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see the objections to plant lore made by some botanists: notably, as above,
Nicholas Culpeper. Discussing the properties of angelica, he makes it clear
how the names of many plants were felt to be offensive.

In times of Heathenism, when men had found out any excellent Herb . . . they
dedicated it to their gods, As the Bay tree to Apollo . . . These the Papists following
as their Patriarchs, they dedicate them to their Saints, as our Ladies-Thistle to the
Blessed Virgin, St Johns Wort to St. John . . . Our Physitians must imitate like
Apes . . . for they Blasphemously cal Pansies, or Hearts ease, an Herb of the Trinity,
because it is of three colors: . . . The Heathens and Papists were bad, and ours
worse; the Papists giving Idolatrous Names to Herbs for their Vertues sake, not for
their fair looks, and therefore some called this, an Herb of the Holy Ghost, others
more moderate called it Angelica, because of its Angelical Vertues, and that Name
it retains stil, and al Nations follow it so neer as their Dialect wil permit.78

If anything, it is the professional herbalists whom Culpeper suspects of this
idolatry: in his description of the archangel he rages, ˜To put a gloss upon
their practice, the Physitians cal an Herb (which Country people vulgarly
know by the name of dead Nettles) Arch angel, wherein whether they savor
74 Oral Culture and Catholicism
of more Superstition or Folly, I leave to the Judicious Reader™ (pp. 15“16).
But, conspicuously, it is one more area where folklore would have attracted
criticism for popery.
The assumption that God was directly revealed in the natural world
structured scienti¬c thinking throughout the period covered by this study,
which made it very easy for scienti¬c discourse to slide into religious apolo-
getics. Commenting on the foundation of the Royal Society, Thomas Sprat
famously remarked how both it and the Church of England had passed by
corrupt copies and referred themselves to perfect originals, ˜the one to the
Scripture, the other to the large Volume of the Creatures™.79 With the dif-
ference that he is asserting the similarity of conformist Protestantism to the
new scienti¬c methodology, he compares the word of God and the work of
God as piously as his predecessors; God is still directly revealed within the
natural world, if no longer by signatures. Within both theology and sci-
ence, literacy had helped to ¬x written records against which interpretations
could be compared. Elizabeth Eisenstein uses Sprat™s quotation to underpin
her in¬‚uential comparison of the new science and the new biblical scholar-
ship, as developments which were both facilitated by the rise of the printing
press.80 But though it is not a comparison made in her book, reformist sus-
picion of the illiterate can be very similar to the medieval Catholic wariness
of uneducated laypeople.81 Literacy brought about greater possibilities of
veri¬cation, and this had the effect of creating a new conception of fact;
in both medieval and early modern England the educated were, above all,
opposing themselves to the rest. Nevertheless, Protestantism bene¬ted from
the link between print and veri¬ability, and this in turn encouraged reform-
ers and other Protestant writers to reframe a suspicion of the independent
imagination, particularly where the imaginative agents were illiterate. An
educated disapproval of religious metaphors developed within oral cul-
tures, and a feeling that discredited techniques within natural science must
originally have been disseminated by those interested in promoting theo-
logical error, both contributed to a widespread intuition of popish rural
Efforts to reform botany would have been spurred by the known use
of ¬‚owers in pagan ritual, and classically educated clergy would have been
especially alert to popish uses of ¬‚owers which could be paralleled within
Latin and Greek texts.82 Thomas Jackson comments that ˜the use of Vervine,
of our Ladies gloves, and S. Johns grasse at this day [is] in no lesse request
amongst some rude and ignorant Christians, than sometimes they were
amongst the ancient Grecians or Romanes, to whose manners Theocritus
Anti-popery and the supernatural 75
and Virgil in their poems doe allude™ (p. 176), and White complains at
greater length:
Many also use to weare Vervein against blasts: and when they gather it for this
purpose, ¬rst they crosse the herbe with their hand, and then they blesse it, thus:
Hallowed be thou Vervein, as thou growest on the ground,
For in the mount of Calvary there thou was ¬rst found:
Thou healedst our Saviour Jesus Christ, and stanchedst his bleeding wound:
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost, I take thee fro[m] the
And so they pluck it up, and weare it. Their prayers and traditions of this sort are
in¬nite, and the ceremonies they use in all their actions are nothing inferiour to
the Gentiles in number and strangenesse.83

