The Fight of the Rapier and Cloak

I wrote this for the “Thrust, Piva, Riposte” event in Scotland, at the request of my Scholars Catlin and Esbiorn. I was asked to do this, as one of the few people who quite likes fighting with the cloak. I had originally planned to do this as a mix of SCA style cloak use, and period style, for interest, but as I read more, it occurred to me that the more period style of cloak fighting might have more of a role within the SCA. I tried it out on a few of the usual victims, and my opinion was confirmed.

Largely to amuse myself, I wrote the class in the style of a dialogue, which was a frequent 16th century way of teaching in books, and would lend itself to a class, and also be a ‘bit different’ to the normal class. For reasons of brevity, the drills were kept in modern English.

After teaching it a couple of times, I have made some additions to the drills to help people deal with how it might be attacked.  I hope others enjoy it as much as I have. I plan to approach the fight of the Rapier and Buckler, and the Lance and Spear of Kal, and Meyer in the same format.


Continue reading “The Fight of the Rapier and Cloak”


Apprentice to a Pirate

Another old one. It’s still not how I’d do it, but it’s an overview, and has its good points.

Apprentice to a Pirate

Piracy in the Late Period of the SCA

Don Antionio di Rienzo, ODS, Drachenwald


   jack sparrow Man in Black



A life not bad for a hardy lad,
Though surely not a high lot,
Though I’m a nurse, you might do worse
Than make your boy a pilot.

 I was a stupid nurserymaid,
On breakers always steering,
And I did not catch the word aright,
Through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions,
Which within my brain did gyrate,
I took and bound this promising boy
Apprentice to a 
The Pirates of Penzance: Gilbert and Sullivan

One of the few rules about the setting of the SCA is its cut off date- we are told that we are in a game whose end point is 1600 (or 1650 if you’re in some areas of some kingdoms). In general this is a very minor restriction, but one particular area of Late Period roleplay sometimes creeps into the late 17th century, the 18th, or even the Hollywood versions of them. This is the Pirate, and it is sad, because whilst the Golden Age of the Pirate was post period, within the time era depicted by the SCA piracy was alive and well, being performed by some of the leading lights of the English Navy Royal, and even in a few cases, ruling nations.

This article will aim to look at piracy from the time of the rise of what we categorise as ‘fencing weapons’ (the mention of the Espada Ropera in 1468) until the end of the ‘extended SCA period’ in 1650. Within this time period there is plenty of scope for almost any persona type which is desired, and considerable opportunities for different weapons and fighting styles.

Piracy, of course, has existed at least for the entire recorded length of human history, from those who took Julius Caesar captive, through to the modern Somalians, but the image of the pirate that we carry in our head is distinct from these much earlier pirates, and does begin to develop during the closing decades of the SCA time period, although predominantly is defined in terms of the Hollywood view of the Golden Age of Piracy (2nd half of the 17th century onwards). How many can identify the second pair of pirates on the cover of this handout, compared to the first two?

I will categorise piracy into 4 basic types, but it’s important to note that these are not self-limiting, and individuals moved with ease from legitimate trade, through the four types of piracy, and sometimes back to respectability and official employment with an ease which was not seen in later timeframes, where ‘turning pirate’ tended to be more of a one way event.

I will limit this arbitrarily by geography or social type of pirate- you can argue instead for looking by period within the two centuries I’m considering, but as many personae are defined as of a particular nationality or class, looking at each region is perhaps the most useful to the SCA. I have not really touched upon Far Eastern piracy, nor really upon that in the Indian Ocean, opened to Europeans by Vasco de Gama in the 15th century, but long traded in by arab merchants. Although India, Cathay and Ciypangu were in contact with European Nations by the end of the SCA period, it is not our main focus. The interested scholar can gain basic details in ‘Pirate Wars’ and ‘ ‘Unknown Seas’.

We will then look at the careers of two particularly illustrative pirates, to gain some understanding of their movement between the groups of pirates we’re discussing.

The main headings then for this article are:

1: ‘A Nation of Pirates’- Piracy in the English Channel, the North and Irish Seas and the North Atlantic

2: The Corsairs- Piracy and Terror as a weapon of Crusade and Jihad

3: Pirates of the Caribbean- Deniable Warfare, and the Bulls of 1493 and 1506

4: War by other means- The Sea Beggars, and Privateers during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms

1)       A Nation of Pirates- the ‘Cottage Industry’ of piracy

In much the same way as later Napoleon would remark ‘Wherever wood can swim, there I am sure to find this flag of England[1].’ an earlier generation called England a Nation of Pirates. That is not entirely fair, for England was by no means the only offender in Northern Waters, nor, as we shall see later in this article, was she entirely immune from the Depredations of Corsairs.

