doggerel had him; he knew that he also had to offer a thread, a story that would help inspire and pull a nation with him and back to Rome. And so he built a story of how England was God’s special chosen country, that

‘this island, the first of all islands, received the light of Christ’s religion’

Which is an interesting argument, but truth is frequently the enemy of a good strong national story, so whatever. He painted a story of England fallen into error, saved by the glorious figure of Mary who restored that natural and national religion when

She, being a virgin, helpless, naked and unarmed, prevailed and had victory over tyrants

Having painted a story of the past, he then pointed to the future, and there’s this very nice phrase that he uses which must have relieved his listeners immensely, but with which I cannot help but draw a much more modern parallel

I come not to destroy but to build. I come to reconcile not to condemn. I come not to compel, but to call again.

The parallel I’m thinking of is Margaret Thatcher and her use of St Francis’s prayer ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony’. I have no intention whatsoever of breaking a golden rule of the History of England and discussing politics, so I have no intention of voicing an opinion about whether Margaret Thatcher was good, bad or otherwise, but I will venture the opinion that whatever she brought it was not harmony. ‘I come not to compel, but to call again’. That’s a nice line, and would turn out to be entirely incorrect, however much he believed it at the time.

Two days later came the sealing of the deal as it were, when the high and mighty came to Westminster to be absolved of their sins. Across the river from Lambeth again came Pole and there the king, queen, lords and commons knelt before him

We, by apostolic authority given unto us by the most holy lord Pope Julius III. His vice regent on earth, do absolve you and deliver you

Not a dry eye in the house according the Scot, John Elder. That evening the Queen threw a bit of a knees-up, and when the news reached Rome the Pope ordered processions and there was much rejoicing. Stephen Gardiner, a born again papalist preached at St Paul’s Cross

Now also it is time that we awake out of our sleep, who have slept or rather dreamed these twenty years past

After the celebrations, though, the hard work needed to be completed; all the legislation concerning the royal supremacy needed to be removed, and that was not as simple as it sounds. A Committee was established on 4th December 1554, and they hit the thorny issue straight away. Pole had been talked round to forgetting the church lands, and agreed that everyone who had bought church lands should have a papal dispensation. But you know, that’s not quite the get out of jail free card you might think it is. Two things were wrong with it; firstly, let’s say a future pope took a different view to Julius III, then where would everyone be? Sorry, he might say, the deals off, changed my mind, hand all those church lands back over. Secondly, the material stuff about the land was just one aspect of the issue – there was also the state of sin that everyone was apparently in. Cardinal Pole’s confidente John Feckenham, the same chap as had spoken to Jane Grey in the Tower, he’d recently preached that holding lands of the church was a sin, and this sort of thing mattered; so at the moment the situation was, in short? OK, you can have the land but ooh, by the way you are going to burn in hell for eternity so you know…enjoy it while you can and all that.

It was Philip rather than Mary that took up the cudgels on this one. Because when presented with this as a problem Mary and Pole found they were of one mind. Which was, that OK parliament had been surprisingly difficult, and a sacrifice needed to be made for the greater good, but thus far and no further, here I stand I can do no other sort of thing – hate it or loathe it, whipping church lands was not just a disgrace it was a sin, and if some future pope came along and decided that it was time for that land back, then so be it and sic biscuitus distintegrat. The wages of sin and all that. Suck it up, keep looking over your shoulders sinful noble dudes because one day the vengeful Pope might well be their asking for his spondulikes back, no point ruling in hell when it’s your job to serve in heaven.  Behind them, the newly converted lover of papal supremacy Stephen Gardiner might be seen vigorously nodding his head in agreement.

It seems to be Phillip then who came up with a suggestion to at least partly resolve this. I mean the burn in hell thing was something with which he couldn’t help, but as far as this mortal coil was concerned he suggested that the papal dispensation be made into statute law and passed through parliament. Why is that a think I hear you ask, so what? This would mean that if a future pope did come down like a wolf on the proverbial fold of England, the fold that was England could, if it so desired shrug it’s shoulders and say can’t be done guv’ there’s this law.

