INTRODUCTION: A CASE STUDY IN TUDOR POLITICL PROPAGANDA
1. Noboddy who reads this book can come away without the conviction that something was very wrong about William Parry, even iif its readers are are not unanimous in their understanding what this something was. Historians with a taste for espionage thrillers like to tihnk of the parlous condition of the double agent enmeshed in a snare of conflicting loyalties. NOTE I myself am inclined to resort to the the language of psychiatry. That the man suffered from delusions of grandeur, inhabiting a dream world in which he was the central characte, a figure of world-historical importance. How else could a man with absolutely no qualifications angle to be created Master of St. Catharine's College, Oxford? The only possible qualification he had to offer was that he allegedly was a Doctor of the Civil Law (a status gullibly accepted by many historians), having managed to forget that this claim was entirely bogus based on nothing more than his years as an apprentice copying documents for his Welsh master, from which he would have remembered some of legal lingo (the records of both English universities have been compiled with consummate diligence and his name appears in neither, and there is no reason to imagine he might have obtained a DCL at nearby Caen, more distant Bologna, or any other Continental university which an Englishman might plausibly have attended). We have no idea how he contrived to obtain a seat in Parliament, but it is tempting to imagine that this fraudulent claim helped speed his cause. One likewise wonders about his assertation that he was a blood relation of his friend Edmund Neville who staked a claim to be the heir of John Neville, fourth Baron Latimer and evidently somne kind of kinsman of the Earls of Westmorland, which would make him, if not necessarily a nobleman himself, at teast a true gentleman. All in all, Parry appears to have been a delusional con-man who made the fatal mistake of believing his own spiels.
2. If it is easy for a modern reader to come to some such conclusion, it should have been equally so for the authorities who had to deal with him. In normal times they could well have written him off as a crackbrained dizzard and more mercifully consigned to whatever facilities currently existed for the benefit of the insane. But in February 1585 the times were far from normal, and it was needful to make a Big Thing out of Parry's activities, out of his trial, out of dragging him on a hurdle from the Tower to Westminster (no doubt tracing the same route Anne Boleyn had traveled on the way to her coronation), past jeering bystanders and hooting ’prentice boys pelting him with lumps of excrement. Finally, it was needful to subject him to an unspeakably ghastly piece of street theater in which he was progressively transformed from a living, breathing human into an assemblage of meat perhaps stacked on a table, not entirely unlike what one would see on display at a butcher's stall, and it was needful to plant his head on a stick to bob in the wind atop London Bridge until it rotted away into nothingness. More precisely, it was necessary to stage what a later age of the world would indentify as a show trial authorizing that all these terrible things be done to this poor daft fellow in order that the present book could be written. For it served as the wellspring for a far more orchestrated propaganda campaign than England had ever before witnessed. With war with Spain impending, mercy was out of the question.
3. If any reader raises eyebrows at the use of the word “propaganda,” attention must be drawn to two studies which should remove any doubt on the subject. The first is Tanya Reimer’s brilliant 2008 monograph “This Realm of England is an Empire: The Tudors’ Justification of Imperial Rule Through Legend by Propaganda and Pageantry,” originally unpublished but now available on the Academia website. The only way in which her work might be criticized is that the particular test case selected by its author had the effect of obscuring from her vision another important channel besides those of literature, iconography and pagently through which governmental propaganda was disseminated after the creation of the Church of Englan, the pulpit sermon. In the present case we shall see that it indeed was employed. The second is Eleanor Rosenberg’s equally instructive Leicester, Patron of Letters (New York, 1955), which showed how the Earl was particularly active in exploiting the patronage relationship in order to extract work by his literary and academic protégés with decidedly political contents designed to promote his extremely Protestant program.
4. The use of literature for what can only be called propagandistic purposes had from its very beginning been a distinctive feature of Tudor government. When Richard Duke of Gloucester launched his campaign to discredit the credentials of his ward the young Edward V, he induced a certain Dr. Rafe Shaa to preach a sermon at St. Paul’s claiming that the boy was illegitimate and the Duke of Buckingham to deliver a similar speech at the Guildhall. Even though the sermon and the speech were ill-received, this was a beginning of sorts, but Richard appears to have been content to let it go at that. No attempt was made to broadcast this message to a wider audience. The essential reason for this would seem to be that that the Plantagenets, who doubtless felt secure in their dynastic position, placed little value on the importance of public opinion (enlighten me if you can, but I cannot recollect any way in which literature was put to use justifying Lancastrian or Yorkist claims during the War of the Roses).
