Wentworth’s path from Lord Deputy of Ireland to the executioner’s axe is well enough known in its broad outlines, but with so many twists and nuances that it is hard to evaluate.
The decisive change in his fortunes came when the king, Charles I, recalled him from Ireland and charged him with putting down the revolt in Scotland (the Bishops’ Wars), along with making him Earl of Strafford.
He soon found himself the target of both sides in the dispute, but was persuaded to hang on in there by Charles, who promised him protection and then threw him to the wolves when Parliament impeached him.
If you want something a bit more meaty than the usual potted biographies there’s a chapter in Alan Orr, Treason and the State that’s worth taking a look at.
But the reason I’m posting this is because I’ve just finished scanning two thick volumes of Stafford’s collected letters, edited by William Knowler from the originals held by Strafford’s great grandson and published in 1739.
I did post a little tidbit a while back about Laud supposedly eating the puritan William Prynne’s ears, but the twist of fate that subsequently led Prynne to be the gaoler and prosecutor of his persecutor is one of the darkest tales of the seventeenth century and deserves a more prominent place on these pages.
Although this work was published many years after the events it describes, and its main content is reprinted, it also contains the first printing of a number of letters relating to the plot.
It is not a scarce work, and there is at least one other online copy (in the HathiTrust digital collection), but the margins are frustratingly narrow, making it difficult to scan.
I’ve done my best to scan each page fully, and the book can be viewed HERE. As with my other text-searchable PDF scans, the page may take some time to load. If it refuses to load at all on one browser, try opening it on another. I’m working on dividing these PDFs into smaller, more easily loaded, sections, but it all takes time!
Click HERE for a bit more detail about the book and its contents.
This full-page frontispiece is prefaced by the following poem:
These lines speak for themselves, describing “Albion” as “Three Nations doom’d t’eternal slavery”, symbolized by the figures crushed under the wheels of the hellish chariot that represents the Interregnum and Cromwell’s Protectorate.
That gives a pretty clear idea of where this book is coming from. The proceedings of the trial are taken from the official records, but accompanied by a lengthy introduction and copious commentary, leaving the reader in doubt but that the whole thing was nothing short of a heinous murder.
For a text-searchable scan of the whole book, click HERE.
For related texts and further details, click HERE.
This week’s book scan is a bit different from my usual fare. It’s a manuscript, it’s from the 15th century, it’s not primarily related to suffering and – because of the limitations of OCR (optical character reader) software – it’s not text-searchable.
But if you have any interest in this kind of thing I think you’ll find it’s worth taking a look! Here are a few sample pages, just to whet your appetite…
For a “guided tour” of this Book of Hours, click here. To see scans of the entire book, click here.
It’s a common enough tale, I suppose. Young man goes to Cambridge, studies law, goes to the inner Temple to complete his training, gets converted to Catholicism and ends up being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.
Maurus Scott was one of some 355 Catholics who were either put to death or died in prison during the early modern period, 40 of whom were subsequently canonized, while a further 242, of whom Scott was one, were beatified.
I don’t have anything in particular to say about him. The little that is known can be gleaned easily enough from Wikipedia or other sources, and I created a short entry for him on the Discourses of Suffering website.
I’d like to say dive over there, everyone, and get the lowdown on Maurus Scott, but Narratio mortis in odium fidei Londini in Anglia illatæ R.A.P. Mauro Scotto is in Latin, which limits its readership somewhat. I made a start on translating it, and I uploaded that too, but I haven’t got very far and (let’s be honest!) I probably won’t have the stamina to work right through it.
The OCR works reasonably well, though – in addition to the problems of early modern spelling conventions – there are occasional misreadings (“o” and “e” sometimes get misread as “c”, for example).
There’s already a copy of this available in Google Books (with many of the same problems when it comes to scanning), but the more online copies the merrier!
I finally splashed out on a CZUR overhead scanner, which I picked up at a substantial discount from the regular market price.
I strongly recommend anyyone to get one of these. Forget that dishwasher you were saving up for, or the new hairdryer you’ve been promising yourself; for real consumer satori nothing beats an overhead scanner!
