The Marprelate Press: A Chronological Narrative

If the hunt for the elusive Martin proved one thing, it is the extent to which the Marprelate
project was a collaborative effort. While Job Throkmorton “is” Martin Marprelate in that he
appears to be the writer principally responsible for the Martinist voice, John Penry does appear to
have contributed some writing. Furthermore, Throkmorton and Penry together are but two of the
almost two dozen people known to have been involved in the production and dissemination of
the tracts. A royal proclamation responded to the tracts by distributing agency among all those
responsible for their existence and their circulation, comprehensively forbidding anybody “to
write, contrive, print, or cause to be published or distributed, or to keepe” such works, or even to
“give any instruction, direction, favour, or assistance, to the contriving, writing, printing,
publishing, or dispersing of the same” (document 3). To contemporary officials, the tracts were
the products not just of an author but of a community, bonded in opposition by a program
collectively and defiantly promoted through print.

The story that investigators eventually pieced together of the production and distribution
of the Marprelate tracts exemplifies the collaboration the project required. Robert Waldegrave
printed the first tract on a press hidden in the manor of Elizabeth Crane in East Molesey, Surrey,
about thirteen miles southwest of London. The press is described in depositions as being Penry’s, who apparently bought it from an unidentified Dutchman (document 15). Penry and Waldegrave brought the press to East Molesey in the summer of 1588, and over the next few months Waldegrave printed John Udall’s Demonstration of discipline, Penry’s A defence of that which hath bin written, and, by about the middle of October, Martin’s Epistle. One of Crane’s servants, Nicholas Tomkins, deposed that the retail price of the Epistle was ninepence, but that he had been able to buy copies from Waldegrave for sixpence; rather wistfully, he concluded that if he had been more enterprising he might “have had all the Martyn Marprelates, and so have gayned xxty [20] marks [£13 6s 8d] by them” (document 9). Tomkins based his calculations on a print run of slightly more than one thousand copies, a figure supported by evidence in these documents that print runs for other Martinist productions ranged from at least five hundred to fifteen hundred copies. With the Epistle completed, Crane grew nervous about having the press in her house and asked the Martinists to remove it. When she was eventually arrested, Crane refused to answer any questions, telling authorities “she woulde not be her owne hangman,” nor could she “in her conscience be an accuser of others” (document 16). In May 1590 Star Chamber fined her 1000 marks (£666) for being in contempt of court for her refusal to answer ex officio questions and a further £500 for harboring the press, and committed her to the Fleet prison. Extant records do not indicate how long she remained there, nor if her fines were eventually remitted, as they were for others charged with assisting the Martinist project.

Elizabeth Crane’s was the first of several households to accommodate the Marprelate
press. In early November, the operation moved to Fawsley Hall, Sir Richard Knightley’s
mansion in Northamptonshire, about twelve miles southwest of Northampton. The press had
been dismantled and hidden in a cart for the almost hundred-mile journey, which took about two
weeks and was made by R. Jeffs of Upton, a tenant-farmer under Knightley’s son Valentine.
Jeffs, who had to ask Penry what the “small things of lead or Iron” in his cargo were, earned the
substantial sum of fifty shillings for the dangerous work. Penry gave him the first thirty shillings
at a meeting on Hounslow Heath, and the remainder at the house of Penry’s in-laws, the
Godleys, in Northampton (documents 10, 16, 17, 18). The press was set up in a locked room, and Waldegrave installed under an assumed name with the cover story was that he was there to
examine Knightley’s title-deeds. By late November he had printed the second Marprelate tract,
the Epitome. Humphrey Newman, who would become the main distributor of the tracts, brought
400 copies to London, borrowing Penry’s mare to do so; Mary Waldegrave, Robert’s wife, also
took 200 copies for distribution. One of Knightley’s servants told an acquaintance that paper and
other printing supplies for the operation were “allwayes sent downe from a Spurrier dwellinge
aboute Pie Corner neere West Smithfield, who sent thither and receyved thinges from thence”
(document 14). This is one of the few references in the extant documents to what must have been
a well developed network of suppliers and importers in the London area, all working to provide
the project with the large quantities of materials it required to print all these books.

Knightley testified at his trial that he had not been present while the Epitome was being
printed, and that he had only granted Penry permission to print books on the religious condition
of Wales. With some justification, the court found the second of these claims unconvincing.
Knightley had in fact sent copies of the tracts to his brother-in-law, Sir Edward Seymour, earl of
Hertford, and had let Humphrey Newman wear the livery of his household staff to render his
travels around the country less suspicious. Knightley was fined £2000 and sentenced to
“Imprisonment at her Majesties pleasure” (document 19), but the fine and sentence were remitted
at the request of Archbishop John Whitgift, who appears to have focused his rigor against
reformist clerics rather than their lay supporters (see document 19 headnote).