5. The situation underwent a radical change from the very beginning of Henry VII’s reign. This new king entered London one week after his Bosworth victory and his arrival was greeted by a Horatian ode written in Latin by the blind Burgundian friar Bernard Andre his regius poeta (who must have been smuggled into the city prior to the battle). We have no idea how this work was actually used: perhaps it was read at a banquet, or possibly multiple copies were placarded throughout the town. This set the tone for Henry’s use of literature throughout his reign. He gathered around him a bevy of Continental Neo-Latin poets such as Andrea Ammonio, Giovanni Gigli, Pietro Carmeliano, Cornelio Vitelli, and Johannes Opicius, NOTE 2 almost all of them Italians, who constituted a kind of propaganda team and individually served him in other ways as well (Ammonio, for example, acted as his Latin Secretary in the absence of any Englishman capable of writing decent Latin). And in the course of time Henry discovered the tremendous multiplying power of the press and was not behindhand in putting it to use broadcasting the productions of such court poets. At the same time, he can be observed using historians for the same purpose, justifying the deposition of Richard III and debunking the rival claims of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Henry’s first impulse was to employ Andre for this purpose, but it soon became clear that the man had absolutely no talent for such work, so that Henry turned to Polydore Vergil as a more suitable replacement (in a dedicatory epistle written to his brother prefacing the second and expanded edition of his De Rerum Inventoribus Polydore recounts how his Anglica Historia was written at Henry’s instigation). The histories of Richard III by John Rous and Thomas More likely had a similar origin.
6. The reason for Henry’s interest in disseminating political propaganda is clear: his dynasty was new, fragile, and he must have been keenly aware of his insecure position. and hence of the importance of convincing the English people of the legitimacy of his rule. At least through the reign of James I, with the conspicuous exception of Mary (when the Dutch Humanist Hadrianus Junius offered to place his pen at her service and showed her a sample of his wares, he was coldly shown the door) sovereigns were equally interested in employing literature, iconography, pageantry, and in due time the pulpit for this purpose, and in at least three cases we seem entitled to speak of carefully orchestrated campaigns. It will emerge that the earliest of these is especially instructive for our purposes, the public displays staged in London in connection with the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Catharine of Aragon was highly popular with the citizenry, Anne was not, and some attempt had to be made to alter the situation. Hence we have detailed records of a series of tableaux set up around town featuring Latin poetry by John Leland and vernacular doggerel by Nicholas Udall, and spectacular visual effects supplied by Hans Holbein. Care was taken to supply something for all Londoners: Latin for the educated and well-to-do, English for the common man, and iconography comprehensible even to the downright illiterate. This betokens a concern that all segments of society could receive the desired message in a comprehensible manner.
7. The next and most elaborately contrived campaign of which I am aware was the one engendered the appearance of a volume issued in connection with the present 1585 trial and execution of William Parry,This volume was the work of by "C. B." (i. e., Christopher Barker, the Queen's own printer, and its official nature is emphasized by the fact that the book's title page bears the phrase cum privilegio (Barker also used these words on the title pages of the Bibles he put out in acknowledgement of the monopoly on Bible publication granted him by Elizabeth, and on the title pages of some other publications he identified himself more explicitly as “Printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie.”) Stationers' Company Register vol. B, fol. 203v, entry nr. SRO2439 is an entry for "A true Report of William Parries Arainement" dated 27 February 1585, which obviously refers to this book (evidently submitted before its exact title had been decided (all dates cited here are New Style). 27 February was the very day of Parry's trial although the finished book is able to give a report of Parry's execution, which occurred on March 2. At about the same time, to reinforce the message of the present volume, also appeared a single-sheet publication for popular consumption entitled The last words of William Parry a lawyer who suffered for endeavouring to depose the Queen's Highness, and bring in Q. Mary and her young son James (Short Title Catalogue P559B).