Finally I am able to scan my early modern books and upload high quality text-searchable PDF files. I’ve made a modest start with half a dozen works (bound together) on “the horrid Popish Plot”. The collection focuses on martyrs and relgious controversies, and I’m planning to add one book a week, so if that kind of thing floats your boat stay tuned for updates!
Samuel Smith’s story is told in An Account of the Causes of some Particular Rebellious Distempers viz. the Scurvey, Cancers in Women’s Breasts, &c… (pp. 24-5), an anonymous work, published in London in 1670, and in William Salmon’s Ars Chirurgica (London, 1698), which repeats the 1670 account verbatim (p. 695). Immediately after dipping his finger into a gland of the woman’s severed breast and touching it to his lip, he experienced an insurmountable revulsion which he was unable to shake off:
…although he presently spit out and wash’d his Mouth with Water…and also with Wine…yet could not get rid of the Taste thereof, but it continued…and brought him…into a Consumption…which in a few Months after killed him, the Taste thereof never going off from his Tongue to his dying Hour… (An Account, p. 25.)
Bowman’s article examines five late seventeenth-century French autobiographies – by Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, Jeanne Bouvier de La Mothe Guyon, Antoinette Bourignon, Soeur Jeanne des Anges and Joseph Surin – and notes four recurrent themes running through all of them: ‘the consumption of disgusting matter and vomiting; the rejection of sexual activity and especially horror at sexual penetration; the fear of a fall through space; the refusal of the edenic myth of childhood’. He further points out that:
If all four have a spiritual context (Christ was given vinegar to drink, chastity is prized by the Church, the fall through space is a symbol of Adam’s fall and the fall from grace, and children are not innocent in a world of original sin), they also indicate a tension between the self and the world, about penetration by or movement in that world, about the links between past and present, family and self. (P. 26)
Bowman has a number of significant points to make, among them the links between spiritual biography and sadomasochistic discourse. There are sadomasochistic overtones in Alacoque’s relationship with her ‘harsh’ Superior and, Surin’ – whose autobiography Bowman considers ‘one of the most remarkable … ever written’ (p. 26), ‘Damned by God, forbidden to be good … knew the full consequences of deifying evil and makes one feel that such later writers as Sade or Lautréamont only play with the idea’ (p. 34).
There are also some interesting issues arising from the account of Smith’s demise; it is perhaps no accident that it is a poison emanating from a woman’s breast that leads to his downfall. For now, though, I will focus on just one issue – the light that these accounts shed on the way in which these accounts throw into relief changing attitudes towards feelings of repugnance, in particular the rejection of Stoic principles of inuring the impulses of the flesh and the shift towards the perception that natural revulsion is not there to be overcome but to be heeded as a matter of common sense.
To begin with, let me cite Bowman at greater length on the subject of eating nasty things. He notes traits which perhaps resemble what today we would call anorexia in Surin, and continues:
Jeanne had a predilection for eating vile food: «I used wormwood and gall to sprinkle what I ate in order to kill off in myself all kinds of taste» (p. 153). One of her devil’s tricks was to make her spit the Host out at the priest’s face once she had received it, and eating and vomiting were activities the demons inspired in her … Mme Guyon was something of a gourmet, … [but] this did not prevent her from learning how to consume others’ spit: «One day when I saw some spittle, the ugliest I’ve ever seen, I was obliged to put my mouth and tongue on it; the effort I made was so strange that I could not recover from it, and I had such violent retchings that I thought a vein was going to burst and I would vomit blood. I continued doing so as long as my stomach found it repugnant, which was quite a while» (p. 39). Alacoque exceeds the others. Her demons attacked her with «this abominable temptation of gourmandizing» (p. 351), so the Superior mortified her every time she asked for food. Moreover,
I was so very delicate that the least filthiness upset my stomach. He [i.e., God] corrected me so strenuously about this that once, wanting to clean the vomit of a sick person, I could not restrain myself from doing it with my own tongue and eating it, saying to him [i.e., God]: «If I had a thousand bodies, a thousand loves, a thousand lives, I would immolate them all to be enslaved to you.» I found so many delights in this act, that I would have liked to discover similar ones every day.
