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Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
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© Alison Shell 2007

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First published in print format 2007

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List of illustrations page vi
Preface vii
Note on conventions xii
List of abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1
1 Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives and the Gothic imagination 23
2 Anti-popery and the supernatural 55
3 Answering back: orality and controversy 82
4 Martyrs and confessors in oral culture 114
Conclusion: orality, tradition and truth 149

Notes 170
Index 237


1 Ephraim Udall, Noli Me Tangere (1642), engraved title page. page 29
2 Netley Abbey: from Francis Grose, Antiquities of England,
1783“7 edn, vol. II, plate opposite p. 211. 38
3 Garnet™s straw: a contemporary engraving, reproduced in
Henry Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus
(1878), vol. 4 (ninth, tenth and eleventh series), plate opposite
p. 133. 136

All illustrations are reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge
University Library.


My ¬rst book, Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagina-
tion, 1558“1660 (1999), presented the English and Latin writing of post-
Reformation Catholic Englishmen and women as a topic suitable for serious
literary-critical consideration in the academic mainstream. While writing
it I had moments of feeling like a lone crusader, since I was less aware than
I should have been that I was part of a movement: what Ken Jackson and
Arthur Marotti have identi¬ed as the ˜turn to religion™, which has been
such a de¬ning feature of early modern literary studies for the last decade
or so.1 In part, this has surely been due to the long-term effects of new
historicism; while often characterised by reductive attitudes to religion in
its heyday, the movement spread a tolerance of non-canonical writing and
an attentiveness to the historical moment which remain essential stimuli
to any research that attempts to span literature and history. Researchers
who operate from within English departments, as I do, have also been able
to draw upon huge recent historical advances in our understanding of the
English Reformation, for which we must thank such scholars as John Bossy,
Patrick Collinson, Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh, Peter Lake, Nicholas
Tyacke and Alexandra Walsham. While our preoccupations have often been
different from those of historians, this has led to creative cross-fertilisation,
and historians have sometimes repaid the compliment by engaging with
material more usually the province of literary critics.2 It would be shock-
ingly ungrateful to occlude or play down the importance of earlier scholars,
particularly easy to do in a ¬eld such as post-Reformation Catholic history,
where much of the best research has come from outside conventional aca-
demic circles, or been inspired by denominational motives. Nevertheless,
within the academy, this has been a remarkable decade for the topic. There
can be few ¬elds where so much has happened, or where interest has perme-
ated so far down, in so short a time: as this preface goes to press, a reader of
early modern Catholic texts intended for undergraduate use is just about to
appear from a major academic publisher.3 Always an exciting ¬eld of study,
viii Preface
this is now a fashionable one too; there is, as it were, a Catholic revival
going on.
Perhaps this has been most visible in the case of recognisable names.
The fact that post-Reformation English Catholicism has become a more
popular area of study than I could have dreamed when writing my ¬rst
book is in large part due to the hypotheses, strongly advanced by some
Shakespeare scholars and as strongly denied by others, that Shakespeare™s
father was an adherent to the old faith, and that Shakespeare himself spent
some time in a recusant household in Lancashire in his early years.4 While
neither contention is especially new, and the vociferous debate to which
they have recently given rise is inconclusive, the combat has at least had the
effect of drawing attention to the writings of those who, unlike Shakespeare,
are proven Catholics.5 One major monograph on Robert Southwell, the
martyr-poet arguably more responsible than anyone else for disseminating
Counter-Reformation literary ideals in England, has recently been pub-
lished, and another is about to appear as this book goes to press, authored
by a scholar who has also co-edited a new paperback edition of his English
and Latin verse, designed for the undergraduate market.6 Not all Catholic
writers were as exemplary representatives of their faith as Southwell, and
Donna Hamilton™s stimulating work on Anthony Munday sketches a pic-
ture of a complex, contradictory individual who wrote as a Catholic even
while persecuting Catholics; she impels her successors to look out for sim-
ilar pragmatic accommodations that Catholics may have made with the
times.7 The Catholic convert and pioneer woman writer Elizabeth Cary,
best known for The Tragedy of Mariam, has been another point of entry
into the ¬eld, representing two minority groups for the price of one.8
Those interested in the recovery of submerged testimonies have, almost
by de¬nition, to range beyond obvious canonical sources. The academic
rediscovery of early modern women™s writing has inspired enquiry into
literary genres not traditionally the territory of the literary critic, such as
letters and household memoranda; the current interest in Catholic writing
is having a similar effect, though the types of source are often very dif-
ferent. Peter Davidson™s forthcoming work on the international baroque,
with its stress on the importance of Latin as an international language
and the baroque as a mode especially responsive to cultural assimilation,
looks set to expand a number of disciplinary paradigms.9 His valorisation
of a truly British, thoroughly international literary heritage is one which
