Antwerp: Apud Adrianum Huberti, 1587.
Quarto: 21.4 x 16 cm. 95 pp. Collation: A-M4
Illustrated with 29 half-paged engravings of torture, murder, and execution. Bound in modern blind-ruled vellum with ornaments and central arabesques. A very good copy, lightly soiled and with some marginal foxing. Minor blemishes, small ink spot (leaf L2), small wax drips (leaf B3). There is a tiny tear in blank margin of D2. The evidence of the original stab stitching can be seen in the gutter.
Verstegan’s extraordinary graphic account of atrocities committed against Catholics in England under Henry VIII, by the Calvinists under Elizabeth I, in France at the hands of the Huguenots, and in Belgium by the Gueux soldiery. The “Theatrum” is illustrated with 29 large engravings depicting the grisly tortures and executions endured by Catholics at the hands of their tormentors. The work opens with the beheadings of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher and concludes with the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots.
“Latin verses under the illustrations, and some preliminary verses, were provided by ‘I.B.’, identified by Wood as ‘one Joh. Bochius.’ This Johannes Bochius was a Catholic loyalist who had been appointed secretary to Antwerp’s city council in 1585. The publisher was Adrian Huberti, like Verstegan himself a ‘printer’ without a press, and the printing seems to have been carried out by Christopher Plantin, Typographer Royal…. suggesting that it may have been an unofficial work of government propaganda.”(Arblaster, p. 41)
“When Richard Verstegan reached Antwerp early in 1587, he found a city in which Catholicism was being re-established and the visible effects of two waves of iconoclasm were in the process of repair. The first violent assault by the Protestants, in August 1566, had been followed by a more deliberate systematic and orderly removal of images from the churches by the Calvinist town council in 1581. The images of martyrdom in reconstructed altarpieces and church ornaments, and in the new works which had been commissioned to replace those destroyed, were different from their predecessors: torture and instruments of torture were now graphically depicted in pictures teeming with detail. It was within this broken religious landscape and in explicit representation of martyrdom, which was to have such a strong influence on his next work, that Verstegan established himself.”(Dillon, Theatrum Crudelitatum: The Theatre of Cruelties)
“The ‘Theatrum’ was in five sections: an introduction and illustrated accounts of the persecution of Catholics during the reign of Henry VIII, during the French Wars of Religion, in the early years of the Dutch Revolt, and under Elizabeth I. It was to be a seminal work of hagiology, but it was not only an important devotional work, it was also, if only indirectly, propaganda for the Spanish Armada. The book ends with the depiction of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots on 8 February 1587, and a call to the Catholic princes of Europe to avenge this Calvinist regicide, while the introduction devotes considerable space to demonstrating that Elizabeth I had broken her coronation oath and violated reason and justice with her various statutes and proclamations against Catholics… A stated purpose was to show that Calvinists, unlike any other Christian group since the Münster Anabaptists, viewed the forcible overthrow of the established order as a necessary precondition to religious reform in the creation of a ‘godly commonwealth’. Both as a devotional work and as propaganda, the ‘Theatrum’ far surpassed the immediate purpose of the moment and continued to be reprinted into the 1600s. It was of iconographic importance into the 17th century… Almost a century later, Anthony à Wood was to write of the ‘Theatrum’ that ‘Tis very scarce, and sells for any money.’”(Paul Arblaster, Antwerp & The World: Richard Verstegan and the International Culture of Catholic Reformation, p. 41-2)
"Richard Rowlands alias Verstegan, antiquary, born in the parish of St. Catherine, near the Tower of London, was grandson of Theodore Roland Verstegen, of an ancient Dutch family which was driven from Gelderland to England about 1500. His father was a cooper. Rowlands, after a good education, was entered at Christ Church, Oxford, in the beginning of 1565 as ‘Richard Rowlands, servant to Mr. Barnard’. A zealous Catholic, he declined the tests essential to a degree, and left the university without one. While there, however, he distinguished himself by his study of early English history, and began to learn Anglo-Saxon. Soon 1576, Rowlands removed to Antwerp, dropped his English name, and resumed the paternal Verstegen. He set up a printing press, wrote books, and, being an artist of no mean skill, engraved some of the cuts for them himself. He also acted as agent for the transmission of catholic literature (some of which he printed), and letters to and from England, Spain, Rome, and the Netherlands. He was in frequent correspondence with Cardinal Allen and Robert Parsons, and for a time in their pay.
"About 1587 Rowlands was living in Paris, where his narrative of Elizabeth’s treatment of the Catholics of England in his ‘Theatrum Crudelitatum Haereticorum nostri Temporis’, Antwerp, 1587, 4to), excited the attention of the English ambassador, and he was thrown into prison. Upon his release he returned to Antwerp and reprinted the book. He was back in France in 1595 on his way to Spain, where he had an interview with Philip, and spent some time at the catholic college in Seville. At the end of the same year he was once more in Antwerp, living ‘near the bridge of the tapestry makers,’ and interpreting English letters for the postmaster. He had then married a lady who is described as ‘doing much to keep up his credit’. He corresponded with Sir R. Cotton up to 1617, and was still living in Antwerp in 1620.”(DNB)
The English Martyrs
Two of the book’s four parts concern the persecution of Catholics during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
The first of these narratives, “A Description of the Cruelty and Barbarity of the English Schismatics during the Reign of King Henry VIII”, opens with an engraving of English Protestants destroying a church, pulling down a Crucifix, and throwing religious icons onto a bonfire.
