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The Archpriest Controversy: The conservative Appellants against the progressive Jesuits

  • Thomas Ridgedell (a1)

The Archpriest Controversy, a dispute that took place from 1598 to 1602 over the necessity for an archpriest to enforce moral discipline among the English Catholic clergy, has been traditionally seen either as a struggle for hierarchical order within the Catholic Church or a serious ideological breach between the Jesuit faction and the Appellants. In contrast to recent historiography, this paper argues that the Appellants, secular clergy that opposed the archpriest, represented views of conservative English Catholics who believed they could reconcile their political loyalty to their monarch with their Catholicism. The Archpriest Controversy should be reconsidered as a critical moment in a chain of important events from the English Mission of 1580–81 to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 that reaffirmed the inherently traditionalist nature of the Catholic community in England.

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1 One of the most influential historians, Oskar Meyer, Arnold, contends that the Archpriest Controversy was a political conflict between the Jesuits and the secular priests that ended in a victory for the modern secular state over traditional religious authority. Arnold Oskar Meyer, England and the Catholic Church under Elizabeth, trans. Rev. J.R. McKee (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967). Bossy, John argues that the Archpriest Controversy was primarily over ecclesiastical order and privilege in his authoritative work on English Catholicism. John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).

2 For the purposes of this essay, conservatism is defined as holding political allegiance to the monarch while recognizing the spiritual primacy of the pope and remaining hostile to changes in tradition or hierarchy brought by either the English Reformation or the Counter-Reformation.

3 By 1578, there was already a sizable minority of recusants in some areas due to the work of the surviving Marian clergy who remained largely insulated from the Counter-Reformation. Haigh, Christopher, Reformation and Resistance in Tudor Lancashire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 264 . Despite being Catholic, many of these same clergymen could not escape the influence of the English Reformation as they questioned papal supremacy and emphasized the authority of the Scriptures. Wooding, Lucy, Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 129 . The evidence used to argue that the Archpriest Controversy represented a critical moment in the history of the English Catholic community comes mainly from the printed works of the Appellants and also British Library Additional MS 74880. The manuscript used has many primary source documents relating not only to the Archpriest Controversy but also Robert Persons’s tenure as rector of the English College at Rome.

4 Tutino, Stefania, Law and Conscience: Catholicism in Early Modern England, 1570–1625 (Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, 2007).

5 Questier, Michael, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage, and Religion, c.1550–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 124126 .

6 Scully, Robert, Into the Lion’s Den: The Jesuit Mission in Elizabethan England and Wales (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2011), 419 .

7 Lockey, Brian, Early Modern Catholics, Royalists, and Cosmopolitans: English Transnationalism and the Christian Commonwealth (Farnham, Surrey, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, 2015), 47 . Nationalism is meant here as the galvanizing effects that events such as the Spanish Armada had on the English people to support the monarchy wholeheartedly.

8 The Constitutions of Clarendon, issued by Henry II in 1164, were aimed at bringing the clergy under secular jurisdiction and also diminishing papal authority in England. The full text can be found on Avalon Project at Yale Law School, Constitutions of Clarendon, 1164, (accessed December 6, 2016).

9 Wooding, Lucy, ‘The Marian Restoration and the Language of Catholic Reform,’ in Reforming Catholicism in the Reign of Mary Tudor, eds. John Edwards and Ronald Truman (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 53 .

10 Edwards, John, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), 300 .

11 Eamon Duffy also makes the argument that Cardinal Reginald Pole was aware of the ideas of the Counter-Reformation under the reign of Mary, Queen, despite the absence of direct involvement from the Jesuits. Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 194 .

12 Dickens, A.G., The English Reformation, 2nd ed. (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989), 1314 .

13 For more on bureaucratic changes in the Henrician government, see Elton, Geoffrey, The Tudor Revolution in Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953).

14 MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The Reformation: A History (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 392393 . Everard Mercurian, the Superior General of the Jesuits up to the commencement of the Jesuit Mission to England in 1580, noted that Protestant England was much more hostile to Catholic missionaries than pagan countries which necessitated greater caution than normal for the Jesuits and seminarians. Also, Robert Persons saw England as a part of a worldwide missionary movement. Edwards, Francis, The Biography of an Elizabethan Jesuit, 1546–1610 (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1995), 27 , 37.

15 Ferraro Parmelee, Lisa, Good Newes from Fraunce: French Anti-League Propaganda in Late Elizabethan England (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 1996), 146 .