future scholars of Catholic literature should take to heart; it would be a
shame if its rediscovery were to be impaired by too narrow a concentration
Preface ix
on English-language ˜recusant™ writing. Edmund Campion™s Latin verse
history of the early church, recovered and transcribed by Gerard Kilroy
in his in-depth study of manuscripts produced by the English Catholic
community, is just one example of what non-English-language sources can
yield. Given what a byword for eloquence Campion was among his contem-
poraries, relatively little of his work survives; here as elsewhere in his writ-
ing, Kilroy is keenly aware of the special relationship between manuscript
sources and the writing of a community who often found it dif¬cult to
exploit print.10 His interest in manuscripts is shared by Arthur Marotti, in
a substantial volume which is, as yet, the nearest we have to a survey of
post-Reformation English Catholic and anti-Catholic literature.11
The present study too has a concern to expand canonical boundaries,
looking at ballads, onomastics and anecdotes alongside more convention-
ally literary genres, and it makes heavy use of manuscript sources, though
less for their own sake than as a means of recovering the overlap between
the oral and the literary. Chapter 1 looks at sacrilege narratives: stories
which circulated among Catholics and others concerning the terrible fates
overtaking individuals who desecrated ruined abbeys, and families who
bene¬ted from monastic impropriations. Chapter 2 assesses the afterlife of
Catholic liturgical fragments in spells and unof¬cial religious practice, and
comments on how the conceptual gulf that existed between literate com-
mentators and the uneducated could affect de¬nitions of popish idolatry.
Drawing largely on ballads and other popular verse, chapters 3 and 4 discuss
how the Catholic oral challenge worked in relation to polemical material
and the depiction of martyrs and confessors; while the conclusion asks how
the English situation prompted re¬‚ection on the relationship between oral
tradition and religious authority.
Acknowledgements are always a pleasure to write. Arnold Hunt has been
the acutest, most knowledgeable critic that any academic could wish for,
and the most facilitating of husbands. John Morrill has been a kind mentor
of the project, especially in encouraging me to think of my initial unwieldy
manuscript as two books rather than one. As my editors at Cambridge
University Press, Josie Dixon, then Ray Ryan, were unfailingly ef¬cient,
sympathetic and positive, and I must also express my gratitude to Maartje
Scheltens, Jo Breeze and Hywel Evans. The two anonymous readers for
the Press made several helpful suggestions, and the book, I know, is better
as a result; a stringent word-count has prevented me from responding as
fully as I would like to their useful suggestions, but in many cases they
have given me ideas for future projects. For access to unpublished work,
x Preface
helpful advice, the checking of references, and in many cases reading chap-
ters too, I am enormously grateful to Paul Arblaster, James Austen, Kate
Bennett, Richard Bimson, Patricia Br¨ ckmann, Fr Michael Brydon,
Daniela Busse, Peter Davidson, Anne Dillon, Eamon Duffy, Alex Fother-
ingham, Adam Fox, Tom Freeman, Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Jan Graf¬us,
Helen Hackett, John Harley, Eileen Harris, Stanley Hauerwas, John Hinks,
Sarah Hutton, Phebe Jensen, Gerard Kilroy, Jenny McAuley, Thomas
McCoog, SJ, Peter Marshall, the late Jeremy Maule, John Milsom, John
Newton, Anne Parkinson, Jane Pirie, Diane Purkiss, Michael Questier, Fr
Terence Richardson, Andrew Rudd, David Salter, Jason Scott-Warren, Bill
Sheils, Judith Smeaton, Diane Spaul, Jane Stevenson, Alexandra Walsham,
Nicola Watson, Heather Wolfe and Henry Woudhuysen. Though I have
been unable to locate Margaret Sena, I would like to express my deep grat-
itude to her for sharing with me her excellent transcriptions from William
Blundell™s ˜Great Hodge Podge™, which saved me a lot of work. Among
archivists, I would especially like to thank Anna Watson at the Lancashire
Record Of¬ce and Mauro Brunello at the Archivum Romanum Societatis
Jesu, Rome; the staff of the British Library and Durham University Library
deserve collective commendation, but among the latter, Judith Walton
should be singled out.
Many colleagues and ex-colleagues from Durham University, inside and
outside the English Department, have had a hand in the book: for reading
portions of it, and for providing me with useful leads, I am grateful to Chris
Brooks, Robert Carver, Pamela Clemit, Douglas Davies, Alison Forrestal,
Mandy Green, Margaret Harvey, John McKinnell, Barbara Ravelhofer,
Fiona Robertson and Sarah Wootton. During their respective terms as
Heads of Department, Michael O™Neill, David Fuller and Patricia Waugh
were tremendously kind and supportive; I must also acknowledge my gra-
titude to the departmental research committee for several grants towards
research trips, and to the university for periods of research leave during
which I was able to work on the book. Thanks are due as well to the Lewis
Walpole Library, Yale University, and its librarian Maggie Powell, for award-
ing me a fellowship in September 2001, during which most of the work for
chapter 1 was undertaken. Various portions of this book were delivered at
conferences run by the MLA, BSECS and the Catholic Record Society, at
colloquia at Stirling University, Aberdeen University and the University of
East Anglia, and at seminars at Durham University, York University and
the University of Central England; thanks are due to all my audiences for
enabling me to try out ideas, and commenting so usefully. For permission
to quote from manuscripts, I am grateful to the Blundell family and the
Preface xi
County Archivist at Lancashire Record Of¬ce; Staffordshire Record Of¬ce;
Somerset Record Of¬ce; the Beinecke Library, Yale University; the Bodleian
Library; the British Library; the Folger Shakespeare Library; Hull University
Library; Lambeth Palace Library; the National Art Library, London; and
the National Library of Wales.