Once, on having an attack of dysentery, Alacoque consumed something so vile that her editor – and Bowman – forebear to give the details (p. 27).
Stoic attempts to overcome disgust by mortifying the taste buds were a feature of Catholic practice, and are echoed in Protestant attacks on absurd Catholic practices, such as Pierre de Moulin’s Le Capucin (1641), which (in the English translation of 1665) mocks the Capuchin monks for such penances as ‘eat[ing] with a Cat in the same dish’, or ‘lick[ing] up the others spittle’ (The Capucin Treated, pp. 21 & 22). And, while Bowman (rightly) emphasizes the differences between hagiography and spiritual autobiography – ‘Spiritual autobiographies do not always aim to describe exemplary conduct and, if only because of Christian humility, neglect the good deeds and signs of holiness which are the staple of hagiography’ (p. 24) – there are, nevertheless, close parallels between these accounts and the lives of saints. Catherine of Siena and Francisco Xavier are among those saints who sucked the pus out of the ulcerous sores of diseased people, though this was presumably done at least partly with the intention of benefiting others, and not simply out of an impulse to self-abasement (though that may have played a part, particularly in Xavier’s case). It is no accident that ‘Mme Guyon knows Catherine of Siena’ (p. 36), or that Surin justifies his spiritual crises by drawing parallels with figures like Ignatius, Suso and Magdalena de Pazzi (p. 37).
Loth as I am to play the amateur psychiatrist, one cannot but be struck by the confluence of eating foul things, feelings of guilt, unhappy childhoods and aversion to sex in the writers Bowman examines. If they knocked on the door with money in their pockets they would give any modern psychoanalyst a field day.
It is possible to see Smith, too, as suffering from a perverse compulsion, but the rationale behind his action is completely different. Smith is acting, supposedly, out of curiosity (whether idle or scientific), whereas the autobiographers are motivated by the underlying assumption is that it is right for the spirit to attempt to overcome the predilections and aversions of the flesh. This difference in intent is underlined by the very great difference in outcome.
So far, I have not been able to find any independent verification of this account of Samuel Smith’s death, but the fact that Salmon finds it worth repeating in a work published 28 years later indicates that it was accepted as true at the time. It is only the account of Smith’s death itself that Salmon borrows verbatim; though he takes it as proof of the same general principle as the author of the 1670 account (i.e., that there are certain very rare cancers of a particularly toxic nature), Salmon differs considerably in his explanation of the details.
But (for me at least) it is not the literal truth of the story that matters so much as what it represents – a rejection of Stoic principles that were widely accepted, at least until the later part of the seventeenth century, a mockery of Christian injunctions to ‘rejoice to suffer’ for the sake of one’s Lord. It is not just its staunch secularity that makes the juxtaposition of the account of how curiosity killed the surgeon with the spiritual accounts so remarkable. The moral of Smith’s fate is that one cannot simply overcome one’s natural repugnance, that, in fact, repugnance is so powerful that it can kill.
On the one hand, the juxtaposition of these scientific and spiritual accounts illustrates the way in which the one was emerging as an objective, rational discourse that has all but replaced religion in many people’s lives, while the other, insofar as it survives at all, has morphed into the realms of psychological analysis and attempts to rationalize the subjective impulses and perceptions of the individual. At the same time, though, it is notable that the scientific account is in the context of Protestant culture, with its rejection of the belief in mortification, while the spiritual conflict of the autobiographies takes place within the context of Catholic culture.
I am not trying to argue that either type of discourse is superior to the other, nor am I saying that scientific discourse is more essentially the property of a Protestant society than a Catholic one. What I am pointing out here is a basic incompatibility between these discourses, that the scientific perception leads inevitably to the marginalization of the worldview expressed by the autobiographers, culminating in the characterization of the impulses and sufferings of the tortured soul as madness, as the title of Bowman’s paper makes clear.
I’ll no doubt be back in gear with more insights into early modern suffering sometime during 2021, but for now I’m working on a series of videos on “Shakespeare the man”. Here’s the first one, just giving a general overview.
