England and the
French Wars
of Religion

16th century Pamphlets
held at York Minster

An exhibition held at Old Palace, York Minster (17 Oct-21 Nov 2017) curated by
Dr. Eric Durot (University of York) with York Minster Library.

Thanks to Professor Stuart Carroll, the University of York and the research founding from the Marie Curie actions led by the European Commission.

Pictures reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of York

   The French Wars of Religion (1562-98) were a conflict that pitted Catholics against Protestants. But the civil war was more than a religious war. It entailed rebellions against the crown, inter-communal violence and a struggle between moderate Catholics and radicals. It was a period in which there were new ideas formulated about the monarchy, religious toleration and civil living together.
   The French events were also a European phenomenon. Foreign powers were sucked into the conflict. Events there directly impacted England: many French Protestants took refuge across the Channel and Elizabeth I intervened militarily to support the Protestant cause. England's main enemy, Spain, intervened to support the Catholic cause. The French Wars of Religion were of fundamental importance to the course of British History in another way. Many English Catholics supported the claim of the French princess, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, to the throne of England. In the 1580s France became home to a community of English Catholic exiles, who plotted with French sympathisers to overthrow Elizabeth.
   These pamphlets are also a reminder of the explosion of print in the sixteenth century. They are relics of an emerging public sphere which laid the foundations for Britain's own seventeenth-century civil wars and Revolution.

Click here to access the Chronology (pdf)


Defending the Faith and
Mobilizing Public Opinion

   Three pamphlets give an overview of the political goals of different authors:

   The discoverie of a gaping gulf whereinto England is like to be swallowed by an other French marriage (London, 1579) denounced anonymously the negotiations for marriage of Elizabeth to the brother of the King of France and heir to the throne: the duke of Alençon-Anjou. Puritans, in particular, were opposed to a Catholic marriage. The author, John Stubbs, made explicit reference to the fortunes of Protestants in France, "a house of cruelty, especially against Christians". He claimed that the marriage would mean that the English people would befall the same fate at their coreligionists.

Stubbs went too far: he and the printer, William Page, were imprisoned and their right hands cut off in November 1579. The book was banned (but reached York). All of this created an 'event', showed the power of the written word and led to the next pamphlet:

   The execution of justice (1583) was a justification by the chief advisor of the Queen, William Cecil, of his measures against Catholic plotters, who he called "stirrers of sedition, and adherents to the traitors of the Realm." Cecil argued that harsh measures had nothing to do with faith and did not amount to a "persecution of them for questions of religion". The French edition L'execution de justice faicte en Angleterre was printed in London by a French Protestant exile, Thomas Vautrollier, and aimed at publication in France in 1584.

   The background was the execution in 1581 of the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion among others. In 1583 the Throckmorton plot was discovered. Sir Francis Throckmorton was convicted of high treason and executed for having conspired to murder Elizabeth I and to replace her with her Catholic cousin and French princess, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.
   Cecil had already ordered a libel in both English and French against the Guise family, in 1560, that is to say at the eve of the French Wars of Religion: Proclamation contenant la declaration de l'intention de la Maiesté de la Royne..., [London], 1560). It is available here.

   A treatise towching the right, title, and interest of the most excellent Princesse Marie, Queene of Scotland (1584) was among many printed Catholic responses to Cecil's Execution of justice. John Leslie, bishop of Ross (Scotland), was the chief propagandist of Mary Stuart's claim to the English throne (with, below, the unfolded Family Tree: Mary Stuart was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII). During the 1570s and the 1580s, Mary was imprisoned in England. Leslie was forced to flee to France where he composed, among other pamphlets, this treatise. Leslie wrote in Latin but prepared this English version in Rouen with two printers: a Frenchman, Georges Loiselet, and an English exile, George Flinton.
   It was a widely distributed pamphlet and despite its subversive message was held in the library of Toby Matthew, Archbishop of York (d.1628).


