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The Protestant Schoolmaster

The Protestant Schoolmaster

The Protestant School-master by Edward Clark B.D.
London : printed by T. B. And are to be sold by Enoch Prossor, 1680
Elham 976

The double-page frontispiece of a pocket-sized, leather-bound book (8cm x 14cm) is a relatively finely engraved print produced in 1680 at a time of heightened religious and political tension. Charles II had been king for thirty years (including a decade in exile), but had yet to father a legitimate heir, leaving his Catholic brother as heir apparent. Suspicions regarding Charles’ own religious views had been raised following the Royal Declaration of Indulgence and his backing of French foreign policy, thereby entangling England in another war against the Dutch in 1672. Moreover parliamentarians, especially members of the Commons, were increasingly distrustful of such royal policies and Andrew Marvell’s pamphlet (1677) An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitary Government in England fuelled these fears, as well as reigniting popular anti-Catholic sentiments, which had viewed the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London as orchestrated in some way by ‘Papists’. Into this toxic environment came Titus Oates who publicized what he called ‘The Popish Plot’, the plotters said to be intending to assassinate Charles. The murder of the ardent Protestant parliamentarian Sir Edmund Godfrey in 1678 provided a degree of credibility concerning Oates’ story and, amongst others, several of the Catholic aristocracy found themselves before the courts. Even though the Plot was later revealed as a hoax, this book, its frontispiece and its other illustrations, reflect contemporary Protestant opinions (effigies of the pope rather than Guy Fawkes were burned on 5 November 1678).

The double illustration, in this highly polemic work, depicts two seated figures, the one on the viewers’ left being King Charles II, that on the right being the pope, and both are enthroned below a canopy with three steps below their respective feet. The mirroring of these two throne rooms is further exemplified through the position of a single window and two columns to the left of the king and right of the pope. Each is conducting an audience but at this point the images start to differ, for, whereas Charles and those present display ‘order’, the pope and his adherents are indicative of disorder. This is most marked in the contrast between king and pope, Charles sits serenely holding in his hands the symbols of good governance and royal sovereignty; he is the defender of his people, as his people with their drawn swords are equally ready to defend him and the realm of England. Pope Innocent XI, however, is in a state of disarray, as clutching his two swords and two keys he is on the point of falling and so about to lose his triple-crown and mitre. Nor are these the only items that have/are about to fall because between the two fawning kings bowing at his feet are a crown and sceptre, seemingly one item dropped by each of these Catholic kings – Louis XIV of France and perhaps Charles II of Spain.

To ensure that the intended meaning of these images was not lost, biblical texts (taken out of context) are displayed on several banners and other devices, as well as in the detailed explanations provided on the pages before and after the double image. For example, on the left-hand page the finger from heaven points out the words, ‘Thou settest a Crown of pure Gold on his Head’ and the king’s motto about the Church reads ‘Kings shall be thy nursing Fathers’; while from the pope’s mouth comes ‘All power is given unto me in Heaven and Earth’, the source of such power made clear by the dragon in the clouds to his right: ‘And the Dragon gave him his power, and his Seat, and great Authority’ (Revelation 13:8). However in the majority of cases the author encourages his ‘pupils’ to discover the biblical verses for themselves, such as when the English Martyrs say to the king: ‘When Festus was then come into the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea unto Jerusalem…’ (Acts 25:1,10,11)

Through their biblical reading they would gain further instruction and spiritual enlightenment, aided by the marginalia in the Geneva Bible, popular throughout the seventeenth century, even after the production of James I’s version of the Bible.

Returning to Charles’ throne room, his subjects are arranged hierarchically, the Lords temporal higher than the Commons, and these parliamentary representatives above the king’s judges and lawyers who uphold the laws of the land as established by king and Parliament. Like the Commons and Lords, the subordinate civic authorities and their citizens are seen as prepared to fight, but they also offer money bags, the nation’s wealth put at the king’s disposal. For in this reciprocal relationship between kingdom and monarchy, his good governance has provided stability and prosperity, the fruits of the latter now offered up to defend Protestant England. Interestingly the Lords spiritual are placed vertically on a par with the legal profession, below them being the Protestant ministers and then the university dons and scholars. Yet as the spiritual defenders of England – through authority, guidance, example and learning – the pope is ‘kept out’ of the image by their backs; and through the courage and sacrifice of the ‘English Martyrs’, who are joined at the bottom of the page by county officers, ladies and gentlemen.

Those gathered around the papal throne are similarly spaced hierarchically, although unlike English society the Catholic laypeople, aside from the two kings, find themselves at the base of the image. Described as ‘Popish Lords, Ladies, Gentlewomen and Nuns’ they too kneel whereas their counterparts in Charles’ presence are all shown standing, a further indication of the ‘blind’ obedience of Catholics compared to the more measured English response towards those wielding power and authority. To the right of the pope in descending order are cardinals; Catholic archbishops, bishop and deans; abbots and priors; priests; Jesuits and doctors of law (level with their English, Protestant counterparts) and at the base ‘Popish Monks and Hermits’. The latter might also be unfavourably compared to the ‘English Martyrs’; each group reports on some aspect of papal domination over earthly rulers, their people and languages (Psalm 72:11; Daniel 2:21; Daniel 7:14; Psalm 76:12; Isaiah 49:23).

Thus the double image sets the tone for the whole book. It can be read without too much difficulty even by the young, and to reinforce the messages biblical texts and allusions are provided. Moreover, as the ‘pupil’ turns the pages s/he is instructed through further images of the pope as Antichrist and on the cruelties inflicted by ‘Papists’ on various Protestant groups and nationalities, including the English where reference is made to the Gunpowder Plot and the Popish Plot. Also as they look to improve their reading and writing, pupils encounter more illuminating texts such as ‘A Prayer of Edward VI, awhile before his death’; Queen Elizabeth’s speech to her army at Tilbury Camp in 1588’; ‘God’s judgement upon Popish persecutors, discovered in some eminent examples’, and, perhaps most importantly for readers in 1680, a description of how the Popish Plot was foiled.

Sheila Sweetinburgh: Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Kent
Editor: Jayne Wackett

Further Reading:

  • Jerome Friedman, Miracles and the pulp press during the English Revolution: the battle of the frogs and Fairford’s flies, London: UCL Press, 1993.
image of the Cathedral
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