This next one is the first of several I’ll be doing on Shakespeare’s Stratford friends. Following Kate Pogue, I’m starting with Richard Quiney:
And here’s the third one, on Thomas Greene, which is as far as I’ve got so far:
I’m working on placing Shakespeare in his social context, showing the kinds of people he mixed with and the circles he moved in. The unspoken subtext of the videos is that, despite the claims of those who, for some reason, desperately need for Shakespeare to have been a country bumpkin who could never have written the plays published in his name, he was closely connected to people like Quiney and Greene, who were highly literate and well-educated.
In addition to my own series on Shakespeare, I’ve been editing and producing a series of interviews for a series of interviews by Thomas Dabbs, of Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, called “Speaking of Shakespeare”. These are a kaken-funded project, originally intended to finance a number of “live” appearances of visiting lecturers, but adapted because … well, because!
Here they are:
Both series are growing, so if you want to follow them check them out on YouTube and subscribe to the respective channels!
Here it is! Something tangible and irrefutable, something that makes 2021 better than 2020 (not that that would be hard!), something to cheer the spirit and warm the cocckles of the heart. Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership Phase 2 is now in the public domain, bringing 60,331 early modern works in text-searchable form within reach of anyone with access to the internet.
The Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) is starting a new series of digital material. The first video in the series, Vegetable Harmonies, a short video with the Illuminations by Gherardo Cybo (1512-1600) on Mattioli’s Discorsi sopra la Materia Medica di Dioscoride Pedacio (BL Ms Additional 22333) accompanied by Monteverdi’s madrigal La Giovinetta Pianta (1592), was published just a few days ago:
This is my first post for a while, partly because I’ve been focusing on other things, and partly because, when I did turn my attention in this direction and tried to post, the blog had disappeared!
It took a while, but eventually I managed to sort out the problems and get it back, so here I am – three quarters of a year late, posting details of a paper I presented at the European Association for Japanese Studies Annual Conference at Tsukuba University on September 15, 2019.
The purpose of the presentation was to view the persecution of Catholics in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Japan in the context of the religious controversies between Catholics and Protestants in early modern England.
Here are the notes I used for the presentation:
I’d like to start by discussing the role and nature of characterizations of Japan in polemical literature prior to the martyrdoms of 1597 … and to do that I need to focus on a Jesuit mission very different from that in Japan – the mission to England of 1580-81, which basically hinges on two individuals, the controversialist Robert Parsons and his fellow missionary Edmund Campion, who came to England secretly in 1580 – a pretty risky venture, the penalty for which was death, a price which Campion paid, while Parsons escaped.
The following year, 1581, while the two priests were still in hiding in England. Parsons wrote a work – ostensibly printed in Douai but, like many Catholic texts of this period, actually printed secretly in England – entitled A brief censure vppon two books written in answere to M. Edmonde Campions offer of disputation.
Campion’s offer – dubbed by his enemies “Campion’s brag” – was to discuss the Jesuit – or, more broadly, the Catholic – position with the English authorities. The offer was roundly rejected in two publications by Meredith Hanmer and William Charke.
So … Campion requests an audience with the English authorities, Hanmer and Charke publish their rejections of the offer and Parsons publishes his response to their rejections.
And what does any of this have to do with Japan? Well, Parsons is at pains to reassure the English authorities that the Jesuit presence in England is not political but religious in intent, and he says, “… to retourne to M. Campion againe, whose coming into Englande you wil needs enforce … that it is for practise against the state …” – that is, in response to the charge that the Jesuits are plotting to overthrow the government and return the country to Catholicism by force – he argues that “the Indies Japon can geue example, where they haue dealt so many yeares for the bringing of men to the Christian religion, disallowed by the states of those countries, and yet are no medlers against those estates, nor euer caused subiectes to leaue their obedience to those infidel Princes.”
He says much the same thing in another work published the following year: “The king of Bungo in Japan, being a heathen, hath permitted & protected the Catholic religion in his countries these 28 years only for the commodity he feeleth his commonwealth to receive thereof…”, he says, concluding that the Catholic faith is essential to the “maintenance, continuance, well doing, and secure establishment of a commonwealth”.
