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By cause I follow not thy curt-tal™d ryme
Answering back 103
Though he yt. ¬rst these quaestions did propose
Thought it more correspondent to thy nose
Yet I™le none of your too much used balmes
They smel of Ballads and Geneva psalmes . . .
(f. 1a)

Sure enough, the Catholic then proceeds to answer the Protestant™s sham-
bling four-stressed lines in digni¬ed iambic pentameter. With superb cheek,
the metre originally chosen by the Catholic side was imputed to the low
tastes of Protestants, once its unsuitability for detailed controversy had
become clear. John Rhodes, who had clearly not seen this piece “ an omis-
sion which may help to date it “ returned to the attack in 1606:

Some three yeares since, your questions put in rime,
Were answered all, according to the time.
Since then we heard of no reply at all,
Nor yet of Popish Poets greate or small:
But now of late one stole out of his denne,
And shamefully abuz™d both tongue and penne.
That is to say at Enborne in Barkeshire,
They delt as if they would set all on ¬re,72
The Church doore they brake open with strong ha[n]d
Which is plaine sacriledge in every land.
They cut one Booke, and did disprayse the rest,
Scattering the leaves, to shew how they detest:
Our bookes and us, with all the power they have,
Our Ministers and all things they deprave.73

Rhodes is alluding to an incident of 1601/2 where a rhymed Catholic libel
was scattered around the parish church at Enborne.74 It has nothing espe-
cially to do with Allen™s Articles, other than the fact that both are popish,
both are in rhyme and both refer to common controversial issues; so again,
this depends on rhyme being seen as a different kind of discourse from
prose. Transparently alluding to himself as the answerer of Allen™s Articles,
Rhodes assumes a continuum between controversies conducted in verse,
on which prose polemic does not impinge. Rhodes™s pamphlet, despite the
fact that its author was one of the most skilful Protestant exploiters of
ballad-metre in this period, also plays on the common prejudice against
the medium of popular verse; Rhodes sneers at his balladeering opponents
within the verse quoted above as ˜Ballad Mungers™ and ˜merry Beggars™
(f. D3b). Though polemic is necessarily undiscriminating, this would not
have been a possible insult unless the medium itself were a little suspect.
104 Oral Culture and Catholicism
sweeten ing t h e m e ssag e
While it might at ¬rst seem an arbitrary decision to separate controversial
exchanges in verse from their counterparts in prose, as this chapter does, the
above exchange demonstrates how early modern writers instinctively made
a distinction between the two.75 A printed answer to a rhymed Catholic
libel, which attacks the offending text on several generic fronts, advises
the reader: ˜You shall perseave both libell and answere the better, if you
confer proes wyth proes & miter wyth miter.™76 The reason that verse was
perceived as different may have been hierarchical in part: despite the fact
that ballads had a very heterogeneous audience, they were usually referred to
as disreputable. But all verse was more governed than prose by demands of
form, and where a piece of polemic is written in verse, this re¬‚ects a decision
that for this particular purpose the advantages of metre outweigh metre™s
limitations. It was not always an easy decision to make. In a reply to Allen™s
Articles, discussed above, Samuel Hieron declared, ˜I have even forced my
selfe to this straiter course of Verse-making, though I know, that for mine
own case (having to deale in such a distempered and unruly Subject) that
lesse-limited & freer kind of discourse, which Prose alloweth, had bene
more convenient: Because the rules of Cadence, & number (to which our
English poetry especially in [sic] co[n]¬ned) do many times so straiten an
unaccustomed Practitioner, that he is in hazard, either of obscuring the
sence (which in a matter of this nature were something dangerous) or of
marring the Verse (which to the apprehensions of every common conceit
were very ridiculous).™77
Verse also tended more towards imaginative suffusion. Though metre is
not imaginative in itself, it is used within popular moralism in a manner
similar to allegory and other imaginative devices. Both are conceived as
sweeteners, useful for rendering doctrinal and moral lessons more attractive,
and especially ¬t for a non-scholarly audience. Riddles are allegorical by
their very nature, inviting an active interpretive response from their reader
or hearer, and metrical riddles would have been especially memorable. In
Tessaradelphus (1616), Thomas Harrab bases a whole pamphlet around what
is described in the subtitle as an ˜old Riddle™:

Foure bretheren were bred at once
Without ¬‚esh, bloud, or bones.
One with a beard, but two had none,
The fourth had but halfe one.
(Title page)
Answering back 105
In this tiny allegory with a twist at the end, the four brothers stand for
the heretical churches, and beards for the religious ceremonial which
Lutheranism has retained, while Calvinists and Anabaptists are clean-
shaven, and the Church of England has half a beard. Harrab is well known
as the coiner of the term ˜Anglicanism™, and this may be the ¬rst ever joke
about Anglican compromise.78
In his book of anti-Protestant epigrams, I. B. confessed: ˜I know an
Epigramme should be brief and acute: the ¬rst rule I acknowledge my self
to have sometimes transgressed . . . but howsoever, it is not upon such exact
lawes that I have stood; al my study was how I might best frame the[m]
to doe the most good™ (p. 7).79 Other Catholic epigrammatists might have
seen brevity as even more ef¬cacious than content. Epigrams, like riddles,
were typically short, surprising and infectiously easy to remember; char-
acterised by unpredictable reversals of argument in a compact space, they
had portability and shock value for a polemicist.80 One of the most famous
pro-Catholic epigrams of the early seventeenth century is utilised by Henry
Fitzsimon in a controversial pamphlet, The Justi¬cation and Exposition of
the Divine Sacri¬ce of the Masse (1611).
In Elder times an ancient custume t™was,
to sweare in weightie maters by the Masse.
But when Masse was put down, as Ould men note,
They swore then by the Crosse of this graye grote.
And when the Crosse was held like wise in scorne
Then Faith, and trowth, for common oathes weare sworne.
But now men banisht have both faith & trouth,
So that God damne me, is the common oath.
So custome keeps Decorum, by gradation,
Loosing masse, Crosse, Faith, trouth, followth damnation.
(pp. 130“1)

Like Harrab, Fitzsimon presents himself as merely passing on the rhyme he
uses.81 Introducing it, he observes of the Reformers: ˜They love rime, and
poetrie, in al things, even in their psalmes (& why should not a light religion
love a light stile?) . . . Therfor I wil in their affected stile, present them this
Epigram[m]e. What may wante in the rime, shalbe recompensed in the
maters pithines.™ As usual, the opponent is blamed for the necessity of a
low style, but this should not mislead one into thinking that the advantages
of verse have not been calculated.
Sweeteners such as rhyme, allegory and wit, whenever they are super-
imposed on plain meaning and blatantly intended to make persuasion an
easier task, could evoke anti-rhetorical prejudice in an opponent. To accuse
106 Oral Culture and Catholicism
the other side, one needed only to point to these devices and swear that
they concealed poison “ though, as Fitzsimon shows, this did not neces-
sarily mean having to eschew rhyme oneself. In Eubulus, Patrick Forbes
described how the pleasures of metre, like rhetoric itself, enhanced the
¬‚avour of good doctrine but disguised the bitterness of error.
Reason and Ryme, if sweetlie they bee sembled,
Implant in Men the pleasanter Impression:
Quicke Arguments, with Eloquence en¦mbled,
Draw contrare Myndes, more quicklie to Confession.
But, of true Fayth, if under false Profession,
Songs bee made Syropes, but to sweeten Errours,
Prudence will spye, and keepe of Trueth possession,
Unsnar™d with Syrens, or yet tost with Terrours . . .
(p. 20)82

Sometimes, the whole discourse of opponents could be condemned by call-
ing attention to their methods of persuasion. In a libel criticising detractors
of Edmund Bonner, the Marian bishop who refused to take the Oath of
Supremacy and died in prison, the writer deftly demonstrates the superi-
ority of Catholic works over a pulpit-based Protestantism which makes no
reference to truth outside its own rhetorical constructions.
We see how thou in Rethoricke roollest,
as one in Schemes and Tropes expert.
Frequenting of this ¬gure rare,
which some men call sauce malipert.
What truth in preaching thou declarest,
I am content that other try.
In this thy worke I can af¬rme,
that every line contaynes a lie.83
This attention to rhetoric is not merely ornamental; as with other moments
where texts discussed in this chapter show their workings, it incites an
awareness of the mechanics of controversy. Beginning by casting suspicion
on the rhetorical devices of schemes, tropes and ¬gures, the verse mounts to
an arraignment of all Protestant suasive technique, accusing its proponents
of saucing their fare so cunningly that the audience cannot taste how rotten
it is.

