Authorship: Job Throkmorton, with John Penry


When the Marprelate press was finally discovered in August 1589, the captured printers provided
information that enabled authorities to round up almost everyone involved in the production of
the tracts. The state eventually gathered enough evidence to reconstruct in detail the workings of
the project, and over the following eighteen months almost all the “Martinists” were indicted,
tried, and fined or imprisoned. But no one ever confessed to being the writer of the tracts, and,
despite the strong suspicions of those close to the investigation, authorship could not be
established with legal certainty. While his project had been uncovered, Martin Marprelate
himself remained masked.

The contrast between the wealth of contemporary evidence about the Marprelate project
and the mystery of pseudonymity at its center continues to tantalize investigators centuries later:
the hunt for Martin continues, though the trial has moved to the venue of the attribution study.
More than twenty candidates have been proposed over the years, as sole writers or as writers
working in variously configured cabals, and names continue to be added to the list. Clerical
suspects have included the puritan (mostly Presbyterian) clergymen John Penry, John Udall,
John Field, Eusebius Paget, Henry Barrow, Giles Wigginton, Walter Travers, Francis Marbury,
William Fludd, Thomas Cartwright, and Philip Martin. Non-clerical candidates have included the
puritan gentlemen Job Throkmorton and George Carleton; the soldier Sir Roger Williams; the
writers Gabriel Harvey and (the already deceased) Christopher Marlowe; government officials
such as Michael Hickes (a secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley) and Laurence Tomson
(one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s agents); lawyers and members of parliament such as Sir
Francis Knollys, Robert Beale, and James Morice; and the aristocrats Sir Robert Cecil, later 1st
earl of Salisbury, Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, and Edward De Vere, 17th earl of Oxford
(the versatile Oxford has also been credited with writing several of the anti-Martinist tracts).

For most of these potential Martins there is no evidence whatsoever for involvement in
the Marprelate project, a fact that Elizabethan authorities tended to acknowledge more readily
than their author-hunting successors. On the whole, the state’s suspicions were well founded and
its investigations thorough. Subsequent research has recovered much of the information gathered
at the time, but has not yet added anything on which to base conclusions different from those
reached in the 1590s. Elizabethan investigators examined and cleared potential Martins such as
Giles Wigginton; they rightly judged others, such as John Udall and John Field, to have played
supporting roles. They do not appear to have taken seriously the rumors about Cecil, Essex, or
other courtly or governmental sources. By the time Elizabethan officials had completed their
investigations, they had built cases against two men: Job Throkmorton and John Penry. Was
there also a great unknown, a third man standing in the shadows behind these two, planning,
writing, and ultimately escaping without leaving any trace in the records? Possibly, and the
project does appear to have attracted conspiracies of silent support. But the fact remains that of
all the proposed candidates for Martin Marprelate, Throkmorton and Penry are the only two for
whom there was ever any evidence for the attribution.

Both, it appears, contributed to the tracts. Of the two, though, the one responsible for
Martin Marprelate’s characteristic style—the major source of the tracts’ contemporary notoriety
and the primary reason why they continue to be read—is almost certainly Job Throkmorton.
There was, and remains, no doubt that the Welsh reformer John Penry played an important role
in the collaborative Marprelate project. Witnesses deposed that he was present while the tracts
were printed; that he knew when and how manuscripts of new tracts were to arrive, and that he personally handed some of these manuscripts over to the printers; that parts of at least two of
these manuscripts were in his handwriting; and that he paid the printers and made arrangements
for accommodating and moving the press. But was Penry also their primary author? In
September 1589, one month after the discovery of the Marprelate press, a two-page summary
was prepared for Lord Burghley of the results produced by ten months of investigation.
(document 14). This document names Penry as a likely candidate for being Martin, citing in
particular the presence of his handwriting (along with that of another person, later identified as
Throkmorton) in the seized manuscript of More Work for Cooper. This summary does not
mention Throkmorton, who had so far avoided being associated with the project. A more detailed
compilation of evidence, undated but produced in early December, also concludes with a list of
“Praesumptions that Penry is the Author of theis libelles” (document 15). This document also
offers the first glimpse of Throkmorton, now recorded as one of those who had visited the press.
But a new summary was compiled in early 1590 that drew on depositions from nineteen
witnesses and was substantially longer than previous compilations (document 16). Throkmorton
had by this time been fully implicated, particularly by the printers who had until that point
evidently been protecting him, and this summary marshals evidence against him; perhaps
because there were now two candidates, the brief draws no conclusions about authorship. While
documents compiled for Penry’s eventual trial for sedition in 1593 (document 17) fill in the
details of his participation, they avoid making the charge that he was Martin, and at the trial itself
the state cautiously put this evidence aside and focused on a text demonstrably written by Penry.