popery a nd fa ery
White™s condemnation, like the title of Aubrey™s manuscript compilation,
˜Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme™, suggests how easy it was to classify
together all popular non-Protestant religious practice. Hitherto de¬ned by
the traditional opposition of Judaism and the gentile or heathen religions,
the subject could incorporate Catholic survivals without dif¬culty, because
the mixed character of popular Catholic devotion had always been part of
the reformers™ condemnation. In this context, the tendency was to equate
papists with heathens rather than Jews, and frequently with believers in
classical paganism, though not exclusively; the description of Wodenswell
quoted above shows, for instance, how sacred Catholic sites might be
interpreted in terms of Nordic myth. Fairies were even more prominent
mythological representatives of the old religion, and in an English context,
Jackson™s observation that groves are ˜as the banquetting houses of false
gods™, discussed above, may owe something to faery lore:84 a link that is
made more explicit in another quotation from Sprat™s History of the Royal
The Poets began of old to impose the deceit. They to make all things look more
venerable than they were, devis™d a thousand false Chim¦ras; on every Field, River,
Grove, and Cave, they bestow™d a Fantasm of their own making: . . . And in the
modern Ages these Fantastical Forms were reviv™d, and possess™d Christendom, in
the very height of the Scholemens time: An in¬nit number of Fairies haunted every
house; all Churches were ¬ll™d with Apparitions; men began to be frighted from
their Cradles . . . All which abuses if those acute Philosophers did not promote,
yet they were never able to overcome; nay, even not so much as King Oberon and
his invisible Army. (p. 340)
76 Oral Culture and Catholicism
Sprat is utilising a standard polemical linkage which shows not only how
previously existing folkloric material came to be interpreted in a Catholi-
cised “ and usually anti-Catholic “ light, but how strongly popery was
linked with belief in fairies. This involved controversialists™ appropriation
of a coherent, detailed native British mythology, much used within imag-
inative literary texts at both elite and popular levels.85 Pleading for godly
preachers in Wales, for instance, John Penry complained of the danger
posed in many areas by ˜obstinate idolaters that would fain be again in
execrable Rome™:

Hence ¬‚ow our swarmes of south-saiers, and enchanters, such as will not stick
openly, to professe that they walke, on Tuesdaies, and Thursdaies at nights, with
the fairies, of whom they brag themselves to have their knowlege. These sonnes of
Belial, who shuld die the death . . . have stroken such an astonishing reverence of the
fairies, into the hearts of our silly people, that they dare not name the[m], without
honor . . . Hence proceed open defending of Purgatory & the Real presence,
praying unto images &c. with other in¬nit monsters.86