Whilst the concept of Privateers (private captains holding a government commission to attack the enemies of the state) had not yet developed, there were similar concepts, namely the uptake of ships from the merchant fleet into the Navy Royal (for which a retainer was paid in most instances- an early form of Naval Reserve, and in some cases conscription of whole vessels occured), and the issuing of ‘Notes of Reprisal’ to permit merchants to make good the depredations of foreign Governments against the shipping of that nation. This sometimes provided a wafer thin veneer of respectability to the act of piracy- it was a matter of reparation, but truth be told, these commissions were routinely exceeded, either in amount, or indeed in the nationality of the ships attacked. Sometimes these wrongfully taken ships were returned to their owners, with the cargo, but often one, or both remained with the pirates. Complicity for this extended throughout the Elizabethan Regime, when the Letter was issued by it, but often even if the perpetrators were English, the letter was issued by a foreign government- the Hugenot authorities, or the rebel Dutch under William the Silent being particular offenders. The Elizabethan regimes response to this varied, through the period from quietly ignoring it, to threatening to execute as pirates those who took up these commissions- although there is little evidence they proceeded with such threats.

Instead both locally and nationally there was an (unofficial) policy of ‘live and let live’ to pirates as well as privateers, especially during the Elizabethan regime. This appears to have been for several reasons. Firstly, at a local level, the ships were often owned and operated by the local landowners- the very men, in fact, who in their role as Justices of the Peace would be called upon to enforce any edicts from central Government against Piracy. Secondly, local juries were reluctant to convict (and indeed some jurors were themselves imprisoned by royal decree in the Tower for acquitting a suspected pirate). This is because piracy underpinned the economies of whole areas of the country, most particularly in Cornwall and the West of Ireland, and in neither of these locations was Government present in enough strength to act against the preferences of the community. On a larger level, the Elizabethan (and earlier Tudor) Governments were reluctant to proceed to vigorously against a community which, in times of war, would also provide their own fighting seamen. An example of this is (Later Sir) Martin Frobisher’s brush with the law for alleged piracy, which resulted in his brief imprisonment in the Tower, followed by rapid release and return to his pirate ways. Additionally, the rather rural nature of some of the loot (Barley and Wheat in especial) sometimes provided a relief to famine in the relatively isolated communities from which pirates worked.

Occasionally political matters made it expedient to proceed against some of these ‘cottage industry’ pirates, but many escaped by offering to serve the Crown instead, with a varying degree of truthfulness.

2)       The Corsairs

Piracy is one of those areas of human endeavour where the boundaries start to blur. A pirate might gain a legitimate Letter of Reprisal and become a legitimate Privateer, or more usually vice versa. One classic area of this blurring is in the ‘Corso’- the centuries long naval war fought between forces of the Islamic and Christian States of the Mediterranean basin. On the Christian side the most piratical were the Knights of Saint John, based first at Rhodes, and then in Malta, as well as the naval forces of Venice, whilst on the Moslem side the piratical states of Tunis, Algiers and Morocco, raiding most of the shorelines of the Mediterranean, but sometimes venturing as far afield as the Southern English coast, Ireland, or even Iceland. Within this setting the culture started as relatively small and isolated- the Reconquista of Spain, with its expulsion of Morriscos led to a series of private, but carefully guided, reprisal raids on Southern Spain.  Whilst the degree of tie in between the corsairs and the Sultan in Istanbul varied tremendously from only theoretical to appointing corsairs to his admiralty, this comprised another ‘Front Line’ in East/West struggles, which were carried throughout the Mediterranean, and continued on until the 19th century. Each side in this struggle, of course, saw themselves as ‘not piratical’, but the difference between being taken captive and sold as a slave by a Warrior of God, and by a pirate is pretty theoretical.


