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chapter are interventions and skirmishes in the great Reformation contest;
and like these, they can bear a remarkably close relationship to spoken
dialogue. Within both pamphlets and poems, structure is often determined
by the need to disprove the other writer as one goes: an evocation of
dialogic exchange which often demanded substantial quotation from one™s
opponent. The type of controversial publication where a text is printed
together with its refutation has the effect of recalling the original, while
making the difference between the two voices clear “ often by the alternation
of italic and roman types. This high level of quotation was intended above all
to be embarrassing, ¬rst setting up one™s opponent, then emasculating him
by one™s authoritative response. The Reformation debate is one in which
closure was constantly promised “ even if it has never been achieved to this
day “ and it was important for both sides to lay claim to the advantages of
having spoken last.4
84 Oral Culture and Catholicism
By Protestants, this could be undertaken in various typographical ways.
One typical passage-by-passage refutation is undertaken by Francis Bunny
in An Answer to a Popish Libel . . . Lately Spread Abroad in the North Partes
(1607), while in The Supplication of Certaine Masse-Priests Falsely Called
Catholikes (1604) Matthew Sutcliffe reprints a printed Catholic libel with
marginal glosses. Sutcliffe even reproduces the title page of the Catholic
pamphlet he answers, annotated with sardonic comments demonstrating
both his disapproval of Catholic discipline and his awareness of Catholics™
frequent bibliographical subterfuges: against the year of publication a note
runs ˜Where and by whom was this geare Printed?™ (f. A4a). This was an
authority borne out of antistrophic rhetorical convention, turning an oppo-
nent™s plea against him; and it mimicks a reader™s habit of annotating texts,
in a way that is enormously enhanced by print. Though English Catholic
controversial writing quoted and refuted its opponents just as enthusiasti-
cally, typographical sophistication of this kind was more dif¬cult for their
authors and publishers to achieve: certainly on clandestine presses at home,
and often abroad too, because of the problems posed by non-English-
speaking printers “ which stands as paradigmatic of how an untroubled
access to printing technology weighted the scales towards the Protestant
side. Yet since even marginal annotation could not wholly direct reader
response, Catholic ideas probably bene¬ted from this kind of mainstream
distribution.5
This illustrates how, even at its most condemnatory, controversy can-
not avoid giving platform-time to opposing points of view. This could
turn into something more; the presence of Catholics in post-Reformation
England posed insistent questions about freedom and toleration, and as
Phebe Jensen has commented, ˜alongside increasingly draconian attempts
to control both theological and political Catholic writings [there existed]
a cultural ideology that championed . . . the principle that open disputa-
tion and debate was the best way to arrive at religious truth™.6 But despite
this, and despite the many controversial rejoinders from Catholic pens dis-
tributed via both print and manuscript, the inequality is plain, and suggests
the importance to Catholics of ballads, libels and other orally transmissible
genres. Catholics had an underdog™s interest in exploiting oral methods of
communication, methods which were versatile, labile and dif¬cult to cen-
sor. Among these methods must be included the printed and manuscript
ballad, as a type of printed material often intended for a quick release into
oral circulation. Spoken and sung verse was accessible to illiterates, and
because oral transmission tended towards anonymity and was far less easy
to control than print, it had strong associations with the illicit. Hence,
Answering back 85
Protestant polemicists accused Catholics of courting those too ignorant to
know any better, and of winning souls by underhand stratagems because
they were afraid to engage in open ¬ght “ which conveniently ignores
the fact that, while disputations between Catholic and Protestant did take
place, it would often have been dif¬cult for a Catholic writer to identify
himself or appear in public.7
Oral transmission was not, of course, the only way that debates between
Catholic and Protestant could take place at one remove or more from their
originators, and exchanges in manuscript and print have a similarly impor-
tant role as standing in for formal oral disputation. Yet at innumerable
points in these pamphlet-wars, one is forcibly reminded of oral analogues “
not least because of their bellicose character. Walter Ong has commented
that ˜many, if not all, oral or residually oral cultures strike literates as extraor-
dinarily agonistic in their verbal performance and indeed in their lifestyle™,
and that ˜writing fosters abstractions that disengage knowledge from the
arena where human beings struggle with one another™.8 Read onto theology,
this is at least paradoxical “ the history of Christianity is marked by disputes
over high theological abstractions, which until recently have been governed
by oral conventions to an unusual degree “ but his point about the agonistic
nature of early print culture is well taken. In early modern England, the
sequential replies of the controversial pamphlet approximated much more
closely to a conversation “ at times a shouting match “ than anything else
in contemporary print culture. Within those pamphlets, as within most
early modern writing, argumentation was governed by rhetorical conven-
tions originally evolved for oral exchanges rather than written or printed
ones.9 Yet perhaps the conversational nature of the medium is most obvi-
ous of all at the points where formal rhetoric degenerates. Long-running
pamphlet controversies developed increasingly allusive referential patterns,
while all pamphleteering demonstrates unpredictable switches between rea-
soned argument and personal abuse, and interventions by third parties.