16 Bossy, John also shows that Henri IV did not have as strong as influence on the Appellants as the Spanish did with the Jesuits. ‘Henri IV, the Appellants and the Jesuits’, British Catholic History 8 (1965): 106 .

17 Lockey, 7.

18 Clancy, Thomas, Papist Pamphleteers: The Allen-Persons Party and the Political Thought of the Counter-Reformation in England, 1572–1615 (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1964), 9394 . Although Robert Persons gave a strong endorsement of the deposing power of the papacy, not all Jesuits agreed with him. Bellarmine, Robert believed that the pope had no temporal power and therefore could not depose monarchs of their kingdoms, even if they deserve to be overthrown. Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei (Cologne: Apud Antonium & Arnoldum Hieratos Fratres, 1628), 231 . Also, Robert Southwell argued that all Catholics owe the Queen obedience in matters that do not threaten their salvation and called for defending England against a papal-led invasion force. But at the same time he defended Allen and Persons, ignoring their political activities and instead praising their efforts to educate the Catholic laity. Pritchard, Arnold, Catholic Loyalism in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 70 .

19 Karl Gunther argues that radical Puritans, like the Jesuits, often promised to destabilize the social order in the name of true religion not just in Elizabethan England, but throughout the sixteenth century from the beginnings of the English Reformation. Reformation Unbound: Protestant Visions of Reform in England, 1525–1590 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

20 The Protestation of Allegiance can be found in Dodd’s Church History of England: From the Commencement of the Sixteenth Century to the Revolution in 1688 (London: C. Dolman, 1839).

21 The Wisbech Stirs was a confrontation in Wisbech Castle, a prison turned makeshift seminary, between the followers of the Jesuit William Weston and secular priest Christopher Bagshaw who would later become one of the foremost Appellants in the Archpriest Controversy. The dispute revolved largely around conduct of discipline for the imprisoned priests with Weston insisting on a top down approach to control morality while Bagshaw was content to rely on individual priests to take responsibility for their own behavior. For more detail on the Wisbech Stirs, see Bagshaw, Christopher, A true relation of the faction begun at Wisbich by Fa. Edmonds, alias Weston, a Iesuite, 1595 (London, 1601).

22 Allen, William, An apologie and true declaration of the institution and endeuours of the two English colleges (Mounts in Henault, France, 1581), 2930 .

23 Questier, Catholicism and Community, 251.

24 Persons, Robert, An appendix to the apologie, lately set forth, for defence of the hierarchie, and subordination of the English Catholike Church (Antwerp, 1602), 125127 .

25 Persons, An appendix, 140.

26 Graves Law, Thomas, The Archpriest Controversy: Documents Relating to the Dissensions of the Roman Catholic Clergy, 1597–1602, Vol 1 (London: Camden Society, 1896), xxixxii .

27 Robert Persons first declared that the Appellants printed their works under the patronage of the Elizabethan regime. There was, in fact, an extensive campaign coordinated by Robert Cecil with Richard Bancroft, the Bishop of London, to print the treatises of the Appellants in London at a time when all other printing by Catholics in England was forbidden. Parmelee, Good Newes From Fraunce, 42.

28 Edwards, Robert Persons, 4.

29 Questier, Catholicism and Community, 268–269.

30 Ibid., 279.

31 Ibid., 210–212.

32 Ibid., 214.

33 Ibid., 215–218. Robert Persons contended that the closest in blood was not always the best choice for the throne in the case of circumstances such as “a madd or furious heyre apparent, or of one that were by education a Turke or Moore in religion,” implying a shift to elective rather than hereditary monarchy which put him firmly outside of the mainstream among Catholics and Protestants in England. Persons clearly favored Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Infanta of Spain, to inherit the throne over James VI of Scotland. He argued that her inheritance to the Houses of Portugal and Brittany would benefit England greatly and her unmarried status would create an opportunity to form an alliance with another country. A Conference about the Next Succession (Antwerp, 1595), 1, 263.

34 Ibid., 223–225.

35 Bluet, Thomas, Important considerations which ought to moue all true and sound Catholikes, who are not wholly Iesuited, to acknowledge without all equiuocations, ambiguities, or shiftings, that the proceedings of her Maiesty, and of the state with them, since the beginning of her Highnesse raigne, haue bene both mild and mercifull (London, 1601), 38 .

36 Bluet, Important considerations, 36–37.

37 Law, The Archpriest Controversy, 129–134.

38 Milward, Peter, Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: Survey of Printed Sources (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1977), 121 .