3) Pirates of the Caribbean

The Papal Bull of 1493, Inter caetera (“Among other [works]” divided the New World between the two Iberian powers-  initially all new land to the west and south of a line 100 miles from the Azores or Cape Verde islands belonged to Spain- this was renegotiated by the two powers at Tordesillas in 1494 to 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands (allowing Portugal a toehold legally in Brazil). This was ratified by Julius II in 1506 as Ea quae. The Spanish position, therefore was that anybody from any other nation west of ‘The Line’ was a pirate, by definition, a view not shared by the French (especially the Huguenots) or the English. Nor, in fact, was the monopoly of trade to Spanish vessels entirely in the interests of the Spanish settlers, who could often acquire trade goods (and particularly slaves) more cheaply from other sources.

This led to the almost farcical situation of trading ships arriving, with guns run out, so that the Spanish settlers had ‘plausible deniability’ to authorities in Spain, so they could say, ‘The English Pirates forced us to trade with them’.  This was also the basis for the transatlantic slave trade, which was begun by the Portuguese, but really raised to a fine art by some of Elizabeth’s ‘Sea Dogs’, in a way which is really not mentioned by their eventual Mythologisers. Sir John Hawkins, the builder of the ‘Race Built’ galleons and reorganiser of Elizabeth’s fleet made his fortune in this way.


4) War by Other Means.

Pirates are, by their very nature, violent takers of other peoples properties. As we have seen there was a legal element to this (‘notes of reprisal and marque’), which were issued. In a similar way, such notes were issued by cash and ship impoverished regimes, offering a legal figleaf for a nasty trade, which seldom confined itself to either its theoretical targets, or to the value which had been theoretically lost. In particular, William the Silent, and other leaders of the Dutch Calvinists, who in 1566 signed the ‘Compromise of Nobles’ binding themselves to defend their liberties against the Spanish crown. The title of ‘Beggars’ was taken up following a chance comment by a Spanish courtiers. The original league was rapidly crushed by the Duke of Alva, but William the Silent issued 18 letters of marque in 1569 to ships operating from the French port of La Rochelle (Huguenot), initially under the command of William de La Marck, and using English ports to resupply, repair, and sell their booty. In 1572, Spanish political pressure caused Elizabeth to close her ports to these ‘Sea Beggars’, and given little other choice, they launched a desperate (and surprisingly successful) attack on Brielle, which they seized as a base, followed by Flushing. The capture of these two towns led to revolts in the surrounding area, and eventually the general revolt, and the independence of the Netherlands.

Although little known of, the French Wars of Religion also had a noted naval component- although the Admiral of France, de Coligny, was a Huguenot, and was assassinated in the St Bartholomew’s day massacre, most of the fleet was in the normal sense, merchant vessels taken up as needed. During the wars of religion, therefore, most ships were privately owned, and effectively pirates, especially since Spanish ships were increasingly seen as ‘fair game’, as well as Royal/Catholic ships by the protestant vessels.

In an English and British context, all of Elizabeth’s ‘Sea Dogs’ were technically pirates, since they operated during peacetime against a Spanish target, both ‘beyond the line’, and in closer waters, and without a commission (Drake claimed to have one for his circumnavigation, but refused to ever show it to anyone). However, the fact is, they did so with the connivance of the regime throughout the 1570’s and 1580’s, and essentially it was this behaviour which made war in the late 1580’s inevitable- a war which lasted until both Phillip II and Elizabeth were dead. In the time of her 2nd successor, during the War of the Three Kingdoms, the Navy declared for Parliament, and again, the Royalists relied heavily on Privateers for naval service, including running of guns, and prevention of Parliamentary weapons imports. The last holdout of the Royalist struggle were privateers operating from the Scilly Isles.