con troversy a nd popul a r ver se
Religious debates could not be con¬ned to a scholarly audience. On both
sides, the battle for souls needed to enlist literates, complete illiterates
and the enormous category of those from a residually oral background;
thus, universally accessible genres like ballads would have had an obvious
utility.10 Ballads have attracted much recent interest among historians of
popular culture, but in two of the most authoritative recent studies of the
early modern English ballad, Catholic ballads have been nearly invisible.
86 Oral Culture and Catholicism
Natascha W¨ rzbach™s The Rise of the English Street Ballad, 1550“1650 (1st edn
u
1981) works from collections compiled in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries; some of these include Catholic ballads, but the study, primarily
concerned with a structural analysis of the ballad™s subject matter, does not
consider the political and religious differences between one martyr-ballad
and another, or distinguish between printed and manuscript sources.11 Tessa
Watt™s Cheap Print and Popular Piety (1991), as the title suggests, is primarily
interested in printed material: in particular, broadside ballads before 1640.
Her methodology has rightly been in¬‚uential, yet with regard to Catholic
material it has obvious limitations, screening out texts which only survive
in manuscript, and which “ because of their Catholic content “ may never
have been printed at all.
Surviving evidence of Catholic balladry is frequently from manuscript
sources, and this in itself is suggestive.12 Manuscript miscellanies, by def-
inition, were compiled by the educated: at the very least, by those whose
ability to write elevated them above the unlettered and the partially lit-
erate. Often, where enough evidence of ownership survives, they seem to
have been written by those whose education had progressed considerably
further. Elite disapproval of the form, contemptuous or satirical, existed
in abundance;13 but this must not obscure the fact that educated authors
could use the ballad form for propagandist purposes, and that an edu-
cated audience could sing ballads, disseminate them and copy them into
miscellanies for further reference. Some of the material discussed below,
while responding to ballads, is generically distinct from them and obvi-
ously intended for an elite audience, while other elite texts were rewritten
as ballads. Tessa Watt has commented that the buyers of cheap print were
˜socially variegated™;14 the material discussed below comes from both print
and manuscript sources, but bears her conclusions out. From the man-
ner of their preservation and from what they say “ sometimes even from
the languages in which they say it “ one can conclude that they were not
addressed exclusively to a semi-literate audience, but to a wide audience
which included the unlettered.
Where a text only survives in manuscript, how useful is it to call
it a ballad? There are certainly dif¬culties, not least because identify-
ing a printed ballad is easier than establishing whether a given poem in
manuscript approaches ballad form or not. An ideal model of the ballad
would be ¬‚exible enough to accommodate the ballads that never made it
to print, yet helpful enough not to include every poem that has a popu-
lar pedigree or seems intended to have been sung.15 Models of this kind
are, of course, notoriously dif¬cult to construct.16 But metre gives some
Answering back 87
indication; so, if not invariably, does syntactical straightforwardness; and
so, most of all, does a punchy, emotional, populist tone comparable to that
found in printed ballads. Writing a ballad was a generic choice like any
other, and it is certainly possible to envisage situations in which one would
adopt a low style for an elite audience; homely metres could imply that the
message deserved broad distribution, even if one was not minded to cast
it abroad oneself, or they could show an author™s modesty in the face of
important subject matter.17 Whether or not a particular ballad was written
for the masses in the ¬rst instance, the genre itself would have ensured that
it spoke to the masses.