cath oli c l ibel s an d t h e i r au di en ce
Rhetoric was not always employed to sweeten: particularly not in libels, a
genre which this chapter will now consider more closely.84 Adam Fox has
Answering back 107
recently described the circumstances of a libel™s distribution. Multiple copies
were made, and drawn upon walls; some of the techniques of print were
alluded to, with pen-men and artists substituting for print and woodcuts;
and the progenitors took pains to ˜caste abrode, devulge, publishe, and singe
the same in dyverse and sonderye open and publicke places, and dyd sett
upp and ¬x the same uppon dyverse and sundry doors, walls and posts™.85
Just as this uncontrollable diffusion excited fear, descriptions of it lent
themselves to metaphorical fancifulness. In an answer to libellous threats
against his person, Robert Cecil complained of ˜many contumelious Papers
and Pasquils, dispersed abroad in divers parts of the Citie, without any
Author, and yet continually comming upon me . . . like the messengers
of Job . . .™ (f. B1a) and ˜Shewells86 or dead papers, which move with the
winde . . .™ (f. E4a).87 Authors too showed intense awareness of textuality:
for instance, a Catholic rhymed polemic of 1579 against clerical marriage
has a rhymed injunction at the end where, in the pasquinade tradition, the
text itself speaks:
Obscurelye to conuaye me hence that Labour were in vayne
For I haue me abrode good frynd I tell the playne
who means therefore to take me dont let him observe this ordre
Tho carye me unto ye mayour orels (sic) to ye madde Recorder.88

Paper has a life of its own, the writer implies, and rhymes are broadcast
on the innumerable tongues of gossip. Though the same would be true of
any libel, Catholic or non-Catholic, the threat has an especial edge where
theological errors and sedition are in question.
Like other insults, libels had a particular importance for those with no
access to of¬cial censure, even if Catholic libels would not have gone down
well with all co-religionists.89 As insult in formal dress, they were only
one part of the Catholic™s polemical wardrobe, but they are premeditated,
recoverable evidence of how Catholics and Protestants would have traded
insults of all kinds in day-to-day intercourse: Edward Slegg, for instance,
trained his daughters to shout ˜preests chits, preests bastardes . . . preestes
dingdongs™ at the children of the minor canons of St Paul™s Cathedral, part of
a long-standing local quarrel which also involved the production of libels.90
This type of behaviour forms a continuum with other occasions of public
dissent: some church-papists™ unruly behaviour during divine service, or the
Catholic plumber who was apprehended because ˜in mending of a church
he did not cease knocking while the service was singing™.91 More generally,
it would have threaded through the day-to-day business of gathering news,
spreading rumour and formulating opinion within conversation.92
108 Oral Culture and Catholicism
But if not all libellous abuse was written or printed, not all written or
printed activity described as libellous by contemporaries was abusive. The
examples given in the Oxford English Dictionary show that the term ˜libel™
acquired defamatory overtones during the sixteenth century “ surely in
part as a consequence of the Reformation. While it could still be used in
its neutral medieval sense, to denote a small book or written document,
it more often carries the insinuation that a text has been distributed by
secret methods to ensure maximum publicity: a paradox encapsulated in
the complaint on the title page of Matthew Sutcliffe™s The Supplication of
Certaine Masse-Priests (1604) which describes libels as being ˜scattered in
corners™. Thus, Catholic texts aimed at an elite audience, or documents
with an apologist rather than a strictly libellous or deliberately offensive
content, could be referred to as libels whenever they were distributed in
manners similar to rhyming insults with a Catholic ¬‚avour, the main topic
covered within this section.93 The term certainly has additional implica-
tions of low abuse, but this is sometimes no more than an opportunity
given to Protestant polemicists, and gladly taken. William Charke™s answer
to Campion™s Challenge was written when the author found ˜the letters to
be more and more spred as Libels, abusing the name and holy authoritie
of the Counsell . . .™.94 The term could also be applied to other papers
which were scattered abroad: anonymous petitions like that of 1606 asking
how Catholics might resort to church services without sin, or threats to
speci¬c individuals, such as the Catholic Admonition of 1605“6 warn-
ing Robert Cecil that his life would be in danger if he did not mod-
erate measures against Catholics.95 To the early modern controversialist,
then, Catholic libels “ like other libels “ were not necessarily popular,
imaginative, or rude; all the same, those in rhyme do tend to ful¬l these
The same libeller could write in prose or verse: the Star Chamber™s judg-
ment against the Catholic Stephen Vallenger in 1582, for writing several
libels against Elizabeth and her government, speci¬cally designates one
as being in rhyme.96 One factor which would have governed the initial
choice between prose and verse was the intended level of audience. Prose “
in theory at least “ gave an unrestricted opportunity to present sophisti-
cated ideas, while verse had mnemonic advantages which were of particular
importance to the illiterate or semi-literate. Prose, too, had a more obvious
initial association with seriousness and rhyme with ridicule. Both would
have had their uses: ridicule, for instance, gives particular opportunities for
imaginative excursus on the part of both prosecutor and defender. Com-
posing a retort to a Catholic™s ˜namelesse, shamelesse loose lewde Libell™,
Answering back 109
Stephen Jerome describes it in Juvenalian terms which may be responding
in kind to the original.