The Protestants, as we might expect, put a very different complexion on things. In May 1581, just a couple of months before Campion was seized by the English authorities, one John Keltridge preached a couple of sermons to a captive audience of Jesuits and other “aduersaries to the Gospell of Christ” in the Tower of London: “What presumption was it for you to come to vs” he says; “Wee sought you not. what arrogancie to teach vs? We are not destitute of such as can instruct. What? was it because you would sowe your damnable errors here, as you did of late amongst the Iaponians? a people that might haue beene conuerted, nowe they are infected by you : that might haue seene the light, nowe they are blinded thorowe you …”
He continues his tirade, saying “there be Idols Amida and Zaca, which the men of that countrie worshippe, as they were taught by you. Think you that it is vnknowne to vs? are we ignorant of your dealings? No, I tell you no”. Which I think is a rather nice illustration of a recurring theme in early modern discourse; when in doubt – blame it on the Jesuits!
Keltridge winds up this part of his diatribe with the words, “And come you hither, and haue you hope to preuaile here with vs … come you hither into Englande?” underlining the point that the real focus is on matters close to home, and Japan comes in merely by way of illustration.
So, let’s turn now to the events of 1597. As Dr. Rappo has explained, the Franciscans claimed the crucifixions as martyrdoms, with attendant miracles, as evidence of the importance of the work they were doing in Japan, while the Jesuits denied that there had been either martyrdoms or miracles, and argued that the crucifixions were essentially political, resulting from the Franciscans’ failure to observe the legal restraints the Japanese had placed them under.
News of the crucifixions spread quickly in Europe. The Franciscan version was told in the Relación of Francisco de Tello de Guzmán, published in Granada and Seville in 1598, and translated in short order into Italian, French and German. Juan de Santa María’s account was published in Madrid in 1599 and, with revisions and additions, in 1601, and Marcelo de Ribadeneira – perhaps the most influential of the Franciscan writers – published his Historia in 1601.
The Jesuits were equally prolific; Luis Froís, José de Ribera and Luis de Guzmán were among those who published accounts, and there were others, on both sides of the debate, which continued to rage until the pope sanctioned the Franciscan mission in 1608, with the two sides largely burying their differences when the persecution of Christians in Japan intensified in 1614.
But what I want to focus on here is the fact that the debate is being played out in what is very much a European theatre. What impact, if any, did all of this have on little England?
The signs are not encouraging. Robert Parsons speaks of the Jesuits’ “voluntarie sufferinges tortures & martirdomes in the Indies, in Ethiopia, in Iapone, in Englād, Frace & other places” (A temperate vvard-vvord, 1599). That’s right! Blink and you’d miss it; it’s just a passing mention and he doesn’t give any details. Fróis’s letters were translated into English circa 1605, but they were never published. And, so far, I’ve not been able to locate any copies of texts related to the events of 1597 in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England database.
A 1598 translation of Jan Huygen [“haifun”] van Linschoten states that the Jesuits “likewise obtained of the Pope and the king of Spaine, that no mã might dwell in Iapan; either Portingale or Christian, without their licence and consent, so that in all Iapan there are no other orders of Munkes, Fryers, Priests, nor any other religious persons remaining or resident there, but Jesuites alone.”
The text is based on the author’s experience some years previously, so it’s only to be expected that it doesn’t refer to the Franciscan presence or to the crucifixions of 1597. However, it is curious that it appears to be the main source of information about Japan in England for a number of years afterwards. William Clark, writing in 1603, says, “it is reported of Iapona … where they [i.e., the Jesuits] keepe to themselues the sole dominion, and will admit no other Clergie, but play Bishop, priest, and Munck themselues”, citing Jan Huygen as his source.
And in 1604 George Abbot notes that “In Iaponia, of the Portingale, no man hath any authority or power besids the Iesuits … These Iesuits do also diligently take heed, that no mõk of any other order be receiued into those lads”, also based on Jan Huygen’s account.
So, yes, I think it’s fairly clear by now that we’re not really talking about the response in Protestant England, but the lack of it!
