Proclamation against the Marprelate tracts (February 13, 1589)

In mid-February 1589, a few weeks after the publication of the first official response to the
tracts, Thomas Cooper’s Admonition to the People of England (1589), the Queen issued the
following proclamation “against certaine seditious and schismatical bookes and Libels.” The
proclamation does not name Marprelate, but the tracts are clearly its target: an official document
in the Canterbury city archives lists a payment for delivering copies of the proclamation “for
Martin Marprelate” (cited in Hughes and Larkin, eds., Tudor Royal Proclamations, 3:34). The
Queen describes the consequences of the three Marprelate tracts that had appeared so far in
language that exposes the concerns fuelling the search for the press. These “schismatical and
seditious bookes, diffamatorie Libels, and other fantasticall writings” tended ultimately to the
“abridging, or rather to the overthrowe of her Highnesse lawfull Prerogative, allowed by Gods
lawe, and established by the Lawes of the Realme.” In other words, to push for innovation in
church government was to call into question the legal foundations of monarchical sovereignty, a
version of the slippery slope argument that James I, drawing on his experience in Presbyterian
Scotland, would later summarize as “No Bishop, no King” (recorded in Barlow, Summe and
Substance of the Conference ... at Hampton Court
, 36, 82).

The proclamation furthermore responds to the Martinist campaign 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 keep” such
works, or even to “give any instruction, direction, favour, or assistance, to the contriving,
writing, printing, publishing, or dispersing of the same.” 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. To be involved in any way, even by reading a
copy, was to be treasonously complicit.

Source: A proclamation against certaine seditious and schismatical bookes and libels (1589),
STC 8182.


By the Queene
A Proclamation against certaine seditious and Schismatical Bookes and Libels, &c.

The Queenes most excellent Majestie, considering howe within these few yeeres past,
and now of late, certaine seditious, & evill disposed persons towards her Majestie and the
Government established for causes Ecclesiasticall within her Majesties Dominions, have
devised, written, printed, or caused to be seditiously and secretly published and dispersed,
sundry schismatical and seditious bookes, diffamatorie Libels, and other fantasticall
writings amongst her Majesties Subjectes, containing in them doctrine very erronious,
and other matters notoriously untrue, and slaunderous to the State, and against the godly
reformation of Religion and Governement Ecclesiasticall established by Lawe, and so quietly of long time continued, and also against the persons of the Bishoppes, and others
placed in authoritie Ecclesiasticall under her Highnesse by her authoritie, in rayling sorte,
and beyond the boundes of all good humanitie: All which Bookes, Libels, and writings
tend by their scope, to perswade and bring in a monstrous and apparaunt daungerous
Innovation within her dominions and Countries, of all manner Ecclesiasticall
Governement now in use, and to the abridging, or rather to the overthrowe of her
Highnesse lawfull Prerogative, allowed by Gods lawe, and established by the Lawes of
the Realme, and consequently to reverse, dissolve, and set at Libertie the present
Government of the Church, and to make a daungerous change of the forme of doctrine,
and use of Divine service of God, and the ministration of the Sacraments nowe also in
use, with a rashe and malicious purpose also to dissolve the Estate of the Prelacie, beeing
one of the three auncient estates of this Realme under her Highnesse, whereof her
Majestie mindeth to have such a reverend regard, as to their places in the Church and
Common wealth appertaineth. All which saide lewde and seditious practise doe directly
tend to the manifest wilfull breach of a great number of good Lawes and Statutes of this
Realme, inconveniences nothing regarded by such Innovations.

In consideration whereof, her Highnesse graciously minding to provide some good and speedy remedie to withstand such notable daungerous and ungodly attempts, and for
that purpose to have such enormious malefactors discovered and condignely punished,
doeth signifie this her Highnesse misliking and indignation of such daungerous and
wicked enterprises, and for that purpose doth hereby will, & also straightly charge and
commaund, that all persons whatsoever, within any her Majesties Realmes and
Dominions, who have, or hereafter shall have any of the saide seditious Bookes,
Pamphlets, Libels, or Writings, or any of like nature already published, or hereafter to be
published, in his or their custodie, containing such matters as above are mentioned,
against the present Order and Government of the Church of England, or the lawfull
Ministers thereof, or against the rites and ceremonies used in the Church, and allowed by
the Lawes of the Realme: That they, and every of them doe presently after, with
convenient speede bring in, and deliver up the same unto the Ordinarie [church officer] of
the Diocesse, or of the place where they inhabite, to the intent they may be utterly
defaced by the saide Ordinarie, or otherwise used by them. And that from henceforth no
person or persons whatsoever, be so hardie, as to write, contrive, print, or cause to be
published or distributed, or to keepe any of the same, or any other Bookes, Libels, or
Writings of like nature and qualitie, contrary to the true meaning and intent of this her
Majesties Proclamation. And likewise, that no man hereafter, give any instruction,
direction, favour, or assistance, to the contriving, writing, printing, publishing, or
dispersing of the same, or such like Bookes, Libelles, or Writings whatsoever, as they
tender her Majesties good favour, will avoyde her high displeasure, and as they will
answere for the contrary at their uttermost perils: and upon such further paines and
penalties, as by the Lawe any way may be infllicted upon the offendors, in any of these
behalfes, as persons mainteining such seditious actions, which her Majestie mindeth to
have severally executed. And if any person have had knowledge of the Authours, Writers,
Printers, or dispersers thereof, that shall within one moneth after the publication hereof, discover the same to the Ordinarie of the place where he had such knowledge, or to any
of her Majesties privie Counsell: the same person shall not for his former concealement
be hereafter molested or troubled. Given at her Majesties Pallace of Westminster, the xiii.
of Februarie, 1588 [i.e., 1589]. In the xxxi. yeere of her Highnesse reigne.

God save the Queene.

Imprinted at London by the Deputies of Christopher Barker, Printer the Queenes most
excellent Majestie.
1588 [i.e., 1589].

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