Pirate 1: Hayreddin Barbarossa approx 1478-1546

Born in the 1470’s on the Greek island of Lesbos (insert jokes here), the son of a retired Turkish (or possibly Greek) Siphai, who had taken part in the capture of the island, then settled there, and the widow of a Greek priest. The couple had 2 daughters, and 4 sons (Ishak, Aruj, Khizr and Ilya), with the father working as a potter, with a boat purchased to help with the business. On the way back from a trading mission to Lebanon, the boat, carrying Aruj and Ilya was attacked by the Knights of St John, Ilya was killed, and Aruj imprisoned at the Knights castle of Bodrum. It is not entirely clear if the brothers had turned corsair before this, but certainly after it, they did. After learning of Aruj’s location, Khizr went to help him escape. Aruj and Khizr went north to Antalya where the governor entrusted a fleet of 18 (presumably small) galleys to Aruj in order to allow him to fight the Knights. When the governor moved to the more important post of Izmir, he increased the fleet size to 24, which participated on the larger Ottoman raid on Apulia in Italy. On his return, however, he learned the governor had fled to Egypt due to a political dispute. He therefore followed his patron to Egypt, and was granted a ship by the Mamluk sultan, again to raid, this time on Italy. In 1503, along with his brother Khizr, he managed to seize 3 more ships, and made a base at the island of Djerba in modern Tunisia, paying a tithe of his captures to the local sultan. He was now essentially in business for himself, and in the Western Mediterranean. They then moved (with the sultans permission) to La Goulette (the port of Tunis), a much more strategic base. Despite the small size of the galleys (technically galleots) they used, they managed to capture 2 large papal galleys and a Spanish ship, containing 380 soldiers and 60 knights. By 1505 their fame had spread, and other Corsairs were coming to join the brothers. They were involved in the shipment of moslems from Spain to North Africa, and these Moriscos became very useful to the brothers. In 1512 the exiled Moslem ruler of Bougie in North Africa invited the brothers to drive out the Spanish. In this they were successful, although Aruj lost his left arm, having it replaced with a silver prosthetic.  They then raided Minorca, capturing ships, and a costal castle. The Genoese sent a fleet. The brothers captured the flagship of that, too.  After capturing 23 ships in a month, they returned to la Goulette. In 1514, with 12 ships and 1000 Turkish troops, they destroyed 2 fortresses at Bougie and when the Spanish fleet arrived they simply left, raiding Ceutra, and then capturing Jijel in Algeria from the Genoese. In 1516 the brothers were involved in a plan to reliberate Jijel and capture Algiers from the Spanish, but they assumed control themselves, forcing the previous ruler to flee.  In 1517 Aruj  offered Algiers to the Turkish Sultan, and was appointed its Governor. However the previous sultan, with Spanish support was landed. He was killed when Aruj and Ishak caught up with him, but those two brothers were themselves killed when the Spanish under Charles V in person arrived.

Khizir was then appointed to his brothers position (as well as his name, ‘Barbarossa’) by the Ottoman sultan,, supplied with fresh troops, and given the same mission- to reacquire Algiers, and to carry warfare to the Christians in the mediteranean.  In this he was successful, destroying a relieving Spanish force at sea. In 1519 he raided Southern France, and the North African port of Bone. In 1521 he raided the Balearics, and destroyed ships returning from the New World off Cadiz, and contributed ships to the campaign of 1522, which resulted in the capture of Rhodes. 1525 and 6 seem to have primarily been dedicated to terrorising the coast of Italy, burning villages, and capturing ships. His corsair raids continued, with the extent that in 1531 the great Genoese naval condottioro, Andrea Doria, employed by Charles V as his admiral, was sent to attack him. Khizr repulsed the attack, and then raided the Spanish and Italian coasts. His association with the Sultan (previously a technical if not actual overlord, and supplier of troops) became closer after 1532 when during the Sultan’s balkans campaign, Andrea Doria captured a series of coastal castles and towns. It became clear to Sultan Suleiman he needed a stronger naval command, and summoned Khizr to Istanbul. On his way there, he captured 18 galleys near Messina, and learned from the prisoners that Doria would be near Preveza. He headed there and after a brief engagement, Doria withdrew, losing 7 galleys in the process. He then proceeded to Istanbul, where the Sultan appointed him Grand Admiral (Kapudan-i Derya) and Chief Governor of North Africa. Not bad for a Greek pirate on the make, but more was to come.

In 1533 the King of France sent an embassy to Khizr, asking for his aid against Charles V at sea! This he was all too happy to do! Further raiding happened, resulting in a Spanish/Italian joint recapture of Tunis on behalf of Mulei Hassan, the son of the previous Sultan of Tunis. Barbarossa recognised this was not defeatable, and with his fleet, fled to Capri, where he captured and rebuilt a fortress, continued to the Balearics, and hit Spanish posessions in North Africa. Further raids followed in 1534, including an usuccessful raid 10 miles inland, to capture the city of Fondi between Rome and Naples, with the aim of capturing the beautiful Gulia Gonzago to be carried off to the Sultan’s Seraglio.  In 1536, he was campaigning for the Sultan again, commanding a fleet which landed in Otranto in Italy, capturing the town,  as well as the city of Ugenta in Apulia.