The response, even from a Mary very keen to be a traditional and dutiful wife, was a machine gun fire of pashawing. As far as Pole was concerned, he denied any valid title to church property in statute, and refused to tie the hands of a future pope. So, nerks. In fact when detailed discussions took place, Gardiner and Pole filled the time with a bit of good honest lecturing of their noble friends about the sins they had committed. Which I guess is their job.

It was Mary who cracked and decided that the low road should be taken on this one, talked round sometime in December. And so, in January 1555 parliament passed the required law, and the English laity was fully absolved of their sins and now also able to keep their lands with comes confidence. That being done, the majority of them were perfectly content to roll back the Reformation and those that weren’t largely kept their heads down. At the same time, they re-enacted the laws of heresy, which had started way back with the Lollards at the start of the 15th century, but set aside by Edward. It was now once more a capital offence to deny any aspect of Catholic orthodoxy, and the brief period of relative safety of Edward’s reign was over.

Philip proceeded to take as much credit for this triumph as possible, making sure pamphlets appeared in celebration, and by throwing colourful parties and jousts; Mary would put in an appearance at said jousts, but was not inclined to take an active part. From Philip’s point of view the self promotion was about trying to advance his claim to political power, and his right hand man Ruy Gomez felt they were making progress. But really it was thin gruel compared to ruling an Empire, and Philip grew increasingly impatient to shake the mud of London’s streets from his boots and get on to the places where his word was law. But Gomez persuaded him to stay.

The main reason for that was that it was now public knowledge that Mary was pregnant. Gomez had also had the news communicated across Europe, writing in November to the Emperor Charles that

There is no doubt the Queen is with Child for her stomach clearly shows it and her dresses no longer fit her.

And Mary herself wrote to her father in law too, and her relief and happiness breathes in every word

As for that child which I carry in my belly I declare it to be alive and with great humility thank God for his great goodness shown to me, praying Him so to guide the fruit of my womb that it may contribute to His glory and Honour and give happiness to the king, my lord and your son, to your Majesty who were my second father in the lifetimes of my own father, and therefore doubly my father, and lastly that it may prove a blessing to the realm

Actually, it is an interesting gobbet. It breathes with a sense of gratitude and obligation to Charles as well, confirming the extraordinary level of influence exercised during her reign by a foreign power, whether through Ambassador or Husband. It holds the sense a wife happily fulfilling her role, an in such roles Mary was determinedly traditional – but as we have seen, not blindly so, not when matters of state or conscience compelled her otherwise. And this child seems very much an act of duty as well as of love, a child born to do a job, to ensure the future of the Catholic restoration and the health of the realm. Now I guess that a royal birth was and is a public as well a private event, but the point is that whatever we’ll accuse Mary of it will not be a lack of a sense of duty.

Anyway, Philip was persuaded that he really must stay until the child, England and Catholicism’s future was safely delivered, and indeed the Council made provision that Philip would become Guardian of the realm if Mary died in child birth; his powers would be curtailed, but he would be regent. Specified in the limitation was no right to declare war, for this was one of the Council and Parliament’s greatest fears – that they would be dragged into and expensive and ruinous war. They been promised that no way would this happen, inconceivable, promise, cross my heart, hope to die by both Mary and Philip, but they were a suspicious lot, and so bound Philip with the legal equivalent of the sevenfold fence, stiff with hoops and arm’d with ribs of whale. Philip wasn’t best pleased, but it was something, and he recognised that he must stay just a little bit longer.