8. It is usually said that this volume was published at the instance of the government, and especially became of its title page's look of officialdom this misapprehension is understandable. Yet it would be wrong to identify it as an actual governmental publication. William Camden's Annales Rerum Gestarum Angliae et Hiberniae Regnante Elizabetha (published in two installments, in 1615 and 1625) had its origin in a suggestion by Lord Burghley that Camden should write a history of Elizabeth's government of England: if he would consent, Burghley promised him full access to the state papers of her reign. For a long time, Camden resisted, but eventually decided to undertake this project. By that time, Burghley was dead, but his promise was still honored, and one of the numerous fascinations of the finished product is its heavy reliance on documentary evidence. Although in many respects it is a studied exercise in neoclassicism (it imitates the Annales of Cornelius Tacitus), at many points where an ancient historian would have inserted a speech of his own invention Camden quotes a source document. In the course of his chapter for the year 1585 Camden makes it clear that there was a sharp division, presumably within the Privy Council, about whether to enter the war on the side of the Dutch rebels against Spanish rule, and the anti-war position is stated at considerable length. It would appear that Camden had access to the minutes of a Council session at which the issue was debated, a fascinating glimpse into the workings of Elizabethan decisionmaking. At first the Queen reluctantly consented only to a very limited intervention for the purpose of raising the siege of Antwerp (but English forces did not appear in time to prevent the city's surrender), and England's wholehearted support of the Dutch Protestants was not given prior to the signing of the Treaty of Nonsuch on 20 August.
9. It would therefore appear that this volume can more accurately be described as a project of the pro-war faction within the Privy Council, undertaken in the hope of inclining public opinion towards its side, and possibly part of the idea was to sway Elizabeth herself, for in describing the events of 1585 Camden makes it quite clear that for quite a while she herself remained indecisive, It is not difficult to identify its leadership. In its account A True and Plaine Declaration describes how immediately after his arrest Parry was examined by the Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton the Vice-Chancellor (who presided over Parry's trial and subsequently played an important role in the trials of Anthony Babington and Mary Queen of Scots), and Elizabeth's Principal Secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, all of whom must have been leading lights of the pro-war faction within the Council. In the cases of Leicester and Walsingham, this is too obvious to require explanation, and in the previous year Hatton had distinguished himself by delivering a two-hour speech in Parliament on the subject of the Spanish threat (the speech is lost, but it seems not unlikely that its contents were summarized by Camden at the end of his chapter on 1584). Hatton also delivered a report on Parry’s arrest and forthcoming trial to the House of Commons on February 24. The first few pages of the Declaration are devoted to an anonymous and rather perfervid diatribe against Parry that reads like a prosecutor’s trial speech but is not (the actual one is given later in the volume), and one wonders whether this item is taken from that report given by Hatton. All in all, it would appear that by the time Parry was placed in the dock these and like-minded members of the Council had made the decision to issue a publication capitalizing on the Parry episode to fuel anti-Catholic sentiment and influence public opinion in their favor.
10. For everything in this book is carefully crafted to throw maximum blame on the Roman Catholic Church, with special reference to the Jesuit Order (if Parry received any aid and comfort from fellow English recusants at home we are not told about it). A good deal of the portion of the volume, devoted to Parry’s “voluntarie confession“ dated 13 February 1585 consists of a detailed account of his protracted wanderings around France and Italy consulting with various members of the upper clergy and the Jesuit Order as he sought resolution of a problem preying on his mind: although he had already formed the intention to assassinate the queen, he was not quite sure that this act would not be sinful and so more or less demanded a guarantee of absolution, ideally granted by the Pope himself (who at the moment was Gregory XIII). It is more than a little hard to understand why he should have regarded this issue as troublesome. Pius V’s 1570 bull Regnans in Excelsis had excommunicated Elizabeth, declaring her to be a heretic. Furthermore, ’We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others aforesaid that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.” Pius did not continue with an express declaration that the killing of a heretical and therefore tyrannical sovereign would be a meritorious act, but Catholics so inclined could easily regard this as the logical consequence of what he did say, and plenty of English Catholics (such as Anthony Babington and his associates and later the Gunpowder Plotters) drew precisely this conclusion. One wonders how Parry could have experienced any difficulty in doing the same. In the end He managed to extract from Tolomeo Gallio Cardinal Como, the Vatican Secretary of State, a letter indicating that Pope Gregory was personally cognizant of Parry’s intention, approved it, and consented to grant the desired absolution Indeed, all of Parry’s concern about this issue seems so unnecessary that a number of historians have suspected that he was actually playing the part of a double agent and that the object of this entire exercise was to incriminate as many higher-ups in the Catholic Church as possible and obtain documentary proof of their complicity.. The machinations of Cardinal William Allen and the Jesuits under the leadership of Robert Persons (or Parsons) made this representation all the more credible.