Although these were recaptured in due course by Neopolitan and Papal forces, Barbarossa had moved on, capturing a vast swathe of Venetian owned islands and costal fortresses, then defeating a combined Venetian, Papal, Genoese and Spanish fleet at Prevezia (almost precisely on top of the site where Anthony was defeated by Octavian). Finally, Barbarossa was contacted by Charles V, who offered him command of Spains Fleet, and rulership of her North African possessions. Obviously, he refused.  This resulted in Charles’ disasterious 1541 attack on Algiers, far too late in the season for navigation to be safe.  In  1543-4 he operated from Toulon , in alliance with the French (with the Cathedral of St Mary acting as a mosque!)He retired to Constantinople in 1545 and died the following year, after dictating his memoirs, which have survived.  His Mausoleum became a place of pilgrimage (or cannon salute) for Ottoman seamen, and the lack of this visit is attributed with part of the cause of the loss at the Battle of Lepanto.

Pirate 2: Sir Francis Drake 1544 (probably)-96, knighted 1581, portrait around 1590

Born in Devon, but brought up near London, ostentibly as a result of the Prayer Book Revolt in Devon when he was a child resulting in the family fleeing to the Medway. Drake obtained command of the Judith when he was 22, a ship owned by his cousin Sir John Hawkins, and was part of Hawkins slave trading enterprises to the Spanish Main. In 1568 he was with Hawkins at San Juan de Ulua (an island just outside the modern city of Vera Cruz). They had been driven there by storm damage, but took the opportunity to engage in a little gunboat trading. Unfortunately, whilst they were doing so, an escort fleet for the annual Spanish Treasure ships, along with the incoming Spanish Governor arrived. Initially a truce held, but then the spanish launched a surprise attack, quickly taking the gunbatteries on the island of San Juan, and then capturing or destroying 4 of Hawkins 7 ships, with the loss of 500 lives, including one of the Queens ships (the aging Jesus of Lubbeck, which had been part of the Anthony Roll presented to her father 20 years earlier), and almost the entire years profits from trading and naked piracy. Hawkins returned to England with a crew of only 15, and Drake’s numbers were only 50 or so. This defeat provided a massive motivator for both men, and essentially marked the beginning of the ‘unofficial war’ by Elizabeth’s mariners, and later herself.

He clearly started further expeditions to the Carribean, of which we don’t have details, but by 1572 he was back in the Carribean, and captured the city of Nombre de Dios, on the Panama isthmus, the end of the gold and silver trail from Peru, including its vast treasure. Unfortunately, Drake was badly injured, and his men insisted on withdrawing with him to the ships, abandoning the cash. The following year, along with Le Testu, a French pirate, he captured 20 tons of Gold and Silver in the jungle, but had to bury and abandon much of it, before withdrawing to the beach, to find their boats were gone. The remaining gold was buried, and Drake and 2 volunteers sailed 10 miles by raft to where the flagship was. He recovered men and gold, and by 1573 was back in England.

In 1577, Drake moves to the category of ‘deniable warfare’, being dispatched in the royal ship, ‘Pelican’ to raid Spanish Gold convoys on the Pacific coast of South America. As the Pelican was a symbol of Elizabeth, she was renamed (to aid deniability) en-route south, and it as ‘The Golden Hind’ that we now know her. By the time the Cape was rounded, Drake’s ships had been reduced from six to one, but Drake’s luck held. He sailed north, attacking Spanish ships and towns, and then near Lima he came across a ship laden with 37,000 ducats of gold (approx £7million by todays standards). He captured it, then got word of another ship, the Nuestra Señora de la Concepció sailing west towards Manilla. Again, near modern Equador he came across this ship, and captured it. We don’t know precisely what was on board, but the manifest reflected 80lb gold, 13 chests of Royals of plate, and 26 tons of silver. In addition her captain estimated 400,000 pesos of unregistered gold (approx £12 million by todays prices) on board.

Sailing further north, he claimed Nova Albion ‘New Britain’, which is believed to be in California, before turning west. After further adventures in the East Indies, he finally reached Plymouth by september 1580, with 59 crew left. The Queens official share of the treasure surpassed the rest of the Crowns income for that year, and other investors got a 4700% return on their money, despite clearly some cash not being declared. The following year, Drake was knighted (with the dubbing actually done by a visiting French diplomat, giving implicit French approval for Drake’s action).