Now then, the re-enacting of De Heretico Comburendo by parliament and the arrival of the Papal legate gave new impetus to religious reform and to conformity. As we think about religion in the period I will try to concentrate on three strands, not necessarily in this order. One of these of course is to give full reign to the full horror of the most comprehensive and unprecedented religious persecution in English history. Cue potentially lots of whataboutery and spurious comparisons to the 45 years of Elizabeth’s reign, but sorry, I’m happy to defend the statement. However, there are two less well trodden paths in the religious story; so a second strand is the equally unprecedented number of exiles who fled Mary’s restoration, the Marian Exiles as they become known, and the impact that has on England’s future. And the third, much less well trodden, is the thing that Pole was really really interested in, far more than some bloodthirsty retribution; the re-invigoration and rejuvenation of the Catholic religion in England. Pole meant what he said very sincerely when he told parliament that he came not to destroy but to build. It turned out much more complicated than he hoped, but he should not be accused of insincerity, and the evidence is there that he was making progress when he died.




First things first though. Let me introduce you to John Foxe. I must apologise, now that we are being more detailed than we were in let’s say the days of King John, I tend to forget what I have and have not told you. So, if I am repeating myself, just put your hand up or shout at me. Won’t make a blind bit of difference to me of course since it’s you know, a podcast, but you might feel a bit better. I find a simultaneous combination of ‘For Crying out loud’ a raising and dropping of the arms and an eye roll, normally does the trick. Anyway, John Foxe, born in Boston, the original, in Lincolnshire, around 1516, and we know not very much about his early life. But he became a Bachelor of Arts from Brasenose Oxford in 1537, and for a while he was then at Magdalen College. Of which he was not fond, probably for a couple of reasons. It required that within a year every Fellow became a priest, and with this Foxe was not enamoured. He wrote to a friend complaining that he could not stay ‘unless I castrate myself and leap into the priestly caste’ and announced to another that ‘I do not intend to be circumcised this year’. It is also clear that even at this early stage, Foxe was an evangelical, in a very conservative college – he’d already been the object of accusations that he was not attending services regularly. By 1545 then he’d left Oxford and was a little bit on his uppers , not much of a career though he’d developed an academic network, staying with Hugh Latimer for a while for example, and he started writing, starting off with a comedy. Which obviously was not to turn out to be his genre, but you know, you are supposed to try everything once, which is reasonably rubbish advice. Still he got married in 1547 to Agnes Randall.

Which according to a traditional story is a little wild of them; because according to that story, there was Foxe, penniless and sitting in St Pauls when a stranger approached him and promised he’d be employed within 3 days. And what do you know? Next he knew, he’d been approached by a very rich and powerful patron, the Duchess of Richmond whose brother the Earl of Surrey had been executed – he’s the poet with the fancy pants, the son of the Duke of Norfolk if you remember. Now a bit of scholarship has revealed that this is probably – just a story, in the sense that Foxe was probably working at the time, including publishing a translation of Luther’s sermons, and was probably quite comfortable. Which is a good thing, because he and Agnes were on their way to 6 kids, and they cost a bob or two I can tell you. But what is true, is the connection with the Howard family, recruited as tutor to the little Howards. Such an illustrious appointment this also brought Foxe into a circle of the evangelical elite if you like, rubbing shoulders with the likes of William Cecil, Nicholas Ridley, John Hooper amongst others. During the Edwardian reforms he became an influential voice, particularly as an advocate of the reform of ecclesiastical law, and he shared Cranmer’s disappointment when Northumberland and Parliament blocked it. However, Foxe did not share Cranmer’s determination to pursue and burn Joan Boucher; despite being the architect of a book that would become misused in Victorian hands as an attempt to stoke sectarian hatreds, Foxe was relatively moderate when compared to the more puritanical wing of the evangelicals. He was rather unusual in that he hated the idea of capital punishment, and wrote angrily to John Rogers when he supported Joan Boucher’s execution. He also wrote against the idea that there should be capital punishment for adultery; this might not seem unduly moderate to us, I mean you know, capital punishment for adultery to use now would seem wildly loony, or I hope it would, but you might note that the more radical evangelicals would chase this idea for the next hundred years and briefly achieve their aim in 1650. Do not mistake Foxe’s attitude for toleration – Foxe was no modern liberal; he just felt that excommunication was the right punishment for breaking the laws of the church, not murder.