11. Once A True and Plaine Declaration had come into existence it served as the fountainhead for by a number of literary items that accepted unconditionally the account of the episode that it had set forth. Most memorably , a series of Latin poetry volumes came forth from Joseph Barnes’ newly-established printery at Oxford Besides the best of them all, George Peele’s Pareus these were In Guil. Parry Proditorem odae et epigrammata by William Gager, Guilielmus Parreus proditor, sive contra giganteam proditionem ... novum et verum prognosticon by “L.. H. ”(Lawrence Humphrey, and Anglia Querens by “H. D.” (probably Henry Denys). To one degree or another each of these accepted the facts as set forth in the Declaration, but added a mythologizing tophamper designed to bring out the affair’s theological implications: Parry’s scheme was a local manifestation of a vast struggle for world domination waged by the forces of good and evil. The claims of the Roman Catholic in these, Church to be God’s earthly agency are exactly upended, and the Church is represented as doing the work of Satan.
12. But it must not be thought that the literary response to the detection of Parry’s plot was limited to the rarified altitude of Oxonian Neo-Latinists. The literary aftermath to this affair also included such popularizing vernacular items as Philip Stubbes’ The Intended Treason of Doctor Parrie: and his complices, against the Queenes moste Excellent Maiestie. With a Letter sent from the Pope to the same effect. Nor was the pulpit ignored: as is shown by An Order of Praier and Thankes-Giving, for the preseruation of the Queenes Maiesties life and safetie: to be vsed by the Preachers and Ministers of the Dioces of Winchester, With a short extract of William Parries voluntarie confession, written with his own hand, also printed at London in 1585. It is not unlikely that similar orders were issued in other dioceses as well NOTE 3 Descending even further we have broadsides dealing with Parry’s final words from the scaffold, collected and studied by Paul Robertshaw. NOTE 4 Finally, the episode produced such iconographic responses as this crude cartoon. To complete Tanya Reimer’s list of the forms taken by contemporary propaganda, one may, if one wishes, regard Parry’s public execution as a grisly form of pageantry. In sum, we can see a replica of the Anne Boleyn pageantry: the same message is being disseminated for the benefit of the entire English population, modulated in ways appropriate for society’s different segments
13. Just a year previously Francis Throckmorton had been executed for fathering a scheme to murder Elizabeth and set Mary Queen of Scots on the throne which had yielded a similar publication, also issued by Christopher Barker, A Discoverie of the Treasons Practices and Attempted Against [sic] the Queens Majesty and the Realm, that went through three printings (and was subsequently incorporated into Holinshed’s chronicle), which was treated to a Latin translation, and also one in Dutch. Throckmorton’s plot (if it deserves to be called such) was just as nebulous and posed just as insubstantial a threat as Parry’s, and yet that previous incident engendered no similar outpouring of scribbling and sermonizing. Why this difference? The explanation is obvious: by early 1585 England was hovering on the brink of war and seemed to be confronted by an existential threat, and Parry’s activities came to light just at the time when high-ranking members of the pro-war party found this incident a handy way to ratchet up popular sentiment in their favor.