The second engraving shows Thomas More and John Fisher being decapitated, while in the distant background Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (the mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole) meets the same fate.
The third engraving shows the torture and execution of the eighteen English Carthusians (including their prior, John Houghton) who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy in 1535.
Next follows the immolation, in 1538, of the Franciscan friar John Forest (in the background, various other priests and monks are being executed and hacked to pieces by a man with a cleaver.) Forest holds the dubious distinction of being the only Tudor papalist to be burned as a heretic rather than hanged, drawn, and quartered as a traitor. The engraving shows the ‘abused image’ of Dderfel Gadarn, a great wooden statue from the pilgrimage site of Llandderfel in north Wales, being used to stoke the fire that burned Forest. “The claim has often been made that a Welsh prophecy stating that Dderfel Gadarn would one day set a forest on fire prompted the authorities to burn Forest. However, heresy proceedings had begun before Cromwell knew of the existence of the image, and the earliest reference to any prophecy comes in Edward Hall's Chronicle, published in 1548.”(ODNB) This first section concludes with a list of 56 priests, monks, and laymen who were martyred under Henry VIII in the years 1535, 1537-9, 1541, and 1543.
The Elizabethan chapter is titled, “Description of the English Inquisition, and of the Wicked, Machiavellian Cruelties perpetrated by the Calvinists in England and Ireland under Elizabeth.”
The first plate shows four scenes: 1. Catholic priests and their congregants captured celebrating mass in secret; 2. Protestants raiding a Catholic household by night; 3. Captured priests being mocked; and 4. Catholics bound together in pairs being led from “a filthy prison to an even filthier one.”
In the second plate, Jesuit priests and English nobles are tortured into giving up their comrades. A man is racked, another has iron pins stuck under his fingernails, and a pathetic figure is crammed into the notorious cell in the Tower known as “Little-ease.”
The third plate shows further scenes of torture. In the first, a Catholic youth has died of hunger and exposure in the Tower. We are told that his captors, having stripped him of his clothes, tore his flesh from his bones.) To the left, a man is bound in an iron ring. In the background, prisoners sit with their feet bound by shackles; and Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, is arrested by night. Percy’s story is unusual. Although he was involved in various plots to help Mary Queen of Scots and finally imprisoned, Elizabeth did not try him for treason. The way in which he met his end (by suicide while in the Tower) was rejected by Catholics, and he was numbered among the martyrs.
“[Percy] was found in bed in the Tower on the night of 20–21 June 1585, dead from a shot through the heart inflicted with his own pistol, which was still in his hand. The Star Chamber inquest held on 23 June determined that his death was suicide. He was buried on the same day in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. Some Catholics, however, were convinced that Sir Christopher Hatton, the vice-chamberlain, had the earl murdered on the government's orders. A Latin pamphlet published at Cologne made this claim; it was soon translated into German, Italian, Spanish, and English. If Northumberland had been shot three times in the chest, as some affirmed, this would indeed seem to rule out suicide, but if not, suicide does seem much more probable; it protected his family from confiscations.”(DNB)
In the fourth, fifth, and seventh engravings, still more tortures are depicted: a man is trussed up in such a way that eventually he “will suffocate in his own feces.” Another man is being crushed beneath a board that is loaded with iron weights. A trapdoor, barred and locked, conceals a deep, fetid pit into which “Catholics are lowered and suffocated by the noxious air”; a man is disemboweled, etc.
The sixth plate illustrates the deaths Patrick O’Healy, Bishop of Mayo, and his companion Conn O’Rourke, who were martyred at Kilmallock on August 31, 1579, as well as the torture and execution of Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Casiiel (d. 1584).
The final plate shows the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
As in the section on the Henrican martyrs, the section on the Elizabethan martyrs ends with a list of the names of 30 priests, including Edmond Campion, S.J., (although we are told that there were many, many more who perished), and 13 laypeople, including Margaret Middleton (later Saint Margaret Clitherow), who was crushed to death.
Adams T 444; Allison & Rogers, English Counter-Reformation, I, no. 1297; Gillow, J. English Catholics, V, p. 567, no. 2; Milward, P. Religious controversies of the Elizabethan age, 267; Belg. Typogr. I, 4729; Brunet, V, 773-774: "Edition originale, plus recherchee que celle d'Anvers, 1592, in-4, dont les planches sont usees"; Funck 407; Barbier, IV, 1390; Graesse, VII, 110; Gibson, "St. Thomas More: A Preliminary Bibliography of his Works and of Moreana to the Year 1750", #489