Local rumors that a press was being operated at Fawsley spurred the Martinists to move
the operation in early January 1589. At first the press was hidden in an unoccupied farmhouse
Knightley owned in Norton, in Northamptonshire near Daventry. But in mid-January it was
moved to White Friars, the house of John Hales in Coventry. Hales was Knightley’s nephew by
his first marriage. At his trial he “utterly disclaymed the bookes” and implied that he had agreed
to house the operation only because of his obligations to Knightley; the court nonetheless fined
him 1000 marks, eventually remitted (document 19). Steven Gyfford, a servant whom Knightley
“used secretly in these matters,” was employed to move the press. Henry Sharpe deposed that as
he and Gyfford were riding together one day, Gyfford pointed to a gutter in the road and
commented that “he was never so affrayd as he was lest his carte shold have stucke fast” at that
place as he was driving the press to Coventry (document 10).

Waldegrave printed three texts at White Friars. He started with the third Marprelate tract,
the broadsheet Certain Mineral and Metaphysical Schoolpoints, and completed the run of about
1000 copies in late January or early February. These were stored in Henry Sharpe’s house in
Northampton until the distributor Newman could be summoned; Newman paid one pence each
for 700 copies, 500 of which he proceeded to carry back to London. With Schoolpoints finished,
Penry finally got his wish and Waldegrave printed his A Viewe of Some Part of Such Publike
in February. After that, by the second half of March, Waldegrave completed the fourth
Marprelate tract, Hay any Work. At fifty-eight quarto pages, Hay any Work is a relatively long
text; Henry Sharpe stated that the printing took about three weeks. The total print run was at least
1000 copies. Waldegrave kept about 200 and sent them to his contacts in London; Sharpe
received 700 copies for stitching, and tried to keep back 100 of these once he had finished—but
was thwarted by Newman, who “did fetch the most of them again” and whom Sharpe accused of
being “loth to have any to gayne but himself” (document 10). The wholesale price was sixpence.
During the period that Hay any Work was in preparation, Penry moved into Throkmorton’s
manor in Haseley, about twelve miles from Coventry: from this point on, Throkmorton appears
to have become more closely involved in the project’s day-to-day operations.

Shortly after Hay any Work was completed, Sharpe and Waldegrave met for dinner at
Sharpe’s in-laws and afterward “walked into the feildes” while they discussed work at the mill
(their code word for the press). According to Sharpe, Waldegrave complained about the
conditions under which he had been working the previous two months. John Hales, justifiably
nervous, wanted the press out of White Friars as soon as possible, and Waldegrave consequently
had been kept “so closely at worke that for that time he had lyved as in a prison and could not
have oftentimes warme meate.” Waldegrave told Sharpe that he was quitting the project, partly
because (he claimed) the preachers he consulted “doe mislike” the Martinist approach to
religious controversy. Soon afterward Waldegrave left for La Rochelle, taking with him the
“dutch letters” with which the first four Marprelate tracts had been printed (document 10). With
the departure of Waldegrave, the Marprelate press remained silent until John Hodgkins joined
the project in mid-July, apparently recruited in London by Humphrey Newman (document 17).

Hodgkins does not appear in the records of the Stationers’ Company, and might have
gained his printing experience on the Continent. He was apparently trained as a “saltpeterman,”
leading Matthew Sutcliffe to comment that he was “a good printer for such saltpeter and
gunnepouder workes” (document 18). But his two assistants, Valentine Simmes and Arthur
Thomlin, were both licensed printers. The work was dangerous and illegal, so Hodgkins swore
the two to secrecy, and promised Simmes twenty pounds a year and Thomlin eight pounds;
Hodgkins in addition would provide both with their meat and drink (document 11). Hodgkins
met Penry and Throkmorton at Throkmorton’s Haseley manor, and learned that the press had
been moved to The Priory in Wolston, about six miles southeast of Coventry. The Priory was the
residence of Roger Wigston, who later confessed that he had harbored the operation at his wife’s
request. She admitted that “zeale of reformation in the Churche caused her to give them
entertainment in her howse,” and asked that her husband not be punished. The court was not
impressed: one judge thought Wigston “worthie of the greater punishment for givinge such a
foolishe aunswear as that he did yt at his wiffes desire.” Wigston “for obaying his wiffe” was
fined 500 marks, and his wife £1000; both fines were eventually remitted (document 19).

The morning after the meeting with Throkmorton, Penry and Hodgkins left together and,
walking toward Warwick to meet Simmes, found some rolled up sheets of paper lying in the path
within “a boult [crossbow] shoote of the house”; these sheets were the first part of the manuscript
of the fifth tract, Theses Martinianae (document 10). The ploy indicates that Throkmorton was
still being circumspect, though he did drop by The Priory a few days after the men had started
printing, apparently to bring the remainder of the manuscript. While there he deciphered some of
the copy for Simmes’ benefit, and “asked Hodgskins softly in his eare, whether these
examinantes [Simmes and Thomlin] were good workmen and able to serve the turne” (document
). The printers were installed in The Priory under the guise of embroiderers, and by the end of
July 1589 they had finished both Theses Martinianae (often known as “Martin Junior”) and the
sixth tract, The Just Censure and Reproof of Martin Junior (often known as “Martin Senior”).
Each print run took about a week to complete, and for Theses Martinianae at least consisted of
1500 copies, sold to the distributor Newman for threepence each. When the work was finished,
Penry paid Hodgkins five pounds.