As this illustrates, faery lore was not the only element of folklore or popular
culture that could be used to condemn popery, and it is sometimes striking
how little the differentiations of genre seem to matter. John Harvey wrote in
1588 how ˜idle Cloistermen, mad merry Friers, and lusty Abbey Lubbers™87
used to keep alive ˜tales of Hobgoblin, Robin Goodfellow, Hogmagog,
Queene Grogorton, King Arthur, Bevis of Southhampton, Lancelot du
Lake, Sir Tristram, Thomas of Lancaster, John a Gaunt, Guy of Warwike,
Orlando furioso, Amadis du Gaul, Robin Hood and little John, Frier Tuck
and maid Marian, with a thousand such legendaries . . . to busie the minds of
the vulgar sort . . . and to avert their conceits from consideration of serious
graver matters™.88 In this indictment, real and quasi-history jostles with
native faery lore and “ in the case of Orlando Furioso “ imaginative writing
from an elite source, perhaps ¬ltered down through chapbooks. In so far as
the characters in question are legendary or ¬ctional, they all have the power
to pervert the attention of the uneducated from the true God. Superstition
could, indeed, come to stand for all ¬ctionality. Reginald Scot makes a
suggestive link in one of the chapter headings to his Discovery of Witchcraft:
˜What miraculous actions are imputed to witches by witchmongers, papists,
and poets.™89
This, though, is not the whole story. Faery lore was used by Protestants for
a number of imaginative purposes, negative, positive, neutral or all three:90
for instance, in William Warner™s Albion™s England, a mock-pastoral about a
shepherd™s dream of popish fairies, Puck ironically praises the bad old days
Anti-popery and the supernatural 77
of Catholicism but also condemns contemporary ecclesiastical abuses.91
Spenser™s faery allegory in The Faerie Queene may be employed for polemical
purposes within the narrative, but is certainly not anti-Catholic in itself; on
the other hand, in the glosses to Spenser™s Shepheardes Calendar, E. K. turns a
description of a fairy-haunted dell into an opportunity to explain how friars
˜soughte to nousell [nurture] the comon people in ignorounce™.92 Because
of its hold among the English unlearned, faery lore was more suitable than
classical myth for illustrating one of the reformers™ favourite topics, the
stupidity of superstition. Because it was a non-Christian belief-system, it
could also be easily appropriated for anti-Catholic imaginative polemic “
an association which would have been reinforced by the real and supposed
syncretisms of the vulgar. Here one must revert to Thomas Larkham. The
shortest rhyme his critics quote, ˜Mary fary, fary Mary™, shows neatly how
the imaginary inhabitants of the common people™s countryside were held
to include ¬gures associated with Catholicism. It may contain another
phonetic transcription of dialect,93 but the reference to fairies, literal or
punning, was one that the reader was intended to recognise and condemn,
and hints that the Queen of Heaven and Queen Mab could be con¬‚ated.94
Still, there is something almost affectionate in the way that High Church
poets in the early seventeenth century routinely equated Catholics with
fairies. A poem like Richard Corbett™s ˜The Fairies™ Farewell™ is certainly
not endorsing Catholicism, but if anyone is being demonised, it is the

Farewell, Rewards & Faeries,
Good Houswives now may say;
For now foule Slutts in Daries
Doe fare as well as they;
And though they sweepe theyr Hearths no less
Then Maydes were wont to doe,
Yet who of late for Cleaneliness
Finds sixe-pence in her Shoe?95