14. Returning briefly to the Oxford Parry poetry, it happened that at just before the Parry plot came to light the University of Oxford had been petitioning for permission to operate a press locally, at a time when the Earl of Leicester was Chancellor of that cniversity. Elsewhere I have pointed out that, governmental assent having been obtained, books began to come forth from Joseph Barnes’ publishing operation in 1585 and that most of items that appeared in its earliest years had a decidedly political content, and one suspects a bargain whereby the former ban on printing operations ouitside of London was relaxed in exchange for Barnes' aggreement to print such stuff. Indeed, several of his early items were productions were written in direct response to the Parry affair. But after the defeat of the Armada the situation underwent an abrupt change and henceforth Barnes’ productions were considerably more like what one would expect from an academic press, presumably because the war’s original sense of urgency had subsided. We do not know exactly how or by whom permission to found the press was granted, but it the temptation seems irresistible to see Leicester’s hand at work, since this dovetails so neatly with Eleanor Rosenberg’s delineation of the Earl’s politicized use of literature. As Chancellor of the University, he may have advocated for Oxford’s petition in the Privy Council. It may also be relevant to point out that 1588, after which Barnes’ output assumed such a decidedly different character, was also the year of Leicester’s death, so that the University was freed of any further indebtedness to him. Expanding on this, it also becomes tempting to imagine that the ideas of having the royal printer put out quasi-official accounts of the Trockmorton and Parry affairs, making literary capital of the latter one and putting the written word to work broadcasting the Declaration’s message, and using Joseph Barnes’ press as a political instrument, were all Leicester’s. If we can speak of the response to the Parry plot as a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign, the Earl may well have done the orchestrating.
15.This is not the only interesting feature of A True and Plaine Declaration. Perhaps oddly, Christopher Barker did not issue a similar book in the wake of the Babington Conspiracy: one would have thought that the English government would have felt an urgent need to place on the public record its justification for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. But in 1606 his son Robert, the heir of his position as royal printer, put out a stout volume entitled A True and Perfect Relation of the Proceedings at the Severall Arraignments of the Late Most Barbarous Traitors (coupled with a Latin translation by William Camden presumably written for overseas consumption, written for overseas consumption) which bears a striking resemblance to A True and Plaine Declaration. This was the official account of the Gunpowder Plot, containing much the same elements and featuring transcripts of the of the prosecutorial speeches delivered at the trials of the Plotters and Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit provincial Superior for England, followed by an account of their executions. This account too set the tone for a spate of responses ranging from Latin poetry including the items discussed here and here (the best known of which is Milton’s Latin poem on the Fifth of November), many of which recast the official account in similar mythologizing terms, down to broadside ballads and crude woodcuts. There seem to be reasonable grounds for thinking that the carefully managed handling of the Parry affair was studied and imitated in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. NOTE 5
16. For readers interested in pursuing this subject further I can enthusiastically recommend Sara Bradley’s 2019 Nottingham Trent University dissertation Pamphlet literature and the Anglo-Spanish war: A study of anti-Spanish sentiment in England between 1580 and 1590, which can be seen here.
NOTE 1 So, for example, Leo Hicks, "The Strange Case of Dr. William Parry: The Career of an Agent-Provocateur," Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 37 (1948) pp. 343 - 362.
NOTE 2 For whom see David R. Carlson, “The Italian Johannes Opicius on Henry VII of England's 1492 invasion of France: historical witness and antique convention,” Renaissance Studies 20:4 (2006) pp. 520 - 46.
NOTE 3 That sermons were sometimes read out nationwide in accordance with governmental command tis shown by the case of the 1571 Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches, at least one of which (evidently the work of Bishop John Jewel) delivered a markedly political message.
NOTE 4 Paul Robertshaw. “Logos and Pathos in Sentencing Dr. William Parry,” International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 17 (2004) pp. 27 - 51.
NOTE 5 The case against Parry was resuscitated in connection with the Titus Oates affair, in several books of the time: a reprint of A true and plaine declaration (1679), The Jesuites Ghostly Wayes to Draw other Persons over to their Damnable Principle of the meritoriousness of destryong Princes, Made clear in the two barbarous attempots of William Parry and Edward Squire on our late Gracious Sovereign Elizabeth of Blessed Memory, (1680) and Popish Cruelties, Wherein may be seen that Romish Traitors Have now the same Murthering and Treasonable Principles and Practices They had in Q. Elizabeth's Reign (1680).