London: by Iohn Daye, dwelling ouer Aldersgate, 1570.
Octavo: 14.5 x 10 cm. A-B4
FIRST EDITION, 1 of 2 issues.
Bound in modern half-morocco, spine with title tooled in gold. A fine copy with negligible soiling and several early annotations (leaf A4 “The form of oath to be ministered unto papists”; B1 “qualifiers”, B2 note on St. Francis.).
A rare work from a time of great instability in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, written by the political pamphleteer and lawyer Thomas Norton, a staunch supporter of Elizabeth and a vociferous opponent of those who sought to overthrow her, whether by covert sedition or outright rebellion.
The pamphlet was occasioned by the appearance in England of Pope Pius V’s bull "Regnans in Excelsis", which excommunicated Elizabeth I ("the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime"), declared her a heretic, released her subjects from allegiance to her, and excommunicated any who obeyed her orders.
The Northern Uprising, an armed rebellion led by the Earles of Northumberland and Westmoreland, had recently been crushed but England was still awash in spies, Catholic insurgents, and untrustworthy nobles. Powerful foreign adversaries, chief among them the papacy and Spain, along with English recusants in exile, and supporters of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, continued to plot Elizabeth’s downfall.
An earlier bull, in effect since 1567, promised pardon for English citizens who returned to the fold of the Catholic Church (“which”, Norton opines, “we may truly call Helles mouth”) and ceased to obey the Queen and her heresies. With this bull, writes Norton, the papacy sought to raise an army of English Catholics, promising them as wages “remission of their sinnes, as pure cleanenesse as when they were baptized, restitution to the communion of the faithful, absolution from all sentences, and from all paynes of Purgatory, and the enioying of life and kingdome euerlasting.”
The new bull of excommunication, “Regnans in Excelsis”, went much further, denying the legitimacy of the Queen and calling for open rebellion against her and the government. In its language, Norton discerned a damning similarity to the northern earls’ proclamation.
“In this bull”, Norton writes, “is conteined an arrogant, tyrannicall, and blasphemous taking to himself [i.e. the pope] the power, as committed to him from God, to destroy, transpose, and alter kingdomes at his pleasure, a number of vile and horrible sclanders and vncomely naminges of our Queene, such as a good subiect can hardly heare with patience, the very effect of a great part of the late rebelles proclamation as it were translated, & finally his lewd presumptuous sentence of her maiesties depriuation, in so spitefull, abhomiable, villanous, and traitorous forme as is not to be rehersed.”
Norton surmises that the original bull, “signed and sealed” was provided to the rebels by some architect of the Northern Uprising. The bull was then transmitted furtively, its possessors waiting to proclaim it openly until such a time as the northern Earls and Mary, Queen of Scots (“a Comete whom they meant to advaunce in stede of the Sunne rising”) could be installed on the English throne in Elizabeth’s stead. When the uprising failed, in desperation they had copies printed and distributed in the hopes of causing a general uprising. Now that that effort has failed, writes Norton, the plotters have put forth a rumor that the bull was not authentic but in fact a Protestant forgery to provoke hostility toward Catholics.
For Norton, this was both far-fetched and treasonous. Not only would no Protestant concoct such a forgery, Norton protests, but there is clear forensic evidence to the contrary. No one who examines the type and paper used to print the actual bull that was posted on the Bishop’s Gate will fail to see that it was not made in England. “The print is not unknowen. The very paper, after it was taken down, fallying itself into the former creses and foldes and size of the packet wherein it came over, with a number of other playne evidences, disclose the thing, and whence it came.”