39 Worthington, Thomas, Relation of sixtene martyrs glorified in England in twelve moneths, with a declaration, that English catholiques suffer for the catholique religion, and that the seminarie priests agree with the Jesuites (London, 1601), 72 .

40 Worthington, Relation of sixtene martyrs, 78.

41 Houliston, Victor, Catholic Resistance in Elizabethan England, Robert Persons’s Jesuit Polemic, 1580–1610 (Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2007), 122123 .

42 BL Add 74880. The nunciature in Flanders was created in 1596 with Frangipani at its head in order to get a better sense of events on the ground in England by relying on firsthand accounts from English Catholics. Patterson, W.B., King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 69 .

43 Persons, An appendix, 109. The First Statute of Praemunire was signed into law by Richard II in 1353 as an attachment to the earlier Statute of Provisors in 1351. The Statute of Provisors defended royal patronage of church offices, while Praemunire was designed to prevent encroachment of any foreign authority on royal jurisdiction. Gee, Henry and John Hardy, William, eds. Documents Illustrative of English Church History (London: MacMillan and Co., 1896), 103 .

44 Ibid., 114.

45 BL Add 74880.

46 Walsham, Alexandra argues convincingly that there were many Catholics in the Elizabethan Church who conformed not just for economic reasons but also as a way to subvert the Religious Settlement in Church Papists: Catholicism, Conformity, and Confessional Polemic in Early Modern England (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1999).

47 Bagshaw, Christopher, A true relation of the faction begun at Wisbich by Fa. Edmonds, alias Weston, a Iesuite, 1595 (London, 1601), 50 . Robert Persons had long been out of England, first going to Spain in 1588 after the failure of the Spanish Armada then returning to Rome in 1597 shortly before the Archpriest Controversy broke out to attend to disturbances in the English College. Edwards, Robert Persons, 129, 198.

48 Ibid., pp. 58–60. Part of Lister’s treatise Adversus Factiosos is reprinted in Thomas Graves Law, A Historical Sketch of the Conflicts Between the Jesuits and Seculars in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London: David Nutt, 1889), 148 .

49 Bagshaw, A true relation, 64–67. As Thomas McCoog rightly notes, Appellant treatises often sought to turn the hostility of the government from the Catholic community towards the Jesuits. ‘And Touching Our Society’: Fashioning Jesuit Identity in Elizabethan England. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2013), 394 . Mush, John also made similar comments on how the Jesuits were more hostile to the Appellants than Protestants in A dialogue betwixt a secular priest, and a lay gentleman (Rheims, 1601), viiviii .

50 John Mush was also the biographer of the Catholic martyr and saint Margaret Clitherow. Mush, as well as the Jesuits, idealized Clitherow’s recusancy and subsequent martyrdom while condemning even occasional conformity for any reason. Mush asserted that going to church just to fulfill the legal requirement without any spiritual purpose would undermine Catholic unity. During the Archpriest Controversy, Mush turned on the Jesuits also for the sake of preserving Catholic unity but this time against outside regulation of the Catholic clergy. Lake, Peter and Questier, Michael, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England (London: Continuum International, 2011), 66, 191 .

51 Mush, John, A dialogue betwixt a secular priest, and a lay gentleman (London, 1601), iiiii .

52 Political ideology also crossed confessional lines among English Protestants and Catholics in the Archpriest Controversy regarding loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. For more on this, see Carrafiello, Michael L. Robert Persons and English Catholicism, 1580–1610. (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1998), 95 . Carrafiello also characterizes the Appellants as conservative, but his shared definition of their views as ‘absolutist’ with the monarch having absolute political power is not fully accurate. The Appellants wanted to restrict the political power of the papacy but there is no evidence they wanted to lessen or abolish noble privilege.

53 Ibid., pp. xii–xviii. Other scholars have often noted that the Jesuits’ opponents from within the Catholic community compared them with the Puritans of the Elizabethan Church. On more of the Puritan and Jesuit parallels, see Marotti, Arthur F., Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 43 , and also John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 44 as well as Michael L. Carrafiello, Robert Parsons and English Catholicism, 1580–1610, 96.

54 Although opposed to the Jesuits in the Archpriest Controversy, Anthony Copley later reconciled with Robert Persons in 1605 after being banished into exile from England. Copley renounced what he called slanderous rumours against Persons such as his attempt to bring about Bagshaw’s death through the English government. Copley, however, did not abandon his ideas of petitioning for religious toleration. Edwards, Robert Persons, 307–308.