In 1554 then, the main point to which all this is leading, Foxe was pretty devastated at the death of Edward VI and immediately pessimistic about Mary’s accession. And so despite desperately writing to a friend to complain that he had no wish to leave blighty, blighty he decided he must leave, and he and the pregnant Agnes took a ship to the low Countries, and thence after a bit of humanist tourism, that is to say visiting Rotterdam, the birthplace of Erasmus, he arrived in July 1554 in Strasbourg.

John Foxe was just one of a most unprecedented wave of exiles who left England rather than face the alternatives. And there were alternatives to flight of course. There was acceptance or conversion, and often this was enthusiastic of course, probably more than half the time. The renewed supremacy of the Pope, after 20 years of anti papal propaganda was frequently a bit of a stumbling block, but for many the restoration of the Catholic rites was nothing but great news. For some – 1000 at least that we know of, and possibly many more, flight was the only acceptable approach, and we’ll come to that in a moment. But for most, the thought of exile was either practically impossible or unbearable. As Bishop Bonner of London immediately started turning the screw in February 1555 and demanding declarations of loyalty and conformity from each parishioner, he held a conversation with one Ralph Allerton, whom he suspected of being a heretic. Ralph’s comment is fascinating. He told Bonner, that

‘there are in England three religions’. ‘that which you hold; the second is clean contrary to the same; and the third is a neuter, being indifferent, that is to say, observing all things that are commanded outwardly, as though he were of your part, his heart being set wholly against the same’.

There’s an argument that goes along these lines; that after all the chopping and changing, by the end of Elizabeth’s reign, and more so by the end of the 17th century and the puritan revolution, there’s a strong element of a sort of weary Pelagianism if that’s the right word, a vague belief in God and that somehow being a good person will probably get you to heaven and could you pass the salt please? The sort of attitude that would allow a podcaster to mix up Peter and Paul and respond to the resulting flack with a shrug of the shoulders. Pelagius rejected the idea of original sin, and that they were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. It’s always seemed a shame to me that the teachings of the British 4th century monk Pelagius were declared heretical, but I have to confess I am far from expert so I may well be misunderstanding the lad. But he sounds jolly sensible from what I know. But what Ralph is talking about is partly reflecting some of the weariness and doubt in authority that must have been the result of all this to’ing and fro’ing from Henry to Edward to Mary.

But what Ralph is mainly talking about is Nicodemism, and for evangelicals this would become the great debate. Nicodemus I am told was a pharisee who came to visit Jesus in secret, and the idea was that you could just observe the outward forms as little as was required to keep your flesh from being burned from your bones, and remain true inwardly and in the privacy of your home. Nicodemism was a word invented by Calvin, and as you can probably guess he wasn’t a fan. Well, I mean he condemned you with a fervour of which only Jean Calvin was capable. But for many there was no better choice, and the reverse would be true for Catholics in Elizabeth’s reign. If you will allow me a diversion for a moment, there is near me a church which has an oddly lopsided nave – it sticks out a long way to the right, not centre on to the chancel. The word on the streets is that this allowed the local Catholic gentry family to attend church and therefore avoid the recusancy fine for not going to church, but not have to look at the service going on. Possibly apocryphal, but it’s the kind of thing we are talking about here.

A very famous Nicodemite was our William Cecil. Given Cecil’s later fervour for the cause of Protestantism, I was mildly surprised at the level of Cecil’s relationship with Mary’s regime; I should not have been of course. Cecil was an operator. That is not to say that Cecil was allowed to take an active part in Mary’s Government – he had been too closely associated with Edward and Jane Grey for that. But he did not leave London. He hobnobbed, before the days when hobnobs had been invented, he hobnobbed with the great and the mighty. Over the course of the reign, Cecil dined many times with Cardinal Pole himself, and even became friends, sharing a scholarly sense of curiosity and enquiry. In May 1555 Cecil travelled to a peace conference between France and the Empire in the company of Stephen Gardiner. Cecil kept his contacts alive and his finger in the pie of politics; he wasn’t ready to eat the pie, but if Mary’s reign began to look more permanent and she had a child, who knows? He might move from hob Nobs to Pie. Meanwhile, he spent time messing about at home at Burghley. End of diversion.