A confused Chaos or a lumpe of sinne,
Pandoraes box, diseas™d without, within . . .
A messe, a masse of malice, sincke of evill,
A false-tun™d Black-bird, feathered from the divell:
A hellish brand in¬‚am™d from Cainish ire,
His pen the taper, and his paper ¬re.
A silly sottish song from rurall Straines,
Or blood impostumed, burst from Popish vaines . . .97

The term ˜lewd™, so often applied alliteratively and casually to libels, carries
the convenient double implication of an uneducated audience and coarse
subject matter. Authors of libels must have been conscious that this was
often fair comment, and indeed that the two kinds of lewdness had a
symbiotic relationship; just because a coarse jest would have helped most
audience members to remember what they were hearing, it would have
been an unusually effective way of making one™s point to illiterates. Within
the ¬eld of anti-Protestant polemic, some points of controversy were much
better suited than others to this treatment; it is no coincidence that so
many libels in this section and the next take clerical marriage as a topic,
with all the possibilities it gave for speci¬c character-attacks and generalised
sneers about parsonical lust. One such, attacking the puritan clergyman
Percival Wiburn, was distributed around the streets of Northampton in
1570. Wiburn was apparently married,98 but there is a striking discrepancy
between the generalised abuse of married clergy and the one offence of
which Wiburn is actually accused: how he ˜sought by all the meanes he
coulde, / The Easter99 to plucke downe™. This suggests how such abuse
was a near-ubiquitous component of libels against Protestant clergy: as
standardised as a cheap woodcut on a broadside, and sometimes with as
little relevance to the ostensible purpose of the text.
As with some others, we have access to the text because it was printed
together with a point-by-point refutation. Unusually there survive two
different answers, one in a broadside and one in a pamphlet, separately
conceived to target different markets and varying levels of literacy.100 Both
counter the original accusations by accusing Catholic clergy of sodomy and
of condoning prostitution, but they do so in markedly different styles. The
answers are of different lengths, with Verse 1 being given an eighty-six-line
refutation in the pamphlet, compared to four lines in the broadside. In the
110 Oral Culture and Catholicism
pamphlet, considerable play is made with the riposte to the Latin pay-off
in the Catholic original, ˜FINIS. Non est inventus™ (Not found):
Non est inventus made this sclaunder so bolde,
But Est inventus tooke in hand it to unfold.
Veritas non qu¦rit angulos, Shew thy face:
Non audeo dixit, For my deedes deserve no grace.
Tunc desine, Thou Foole, leave off thy works, dispatch
Aut prode mendax That straight the gallows may thee catch.101