Drake was now part of the establishment, serving as mayor of Plymouth, and MP, and then as an officer of Elizabeth (officially) first raiding Cadiz to ‘Singe the King of Spain’s Beard’, and then being 2nd in command of the English fleet during the armada campaign. Further expeditions (to the Azores in 1589 and Lisbon) were less successful, and finally, during an ill fated campaign in the carribean in 1595 (with his cousin, John Hawkins), he died of dysentry, and was buried at sea of Nombre de Dios, entering folklore/English mythology.

We can see from these two examples, amongst many others (Frobisher, Hawkins, Dragyut etc), that the life of the 16th century pirate was every bit as dramatic and adventure filled as his later ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ companions, but differed from it in its relationship to authority- existing within the context of official and unofficial war with other states, local business and local fealties, and offers a rich and diverse source for personas, as well as inspiring deep elements of national mythology. We see movement from the poor (Barbarossa) or at least working class, or middle class or younger sons of minor gentry (Drake, Frobisher) up to landed gentlemen, with the pirate re-entering the acceptable ‘law abiding’ segments of society. We can see a wide variety of dress, from the ottoman fashions of the Barbarossas, through all periods of 16th century clothing, from the early Henricians to the late Elizabethans, and from a variety of nationalities, and religious affiliations. We can see pirates who fought with heavy war swords, those with scimitars, and those with pikes and half pikes, as well as those carrying complex hilt transitional swords, and later rapiers. We can see pirates who believed themselves Warriors of God, pirates who believed themselves pillars of the local community, as well as the frankly nasty. The main thing that unites these disparate men is their taste for adventure, and profit, and their seamanship in a variety of vessels, as well as a general refusal of history to see them as ‘real pirates’. But the art of 16th century shipbuilding, navigation, and handling is a talk for another day.


Appleby J (2011) Under the Bloody Flag: Pirates of the Tudor Age. History Press, Stroud

Bradford E (1969) The Sultan’s Admiral: The Life of Barbarossa. History Book Club, London

Crowley R(2008) Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean 1521-80. Faber&Faber, London

Earle P (2004) The Pirate Wars. Methuen, London

Moorhouse G (2005) Great Harry’s Navy. Phoenix, London

Watkins R (2003) Unknown Seas: How Vasco da Gama opened the East. Murray, London

[1] Statement at Rochfort, 1815

The Mary Rose – Part 2

Written about  5 years ago, and a lot of differences to how I’d do it now, but still a useful overview, I think.




The Mary Rose- A Unique 16th Century Resource for Reenactors- Part 2- Archaeology


By Antonio di Rienzo/Tom McKinnell


The Finds

The hull as recovered is not complete- only approximately 1/3 is preserved, comprising most of the starboard side, not including the bow or Focsle. Still, it tells us quite a lot about the ship. She was approximately 38.5m long at the waterline, with a draft of 4.6m. She was Carvel built, apart from the Castles, which were probably both clinker built, and less heavily constructed than the main hull. There are 4 decks within the surviving remains- the Hold, the Orlop, the Main Deck, and the Upper deck. There would also have been a deck atop each castle. She was rigged for combat, and this explains the low level of survival amongst the crew; remains of boarding netting, slung across the top of the main deck, with the aim of preventing French crews boarding the ship, have been found. Most of the crew probably drowned with the surface within view. Mary Rose had 4 masts, the foremast, the main mast, the mizzen mast, and the Bonaventure mizzen mast, as well as a bowsprit. None of the masts or yards have survived. A large number of rigging elements have been found, including chains, blocks and deadeyes, and elements of the mast steps. The precise nature of the rigging pattern have not yet been analysed. 3 anchors were also found, 2 just outside the vessel, at the bow, and the other on the upper deck on the ships waist. When it is recalled at least one anchor was also recovered by Deane, this means the Mary Rose had significant redundancy.