Essentially, it’s business as usual; it’s almost as if the crucifixions had never happened. Japan continues to figure as a rhetorical device in anti-Jesuit discourse and accusations of a Jesuit plot to take over England. For example, Andreas Philalethes (i.e., Robert Charnock) writes of “the great hopes [the Jesuits] haue of making England a Iaponian Island” (An ansvvere made by one of our brethren, 1602). Such accusations persist even after the Jesuits have been driven out of Japan. William Prynne, for example, writing in 1655, complains that the Jesuits seek to “make these Northern Islands a Iaponian Island of Iesuites, and one Iesuitical Monarchy” (, A seasonable, legal, and historicall vindication).
John Donne refers disparagingly to “the Iesuites Letters of Iapan” (Ignatius his conclaue, 1611), and Samuel Purchas makes leave to “borrow of them” in his account of Japan (Purchas his pilgrimage, 1613). Purchas even gives muted praise to the Jesuits’ work in Japan, saying “a mixed Truth” is better than “a totall errour” and “the Labours of the Iesuites … breed shame to our negligence”. Overall, though, there appears to be very little significant discussion in Protestant England of martyrdoms and miracles among the Christians in Japan.
The apparent lack of information about Japan in England at this time is all the more curious given that, from 1600, the English had, of course, boots on the ground – Will Adams, an Englishman in Japan (with apologies to Sting) or (if you prefer the Graham Greene version) our man in Nagasaki.
According to John Nelson, Adams’s “Protestant descriptions of a new world view portrayed the Spaniards and Portuguese as ‘papist pirates,’ the Pope as ‘a thief,’ and warned in no uncertain terms that the Spaniards were set on nothing less than world conquest based first on the conversion of subjects of foreign princes … It all sounded very familiar to threats heard during the San Felipe incident in 1597”. And, no doubt, it had some effect on Japanese perceptions of the Catholic presence.
And, from 1613 to 1623 the East India Company was active in Japan, headed by Richard Cocks, a former anti-Catholic spy.
Timon Screech, basing his analysis largely on letters written by Cocks to the Company during this period, makes a compelling case for the role of Cocks and the English in turning the Japanese authorities against the Catholics (The English and the control of Christianity in the early Edo period, 2012).
Some of Cocks’s letters found their way into later editions of Purchas his pilgrimage and, together with more of the Jesuits’ letters coming from Japan, they helped to flesh out the picture.
Slowly but surely, the news that Japan had “persecuted the Christians, and banished the Iesuites” started to filter into Protestant England.
Meanwhile, Catholic accounts of the crucifixions of 1597 and related events were beginning to appear in English. As Alexandra Walsham observes, “These books were expected to fall into the hands, not just of committed adherents of the Church of Rome, but also of lukewarm waverers and convinced Calvinists”. The Anglican clergy, of course, were exempt from the prohibition on reading Catholic literature and were, indeed, expected to do so, in order to be in a position to confound the adversary. It took a surprising amount of time, but by about 1630 Protestant England was reasonably up to date regarding the persecution of Christians in Japan.
However, it is not until the later part of the seventeenth century that the threads of historical detail and religious polemic start to weave themselves into a coherent Protestant narrative. John Evelyn’s 1670 translation of de Pontchâteau and Arnauld is a good example: “… for a mark of the Jesuites blinded self-love, he says, that no Fryar of any other order must be permitted to pass into England” – “he” here being our old friend Robert Parsons – concluding “thus they make nothing of ruining the Church, providing it may conduce to make them Masters of all”.
And in that context of hostile relations between Jesuits and other orders he introduces Japan, where “the Jesuites were Cheats and Impostures who made pretence of preaching, came to raise the people, and plot some treason against him [i.e., the emperor], and the kings of Japan”, where they were seen as seditious, as “dispos[ing] the people to war”, and where they were “persecuted and chased away as Cheats and Impostors”. He then goes on to argue that “It cannot be said that the Emperour did this out of hatred to the Christian Faith, who gave permission in writing in 1593 to the Order of St. Francis to enter his Empire, to found there Churches, Hospitals and Convents, and appear publickly in their poor habit : All which notwithstanding the persecution continued against the Society, who had but one Church left at Nangazaqui…”
In the following year, 1671, the Dutch account of Arnoldus Montanus appeared in English, noting that in 1596 (by the Julian calendar) the Emperor “proceeded cruelly against the Christians” ordering the “Governor of Nangesaque, to take five Franciscans, and three Jesuits, and having Crucified, run them through with Spears”. Montanus goes on to pour scorn on the accounts of miracles surrounding this event – “concerning the Miracles wrought by these Priests, let him believe, who according to St. Augustine, desired and depends upon now Miracles for establishment of Religion, already confirm’d by Wonders”, but goes on to list them nevertheless.
