Mirrors for Rebels: A Study of Polemical Literature Relating to the Northern Rebellion, 1569

By James K. Lowers | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER V
THE DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE

IN THE BALLADS, tracts, and pamphlets relating to the Northern Rebellion of 1569, the main arguments against civil disobedience were those which had been developed during the reign of Henry VIII and summarized in the Homily of 1547. These arguments were vitalized by their application to the Elizabethan revolt, the story of which was kept fresh in the minds of Englishmen because it was retold with reference to later political events during the reign of Elizabeth. The arguments no longer bore the "quiet accent of tradition," nor were they marked by the absence of any tendency toward disputation. Writing in 1600, Sir Francis Hastings was quite as vehement as was Thomas Norton, whose first pamphlet appeared in 1569.

As in the official sermon, the most telling argument was that based upon an appeal to the Scriptures. It was particularly effective because the rebel earls had stressed religious grievances in their manifestoes, yet as the loyalists repeatedly pointed out had despoiled churches and burned copies of the Bible. The argument continued to be effective in later years when the government took drastic steps to prevent the liberation of the Catholic Scottish queen, to curtail the activities of the Jesuits, and to forestall an Enterprise of England, the success of which would depend upon a revolt of native Catholics.

Understandably, the verse writers confined themselves largely to generalizations. Typical statements are those of William Elderton, who argued that failure to accept God's Word caused northern men to rebel; of John Barker and John Phillips, who charged that the rebels' actions were due to ignorance of revealed knowledge; and William Gibson, who flatly stated that they had no faith in the Scriptures. The consensus was that the insurgents

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