Behind the Scenes of Protestant Propaganda

A bawdy verbal joust between a Friar and the Pope: Behind the scenes of Protestant propaganda. 

 

As part of their assessment, Master’s students Nourhane Boutarfa, Coralie Chantelot, Sarah Collen and Océane Lopez studied Thomas Herbert’s 1641 satirical pamphlet. Part of their work took the shape of this piece of creative writing, modeled upon Herbert’s preferred form of the dialogue between two protagonists.

German woodcut displaying the Devil playing bagpipes on the shoulder of a monk. Schön Erhard, No Title, c. 1530.

 

An analysis of Thomas Herbert’s Newes Newly Discovered, in a Pleasant Dialogue betwixt Papa the False Pope, and Benedict an honest Fryer, Showing the Merry Conceits which the Friars have in their Cloysters amongst Handsome Nuns and How the Pope Complains for Lack of that Pastime, with the Many Shifts of his Friends in England. 1641, London.[1]

Good Pope forbeare your vaine Purgatory,
for I trow never to feare

These are the words out of the Friar’s lips when confronting the Pope in this historical comical narrative. Debunking the most holy Catholic figure, the Pope, or God’s representative on Earth, Thomas Herbert displays a variety of Protestant prejudices against Catholics in his dialogue between a Friar and the Pope.

About Thomas Herbert (1597- 1642) and his dialogue

Thomas Herbert is a mysterious historical character; few documents on his life exist, if any. Thus, researching his life, motives and education turned out to be more complicated than expected, although we were able to ascertain that a certain English man named Thomas Herbert and registered as a Seaman and explorer is indeed the author. The date of the document is quite telling, the episode of the Spanish match (1614-1623) and the Irish rebellion of 1641 having ‘triggered a rise in anti-Catholic feeling.[3]

In this production, the author inveigles the reader into a humorous satirical text; the document seems very sensationalistic, with the character of the Friar using sexual innuendoes and rude comebacks. The dialogue resorts to the usual staples of anti-Catholic rhetoric, with abundant references to deceit (‘false Pope’ compared to the ‘honest Fryer’ who repented), as well deception, treachery, and lust (‘handsome Nuns’). This dialogue unveils Catholic stratagems and schemes while emphasising the relationship between Catholicism and greed for money, consequently belittling Catholic spirituality and power.

In other words, this document shows how this Protestant author, through a comical dialogue, debunks and desacralizes the Catholic faith and its patriarch.

Borrowing from the text’s chosen format as a dialogue, and to summarise our understanding of its motives, we thought of a dialogue between the accusatory former Friar of the pamphlet and a fictitious twenty-first century researcher voicing our reflexive process while working on this source. The researcher will assert her critical thoughts on the Friar’s prejudices and anti-Catholic arguments.

 

French 16th century woodcut against Pope Alexander VI. Unknown, Ego Sum Papa, c 1500.

A Critical Dialogue innovating the critical approach: what if the document met the researcher?

 An English world-famous researcher went to a very old convent on the continent to read early modern records and was reading a Friar’s letters for her project.  On a full-moon night, the researcher was about to stop her reading for the day but suddenly the ghost of the Friar appeared and started talking to her about his bawdy past. 

Friar: Oh, do not be fooled by the words of a Popish vermin!
Researcher:  Are you real or am I hearing voices?

Friar: Do not be afraid, I shall explain to you the truth about what happened in the year of our Lord 1641.
Researcher:  I’m all ears

Friar: I met the Pope that year, and we reminisced about his egregious Catholic past. What do you think of the Pope?
Researcher: Well, as a historian I cannot give my personal opinion, but I think he is a symbol of virtue for every Catholic to look up to.

Friar: Fool! Do not be misled by the ‘Prince of Lyes’,[5] as my friend Herbert Thomas wrote! The Pope poisoned religion, he was a usurper.
Researcher: Why are you saying that?

Friar: The Pope was the incarnation of the Devil on earth. Did you know that he was but a saucy character, always talking about ‘handsome’[6] nuns and how he wished he could go back to the unholy time when, as a simple Friar, he was free to woo ‘handsome, curious, compleat and beautiful Nuns.’[7] He told me about his time when he was almost ‘out of (his) wits’[8]—­­if you know what I mean— with my double entendre.
Researcher: So, you are telling me that the Pontiff himself used to objectify and sexualise nuns and that religious men had sexual intercourse with nuns, thus breaking both their vows and beliefs? This is a reversal of hierarchy; your Pope seems to say he envies the freedom available to a simple Friar and, as I can deduce from his numerous sexual innuendos, his sexual and epicurean urges come before any spiritual values. Do you expect me to believe the Pope confessed to regretting his time as a Friar, now he has risen to the ultimate seat of the Holy See? Are you implying that even he did not believe in that holy hierarchy of the episcopate, and that vows of chastity merely masked all manner of debauchery between the walls of monastic enclosure?

17th century engraving depicting the Pope led by the Devil toward hell. Francis Barlow, A Triumphal Procession: The Devil Leads the Pope as His Captive towards Hell, 1680.

Friar: You are quite right, even Hades was more virtuous than him. He pretended to have power all over England with his “’vain and fictitious’[9] purgatory which nobody feared any longer, because we, Protestants knew that it was a fraud. The stupid values and idolatry of his followers merely displayed our superior Protestant virtues. Catholics were so superstitious with their ‘Bell[s], Booke[s], and Candle[s]’[10]; these were just Romish shackles. The holy virtues they pretended to exalt were nothing, indeed, but salacious vices. They deceived people. We, the reformed people, were far more spiritual and virtuous than them.
Researcher: I think that your vision of things is very biased. You are criticising and belittling Catholicism with your sarcastic mockery. Are you not afraid that the Pope would curse you for such insults?

