‘A Generation of the MARTIN kind’: The Tracts of Martin Marprelate (Part One)

As part of the IJBS Blog Series, Dr Ariel Hessayon (@ArielHessayon), Reader in early modern History at Goldsmiths, University of London, explores the origins and legacies of the comical, controversial and anti-clerical Martin Marprelate pamphlets across the 16th-17th centuries.

On 6 April 1593 the Cambridge-educated religious separatists Henry Barrow (c.1550–1593) and John Greenwood (c.1560–1593) were hanged for treason at Tyburn – a notorious site of execution outside the city of London. They had been found guilty of writing and publishing seditious literature with malicious intent. Just over a month later another Cambridge-educated religious dissident, the Welsh preacher and pamphleteer John Penry (1562/63–1593), was tried twice: firstly for inciting rebellion and insurrection, and then for attacking the Church of England through the publication of scandalous writings. Penry was found guilty and on 29 May 1593 likewise hanged, this time in Surrey. As for Penry’s co-conspirator, the Warwick MP Job Throckmorton (1545–1601), he too had been put on trial in 1590. In Throckmorton’s case this was a result of the government crackdown on Protestant dissenters suspected of being involved in the writing, publication and circulation of a series of texts issued under the pseudonym ‘Martin Marprelate’ and its subsequent variants.  Throckmorton, however, pleaded innocence: ‘I am not Martin, I knew not Martin’ he claimed.  And because of his relatively high social status and extensive connections, not to mention legal technicalities, Throckmorton escaped the fate that would befall Barrow, Greenwood and Penry. Instead he died in relative obscurity.

Stained glass windows at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge depicting Henry Barrow [left] and John Greenwood [right].
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