Mary Rose

Aside from the weapons recovered by Deane, some of which survive, and all of which were found loaded, a further 10 bronze guns were found. These do not precisely match the list within the Anthony roll, but comprise a variety of calibres of guns from full cannons, and culverins, through demi cannons and culverins. The smaller weapons (Sakers and Falcons) listed by Anthony may have been salvaged in 1545. In addition to these cast bronze weapons, there were also wrought iron guns, built up like barrels with bars of iron, wrapped in hoops of iron, and loaded with removable breeches. A number of smallarms, comprising swivel guns of a variety of size, all firing lead or iron shot, or ‘dyce’ are listed in the Anthony Roll. The remains of several, including one complete, have been found. Hardy speaks in detail about the bows of Mary Rose. A large number (over 80) have been found, 2 in chests, suggesting they were stowed ‘ready for use’ near to action stations. These have varied in pull between 101lb (45.8kg), and 185lb (83.9kg). The bows generally show slight colour changes at the ends, which suggests that horn knocks were present but these have usually survived- only 2 remain, which have been preserved by the effects of tar on ropes against which they had rested. A large number of arrows, including those in leather spacers, have also survived, and this gives us valuable corroboration about draw length for the bows. Relatively few hand weapons have survived, but they do include a basket hilted weapon, of a type known to exist, but previously only considered an English/Scottish border type. As this can be precisely attributed to the ship, it leads us to adjust our view of contemporary sword types, and therefore of swordsmanship. Other weapons include daggers, pikes, and bills, as well as armour pieces.

The galley of Mary Rose was located in the hold, with a large vent through into the Orlop deck. The cooking unit consisted of two brick furnaces, side by side, into which were installed 2 copper alloy cauldrons. Carefully cut birch logs were also found in this area, and it is likely that these comprise the fuel for the cooking. A ladder just forward of the galley provided access to the rest of the ship, and it is likely that food cooked in the hold was then moved upwards before distribution and eating.

A large number of eating and drinking containers were also found, both in wood, and in pewter, including some which bore the arms and initials of the Lord Admiral. As he was not on board Mary Rose, this may represent some confusion in stowage after the feast of the previous night- a ‘lost and found’ message would, in due course, have been sent! Casks were one of the main ways of storing commodities, including both food, and gunpowder. As a result, a large number have been found, some of which have been ‘embellished’ with games boards. Slightly more surprising is the number of wickerwork baskets which are to be found on board. Presumably their contents were more resistant to wet, and therefore didn’t need a lid. Also found were leather containers, as well as ladles, colanders, mortars, and cooking utensils and containers.

Remains of cod, conger eel, fallow deer, beef, and pork were all found, as well as the remains of one domestic fowl. Various plant remains were also found, including rye, wheat, hops, and hazelnuts.

A ship is more than just a weapon of war- it is the home for a whole community, who must eat, and sleep, and live within their vessel. Finds in this area include a wide variety of chests, along a number of designs, and with a range of ornateness from very plain to nicely decorated. Other pieces of furniture include stools, in a variety of designs, as well as a folding stand, and a table, perhaps for plastering, in the barber surgeons cabin.

With so much around, from the ship itself, to the stowage aboard her, being made of wood, it is hardly surprising that carpenters tools were found. What is more surprising is that the carpenter appears to have occupied one of the three cabins which survived. A large number of wood working tools have survived, most of which are readily recognisable compared to modern tools.

In order to navigate a vessel you need to know direction, and speed at a bare minimum, and compasses and log reels are the means to these. Both are found on Mary Rose– the earliest example of a log reel, and a surprisingly early example of multiple gimbal mounted compasses. The presence of dividers also suggests that charts were in use, and rods for weighting these have also been found.

Clothing finds include hats- these break down into woollen caps, widely depicted in illustrations of the time, two coifs, one possibly belonging to the barber surgeon; and jerkins, in a variety of styles, mostly made from leather. Hose, mittens, socks, and a wide variety of shoes and boots have also been found. While no needles were found, needle cases, thimbles, and weaving equipment was all found.

Boards for backgammon, dice, dominos, as well as a barrel with a nine-mens morris board carved onto it give an idea of how time was passed.

Surprisingly, in a Protestant country, a number of paternosters and other overtly catholic items were found.

One major find was, in the cabin which was most probably his workspace, the complete chest of the ships Barber Surgeon. Whilst the steel blades of the surgical implements have not survived, a fascinating set of medicinal salves and plasters have, which would be a worthy topic for an article on their own.