conservative l a m ents, reversi bl e wo rl ds
A concern to attract popular sympathy was, of course, not restricted to
Catholics. At the very beginning of the English Reformation, Henry VIII™s
propagandists made ruthless use of many popular media to stigmatise
popery.18 Their activities have often been discussed by scholars, but the
Catholic response is less easy to ¬nd in literary history “ in part because
there is not as much of it as there might be.19 Eamon Duffy has commented
of the period after Thomas More™s death that ˜there was never enough secu-
rity to permit the emergence of a consistent conservative public rhetoric,
or the formation of a recognizable conservative voice™.20 Certainly, while
speci¬c events like the Pilgrimage of Grace called forth de¬ant expressions
of Catholicism, confusions and cross-currents also characterise sympathy
for the old order in these early years.21 A poem in a manuscript attributed to
Thomas Langdon castigates the greed of priors and abbots, but laments the
socio-economic consequences of the Reformation and asks Christ ˜w[i]t[h]
thy mother mary / [to] save thys our Dowry™:
We Englisshemen beholde
Our auncient customs bolde
more p[re]ciouser then golde
be clene cast away.
And other new be fownd
the which ye may understand
that causethe all your land
so gretly to decay . . .22

Does one call this the complaint of a committed Catholic, or merely of a
religious and social conservative? Though the distinction can be a highly
problematic one at this date, it is useful in Langdon™s particular case, since
88 Oral Culture and Catholicism
his social discontent has an explicitly religious motivation. Expressions of
Catholic doctrine ¬gure in the manuscript, and there is enough exter-
nal evidence to prove that Langdon “ formerly a monk at Westminster
Abbey “ was a Catholic at the time of writing, and for many years afterwards:
indeed, a suf¬ciently overt one to declare to a Crown informer in 1561 that
˜this Religion was not the true Religion but the olde Religion was™.23
Even in less easy cases one may be right to suspect Catholic sympathies
behind conservative laments, especially where they are found side-by-side
with other material of post-Reformation Catholic origin, as in the case of
the following poem:
So longe may a droppe fall
that it may perse a stone
So longe trewthe may thrall
that it shall scarce be knowen . . .
So longe Errore may Raigne
And untruthe soo increase
that it shalbe mutche payne
the same agayne to cease
So longe lies may be cryed
unto the peoples eares
that whan truthe shalbe tried
ytt may be with sume teares . . .24
While any period is too long for truth to remain in thrall, and percep-
tions of error™s duration are bound to be subjective, the writer™s impatience
suggests that the cause of complaint is a familiar and long-standing one;
and it ¬nds an echo in another ballad ¬rst recorded several decades later
and unequivocally identi¬ed as subversive. In 1594 the Catholic gentle-
man Thomas Hale was indicted before the Essex Assizes for possession
of a Catholic ballad which he had copied eight years before. Like the
above ballad it identi¬es a continued grievance, which suggests that it
dates from a time when Protestantism was widespread. It is not merely
lamentation which is described and enjoined within it, but persistent
lamentation.
Weepe, weepe, and still I weepe,
For who can chuse but weepe,
To thyncke how England styll
In synne and heresey doth sleepe.
The Christian faythe and Catholick
Is everyewhere detested,
Answering back 89
In holy servyce, and such like,
Of all degrees neglected.
The Sacramentes are taken awaye
The holy order all,
Religious men do begg astraye,
To ground their howses fall.
The Byshoppes and our pastors gone,
our Abbottes all be deade,
Deade (alas), alyve not one,
Nor other in their steede . . .25