The greater part of the pamphlet concerns “the searching of the maze”, that is, sorting out the intrigues surrounding the bull, its dissemination by “papistes”, and its place in an international effort to motivate English Catholics to rise up against the Queen. We learn of the awarding of secret badges (“some with a figure of Christ crucified, some with fiue woundes”) to those who would join the rebellion; and foreign propaganda, such as the rumor put forth in Spain of a non-existent battle between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland “wherein an Angel with a Chalice in his hand was reported to haue discomfited many thou¬sandes of our Quéenes subiectes… for which there were in Spayne publike gratulations, ringing of belles, and triumphings.” And then there is the damning silence of the usually vocal English Catholic exiles, “our Louvainists”, who “have stayed their hands from writing, and stand in suspence (better it were they did hang in suspence) and expectation what will become of these mischieves whereof them selves have bene the proctors.”
Norton concludes his tract with a long and elaborate metaphor, comparing the excommunication bull to the Trojan Horse. For Norton, those who claim that the bull is a Protestant creation are like Sinon, who persuaded the Trojans to accept the horse as a gift from the Gods (despite the rattling of the Greeks’ weapons within it). Once the horse was within the walls of Troy, Sinon opened the hatch to let the murderous Greeks loose upon the unsuspecting populous. In Norton’s comparison, the rattling of arms within the bull, which the Trojans fail to recognize, are the words that link the bull to the proclamation of the northern rebels.
‘The Grecians then framed a horse. The Papistes haue now framed a Bull. Their horse was stuffed ful of soldiers lurking redy to be let out to set Troye on fire. This Bull is stuffed with traiterous practises to destroy this realme. Sinon perswaded them to receiue the Trojan horse without violating or searchyng it. Our Sinons & lewd qualifiers would haue the Bul esteemed another thing, and take from vs the desire to haue his belly searched. Their horse with re¬mouyng shooke, and they might heare the very sound of the armour within hym. In this Bull the euidences are plaine of open treason, and the very effect of our rebelles proclamation translated soundeth within it, and semeth as it were out of the very Bulles belly to roare and tell vs that all they were priuy to it that were by any appendance or deuise of coniunction or alliance knit to the late rebellion.”
Norton warns the English to heed his warning, but fears that, like Cassandra, although he foretells a looming catastrophe, his admonition will go unheeded. “Cassandra cryeth out agaynst the horse, the fates will not let her bee beleued, Sinon opened the window, the horse vnladed his treasons. Lay this to our case, I will compare no more.
The Bull of Excommunication:
“Promulgated by Pope Pius V in February 1570, the bull “Regnans in Excelsis” excommunicated Elizabeth I, deprived her of her title to the Crown of England, and absolved her subjects from their allegiance to her. A papal court tried Elizabeth in absentia and found her to have unjustly seized control of the kingdom of England and the English Church, over which the pope was declared to have true headship. Elizabeth was also found guilty of appointing heretical ministers, abolishing Catholic worship, persecuting Catholic worshippers, and compelling her subjects to forsake the pope and embrace heresy.
“Besides cutting Elizabeth off from the Roman Catholic Church, the bull also excommunicated any English subjects who continued to obey her and recognize her authority. After waiting for a decade after Elizabeth's accession for her return to Roman Catholicism, the pope issued “Regnans in Excelsis” to encourage the northern rebels of the previous year by assuring them that their actions in forcibly restoring Catholic worship in the areas under their control were lawful and justified. Pius issued the bull without consulting any Catholic ruler, and both Phillip II of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II strongly disapproved of the pope's action.
“Pius made no attempt to persuade any Catholic power to take military action against England to put the bull into effect. ln England, the bull put Catholics in a difficult position. It gave the government grounds to view all English Catholics as potential traitors, and severe penal laws were passed against Catholics in the Parliament of 1571 and in subsequent Parliaments. In the next decades, especially with the coming of the Spanish Armada in 1588, English Catholics had to choose between their faith and their country. Although most Catholics chose their country by denying or ignoring the pope' s power to deprive the queen of her title, the continual plots of the supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots and of the Jesuits active in England, made life difficult for both the English government and English Catholics throughout Elizabeth’s reign.” (Wagner, “Regnans in Excelsis” in The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World: Britain, Ireland, Europe).
ESTC S121751; STC 18678a