I dedicate this book to Arnold Hunt.
Note on conventions

In quotations from contemporary texts, i/j and u/v have been normalised,
though all other contemporary spelling has been retained; no attempt has
been made to represent italics in most cases; and unusual scribal features
have been commented on where appropriate.
Punctuation has been omitted before an ellipsis except where its retention
is helpful to interpreting the quotation.
Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references have been taken from the
King James Bible and all Shakespeare references from William Shakespeare:
The Complete Works, general editors Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1988).


ARCR A. F. Allison and D. M. Rogers, The Contemporary Printed
Literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558
and 1640. Volume I: Works in Languages Other Than English.
Volume II: Works in English (Aldershot: Scolar, 1989“94)
BL British Library, London
Bod Bodleian Library, Oxford
Clancy Thomas H. Clancy, English Catholic Books, 1641“1700: A
Bibliography (Aldershot: Scolar, 1996)
CSPD Calendar of State Papers, Domestic
EHR English Historical Review
ELH English Literary History
ELR English Literary Renaissance
ESTC English Short-Title Catalogue, online version
Foley Henry Foley (ed.), Records of the English Province of the
Society of Jesus, 7 vols. in 8 (London: Burns & Oates,
Frank Frederick S. Frank, The First Gothics (New York: Garland,
Guiney Louise Imogen Guiney, Recusant Poets, vol. I (no vol. II)
(London: Sheed & Ward, 1938)
HJ Historical Journal
JEH Journal of Ecclesiastical History
Milward Peter Milward, Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age
(London: Scolar, 1977)
ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
OED Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edn (online)
P&P Past and Present
PMLA Proceedings of the Modern Language Association
PRO Public Record Of¬ce, London
RES Review of English Studies
xiv List of abbreviations
STC W. A. Jackson, F. S. Ferguson and Katharine F. Pantzer, A
Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland
and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475“1640,
2nd edn, 3 vols. (London: Bibliographical Society, 1976“91)
Wing Donald Wing, Revd Timothy J. Crist and John J.
Morrison, Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England,
Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America and of English
Books Printed in Other Countries, 1641“1700, 2nd edn, 3 vols.
(Baltimore: Modern Language Association of America,