Broadly speaking, the authorship and collection of conservative laments
may be more likely to betray positive Catholic sympathies from the latter
half of the sixteenth century onwards. Though the lingering patterns of con-
servatism invite chronological imprecision by their nature, the prolonged
confessional stability of Elizabeth™s reign would have done something to
soothe poets whose adverse reactions were prompted merely by unaccus-
tomed or continuous upheaval, rather than confessional disaffection.26 But
the connection between conservatism and Catholicism could be either tight
or loose, since Catholicism was primarily a consequence of belief, not of
preference for a vanishing societal order. Historically, England had plainly
been Catholic before it was Protestant; confessionally, Catholics™ concep-
tion of orthodoxy stemmed from their notion of the church as unitary
and unchanging, in which custom could be seen as hallowed by divine
institution.27 Social conservatism could follow from that, but did not have
to: Elizabeth™s reign bred Catholics who had known nothing but a Protes-
tant status quo, and Robert Persons™s Memorial demonstrated that it was
possible to re-imagine a Catholic England along lines which were far from
medieval.28
As this study has already commented, there was no necessary correspon-
dence in early modern England between Catholicism and nostalgia for
medievalism. Nevertheless, Catholic writers often give literary expression
to outrage felt at the dismantling of the medieval world, and nowhere is
this achieved more powerfully than in the anonymous ballad ˜Walsingham™,
probably written for the ballad tune which shares its name. The Norfolk vil-
lage of Walsingham is associated above all with a shrine to the Virgin Mary,
one of England™s most popular pilgrimage sites before the Reformation, but
destroyed in 1538.29 The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book provides evidence that,
well into the seventeenth century, the tune of ˜Walsingham™ was a popular
one among Catholic musicians.30 While it would have evoked Catholic
90 Oral Culture and Catholicism
complaint and threnody simply by being played, it would also have been a
potential vehicle for polemical words of this kind:
In the wrackes of walsingam
Whom should I chuse,
But the Queene of walsingam,
to be guide to my muse
Then thou Prince of walsingam
graunt me to frame,
Bitter plaintes to rewe thy wronge,
bitter wo for thy name . . .
Bitter bitter oh to behould,
the grasse to growe
Where the walles of walsingam
so statly did sheue . . .
Levell Levell with the ground
the towres doe lye
Which with their golden glitteringe tops
Pearsed once to the skye . . .31

The lines on the ˜Prince of Walsingham™ permit two opposed but equally
satisfying readings.32 In the ¬rst the ˜Prince™ is Christ, permitting the speaker
to complain on his behalf at the wrongs he has suffered, while in the second
he is Henry VIII, who has committed the wrong, and whom the speaker
ironically asks for permission to lament; woe is experienced by Christ, but
predicted for Henry. This reinforces Helen Hackett™s suggestion that the
ballad was composed in the late 1530s or early 1540s, and certainly a number
of the lines use Isaiah™s prophetic writings to evoke the indignation of an
eyewitness:
Bitter was it oh to see,
The seely sheepe
Murdred by the raveninge wolves
While the sheephardes did sleep . . .
Oules do scrike wher the sweetest himnes
lately weer songe
Toades and serpentes hold ther dennes,
Wher the Palmers did thronge . . .33

While the image of the sleeping shepherd does convey a sense that som-
nolent Catholic clerics were partly to blame for the depredations of the
Reformation, this is only ¬‚eeting; however familiar anticlericalism was to
late medieval churchmen, it would have been letting the side down for
Catholics to make sustained use of it later. Certainly, Catholic conservatism
Answering back 91
more often takes the form of lamenting churchmen™s change in status. From
the early 1560s there survives a miscellany of Catholic controversial material
which includes a number of protest ballads, one of which explicitly equates
the old societal order with the true religion:34
In holy Churche of Xpistys foundacion
were thre estatys by no[m]i[n]ation
as aunciente volumys make relation
In towne a in towne a
wch maye not be layde downe a
Whoo lyste to revolve maye reade & se
howe knytehod pr[ie]sthode & co[m]naltye
weare sette uppe by the deitie
In towne a in towne a
Nev[er] to be pulled downe a . . .
(f. 22a)