This piece of macaronic verse, which makes no sense unless the reader
understands both English and Latin, is playing to the likelihood that the
pamphlet would have had a more upmarket readership than the broadside.
Even so, it is striking that even the broadside assumes that basic Latin tags
will be meaningful to some of its audience.102 To the same concluding
phrase, the broadside Answer responds ˜FINIS Coronat opus, Exitus acta
probat™ (The end crowns the work; the end justi¬es the means). But its
incorporation is tactful; while those with basic Latin or better would have
appreciated the retort, the eye of a non-Latinist could have skipped over it.
While more research on the vocabulary and referential range of ephemeral
popular literature would be highly desirable, one can at least remark that the
denominational subject matter of Catholic and anti-Catholic libels would
have ensured them an audience at many social levels, and that this is very
likely to have affected their composition and sometimes their targeting.103
But conversely, the Wiburn broadside also shows that varying levels of
learning could be catered for in a single text “ and, incidentally, how those
who never went to grammar school could have been exposed to Latin
vocabulary through cheap print or manuscript distribution. This mirrors
the level of familiarity with rhetorical technicality assumed elsewhere in
the libels discussed in this chapter; in particular, given that rhyme enforces
economy on a writer, there is a notable degree of overt attention paid to
the rhetorical structure of the argument in both libels and refutations. In
the pamphlet Answer defending Wiburn, for instance, the writer scornfully
counters the ˜Epithite™ (epithet) of ˜preaching knave™, and later, arguing
against Verse 3, observes, ˜Of proposition false, proceedes / Conclusion
most vile . . .™

lib els, b a ll a ds a n d th e i r o cca si o ns
The exchanges over Wiburn and the disturbance at Enborne, referred
to above, both show the intensity with which libellers could respond to
Answering back 111
speci¬c local circumstances.104 The individuals responsible for the Enborne
demonstration appear to have been speci¬cally objecting to the incumbent™s
removal of a cross from the church: ˜hollie cross then disgrace not but
bring it in renoume / for up shall ye crosse, and you shall go downe™. They
expressed their disapproval by scattering pages from the Bible, the Prayer
Book and the post-Reformation portion of the parish register around the
church; as the libel explains, this was a way of doing away with heretical
The service booke here scattered all
is not divine but hereticall
so is the bible of false translacon
to cutt it, and mangle it is no damnation
The Register also if so we do serve
from right (sure) we shall never a whitt swerve
for why should new heritiques thus be inrold
Inroll good catholiques long dead & ould
Out w[i]th new heretiques here lett them go
register catholiques & register no mo
for Catholiques onely are worthie record
& into ye Church register to be restord.105
Another Catholic libel, making a more pointed use of the physical space of
a church, dates from the years of the Edwardian Reformation. This rhyme,
af¬xed to a pulpit, is objecting to the King™s preachers who visited the
church, and was probably intended to rally support against others.
This pulpit was not here set,
For knaves to prate in and rayl.
But if no man may them let,
Mischef wil come of them, no fail.
If God do permit them for a tyme
To brabble and ly at their wyl,
Yet I trust or that be prime.
At their fal to laughe my ¬ll.
Two of the knaves already we had,
The third is comyng as I understand . . .
It attracted an answer describing how papists sow the seeds of sedition in
spreading libels, neatly combining this familiar metaphor with a jibe at the
doctrine of purgatory.
A rope is a fytt reward for such rysshe106 repers,
As have strowed this Church ageinst the Kings prechers . . .
When such as with you trust shal al ly in the dust,
112 Oral Culture and Catholicism
And ryse thereout agayne unto perpetual payne,
With them that laugh and scorne eyther at hye or lowe,
Had better not been borne such evil seeds to sowe . . .
. . . Ye are like for to be taken, and quartered like a baken,107
And of your frends forsaken, for these sedis ye have sowen . . .108

But though libels are characterised by an occasional quality, ballads too were
often written to commemorate an execution or other event, and particular
occasions of discontent could call forth general laments. Among the poems
preserved by William Blundell is a ˜Dittie . . . upo[n] the p[er]secution
made in Sefton parishe especially by Vahon [Vaughan] Bishop of Chester, &
Nutter parson of Sefton & Deane of Chester™ which deliberately addresses
a public audience from the beginning, ˜Youe that p[re]sent are, take of
us some pitie, who in dolefull wyse shew our grieffs in songe . . .™, and
Husbands and their wyves parted are a sunder
parents severde are from their children deare,
servants men and mayds forced are a number
service newe to seeke, god, not they knowes wheare
suckinge babes do crye
which at home do lye
in the cradle for the pappe
mothers do bewayle
lyinge fast in Jayle
their sweet Babies heavie happe,

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