Donald J. McGinn, Penry’s most ardent twentieth-century champion, believed that the
Elizabethan state had been overcautious. In “The Real Martin Marprelate,” a 1943 article
subsequently expanded into a book-length attribution study, John Penry and the Marprelate
Controversy
(1966), McGinn cast aside the hesitancy of contemporary officials and defended the
claim that Martin Marprelate was to be identified as Penry, and, furthermore, as Penry alone. His
case for Penry, however, is a sustained exercise in special pleading. Scholars have sketched the
many weaknesses of McGinn’s argument, particularly his problematic use of sources and his
decision not to look at any manuscripts not already printed; these other manuscripts undermine
many of McGinn’s assumptions (see Carlson, 297-307). External evidence aside, Penry’s
candidacy for sole author of the tracts has received little support primarily because of questions
of style. While often passionate in his denunciations of episcopacy, Penry displays few signs of
the polemical strategies or performative stylishness that characterize the Marprelate tracts in any
of his dozen or so acknowledged writings. Even contemporary officials certain of Penry’s
involvement in the project acknowledged the difference between Martin and Penry in his known
writings. The style of the Marprelate tracts, one early compiler of evidence concludes, “doth
alltogether resemble” Penry’s own writings—when, he adds, Marprelate was “out of his
scoffinge vayne” (document 14). That is, Marprelate sounded like Penry, but only when he did
not sound like Martin. While arguments for and against authorship based on style will always be
open to dispute, it should be safe to say that McGinn’s case for Penry as the “great prose satirist
of the Elizabethan period” (200) is substantially weakened by the complete absence of satiric
strategies in all of the many books Penry is known to have written.

Unsurprisingly, Penry denied that he was Martin once he was captured. But he did so not
only to state officials but also in private letters to friends within the reform community (Udall,
New Discovery, 3). Furthermore, Penry drew attention in these denials to the key difference
between Martin’s approach to controversy and his own. In the draft of a letter to Lord Burghley,
Penry claimed that he disliked Martin’s manner of writing: “Unseemely jestes uncomly rayling I allow not, and judge them more beseeming the Prel[ates] and theyr Parrasites then anie modest
Christian” (Notebook of John Penry, 71). Admittedly, this letter is self-exculpatory, and much of
Penry’s discussion of the Marprelate tracts has the sound of equivocation. After all, Burghley
knew that Penry had believed sufficiently in the project to be its manager. But in his own
published work Penry had avoided the polemical use of ridicule and the ad hominem attack, two
of Martin’s most characteristic strategies. Besides, as he pointed out to Burghley, why should he
attack the bishops pseudonymously when he had been daring enough to challenge them
repeatedly in books to which he attached his name (Notebook of John Penry, 64-65)? It bears
remembering that Penry continued to write and publish his own attacks on episcopacy
throughout the period in which he managed the Marprelate press: Penry’s involvement with the
project was not solely in the service of the Marprelate texts. Henry Sharpe reported that
Waldegrave had printed Martin’s Epistle against Penry’s will, because Penry had wanted a book
of his printed first; the complaint makes little sense if Penry had written both (document 10).

All that said, Penry does appear to have written parts of some of the Marprelate tracts.
One-third or more of the seized manuscript of More Work for Cooper was written in his hand,
and Humphrey Newman, the distributor of the tracts, deposed that Penry was “part authour” of
Hay any Work (document 18). This evidence indicates that the writing of the tracts was to some
extent collaborative. While Penry’s style in his own writings makes it unlikely that he was
responsible for the tracts’ “Martinist” elements, he probably contributed to their expositions of
the Presbyterian platform. It would have been natural enough for him to do so: Penry was a
skilled, published polemicist on these issues. But the reputation of the Marprelate tracts is not
founded on the passages in which they sound like other reform polemic of the period: they won
notoriety in their day, and continue to be read, primarily because of the voice of Martin
Marprelate. Furthermore, this voice remains consistent over the entire series of seven extant
Marprelate tracts, despite the different names it playfully adopts (Martin Junior and Martin
Senior, as well as Martin Marprelate himself). And the writer almost certainly responsible for
that voice is Job Throkmorton.

We owe much of our knowledge of the contemporary case that identified Throkmorton as
Marprelate to the efforts of Matthew Sutcliffe (1549/50-1629). A prolific polemicist, Sutcliffe
was drawn into the later stages of the Marprelate controversy when he responded to the
Presbyterian manifesto A petition directed to her most excellent majestie (Middelburg, 1592)
and, in passing, mentioned Throkmorton as the author of “Libels, and scoffes published under
the name of Martin” (Answere (1592), 202). Sutcliffe’s accusation prompted Throkmorton to
write The defence of Job Throkmorton against the slaunders of maister Sutcliffe (1594), the only
work he published under his own name. Sutcliffe in turn responded with An answere unto a
certaine calumnious letter published by M. J. Throkmorton
(1595), in which he details the case
against Throkmorton, summarizing for the reading public all the evidence generated by the
investigation of the Marprelate tracts (document 18).