55 Copley, Anthony, An ansvvere to a letter of a Iesuited gentleman, by his cosin, Maister A.C. Concerning the appeale; state, Iesuits (London, 1601), 15 .

Thomas McCoog also comments on the perceived lack of willingness on the part of the Jesuits to become martyrs even though the Jesuits themselves, according to the Appellants, were the source of the persecution.‘And Touching Our Society’, 392.

56 Copley, An answere, 66.

57 Ibid, 69.

58 BL Add 74880. The royal succession was another issue that bitterly divided the English Jesuits and the Appellants. The Appellants, as well as the Scottish Jesuits led by William Crichton, favored James Stuart as did the majority of the English, but the English Jesuits desired the Spanish Infanta, Isabella, to succeed Elizabeth. McCoog, ‘And Touching Our Society’, 285.

59 Watson, William, A decacordon of ten quodlibeticall questions concerning religion and state (London, 1602), A-5.

60 BL Add 74880. The Appellants viewed the Jesuits as little more than pawns of Phillip II. Bagshaw, Christopher denounced their attempts “to perswade all Catholicks, that the King of Spayne and our faith are so linked together, as it is become a point of necessity in the Catholick faith to put all of Europe into his hands.” A Sparing Discoverie of our English Iesuits (London, 1601), 8 .

In reality, however, the relationship between the Society of Jesus and Spain was more complicated. Phillip II was a supporter of the Jesuits but was convinced they should come under greater scrutiny from the Spanish Inquisition. Robert Persons wanted to preserve it as founded by Ignatius Loyola. Thomas M. McCoog, The Society of Jesus in Ireland, Scotland, and England 1541–1588: ‘Our Way of Proceeding?’ (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1996), 260–261.

61 Wooding, Lucy also writes that many Catholic authors under the reign of Queen Mary often simply omitted any reference to papal supremacy when defending Catholic doctrine and that Mary retained the Statute of Praemunire in the face of tremendous papal pressure to abandon it. ‘The Marian Restoration and the Language of Catholic Reform,’ in John Edwards and Ronald Truman, eds. Reforming Catholicism in the Reign of Mary Tudor (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2005), 64 .

62 BL Add 74880.

63 The Appellants expected some type of toleration from the government towards Catholics it considered politically loyal, and the government discreetly encouraged this expectation. Yet very soon after the pope’s second answer to the appeal, the Elizabethan regime denied it was considering allowing the toleration of any but the established religion which propelled the Appellants to more desperate measures such as the Protestation of Allegiance. Pritchard, Catholic Loyalism in Elizabethan England, 126–128.

64 Graves Law, Thomas, The Archpriest Controversy: Documents Relating to the Dissensions of the Roman Catholic Clergy, 1597–1602, 2 Vols (London: Camden Society, 1896), 2:246247 . By contrast, when confronted directly on the question of obedience, the so-called “Bloody Question,” in many cases the Jesuits tended to hedge on the issue or evade entirely. For the most famous and earliest instance, see Holleran, James V., A Jesuit Challenge: Edmund Campion’s Debates at the Tower of London in 1581 (New York: Fordham University, 1999).

65 An example of Catholic recusant opposition to the Jesuits and Cardinal William Allen can be found with Thomas Blum, who petitioned the Elizabethan government for relief from the penal laws while simultaneously denouncing Jesuit intrigue. BL Lansdowne 58/13. Also Dr. William Gifford was another Catholic recusant who swore to ‘join goods, lands, and life for the defence of her sacred person and the weal of his dear country.’ Lemon, Robert, ed. Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series, of the Reign of Elizabeth, 1581–1590 (London: Longman, 1865), 321 . A letter from Gifford to Francis Walsingham aligned with the beliefs of the Appellants as he tried to separate religious convictions from political loyalty. He believed that the English Jesuits betrayed the natural duty of all subjects given to the monarch. Tutino, Law and Conscience, 76–77.

66 Questier, Michael, ed. Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkhead. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 5 .

67 Questier, Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkhead, 18.

68 Questier, Catholicism and Community, 401.

69 On more of James II’s attempted program of modernization prior to the Glorious Revolution, see Pincus, Steve, 1688: The First Modern Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).

70 Scully, Into the Lion’s Den, 418.

71 McCoog, Thomas, The Society of Jesus in Ireland, Scotland, and England, 1589–1597: Building the Faith of Saint Peter upon the King of Spain’s Monarchy. (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 193 .

72 McCoog, ‘And Touching Our Society’, 392.

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