. . . as for oral Traditions, what certainty can there be in them? What
foundation of truth can be laid upon the breath of man? How do we
see the reports vary, of those things which our eyes have seen done?
How do they multiply in their passage, and either grow, or die upon

What impact did post-Reformation Catholicism have on England™s oral
culture? The Protestant theologian Joseph Hall provides one point of entry
in an in¬‚uential passage from his tract The Old Religion, usually held to
be the ¬rst occasion in English when oral tradition is named as such.2
Attacking Catholics for investing tradition with an authority comparable
to the written word of God, he makes pejorative use of the familiar idea that
traditions could be passed down verbally as well as contained in writing,
and links oral tradition, oral transmission and unreliability in a way that
implies a strong pre-existing association between Catholics and orality.3
As against the ¬xedness of print, oral communication was seen as having
in¬nite potential to distort, and it became a powerful metaphor to express
the fears about the fertility of ignorance that are so common in anti-Catholic
But this is only one reason why the association between orality and
Catholicism was a natural one in post-Reformation England. An anti-
quarian would have pointed to the rich anecdotal tradition surrounding
ruined abbeys, which kept England™s Catholic past and the depredations
of the Reformation alive in the popular memory, a puritan minister in a
rural parish might well have deplored the use of popish spells among his
¬‚ock, while a seminary priest would have recognised the missionary use-
fulness of ballad-singing to drive home the anti-Protestant message and
commemorate martyrs. The four essays which make up the main body of
this study address all these topics, while the conclusion asks how a speci¬c
body of mid-seventeenth-century radical Catholic scholars confronted the
2 Oral Culture and Catholicism
challenge of demonstrating a relationship between oral transmission and
religious truth.
When I was researching my ¬rst book,4 the Catholic presence in the
oral culture of early modern England forced itself on my attention like
an insistent background noise. This study is the result: written in a time
when the study of orality has come of age, and bene¬ting from recent
work which has charted the changes and continuities within England™s oral
culture during the couple of centuries following the advent of print.5 Keith
Thomas has drawn attention to the complexity of ˜the interaction between
contrasting forms of culture, literate and illiterate, oral and written™, which
gives this period of English history its ˜peculiar fascination™;6 and certainly,
attempts to determine what is covered by the term ˜oral culture™ at this time
and place have been much improved by recent attempts to plot it against
the continuance of written culture and the beginnings of print culture.7
Loosely, one can say of early modern English society or any other that oral
communication affects every branch of human activity, but one gets a better
purchase on any culture that is not pre-literate by asking which functions
of oral communication have been supplemented, altered or taken over by
writing and print, and which remain the same.
Recent studies, notably those by Adam Fox, D. R. Woolf and Bruce
R. Smith, have also done much to minimise the frustration brought about
by the fact that, for this period, one™s sources are necessarily at one remove
or more from spoken discourse.8 The essays that comprise this study draw,
as these earlier works have also tended to do, from an eclectic range of
sources: among them, Gothic novels, antiquarian and folklore studies, bal-
lads in print and in manuscript, letters and polemical theology. This eclec-
ticism is necessary because oral culture operates on many different levels of
formality, ranging from extemporised conversational interchange to anec-
dotes re¬ned in the retelling, and the scripted voicings of drama, liturgy
and song; but in introducing a book which is bound to betray its author™s
training in university English departments, one needs to stress from the
outset that consciously ˜literary™ texts at this period could have as close a
relationship to orality as less formal communications. Edward Doughtie
has written of the sixteenth century what continues to be true for some
time after: ˜Most of the really vital literary texts . . . were written with the
possibility of oral performance in mind: sermons, plays, and song lyrics,
of course “ even romances and long poems were probably read aloud to
small groups.™9 Conversely, this book attempts to point up the literariness
of texts recovered from, designed for or dependent upon oral transmis-
sion, whose particular formalities, sophistications and allusive complexities
Introduction 3
remain under-discussed by scholars: ballads, anecdotes, spells, even the
powerful metaphors and hagiographical allusions inherent in an assumed
name.10 A great deal of this material remains, and much of it is powerfully

t h e ora l world of post-ref orm ati on en g l a nd:
s urviva l , los s a nd ch a ng e

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