Sutcliffe did his homework before writing his 1595 Answere: he read all the relevant
texts, and examined all the reports and depositions generated by the investigation. Some of the
evidence he cites is no longer extant, but most of it survives and confirms his reliability: by the
standards of the time, Sutcliffe is unusually scrupulous. He begins his case against Throkmorton
with the later Marprelate productions. The captured printers John Hodgkins, Valentine Simmes,
and Arthur Thomlin deposed that the manuscripts of Theses Martinianae and Just Censure, and
at least half of the manuscript of More Work for Cooper, were written in one hand, and that they
believed Throkmorton the author; Sutcliffe, with access to samples from seized letters, confirmed the hand as Throkmorton’s. In addition, Throkmorton made all the printing
arrangements for Theses Martinianae and Just Censure, provided the manuscripts, and visited
the house where they were being produced. Acknowledging that Throkmorton had been more
cautious in the earlier stages of the project, Sutcliffe offers two major arguments for his
authorship of the other tracts. The first is style. Citing passages from writings known or deposed
by witnesses to be Throkmorton’s—Theses Martinianae, Just censure, the para-Martinist M.
Some laid open in his coulers (La Rochelle, 1589), the parts of More work for Cooper in his
hand, his parliamentary speeches, seized letters, and other manuscripts—Sutcliffe points to the
stylistic and verbal continuities between these works and the remaining Marprelate tracts. The
passages he cites from Throkmorton’s letters are particularly striking, with their Martinist irony,
conversational mode, imagined dialogues, and voicings of opponents. The style of Hay any
work, and by extension the other tracts, Sutcliffe concludes, “is so like to Job Throkmortons
talking and writing, that as children do declare whose they are by the lineaments of their visage
and proportion of parts, so these libels doe bewray their natural father, by the frame of the words
and sentences, and such draughtes as can proceed from no other authour” (fols. 70v-71r).

Sutcliffe’s second general argument is the indictment. Unlike Penry, Throkmorton was
officially accused of writing the Marprelate tracts. According to Sutcliffe, in early October 1590,
one year after the discovery of the Martinist press, a grand jury at Warwick indicted
Throkmorton for “disgracing her majesties government, & making certaine scorneful and
Satyricall libels under the name of Martin” (fol. 76v). The records of these proceedings are not
extant. But local magistrates had convened jurors, heard witnesses, debated a bill of indictment,
and swore it was true. The judges of Assize, Edward Fenner and Francis Gawdy, agreed that the
charges deserved further inquiry, and bound Throkmorton in recognizance to appear before
judges in Westminster in April 1591. The Westminster arraignment was deferred, and then
eventually suspended, apparently because of a legal technicality: Sutcliffe remarks that “an
enditement may be overthrowen for want of forme, and due circumstance; yet may the matter
therein conteined be true, and the partie againe bee called upon a new enditement” (fol. 78v).
That is, after being indicted Throkmorton was neither acquitted nor pardoned, but in effect
remained on probation for the remainder of his life.

Since problems with form and process did not necessarily hinder the completion of legal
proceedings in this period, Sutcliffe speculates about the refusal to prosecute Throkmorton.
Perhaps he benefitted from the intervention of Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton, to whom
Throkmorton wrote a petition of apology and submission in mid-October 1590 (Lambeth Palace
Library MS 2686, fols. 29r-30v). Perhaps it was the power of his supporters: any favor Hatton
might have shown Throkmorton, Sutcliffe insists, was “extorted from him by the importunitie of
some friends, which are to be named” (fol. 78r). Perhaps he enjoyed protection at an even higher
level: Sutcliffe at one point accuses Throkmorton of ingratitude to the Queen, for striving to
overthrow her ecclesiastical supremacy even after Elizabeth had “winked at so many pranks of
his, & shewed him so many favours” (fol. 76r). The source of Throkmorton’s protection remains
the primary historical mystery connected with the Marprelate project. One possibility is that his
apologies and submissions sufficed, and no particularly strong intervention was required: church
and state appear in general to have been more concerned to punish nonconforming ministers and
preachers than they were to punish the reform movement’s supporters among the gentry.

Writing six years after the discovery of the Marprelate press and drawing on evidence
gathered over years of investigations, Sutcliffe concluded that Job Throkmorton was the
“principall agent” in all the Martinist productions and “the man that principally deserveth the name of Martin” (fol. 73v). The most recent attribution study of the Marprelate tracts comprises
an extended endorsement of Sutcliffe’s argument. In Martin Marprelate, Gentleman: Master Job
Throkmorton Laid Open in His Colors
(1981), Leland H. Carlson uses manuscripts he had
rediscovered to confirm the details of Sutcliffe’s case for Throkmorton and weaken McGinn’s
for Penry. Carlson, however, organized his study in such a way as to leave room for continued
speculation: he buries good arguments among a confusing welter of weaker ones, and repeatedly
overvalues the evidence of stylistic parallels drawn from numerous anonymous texts he himself
has attributed to Throkmorton. But once these often circular exercises in attribution are set aside,
the remaining historical, legal, and stylistic evidence points convincingly to Job Throkmorton as
the writer most responsible for Martin Marprelate’s distinctive voice.