Montanus also comments, interestingly, that “These Examples manifest sufficiently, that the Japanners are not only of Noble Hearts, but constant Resolutions, enduring the greatest Tortures in their Infancy with inexpressible Valour, for a Religion, the first beginning whereof they scarce understood: For besides reading the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and some Prayers to the Saints, they have little or no knowledge of either the Old or New Testament: Therefore we may judge the Japan Martyrs to be very Zealous and Constant.”
This line of thought is also found in the works of the puritan Richard Baxter, who in 1692 argues that Christianity may exist independently of the scriptures, saying, “a man may be a true Christian who knoweth not that there is any Scripture which is Gods Infallible word”, and in that context goes on to say that “in Japan, Congo, China, and other countries of the East, they [i.e., the Jesuits] did teach them onely by Creeds, Catechismes, and preachings: And I remember no knowledge that they gave to most of them of the Scriptures : And yet the most cruel torments and martyrdoms never before heard of, which the Christians in Japan endured … doth put all sober readers past doubt, that there were many excellent Christians”.
So, let’s try to get some kind of gestalt on all of this. What does it all add up to? Essentially, we’re dealing, especially in the early stages, with an anti-Jesuit narrative, in which Japan is cast as “Jesuitized” and perceived negatively, while England is “Jesuit-free” and perceived positively. Japan is held up as the epitome of all the harm the Jesuits do.
The martyrdoms of 1597 and the ensuing persecution of Christians in Japan are recounted from the varying perspectives of the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dutch and the English themselves, and as these accounts slowly filter into English discourse the focus begins to shift gradually away from Jesuit conspiracy and towards greater historical accuracy, the question of the veracity of miracles, and a recognition of the commonality of suffering. Obviously, the diagram is a simplification. Anti-Jesuit polemic doesn’t just die out at this time, and Protestant attacks on the Catholic belief in miracles go right back to the early days of the Reformation. But there does seem to be a general shift of perspective, away from the early modern worldview and anticipating the more rational discourses of the Enlightenment.
of the ironies of English history is that the landmark 1689 Bill of
Rights, with its prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment, was
prompted, in part, by the ill-treatment of one of the great villains of
the seventeenth century.
In 1678, for
want of anything better to do, Titus Oates, a failed student of
Cambridge University who conned his way into the priesthood, conspired
together with a fanatical – and quite possibly clinically insane –
clergyman called Israel Tonge to accuse English Jesuits of a plot to
kill the king, Charles II.
this totally off the top of their heads, with no basis in fact
whatsoever but, given the climate of the times, they were widely
believed. The instruction to kill Charles, it was asserted, had come
from the pope himself, and so the so-called plot came to be known as the
As it happened, a
strongly Protestant Member of Parliament, by the name of Edmund Berry
Godfrey, was murdered shortly afterwards, and Oates seized on this as
evidence that his pipe-dream of a plot was true. The press jumped on
board and pretty soon a witch hunt of Catholics was under way.
This May 1679 issue of The London Gazette
denounces the “Bloody and Jesuitical Principles” underlying another
murder, that of James Sharp, the Archbishop of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The true culprits turned out to be Presbyterians.
country was in the grip of anti-Catholic hysteria. Following Godfrey’s
murder, Catholics were banished from London and were not permitted
within a 20-mile radius (later reduced to 10 miles) of the city. Several
others (prominent among whom were Stephen Dugdale, Robert Jenison and
Edward Turberville) jumped onto the bandwagon, and started accusing
twenty-two Catholics were put to death, others died in grossly inhumane
conditions in prison, and still others were killed by mobs.
