Autograph minutes by William Cecil, Lord Burghley of a letter to Archbishop John Whitgift (November 14, 1588)
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer and the Queen’s chief minister, set the official
investigation of the Marprelate press in motion with a letter to John Whitgift, archbishop of
Canterbury on November 14, 1588. The Queen, Burghley writes in these autograph “minutes” or
draft version, had been informed of “a lewd & seditious book lately prynted as it should seme in
secret manner, & as secretly dispersed by persons of unquiet spyrrites.” Martin’s Epistle, he
notes, aimed to “move a mislyke” of church government by bishops and set a “daungerous
example” that encouraged others to work in a similarly covert manner to “subvert all other
kyndes of Government under hir Majesties charg, both in the church and commen weale.”
Similar anxieties would reappear in the proclamation the Queen issued a few months later
(document 3) and repeatedly in subsequent anti-Martinist texts: in a culture that conceived all
authority as interdependent, a threat to one form of authority threatened the entire network.
Burghley therefore instructed the archbishop to initiate a search for the authors and their
accomplices, using “all privy meanes, by force of your Commission ecclesiasticall or otherwise”
to ensure that all those involved in the project were speedily apprehended and committed.
The highest officials in the land were available to support the archbishop in this search.
The letter was evidently to be signed by the Lord Chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton as well as
by Burghley, and three members of the Privy Council were available for advice and assistance:
William Brooke, Lord Cobham; Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst; and Sir John Wooley,
Latin Secretary. A nationwide hunt for the Martinist press was soon organized, with officials
following up on the information provided by two depositions concerning the press that were
taken the same day Burghley drafted this letter (documents 5-6). But it would be nine months
before the press was finally discovered, in August 1589 (document 4).
Source: British Library Lansdowne MS 103/43, fol. 102. Printed in Arber (1879), 107-08.
After our very harty Commendations to your grace. Wher[eas] hir Majestie hath
understandyng of a lewd & seditious book lately prynted as it should seme in secret
manner, & as secretly dispersed by persons of unquiet spyrrites; the Contentes of the
book being principally, to move a mislyke of the present Government of this Church of
England by the Bishoppes and other Ecclesiasticall Governors and therewith also
expressyng in a maliciouse manner sundry slanderous reports, ageynst your grace and the
rest of the Bishippes of the realme; for that hir Majesty conceaveth of these kynd of
seditious attemptes, if they shold be suffred, wold redound both to the dishonour of God,
to the disturbance of the peace of the church, and a daungerous example to encourage
privat men in this covert manner to subvert all other kyndes of Government under hir
Majesties charg, both in the church and commen weale: uppon these considerations hir
Majesty hath willed us to signify to you that though the matter may be Judged in some
part to concern your selves, yet hir plesur is that your grace with the advise of some other of the Bishops your brethren, should use all privy meanes, by force of your Commission
ecclesiasticall or otherwise, to serch out the authors hereof and ther Complices and the
pryntors, and the secret dispersers of the same; and to cause them to be apprehended and
committed. And thereupon to certify us of your procedyngs so as we and others of hir
Majesties prive Counsell, as hir Majesty shall please may procede ageynst all the
offendors in this case, as in reason, honour, and in very Justyce, shall be requisit. And for
your help as nede shall be, we have required by her Majesties command our very good
Lordes the L. Cobham and the L. Buckhurst with Mr Woolley all of her Majesties prive
Counsell, to be aydyng with their advise and asistence to you for the discovery of the
authors and abettors of the forsayd libellous book and so wold we for our partes redely
yeld our labors therto, if we war not so heavely occupyed with the matters for comen
Justyce in this term, as is well known to your grace.
14. No: 1588
Minutes of a lettre to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
from the L. Chancellour
the L. Thre[asurer]
To search for the Authors and abettors of a seditious book against the Ecclesiastical
Government of the Church by Bishops.
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