Cyndia Susan Clegg
1. This Epistola, was written by John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, at the request of Elizabeth I’s principal minister, William Cecil. In a 8 May 1561 letter to the English Ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Cecil says that for the “satisfaction of such douts” as appeared in a “slanderous report” circulating in France on the English “clergy and their varietie”—information Throckmorton had recently conveyed—he has “caused the Bishop of Sarum to fayne an epistle sent from hence thither, and have printed it secretly. NOTE 1 Historians have seen the Epistola as a somewhat irrelevant part of a struggle to defend the fledgling Elizabethan religious settlement—irrelevant because “it made not even a ripple upon the surface of the English ecclesiastical lake.” NOTE 2 What prompted French objections to the English church, has not been made clear, but it certainly was not libels spread after the Colloquy of Poissy, as one historian as suggested. NOTE 3 The Colloquy took place between 9 September and 14 October 1561, after the Epistola’s publication, which was sometime between 5 April and May 8 (Jewel concluded the Epistola with the date of 5 April 1561). The Epistola belongs to far greater English ambition than defending the Church of England. Elizabeth was working for Christian unity, but not as Pope Pius IV envisioned it.
3. From the time Pope Pius IV was crowned on 20 January 1560, rumors circulated of his interest in calling a General Council. What Catholics saw as a means of extirpating heresy, Protestants regarded as an opportunity for Christian unity if, indeed, it would be a true Council where they would be seated formally as voting members, and where all measures would be judged by Scripture. In December of 1560 the Pope issued a bull that revoked the edict that had ended the Council of Trent, and called for the Council to resume at Easter 1561 (though it did not actually resume until 1562). Reformers’ suspicion of the papal edict may be seen in a book by Peter Paul Vergerius which, after denouncing the Pope’s ambition and luxurious life, asserted that the Council was called, not to establish the doctrine of Christ, but to oppress the Gospel, that only those who swore an oath to the Pope were called to the Council, and that all who were separated from the Church of Rome were excluded. Whether or not Vergerius was accurate, he was an influential controversialist whose work was widely circulated. NOTE 4 Through her ambassadors Elizabeth I quickly sought to lobby Protestant princes to boycott the Pope’s council if Protestant demands for a true council were not met. France occupied an unusual position that Elizabeth felt might strengthen the Protestant effort. Protestantism was making strong inroads in France, and the nation was itself seeking some resolution to Protestant demands. Religious conflict had proven so unsettling that on 24 June 1560 the Cardinal of Lorraine had asked the Pope to sanction a Provincial Council. NOTE 5 (The French interest in a national council was a bargaining chip in Protestant efforts to assure them a place at a General Council, since the Pope, fearing that national councils might facilitate national churches, opposed the French.). Events in France in December 1560 suggested that the cause of the Gospel might be advanced in France.
4. On 5 December 1560, King François II died and his ten-year-old brother Charles IX succeeded to the throne. Given French tradition, the closest male Prince of the Blood should serve as regent, and this was Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, jure uxoris. His wife Jeanne III, queen regnant, had declared Navarre Calvinist in December 1560. Catherine de Medicis, the Queen Mother, who had exercised considerable authority while François was king, was excluded as regent by French Salic law. Charles IX, however, specified that his mother was to be first councilor, aided by Navarre. In April 1561 Catherine formalized this relationship by making Navarre Lieutenant General in exchange for formal recognition of herself as regent. Navarre, Catherine, and the Lord Chancellor, Michel de l’Hôpital, were sympathetic to French Protestants, especially because by being so they might counter the zealouis Catholic Guise family’s widespread power. NOTE 6 From England’s perspective, this was a positive turn of events that might serve three aspects of her interests—securing the ratification of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, advancing Protestantism and discouraging French participation in the Pope’s General Council, and thwarting any marriage plans of the newly widowed Mary Queen of Scots that would advance her claims to the throne of England.