Friar: Of course not! If I were still a Catholic maybe, but as I embraced Protestantism, it thus opened my eyes and gave me common sense. This magical mumbo-jumbo was used to keep people in fear and in ignorance, they were like’“Birds in Cages’[11], and hard it is to break free from that Romish cell. There was no liberty in Catholicism, they enclosed and confined people, literally and metaphorically. Catholics were trapped by their complicated hierarchy, saints, golden trinkets, and Latin ‘lyes.’[12] And I was unmasking him when I spoke with Herbert! This hypocritical religion was rotten to the core!
Researcher: I see you are trying to convince me of Protestantism’s superiority with your rhetoric, but can’t your criticism be applied to Anglicanism also, since your own faith has its patriarch too, who once ruled the whole national Church according to his own desires?

Friar: Yes, but our monarchs did this for the good of the people of England. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and King James I made sure the Bible was translated into English and made[13] available in every church, so that Protestants could understand their religion with their own minds, and not through the ‘lyes’[14] of an ill-tongued corrupt Catholic.
Researcher: The Pope’s supporters would have you condemned for a heretic for speaking such words!

Friar: But I shall not care about what the Pope thought, because I knew he wou ‘ld not have dared follow me’[15] in England. He was too scared because he had nothing there. He preferred to bathe in his luxurious golden tub in Rome. Hahaha, he loved his rubies too much to come to England. And do not forget that he did not have ‘dominion’[16] in England, even if he thought so, apart from a few ‘mopish, monkish, foolish’[17]Jesuits, for whom we have paid the ropes that have killed them.
Researcher: Are you talking about martyrs?

Friar: Ah, this silly thing, sure I am! Necks have been broken, even though they were quite expensive back then. How costly that rope was!
Researcher: You know that your words about martyrdom make it look trivial and unholy. You debunk their faith and creed while denigrating their actions. You said that the Pope no longer had any power in England, that his ‘finger is like to be cut off.’[18] Consequently, according to you, the Protestant faith had won. But I know what you were doing when you published your pamphlet: your words sought to both ‘entertain and to shock’ [19] while ‘rousing English courage’[20] in a time of crisis. You undermined Catholicism and planted the seed of doubt with your stereotyped and prejudiced mockeries, so that each Protestant Englishman would be suspicious of any Catholic man. You know that by talking all the time about Catholicism, you do not make it trivial but just omnipresent. You plant the seed of doubt in the readers’ mind. They would not be as afraid of Catholics if you, pamphleteers, would not spend you entire time writing about Catholics. You create the threat to suit your own benefits. You are vermin too. But do tell: I know that many pamphlets by your contemporary writers raised issues about money. How surprising of you not to have mentioned it!

Friar: sarcastic laugh. Have you not seen Catholics? During their reigns, the souls of Englishmen were commodified.  I remember that the Roman Church used to make a market out of indulgences, with its beliefs in purgatory and the holiness of confession. The Church itself was rotten with gold, attracting believers with shiny and colourful windows and extravagant statues.
Researcher: That is a typical polemic answer. You try to diminish Catholic spirituality through your jokes and inflamed ironic metaphors. You said that you were not afraid of Catholics and that they did not have power in England, so why bother going to print to belittle them?

The Friar disappears into thin air… The researcher wakes up from a fever dream, Newes, Newly Discovered, in a Pleasant Dialogue between Papa the false Pope and Benedict an honest Fryer, beside her.

CURTAIN­ — END OF THE DIALOGUE

In Newes Newly Discovered, the author used the fictitious character of the repentful Friar to discredit the core of Catholic practices through the subterfuge of a dialogue. The Friar starts speaking as a Catholic but has converted to Protestantism by the end of the original text. This piece is a perfect example of Protestant propaganda, for obvious key tropes are repeated throughout the text: it highlights money, sexual corruption, manipulation, and the business of indulgences as major flaws in the Roman Catholic Church. As Laurence Lux-Sterritt wrote about Thomas Herbert, ‘the retired and disgruntled sea-captain contributed to the fashion of “merry”’, or “pleasant’dialogues between antithetical and highly symbolic characters, the better to fustigate the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church’.[21]

 

[1] Thomas Herbert, Newes Newly Discovered, in a Pleasant Dialo[g]Ue Betwixt Papa the False Pope, and Benedict an Honest Fryer, Shewing the Merry Conceits Which the Friers Have in Their Cloysters Amongst Handsome Nuns, and How the Pope Complains for Want of That Pastime, with the Many Shifts of His Friends in England. / by Thomas Herbert (London: Printed for I. Wright, 1641).
[2] Schön Erhard, No Title, c 1530.
[3] Laurence Lux-Sterritt, ‘The Scandalous Nun: Anti-Catholic Representations of English Nuns in Exile in the Seventeenth Century.’, in In Anti-Catholicism in Britain and Ireland, 1600-200. Practices, Representations and Ideas (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 149.
[4] Unknown, Ego Sum Papa, c 1500.
[5] Herbert, Newes Newly Discovered.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Francis Barlow, A Triumphal Procession: The Devil Leads the Pope as His Captive towards Hell, 1680.
[14] Herbert, Newes Newly Discovered.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] John Gee, New Shreds of the Old Snare (London, 1624).
[18] Herbert, Newes Newly Discovered.
[19] Lux-Sterritt, ‘The Scandalous Nun’, 155.
[20] Ibid., 155.
[21] Ibid., 149.



Cite this blog post
Laurence Lux-Sterritt (2022, April 15). Behind the Scenes of Protestant Propaganda. Britaix 17-18 - Seminar on the early-modern anglophone world (Aix-Marseille University, LERMA, UR 853) . Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/m589

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