Here, Corbett uses a familiar topos, the association of dairies and fairies.
It derives from the fact that butter- and cheese-making is unpredictable,
making it particularly tempting to placate whatever tutelary spirit might
be in charge of the process, it often crops up in imaginative writing “
partly, no doubt, because of the serendipitous rhyme. Hobbes uses it in the
famous ending of Leviathan, though with suggestively different emphases
from Corbett™s. In his ¬rst verse Corbett comments, with some tolerance,
that the erroneous belief systems of popery used to have a bene¬cial effect
78 Oral Culture and Catholicism
in encouraging dairymaids to perform their duties well. Though the point
would have been taken by Hobbes, Leviathan™s critique is of the system itself:
the interest, as it were, that fairies have in encouraging dairy products. ˜The
Ecclesiastiques take the Cream of the Land, by Donations of ignorant men,
that stand in aw of them, and by Tythes: So also it is in the Fable of Fairies,
that they enter into the Dairies, and Feast upon the Cream, which they
skim from the Milk.™96 Even this, though, was a point that could sometimes
back¬re. In his anti-witchcraft polemic A Candle in the Dark (1656), Thomas
Ady quotes a dairymaid™s charm: ˜Come Butter come, come Butter come,
Peter stands at the Gate, waiting for a buttered Cake, come Butter come™
(p. 59). He uses the rhyme to reinforce the standard equation of popery
and superstition, and it could also have lent itself to a more speci¬c reading
along the same lines: the numinous power of St Peter™s successors at the
pearly gates can be channelled for butter-making because priests live off
the fat of the land. Still, in context, it does not entirely bear out the anti-
clerical point which Ady wants to make. He quotes his informant, an old
woman, as saying that it was ˜taught my Mother by a learned Church-man
in Queen Maries days, when as Church-men had more cunning, and could
teach people many a trick, that our Ministers now a days know not™ (p. 59).
As this suggests, it is in a dairymaid™s interests as well as a priest™s that butter
should be made, and the anecdote preserves Catholic nostalgia too.
In his Reliques (1765) Thomas Percy comments of English folklore: ˜The
reader will observe that our simple ancestors had reduced all these whim-
sies to a kind of system, as regular as, and perhaps more consistent than,
many parts of classical mythology.™97 Hobbes would have concurred, as
his emphasis is ¬rmly on the structural analogies between the two hier-
archical systems of popery and faery. ˜The Fairies in what Nation soever
they converse, have but one Universall King, which some Poets of ours
call King Oberon; but the Scripture calls Beelzebub, Prince of Daemons.
The Ecclesiastiques likewise, in whose Dominions soever they be found,
acknowledge but one Universall King, the Pope . . . The Fairies are not
to be seized on; and brought to answer for the hurt they do. So also the
Ecclesiastiques vanish away from the Tribunals of Civill Justice.™ Elsewhere,
Hobbes allegorises: church-Latin is literally ˜the Ghost of the Old Romane
Language™ and ˜Ecclesiastiques walke in Obscurity of Doctrine™ just as
˜Fairies and Ghosts inhabite Darknesse, Solitudes, and Graves™.
Hobbes ends: ˜To this, and such like resemblances between the Papacy,
and the Kingdome of Fairies, may be added this, that as the Fairies have no
existence, but in the Fancies of ignorant people, rising from the Traditions
of old Wives, or old Poets: so the Spirituall Power of the Pope . . . consisteth
onely in the Fear that Seduced people stand in, of their Excommunication;
Anti-popery and the supernatural 79
upon hearing of false Miracles, false Traditions, and false Interpretations
of the Scripture.™ It was an accusation of which many educated Catholics
would have seen the force. Just as they were not necessarily more tolerant
than Protestants towards the intrusion of pagan elements into Christian
festivity “ when imprisoned at Wisbech Castle in 1597, the priest Christo-
pher Bagshaw objected when a Christmas hobby horse was brought into
the jail “ they must constantly have been embarrassed by having belief in
popular superstitions imputed to them.98 Aubrey reports of France in the
1660s that ˜much of the fulsome Superstition and Ceremonies were left-off,
with the last 30 yeares. The Jesuites (clearer sighted than the other Orders)
doe omitt them, as being ridiculous and giving scandall.™99 The Catholic
church™s continued endorsement of miracle made it all the more impor-
tant for its apologists to maximise the distance between real and spurious
supernaturalism: in a work devoted to celebrating Marian miracles, Philips
Numan remarks on the ˜perticular and zealous hatred™ that Catholics bear
to superstition, and the fact that they are forbidden to read or own books
of magic, chiromancy or astrology.100 Nor is it impossible to ¬nd Catholics
writing dismissively about phenomena already mentioned in this chapter:
Thomas Lodge referred contemptuously to charms, while both Edmund
Campion™s and Richard Stanihurst™s accounts of Ireland are sceptical about
the visions which pilgrims claimed to have seen at St Patrick™s Purgatory.101
Imaginative writing could also be a way to redirect accusations of
superstition: in The Hind and the Panther, written after Dryden™s con-
version to Catholicism, the monk Chanticleer is undeservedly depicted
adoring ˜stocks of sainted trees™, and sectarians are compared to fairies.102
But perhaps the most authoritative Catholic riposte to Protestant accusa-
tions of promiscuous superstition comes from the early eighteenth century,
in an imaginative work which generates enormous energy from the tension
between fantasy and rationalism. In The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope
mocks fairies, but also encompasses more orthodox supernatural machinery
in his sceptical vision. Addressing Belinda, the sylph Ariel equates fairies
and angels:

If e™er one Vision touch™d thy infant Thought,
Of all the Nurse and all the Priest have taught,103
Of airy Elves by Moonlight Shadows seen,
The silver Token, and the circled Green,
Or Virgins visited by Angel-Pow™rs,
With Golden Crowns and Wreaths of heav™nly Flow™rs,
Hear and believe! thy own Importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow Views to Things below.
80 Oral Culture and Catholicism
Pope™s real injunction is, of course, just the opposite: hear and disbelieve,
unless you are of the credulous sex or of a credulous age. But anti-priestcraft
though Pope is, his succeeding lines de¬‚ect accusations of superstition
temporarily away from Catholics and onto weak wits or the unlearned.
Catholicism, like any other peculiarity, made a satirist vulnerable; and to
those aware of Pope™s religious persuasions, this reattributing of superstition
would have mitigated the accusations which he himself directed at his co-
religionists, and enhanced his own poetic authority.

Some secret Truths from Learned Pride conceal™d,
To Maids alone and Children are reveal™d:
What tho™ no Credit doubting Wits may give?
The Fair and Innocent shall still believe.

Writing in con¬dence to a fellow Catholic, Pope was more prepared to
be explicit about where their denomination was vulnerable to attack. The
¬rst version of The Rape of the Lock was written in 1711 and published in
1712, while the second, which includes the epic machinery, was written
in 1713 and published in 1714. Later in 1714, on the topic of the siege
of Barcelona and poetic supernaturalism in general, Pope was to write
to Edward Blount: ˜That siege deserves as ¬ne a poem as the Iliad, and
the machining part of poetry would be the juster in it, as they say the
inhabitants expect Angels from heaven to their assistance. May I venture to
say, who am a Papist, and say to you who are a Papist, that nothing is more
astonishing to me, than that people so greatly warm™d with a sense of Liberty,
should be capable of harbouring such weak Superstition, and that so much
bravery and so much folly, can inhabit the same breasts?™105 Letter and
poem, considered together, add up to a rueful double acknowledgement:
that all Catholics are indiscriminately accused of superstition by Protestants,
but that this lack of discrimination is unfair, because it is impossible for
a reasonable Catholic to justify the superstitions of many co-religionists.
Though the occult hierarchies of the Comte de Gabalis are Pope™s ostensible
source for the supernatural element in The Rape of the Lock, the poem also
demonstrates the particular association of Catholicism with the personnel
of folk superstition. It found its ¬rst audience within a Catholic coterie,
but in a non-supernatural version; in making it less of a coterie poem Pope
may have made it more of a Catholic one, simultaneously defending his
own kind and criticising them for the polemical opportunities they gave to
their adversaries.106
Anti-popery and the supernatural 81
The fear of superstition haunted generations even later than Pope™s.
Nathan Drake de¬ned ˜the awful ministrations of the Spectre, or the inno-
cent gambols of the Fairy™ as ˜vulgar Gothic™ “ potentially a useful term
to resurrect “ and comments that it is a ˜mode of superstition so assimi-
lated with the universal apprehension of superior agency, that few minds
have been altogether able to shake it off™.107 This echoes Thomas Jackson™s
much earlier intuition, and helps to explain why the material covered in this
chapter was often found so personally disturbing by those who preserved it.
Many of the above-mentioned writers demonstrate “ consciously or oth-
erwise “ an anxiety about the imagination which, though stimulated by
Catholics or the unlearned, is not con¬ned to them. Through a suspicion
that popish superstition has pagan and gentile antecedents, they expressed
a common early-modern ambivalence about the classical heritage, seeing
it as potentially productive of idolatry. All the same, if learning was not
enough to save one, ignorance was a far more dangerous companion to
imagination. Unlike the producers of anti-puritan polemic, these authors
identi¬ed a lack of learning as the problem with their subjects, rather than an
attitudinous new literacy;108 but whether error arose through attending to
orally transmitted nonsense or misinterpreting the Scriptures through pri-
vate reading, conventionally educated controversialists tended to be scared
by the combination of worship with wayward language and undisciplined
imaginings. When these factors accompanied illiteracy, low social status
and a version of Catholicism unendorsable by orthodox Catholics, edu-
cated individuals on both sides of the divide would have had reason to fear
the gods that might be invoked.