While Hodgkins was printing Just Censure, he received word that the next Marprelate
tract, More Work for Cooper, was ready for the press. Soon after, the manuscript was dropped
into a room where Hodgkins would find it. “An unhappy drop for poor Hodgkins,” Matthew
Sutcliffe later wrote, “who if her Majestie had not bene gracious to him, had dropped off the
gibet for it” (document 18). According to Henry Sharpe, Penry and Mrs Wigston entreated Hodgkins to remain at Wolston and print More Work there, but Hodgkins had refused, “partly
because that presse was nought; and partly for that he had promised his wife to have been in
Lancashire three weekes before that time” (document 17; another version is in document 10).
Hodgkins told his assistants a different story: “for feare of beinge taken” at Wolston, their
employers had decided that “they should depart to another place” (document 11). In either case,
the press was taken apart and hidden at Wolston; Hodgkins already had his own press waiting for
him in Lancashire. The printers packed up three pairs of type cases with three “sorts” of letters,
ink, and twelve reams of paper, and left that night on the hundred-mile journey to Hodgkins’
home in Warrington, Lancashire, mid-way between Liverpool and Manchester.

Their cart took only about six days to make the trip, arriving in early August 1589. As the
men were unloading their equipment, one of them dropped a case, spilling some type. Like Jeffs,
the farmer who had carted the press to Fawsley, the villagers in Warrington did not recognize the
small objects: “Diverse standing by and marvayling what they shold be Hodgskins answered
they were shott” (document 11). For the moment at least, he was believed. But word of the
incident, or perhaps even a sample, soon reached someone who knew the difference between
lead shot and type. About ten days later, on August 14, agents employed by Henry Stanley, earl
of Derby, tracked the men to a rented house in Newton Lane, just outside Manchester, where
they seized press, paper, and printed sheets of the book in progress. After questioning by local
officials, the three captured printers were brought to London by August 23, and the information
they provided, possibly as a result of being put to the rack, marked the beginning of the end of
the most famous pamphlet war in Elizabethan England.

The final tract, The Protestation of Martin Marprelate, was defiantly published in late
September just as the net was closing in on the whole operation. The Protestation was printed at
Wolston on the original Marprelate press Hodgkins had left behind. Penry wrote Humphrey
Newman with instructions to acquire ink, paper, type, and an “Iron frame to printe in”; the
materials duly arrived, with the help of the reliable Newman and other Northampton friends
(document 17). The first gathering was set by amateurs, possibly Throkmorton and Penry
themselves. The justification is hopelessly crooked, and many words are misspelled and letters
reversed because the setters had difficulty creating the mirror image of their text that typesetting
requires. The quality of the printing improves markedly with the second gathering: Robert
Waldegrave, traveling on his way back from La Rochelle with copies of the books he had printed
there, stopped on his way to Scotland to lend a much needed hand. While there is some evidence
in these documents that Throkmorton wrote additional tracts that employed the Marprelate
persona (“Martin’s Interim” and “The Crops and Flowers of Bridges Garden”), these texts either
were not printed or do not appear to have circulated: the Protestation was Martin’s final curtain

The Marprelate project was a communal operation. Job Throkmorton (primarily) and
John Penry wrote the tracts and Penry managed the press, but many others contributed.
Producing and circulating the books required several printers and two presses, a stitcher,
suppliers of ink and paper, the sympathetic members of four large households, and several
wholesale and probably scores of local distributors. Some Martinists, such as Robert
Waldegrave, the stitcher Henry Sharpe, and the distributor Humphrey Newman, played well
documented roles. Other names flit more tantalizingly through the extant records. John Bowman
and Augustine Maicocke worked for Throkmorton, who addressed them under the noms de
“Archer” and “May” respectively. Mary Waldegrave, Robert Waldegrave’s wife,
managed some large-scale distribution. “Master Pigot” of Coventry hosted various Martinists to dinner while the project was in operation. “Mr Grimston” and Richard Holmes, both of
Northampton, brought supplies to Wolston after the press was seized in Manchester, and hid the
materials in the house of “Mistress More.” One “Gardiner of Northampton” brought news to
Haseley that the house of Penry’s in-laws had been searched, and then used Penry’s mare to
transport 1600 books (comprising three different titles) to the house of a “widow Adams” in
Banbury. The completed bundles of Just Censure were sent to Lawrence Wood, a tailor
“dwelling at the end of Fish Street” in London who was to deliver them to the distributor Newman
(document 10). The community that produced and distributed the Marprelate tracts was a broadly
constituted one: it included women as well as men, and its members ranged from prominent local
gentry with aristocratic support, to local magistrates, merchants, and clergy, to respectable
widows, journeyman workers, and servants. All risked being charged with treason.