Between newsletters
and political thinking

   The years 1589-90 generated dozens of printed texts in English about France, because of seizure of power by Catholic militants (the League). The assassination of Mary Stuart's Catholics cousins, the Guise brothers (31st December 1588) followed by the assassination of King Henry III (2 August 1589) plunged France into chaos. The pamphlets displayed below were all printed by Richard Field or John Wolfe in London and pleased the English government. They are representative of the variety of the texts in circulation.

   The restorer of the French estate discovering the true causes of these warres in France (1589) was a translation of Le restaurateur de l'Estat françois, printed in France in 1588. The author was probably Michel Hurault, a moderate Catholic who supported the claim of Henry of Navarre. He urged the French not to join the Catholic League and reminded his audience that sovereignty comes from God, who alone "translates the sceptre", and not the people.
   It is a kind of political treatise.

   A true discourse of the discomfiture of the Duke of Aumalle, with his troupes of horsmen in Picardie… was printed in 1589 by Richard Field from the French original Vray discours sur la deffaicte des Duc d'Aumalle… It refers to the important battle of Senlis in May 1589: the allied forces of Henry III and Henry of Navarre defeated the Catholic League's troops led by the Duke of Aumale, a member of the Guise clan.
   This pamphlet illustrates the appetite for news at this time and was possessed by the Archbishop of York, Tobie Matthews.

   Advise given by a Catholike gentleman… was translated by John Eliot in 1589. The 'Catholike gentleman' (probably a Calvinist, such as Duplessis-Mornay?) showed that many French Catholics supported Navarre's claim, despite his Protestant faith. He exhorted the people to take up arms for the king and not against him. This is an important part of the Minster Library collection, because the French source does not survive.
   It was a combination of political thinking and news. The advise is followed by fresh news from Normandy: a peasant tax revolt (the 'Gautiers'), manipulated by the Catholic League, was crushed by the royal army in April 1589. The royal army was commanded by a Catholic, the duke of Montpensier.


Libels against
the same enemies

   Satire was very popular in France and libels created an image of Machiavellian public enemies, who used religion for their own ends. Calvinist pamphlets mocked three main enemies who were also England's enemies: translations from French were made, mainly against the Guise family, the Pope and Philip II of Spain who supported the Catholic League and who tried to invade England in 1588.

   The Contre-Guyse with its fleur-de-lys was printed in 1589. This anonymous text was probably prepared just before the assassination of the Duke and Cardinal of Guise. They were threat to the Tudor dynasty because they were the chief leaders of the Catholic League and "enemies of God" for three generations.
   It is a classical libel against them. Although it bears some similarity to other translations from the French, this is another original text in the Minster collection.

   The reformed politicke. That is, an apologie for the generall cause of Reformation, written against the sclaunders of the Pope and the League was translated from the version named Le Politique réformé… by Jean de Fregeville. He was a French protestant who wanted to convert Jews in many places in Europe.
Both the French original version and the translation of Le Politique réformé were printed by Richard Field in London in 1589.
   The text supports the idea of a Gallican Church against the power of the Pope: the Catholic League was seen as an attempt to rule France directly from Rome.

   The coppie of the Anti-Spaniard, printed in 1590, was one of the most powerful French libels: it directly attacked the person of Philip II. Coppie de l'anti-Espagnol was undoubtedly written by Antoine Arnauld, a famous lawyer appreciated by Henry IV. It was possibly translated by the English playwright Anthony Munday who was also Messenger to Her Majesty’s chamber. It is said that "the Spanish King is the only cause of all the troubles in France".
   This translation illustrates the increase in the publishing of anti-Spanish propaganda in both France and England.


The Long Term Impact of
the French Civil Wars
in England

   The two books of 1591 were different in every way. However, they both show the strong impact of the French Wars of Religion in England during the seventeenth century. Itc is a subject of interest for many researchers, in particular since 1959 with the study The French Religious Wars in English Political Thought by Professor Salmon.