Answering back: orality and controversy

A Catholic balladeer of the late sixteenth century complained of his con-
troversial opponents: ˜Thei play upon advantages / which makes the[m]
be so stowte, / They knowe what is against them sayde / shall not be pub-
lished out.™1 On one level, his chagrin is understandable; but given his own
poem, and the many other Catholic controversial ripostes which survive
from this period, it can also seem thoroughly disingenuous. Of¬cially at
least, most Catholics were debarred access to the press at most times when
censorship was operating in Tudor and Stuart England. But just as this
could be circumvented by printing confessional material on the Continent
or on illicit presses in England, print itself was supplemented by means of
manuscript transmission. Besides, it is the contention of this chapter and
the next that one can speak of a Catholic oral challenge to the religious
status quo in Protestant England, manifesting itself through a number of
media, accessible to those at many social levels, and acting as a supple and
evasive means of popularising dissident ideas.
On this front as on so many others, the connection that Protestants made
between orality and popery was true, despite being polemically motivated.
But it is differently true for the material treated in the preceding chapter,
and for that discussed below. One basic division can be gauged by how
the Protestant polemicist locates himself in relation to the enemy, and the
type of response he expects. When he talks of superstition, his reproach
concerns the common folk; yet he is addressing not the offenders, but
those who are responsible for their education or the cure of their souls.2
But complaints about popish ballads and lewd Catholic libels, texts also
highly dependent on oral transmission, are directed straight at the writers
of those texts, who have entered the polemical arena voluntarily and on
their own behalf, with the basic equipment and training to conduct a ¬ght.
In general no answer is solicited, either from the superstitious peasant or
the libeller; the pretence of the polemicist is invariably that his arguments
are unanswerable, and when they are answered, he declares outrage. But
Answering back 83
in stressing this unanswerability, the implications are differently slanted:
the peasant is un¬t to ¬ght, whereas the libeller has had all his arguments
Nevertheless, refutations were sometimes refuted in turn, and much
of this chapter deals with the polemical exchanges between Catholic and
Protestant, as they found their way into verse. In some ways these are not
very different from their prose counterparts, especially since the longer
verses could practise point-by-point refutation to almost the same level of
detail as a short controversial pamphlet. But even though prose controversy
sometimes tilts at the opponent™s metaphor rather than his doctrine, this
tendency becomes foregrounded in verse. Metrical controversy, too, stresses
at all times the interface between mnemonics and live theological argument,
and was often intended to provide its users with portable points for use
in oral debate.3 In this context the ballad™s uses were wide, ranging from
versi¬cations of Catholic apologetic to laments or libels, all couched in
metres which were already familiar, aided memorisation and could be sung.
Theological grievances need not always be voiced in theological terms, and
as with the Catholic contribution to the popular genre of conservative
lament, an answer can simply be a matter of articulating discontent; though
the sentiments are simply reactive, the act of voicing them “ on paper, in
recitation or in song “ is one of de¬ance, and of what we would now call

con t roversi a l di a log u es
Like the controversial pamphlets which they supplement, the verses in this

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