Catholicism and conservatism are indivisible in a number of the bal-
lad writer™s complaints: ˜To god I take hyt no small transgression / the
cure to procure the Curats suppression35 / hys father gostly by waye of
co[n]fession . . .™ (f. 23b). Images of reversal, as the next section will discuss,
feature commonly in ballads, and another ballad from the same manuscript
gives an eschatological slant to them. It is an unusual, though not an unpar-
alleled, example of Catholic apocalyptic, and some of its tropes may have
come from Protestant texts as well as directly from the Book of Revela-
tion. But it demonstrates how evocation of the earth™s last days could just
as easily be conservative as radical. Old Testament types of injustice and
irreligion jostle with ˜meretrix babylon™, the ten-horned bellua maris, and
other apocalyptic references.
baasa (sic) hathe baale auntorousely founded
Achab hathe Nabothis vine take
Jeroboam false godds hathe grounded
Salomon for lecherye hys god did forsake
Nowe ¬‚eeyth aboute the greate drake36
hys tayle hathe towched owre af¬aunce
the churchys of Asia be all to shake
So gogg hathe geven hys governaunce . . .
(f. 18a“b)

This opens up the possibility that Catholics and Protestants could both sing
the same apocalyptic ballad while positing different meanings for it; but
other verses within this particular ballad stamp it as a Catholic production.
Protestants spoke of popery as a novelty, but not as a suddenness; and even
92 Oral Culture and Catholicism
without the names of countries where Protestantism was posing a threat,
the word ˜rysythe™ in the lines quoted below would have come oddly from
a Protestant writer.
Nowe rysythe the foule abusion
in beome (sic). germanye. Inglande & fraunce
me thynkythe therfore by thys co[n]clusion
that gogg hathe geven the <hys> governaunce . . .
(f. 18a)

Aaron™s priestly beard and ceremonial clothing, typifying the splendour of
God, are used as a reproach to those who have plundered the church.
lette god be berded after the olde gyese [i.e. ˜guise™]
hys golden mantell ys no grevaunce
Catche hyt notte a waye for covetouse
thoughe googg hathe geven hys governaunce . . .
(f. 19b)

The percussive refrain forges connections between the Old Testament
and the terrible new order: Gog appears in Ezekiel™s vision of the last
days as the enemy of Israel, and again in Revelation as Satan™s second-in-
command.37 More deftly, by pushing the disasters of the present onto a
cosmic scale, the Crown is exonerated from local responsibility; in fact,
the ballad ends with an impeccable tribute to Elizabeth as Britain™s Daniel,
and the writer™s gloomy prediction that ˜under googg maye [be] another
Jack Strawe™ reminds us of the supposed connection between irreligion and
rebellion.38
Fears of violent protest from below could certainly accompany alarm
at heresy; conversely, characters from traditions of popular complaint, so
often utilised by Protestant radicals, could also be given a Catholic script.
For instance, a written pamphlet-libel of 1582, arguing that England has
separated itself from the universal church, has the title ˜Peers plowghman
hys answer to the doctours Interrogatoryes & Scrybes of the lawe, in stede
of an Apology for the late martyrs of noble memory™, and asks that readers
should ˜take no dysdayne of any further encounter in a clowted shoe™.39 An
evocation of Piers Plowman, that famous spokesman for the common sort,
may seem surprising in this context; yet it usefully problematises what can be
an automatic association of Catholics with reactionary social mores, and is
not the only occasion on which Catholics appropriated images from popular
culture to express a desire for reversal. As James C. Scott has remarked,
a longing for reversal is frequently expressed by oppressed or subordinate
groups; common to most of those he discusses, whether German peasants or
Answering back 93
nineteenth-century American slaves, is a ¬erce jubilation at the prospect.40
Justice will be done, and the iniquitous will have cause to quail; in the
words of two frequently used biblical texts, the mighty will be put down
from their seat, and the valleys exalted.41 Among early Protestants, who had
a vested interest in pitting themselves against the powerful, the trope could
be linked to visualisations of the pope as Antichrist, Christ™s opposite.42
But evidence of popular complaint from a group once powerful, and now
suppressed, is a rarer commodity. For Catholics operating in this idiom “
which sometimes seems a world away from Counter-Reformation ideals “
reversal had already occurred, and was to be feared unless it took the form of
turning the clock back. David Kunzle comments that the trope of reversal
could be used both by those satis¬ed with the status quo and those with an

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