Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Pearle for a Prynce: Jeronimo Osorio and Early Elizabethan Catholics

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Pearle for a Prynce: Jeronimo Osorio and Early Elizabethan Catholics

Article excerpt

At the end of 1562, Jeronimo Os6rio, a Portuguese Humanist, sent a copy of his Epistola Hieronymi Osorii ad Serenissimam Elisabetam Angliae Reginam (1562) to Queen Elizabeth of England.1 This letter employed theologically based rhetorical arguments to persuade Elizabeth to rejuvenate Catholicism in England and drive all heretics from her kingdom. It was the first of four works in a twenty-year long polemical battle, a battle in which John Foxe, the famous martyrologist, eventually became involved. Additionally, this was the first controversy regarding the Elizabethan religious settlement initiated by a non-English writer.2 In March, 1565, Richard Shacklock, an exiled English Catholic living in Louvain, published A Pearle for a Prynce, his translation of Osorio's Epistola. By this date, Osorio's letter had been in circulation for nearly two and one-half years, and Walter Haddon's reply to it, Gualteri Haddoni pro reformatione Anglicana epistola apologetica ad Hier Osorium, Lusitanum (1564), had been in print for one.3 An examination of the content of Osorio's letter, which angered Elizabeth and was perceived by her Secretary of State, William Cecil, as an act of lesemajeste, will explain why it appealed to Shacklock and why he chose to translate it. Furthermore, the printed version of A Pearle, the means by which Shacklock's translation was conveyed to his audience, reveals much about the ideology of exiled Catholics during the first few years of Elizabeth's reign.

Although some Europeans of the time indeed may have followed the debate between Osorio and Haddon because of "the commanding reputations of both men as Latin stylists,"4 the reason for continued interest within England and its significance for historians of this period has more to do with the translation and appropriation of Os6rio's Epistola by exiled English Catholics. The use of Os6rio's work was part of a larger program to sustain "survivalist Catholicism" within England by publishing Catholic works and smuggling them into the kingdom.5 Indeed, if "the English Reformation was a revolution of the book, a replacement of books in Latin by books in the vernacular,"6 then the Catholic exiles were willing to fight a counter-revolutionary action on the same terms.

By looking at Osorio's Epistola more evenhandedly than others have looked, this study increases our knowledge of this period of religious change in England. The English-speaking world has been inclined to dismiss or belittle Osorio's Epistola as well as the entire Osorio-Haddon debate. This attitude began in the sixteenth century as Englishmen loyal to Elizabeth quickly declared their opinions on the merit of Osorio's letter. Thomas Smith, the English ambassador to France who eventually succeeded in having Haddon's reply to Osorio printed in Latin in Paris, wrote to William Cecil in 1563, declaring that Os6rio's letter showed "eloquentiae satin, theologiae nihil."7 Francis Bacon was later to state that Osorio's style suffered from a"vanity of words.8 This judgment did not change as the Osorio-Haddon controversy receded. In the eighteenth century, the historian John Strype said that Osorio's Latin "was the only thing that recommended his book" and called his arguments-- but not those of Haddon-"weak and childish."9 Edward Nares, the nineteenth-century chronicler of the life of William Cecil, said that Osorio's letter was "written in a good style" but that it had tried to persuade Elizabeth not by theology but "by libeling the proceedings of her government and people."10 A contrasting and somewhat more positive assessment of this controversy appeared in Reverend George Townsend's "Preliminary Dissertation" in a nineteenth-century edition of John Foxes Acts and Monuments. Townsend said that the controversy "may even now be interesting to the theological student. It relates to that most agitated of all questions, the justification of the soul before God."11 Of course, this statement, made by a Protestant, tacitly judges Haddon the victor. …

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