If you accepted the invective that came from the reformed cities of the continent about Nicodemites, then you were left with two alternatives – to burn or flee. In 1554, along with Foxe, the Strangers were the first to go, those foreign protestant communities living in England. After them fled a collection of preachers, academics, merchants and a smattering of gentry. Often the new regime were thoroughly pleased to see them go, it saved them a lot of trouble after all. Gardiner made something of a virtue of this and had a bit of fun with it, if that’s the word. He boasted that he‘d identify a bunch of likely targets and then invite them to his house. The recipients of the invitation would of course immediately panic and start leaping to conclusions, and in a blur funk they’d run for the hills in a panic, leaving Gardiner chuckling and rubbing his hands with glee. Not for nothing was he called Wiley Winchester. What a card eh?

Among the Marian exiles were some very high profile people – you might remember Catherine Willoughby, wife of Charles Brandon and Duchess of Suffolk. The radical who had kept a dog at court she called Gardiner. Now the joke was on the other cheek, but nothing daunted, Catherine left with a grand entourage in a blaze of glory to tour the reformed cities of Europe, ending up at the court of the king of Poland before she was able to return. Catherine Willoughby was not the sort to sneak out at the dead of night.

She was joined by a bunch of the bishops who had been deprived of their sees and replaced by good Catholics – the likes of John Ponet the Bishop of Winchester, who arrived at Strasbourg; John Knox had been a preacher in England at the time and an argumentative one at that and he fled to Frankfurt. Or it might be university men; like Edwin Sandys, who you might remember as the Cambridge VC who stood by Northumberland and stayed in Cambridge to take his Marian medicine. He was imprisoned in the Marshalsea prison, but managed to pull a few strings and away he fled to Antwerp, then Strasbourg and eventually Zurich. John Cheke, Edward VI’s tutor and the man who had written the proclamation for Jane Grey, he was allowed to leave and travelled to Italy, and landed in Strasbourg. Both Sandys and Cheke were joined or accompanied by their wives and families.

Or the exiles might be non-public figures who had the wherewithal to flee. One example was Rose Hickman. She and her husband Anthony started off by simply worshipping behind closed doors along with a small conventicle of close, likeminded friends. Anthony even secretly funded other protestants who decided they needed to make a run for it, but unfortunately he was discovered and slung into jail – alongside, as it happens, the jurors who had refused to convict one of Wyatt’s fellow rebels Throckmorton, and therefore been jailed by Mary for the outrage. The Hickmans were successful merchants, and so they reached out to a powerful patron, in this case Councillor William Paulet. For the outlay of a considerable number of, ahem, entirely unconnected and yet generous gifts to the tune of £200 by Rose’s reckoning, Paulet managed to spring Anthony and the Jurors, and Anthony then abjured the realm, and fled to Antwerp. Antwerp was a Catholic city actually, but the exiles found that the form of worship in the Cathedral allowed them to escape notice. Rose was pregnant and meanwhile stayed minding the business, house, and children, but she was in something of an agony; when the baby was born, could she get her baptised without you know, committing a dreadful sin? She wrote to the imprisoned Cranmer and Ridley, and they told her that she could do so, without sullying her immortal soul and so she did. But she found a small way of rebelling, of keeping a part of herself back from compliance and submission. The rite included the placing of salt in the baby’s mouth, and unnoticed, Rose managed to hide the salt in her hankie, rather than the baby. Eventually Rose could bear it all no longer and she also left for Antwerp, leaving behind their two houses; for Rose though, the price was worth paying, according to her it was

‘nothing in comparison to liberty of conscience for the profession of Christ’.