   De Iusta Henrici Tertii abdicatione e Francorum regno was written by a radical French Catholic preacher, Jean Boucher, in Paris in 1589. He argued that it was everyone's duty to resist, and even to kill tyrants. His invective was aimed at King Henry III, who had ordered the murder of the Guise brothers in 1588. In turn, Henry III was assassinated in August 1589. Boucher amended his text to target his successor, Henry IV, king of France (and of Navarre). It echoed the succession crisis in England. Here is the second edition printed in the Leaguer city of Lyon in 1591, and was possessed by Archbishop of York Tobie Matthews.
   It can be noted that the arguments borrowed heavily from French Protestant thinking, which was a major influence in seventeenth-century English political discourse.

   The true history of the civill warres of France (1591) is a Protestant spin on events which views them as a witness and record of divine justice and providence. This chronicle was compiled by Anthony Colynet who translated texts from the French and did much primary research, piecing together the "actions, dispersed in the declarations, edicts, proscriptions, apologies, advertisements, agreements, articles and letters… as have been published from time to time." It was reprinted in 1609, and was a powerful statement of Protestant history and a reminder to its audience of the dangers posed by the internal enemy at home.
   Its account even inspired dramatists, such as Christopher Marlowe in The Massacre at Paris, written c. 1593, and also Thomas Dekker and Michael Drayton in their lost play The Civil Wars of France (1598-9).

                                                  Further readings  

   The pamphlets online:
Early English Books Online (by subscription); French Political Pamphlets; ...
and a great exhibition about religious books held by Archbishop Matthews curated by my colleague Dr. Stefan Bauer: it is digitised here).

   The Wars of Religion and the Guise family:
- Stuart Carroll, Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe (Oxford, 2009).
- Mark Greengrass, Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648 (London, 2015).
- Mack Holt, The French Wars of Religion (Cambridge, 2005). [Among others on this topic]

   Pamphlets and Franco-'British' relations:
- Marie-Céline Daniel, "A boldness of free speech: le discourse, une réponse anglaise aux enjeux des guerres de Religion en France?", online here.
- Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist (ed.), The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post Reformation (Farnham, 2013).
- Eric Griffin, "Copying 'the Anti-Spaniard': Post-Armada Hispanophobia and English Renaissance Drama", in Representing Imperial Rivalry in the Early Modern Mediterranean (Toronto, 2015), p. 191-216.
- Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1997).
- Richard Hillman, Shakespeare, Marlowe and the Politics of France (New York, 2002).
- Clifford Huffman, Elizabethan impressions: John Wolfe and his press (New York, 1988).
- Andrew Kirk, The Mirror of Confusion: The Representation of French History in English Renaissance Drama (New York, 1996).
- Peter Lake, Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford, 2016).
- Daniel Lee, Popular Sovereignty in Early Modern Constitutional Thought (Oxford, 2016).
- Jean-Christophe Mayer (ed.), Representing France and the French in Early Modern English Drama (Newark, 2008).
- Lisa Parmelee, Good Newes from Fraunce: French Anti-league Propaganda in Late Elizabethan England (Rochester, 1996).
- Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain   (Cambridge, 2003).
- John Salmon, The French Religious Wars in English Political Thought (Oxford, 1959).
- Alexander Wilkinson, Mary Queen of Scots and French Public Opinion, 1542-1600 (New York, 2004).
- Cornel Zwierlein, The political thought of the French League and Rome (1585-1589) (Geneva, 2006). [about De justa populi gallici ab Henrico tertione and De justa Henrici tertii abdicatione]

   This topic can be addressed in relation to the Dutch revolt:
For example:
A tragicall historie of the troubles and civile warres of the Lowe Countries, otherwise called Flanders… from the yere 1559 unto the yere 1581... Translated out of French into Englishe (London, 1583), held by York Minster Library.
- See: Hugh Dunthorne, Britain and the Dutch Revolt, 1560-1700 (Cambridge, 2013): "Of the thirty-six English-language pamphlets relating to the Dutch Revolt which were published in London between 1566 and 1584, no fewer than twenty-six were translations from Dutch or French, the two main languages of the Low Countries" (p. 8).
- Malcom Walsby, "Printing in French in the Low Countries in the Early Sixteenth Century: Patterns and Networks", in The Multilingual Muse: Transcultural Poetics in the Burgundian Netherlands (Cambridge, 2017), p. 54-70.