5. As soon as Charles IX became King, the English ambassador to France, Sir Nicolas Throckmorton, encouraged William Cecil to send a powerful nobleman to France, preferably the Duke of Bedford or Sir Thomas Smith, both solid Protestants. The Privy Council appointed the Duke of Bedford for the mission, which Cecil saw as a great opportunity to achieve great things for England and the God’s honor. NOTE 7 One episode in the record of the Duke’s time in France (in late February 1561) especially reveals Elizabeth’s grand plan. In a conference with the Queen Mother, Catherine, Bedford broached the topic of religion, though he told her he had not been told to do so. He assured her that the Queen of England wished religious unity, especially among princes whose “amity” she most esteemed—the King, her son, being foremost. Catherine, with her true knowledge of the Gospel and her power, Bedford said, would be able to advance this unity of religion between England and France. When Catherine replied that she hoped that the Council at Trent could advance this unity, Bedford expressed Elizabeth’s reservations about the Council: that it was to be held in a Cardinal’s town whose distance was incommodious for many princes, and that the Princes Protestant found corruption in the Pope and his clergy, who would be judges favorable only to their own errors. Finally he assured Catherine that if a Council were assembled, such as those that took place in the primitive church, then Elizabeth and all Protestant princes would assist it with their clergy. NOTE 8 The Earl of Bedford thus broached the subject of religion expecting Catherine’s sympathy for the Protestant cause. Apparently the French gave him sufficient encouragement, since on 16 March 1561, after his return to England, Bedford wrote to Throckmorton with the news that he had told the Queen of the French Court’s good opinion of her in religion and other things as well. NOTE 9
6. From the time that Bedford left France, Throckmorton worked to bring the French around to England’s position on the Council of Trent, and by the end of April 1561 he had succeeded. France would proceed with its own national council in late August. In his letter to the Queen that reported the French council, Throckmorton told her that it was felt that she could be of assistance if she would send some of her most learned divines to the council and encourage other Protestant princes to do the same. NOTE 10 A little later he wrote to Cecil asking him to send the Latin translation of the Book of Common Prayer and, if the French translation had been completed, to send that as well, as the French wished to see this along with other Protestant service books as a means to formulate their own. NOTE 11
7. The Epistola belongs to the moment between the Duke of Bedford’s grand diplomatic effort and the French decision to hold a national council, which, as the diplomatic correspondence suggests, Throckmorton believed would establish a French national church—perhaps on the English model. This posed a clear threat to French Catholics, and it is not too difficult to imagine that one tactic for opposing Catherine and Charles IX’s conciliatory attitude toward Protestantism generally, and English Protestantism particularly, would be to attack the English Church as harboring faction. In short, how could the English Queen be seeking unity and peace in the Church when her own church was so fractious? The Epistola seeks to answer that question, and not merely to defend the Church of England, but rather to dispel French doubts about Protestantism generally. Ordinarily a slanderous report abroad in France about the English clergy would probably not have warranted much interest, but given the French overtures towards those Princes of the Gospel, including Elizabeth, encouraging Bishop Jewel to enter the fray was undoubtedly seen as timely and judicious. And Jewel, a proficient Classicist experienced in disputation, was the right man for the task. According to Felicity Heal, in the early 1540s Jewel had been primarily a humanist, “very thoroughly grounded in Latin and Greek, and able to play amusing intellectual games by mounting an attack on the excesses of Ciceronian Latin.”NOTE 12
8. The Epistola shared what had become conventional argumentation in religious controversy surrounding the Reformation. It engaged in a vituperative attack on its opponents—in this case monks who preached against a fractious English Church—while insisting on the truth of its own position. The Epistola’s central argument is that in matters of doctrine the church is unified, although some small differences do exist but these are over a matter unrelated to salvation—clerical dress. Jewel insists that both parties in the English church (“those who remained at home in obscurity . . . and those who returned home from foreign parts”) agree in points of religion and “have subscribed to those Articles we now employ” (§7). The articles to which Jewel refers here are the eleven articles Archbishop Matthew Parker devised in 1559, which address those points of religion on which English clerics “are of a single heart . . . God, Christ, Man’s justification, Scriptures, the Church, its leadership, and ecclesiastical polity” (§7). The monks ignore this unity of religion and focus instead on “squabbling amongst ourselves concerning ceremonies, which involves only “a handful of us” who have some differences “concerning vestments and headgear” (§8). Such small differences, the Epistola, contends existed in ceremonies in the early churches and continue today in the different habits of the very monks who preached against the Gospel. The Epistola pretends to be a letter from an Englishman, Nicholas, to a French friend, and it cautions him to be wary of the monks’ lies. (Was it a coincidence that Jewel chose the English ambassador’s surname for his letter’s author?) Cecil’s letter suggests that this clever feigning was prompted by rumors circulating at the French Court, although the Epistola’s objections focus on the monk’s lies. Cecil’s letter suggests that this clever feigning was prompted by rumors circulating at the French Court, although The Epistola objects to the monks’ lying sermons. It appears that the sermons alone were not the problem. The lies the Epistola accuses the monks of spreading were being repeated at Court. Chancellor de l’Hôpital, as sympathetic as he was to the French Protestants, is reported as having said that it was not to be tolerated that everyone should shape his own religion, bring in new rites as he pleased, and by this, trouble the public peace.
9. Cecil’s letter also indicated that the Epistola was printed in England, but that it might be wise to reprint it in France to give it further credibility. The English Short Title Catalogue gives the place of publication as Paris, but this seems highly unlikely. The printer’s ornament at the end of The Epistola is identical to that used by Reyner Wolfe, the Queen’s Printer in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in several works that he printed in the 1560’s, including the 1564 English edition of Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England, and Archbishop Parker’s Visitation Articles.
NOTE 1 Joseph Stevenson, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, 1561 (London, 1866, no. 187, p. 104. (Hereafter cited as CSPF).
NOTE 2 Gary W. Jenkins, John Jewel and the English National Church (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006) p. 86.
NOTE 3 Snyder, p. 86.
NOTE 4 Paolo Sarpi, History of the Council of Trent (London, 1620), p. 436. Vergerius’ book was probably A il Reverendissimi Vescovi dell Italia, che per l’indittion di Pio Papa iiii sono chiamati Al Concilio di Trento (1561).
NOTE 5 Joseph Stevenson, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, 1560-1561 (London, 1865), no. 232, p. 143.
NOTE 6 Katherine Crawford, “Catherine de Medicis and the Performance of Political Motherhood,” Sixteenth Century Journal 31 (2000), p. 660.
NOTE 7 CSPF 1560-1561, no. 897, pp. 504f.
NOTE 8 CSPF, 1560-1561, no. 1030, p. 561.
NOTE 9 CSPF, 1561, no.36, p. 23.
NOTE 10 CSPF, 1561, no. 151, p. 83.
NOTE 11 31 May 1561, Throckmorton to Cecil, CSPF 1561, no. 218 p. 127.
NOTE 12 Felicity Heal, John Jewel and the English Reformation (Linton: E. & F. Plumridge, 2012), p. 4.