It’s a sign of just how important these questions were, to so many people, high and low.

You will notice something of a theme about the destination of these folks – it was very often the cities of the reformed church of Calvin that took them in, cities like Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Emden, Zurich, Geneva. When they got there the exiles did not always just live quietly, although maybe many did, but instead they found themselves confronted by new forms of Protestantism of which they may have been only dimly aware, or like Knox of which they were well aware but had been unable to convince the English like Cranmer to follow. While for some, then, the opportunity to follow the BCP was the thing, others were excited to realise that they could go further, toward a more fully reformed church. Under Elizabeth this principle that the church in England had only gone so far and should have gone further into reform, is a movement that will begin to be called puritanism, or of the Godly. Edwin Sandys, for example, wrote breathlessly, if you can write breathlessly,

We have lost the saving truth at home, and found it abroad: our countrymen are become our enemies, and strangers are made our friends

There is in that the flavour of the internationalism of English Protestantism of which we have poken before.  And even back in England conventicles sometimes had the same thought; one preacher spoke ofa different three types of religion ‘my Lord Chancellor’s [Gardiner’s] religion’, ‘Cranmer’s, Latimer’s and Ridley’s religion’, and also ‘God’s religion’. The point was to them that although Cranmer’s religion was better than the old faith, it still wasn’t great. A network sprang up, therefore, of academics and preachers debating the issues of the reformed religion, sometimes in a very quarrelsome way; it was by no means always the case that they just gratefully fitted into the ways of the local community, oh good lord no, they were often part of furious debates. And many of them wrote about it all, or were inspired to write. It was from exile that John Ponet wrote his A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power in 1556. Most protestant thinkers found it difficult to live with the standard idea that they must be obedient to civil authority – when that authority was opposed to what they considered true religion. Now Ponet gave these people an alternative. He argued that rulers were required by God to ‘do good, not evil’. If a ruler therefore inflicted grievous injuries on his people, such as, I don’t know, let me think now, just for instance – burning people who adhered to the true faith then that ruler failed in their office, and were unlawful. They thus should be treated as a normal criminal and punished accordingly, even if that meant execution. There’s a thought – to kill a king. Ponet would be read and drawn on later by John Locke. I have a feeling of Deja Vue here, so maybe I have warbled about Ponet before but look, he died in 1556 so you are safe now.

Back to John Foxem, then, who was now very much part of this network of scholars, producing work that not only circulated on the continent but made their way home as well. By 1557, Foxe was in Basel, working for a press, translating and producing the works of others, but writing and publishing his own also. The Marian exile community formed therefore a community which was in one sense a group of people, influential or otherwise, simply fleeing persecution and finding a way to live; in another sense was a source of propaganda to sustain and maintain resistance back home; but probably most critically, it was a place where the view of reformed religion changed. It would be foolish to suppose that there would have been no puritan movement in England in Elizabeth’s reign without the exiles, there were plenty that felt Cranmer had been interrupted in the middle of his reforms. Nonetheless, when many of the Marian exiles were able to return to England, they brought with them a greater depth of knowledge and experience of Calvin’s reformed religion to support those with the Godly mindset. Part of that was not just theology, but experience of cities like Geneva which had developed the capability for discipline, the consistory, a mechanism to enforce proper, Godly behaviour. All of which we will return to at some future point.

In England though, as soon as the heresy laws had been re-established, the new leaders of the church under Pole’s direction would now seek to re-invigorate Catholic practice and church. But they also recognised that a few, just a few, would need to feel the ultimate sanction of law. It would not be many – once shown the truth, the people of England would return to the true church without further encouragement, it would all be over by Christmas. But just a short sharp shock should do it. And so it was that on the 4th February 1555, fate came knocking on the door of a man called John Rogers.


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