Oates was exposed and it was acknowledged that there was not, and had
never been, any such plot. A fat lot of good that did to the Catholics
who had died, though, and the ban on Catholics (other than tradesmen and
householders) entering London was maintained. Although Charles II
himself was bitter about the number of people whose execution he had
authorized as a result of the deception, anti-Catholic prejudice
continued unabated, and scant remorse for the injustices done was
expressed by the press or the populace at large.
is why I call it an irony that the Bill of Rights of 1689 was partly
inspired by the punishment that Oates received. Make no mistake, he paid
a high price. When James II, who had converted to Catholicism, came to
the throne in 1785 he had Oates thrown in prison and sentenced to be
whipped through the streets five days a year for the rest of his life.
The presiding judge was Judge Jeffreys, “the Hanging Judge”, and it’s
speculated that the aim was for the whippings to kill Oates, since
Jeffreys could not impose the death penalty for perjury.
irony is that, while remaining apparently unmoved by the executions,
banishment from the capital and general mistreatment of Catholics, the
public reacted strongly to the punishment meted out to Oates, the cause
of all this suffering. John Phillips, for example, was outraged at
“Protestant Judges condemning a Protestant, and the Detector of a most
Horrid Popish Plot” (The Secret History of the Reigns of K. Charles II and K. James II [London, 1690], p. 187), impervious to the fact that the “horrid” plot he refers to was a complete fake.
Bill of rights of 1689 was designed to prevent judges from overstepping
the limits of their powers and inflicting punishments that went beyond
A Remonstrance of Innocence, published in 1683, is a Catholic account of the deaths of those executed for their supposed involvement in the fake plot.
James II was ousted, in 1689, Oates was pardoned, released from prison
and given a pension. He died in relative obscurity in 1705.
The two illustrations to this post are from my collection of early modern publications. I’ve written a bit more about them and the context in which they were written here: Religious Controversy: POPISH PLOT.
For further details on Oates and the Poposh Plot, see Susan Abernethy’s informative blog post: Titus Oates.
This is a post on a website entitled “Bad News about Christianity“. The name gives a fairly good indication of what it’s all about, and there’s certainly a lot of detailed information on the website, but unfortunately there is no indication of the identity of the author[s]. This seems to be intentional.
Anyway, the post I wanted to draw people’s attention to is on Sadomasochism and Christianity. It’s a bit predictable in a way, I suppose, but it does draw together a lot of examples, saying:
…in any other context these images would be considered disturbing, sadomasochistic, deviant and unsuitable for children. They concentrate heavily on brutality, beating, flogging, piercing, torture, bleeding, nailing and death. Collecting and drinking blood is an especially popular theme in Christian art. Some Christians submit themselves to some of these sufferings – wearing crowns of thorns, flogging themselves, and even having themselves nailed to crosses.
Examples of suffering are drawn from the Bible, from accounts of saints, and so on, and the page is lavishly illustrated with bleeding hearts, flagellating penitents and so on.
What’s lacking is any real attempt to get to grips with the Christian perspective on suffering. The author mainly wants to show the spectrum of suffering embraced by Christianity, without going very much into why anyone might want to focus on suffering in this kind of way.
Still, despite the “look at these kooky Christians” approach, if you want a range of sources for Christian suffering this is probably as good a starting place as any.
“The ISIH was created in 1994 to promote the study and teaching of intellectual history in all its forms and to foster communication and interaction among the global community of scholars in the field.”
James A.T. Lancaster published a plug for my book back in 2014, and I had thought I’d posted an acknowledgement and thanks here, but either I’m wrong about that or it’s disappeared (I had some technical trouble a while back and a few posts may have been deleted).
So here it is again – a thank you from me, and a reciprocal plug for IHIS!
Travel, Transculturality and Identity in England is a project funded by the ERC (European Research Council), exploring issues relating to strangers, travellers, migrants and so on. The website is an open-access resource consisting (at present) of some 40 essays contributed by Nandini Das, João Vicente Melo, Haig Smith, and Lauren Working based on keywords, such as “alien”, “citizen”, “foreigner” and “spy”.
I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Das at a couple of conferences in England a few years back, and it is a pleasure to see the fruits of her labours in this new project. Her introduction, explaining the project, can be found here.