Another, related, source for telling us information about Tudor life are the bony remains of the ships inhabitants. Men had been trapped at all levels of the ship, but had tended to congregate at companionways. The passage of time, tides, and predators resulted in considerable mixture of remains. This means that body parts could not be excavated in the conventional way, but instead needed to be matched after excavation. After matching, the minimum number of individuals recovered is 119 from humeruses, and 179 from skulls. This may represent about 43% of the crew (assuming a crew of 415) giving a reasonable sample  Of these, 88 are ‘fairly complete’ skeletons, and these break down into 1 juvenile, 17 adolescents, 54 young adults (18-30), 15 middle aged adults(30-40) and 1 old adults (40+). Based on leg length, the heights are 5’3” to 5’11”, with a mean of 5’7”. Whilst this is a little shorter than the current British average height, it is less so than might be expected.

Teeth wear showered an interesting pattern- in general they were healthier than modern counterparts, with less crowding, but with much more wear. 83% had caries, 18% had abscesses, and 36% had antemortem loss of teeth. This means that the Mary Rose crew are the first recorded group with a modern pattern of teeth decay. Diseases of malnutrition were also detectable in the skeletal remains- rickets/osteomalacia (vitamin D), Scurvy (vitamin C), there is also evidence of arrest of growth (enamel banding), which suggests previous serious illness in childhood. There is little evidence of infectious diseases, but some rib marking suggests the presence of tuberculosis.

There are rather fewer fractures than might be expected compared to medieval graveyards. There are 3 ankle fractures. There is one leg fracture, as well as nasal and sternal fractures. There are very few rib fractures, however, which may imply something about chest protection.  One other bony injury is more surprising- one casualty had old avascular necrosis to the hips, resulting in wasting of the femoral heads, and severe arthritis. This man must have been severely disabled, so what was he doing on board ship? Could he have been a member of support staff, such as the purser? One other abnormality which is relatively common is ‘Os acromiale’. This is failure of fusion of one of the shoulder bones, and is normally quite rare (3%). It occurs in 12.5% of Mary Rose FCSs, and it has been suggested that this may relate to the abnormal strains applied to the shoulder girdles of professional archers.

The human remains are not the only bony remains, however. These are many non-human bones onboard. A dogs skeleton was found partially inside, partially outside the carpenters cabin. It was 470mm at the shoulder, and lacks any characteristics of a specific breed. It is likely it was a mongrel. It’s not clear if it was a pet, or whether it was a working animal, perhaps involved in keeping down the rat population. Unsurprisingly, rat remains have been found, as well as insect remains, both from domestic situations (a bed, a comb), as well as in food supplies (pork, fish). This implies that the curing used was far from perfect.

There are limitations in the usefulness of Mary Rose to the re-enactor. Firstly, the vessel is not complete, and it may be that finds in the missing 2/3 may undermine some of our current conclusions about her. Secondly, it must be recalled that not all of the items aboard survived- we may find that there are biases introduced by what has survived. Finally, there are the long standing controversies about the cause of the sinking.

It is possible that the Mary Rose wrecksite has not yet given up all its secrets. With the advent of new vessels for the Royal Navy, the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, a new channel will have to be dug to give them access to Portsmouth. This will clip the edge of the Mary Rose zone, and therefore further excavations will be taking place over the next few years to completely clear the site. These may give more information about the bow, and the castles. The Cowdrey engravings seem to indicate a sinking galley in the French fleet. Whilst this is not recorded in the documentary evidence, it is possible there is another wreck out there, from the same day. This would add to the knowledge of Tudor shipping.

In summary, Mary Rose is an unparalleled time capsule of a very specific time in English history. It gives us items, information about clothing, craft tools, food and cooking, and pastimes. She shows us that Mary Rose was clearly a sophisticated weapon system, kept in service through intelligent upgrades and refits at significant cost. She cannot however be viewed as a representative Henrician ship, or even warship- she was a state of the art vessel, and one of Henry’s favourites, both in terms of size, and in terms of ship handling.



Arnold T (2001) The Renaissance at War. Cassell London

Gardiner J and Allen MJ (ed)(2005) Before the Mast: Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose: The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 4 The Mary Rose Trust Portsmouth

Hardy R (2006) Longbow: A Social and Military History (2nd ed). Sutton Stroud

Marsden P (2003) Sealed by Time: The Loss and Recovery of the Mary Rose: The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 1 The Mary Rose Trust Portsmouth

Moorhouse G (2006) Great Harry’s Navy: How Henry VIII gave England Sea Power. Phoenix London

Stirland AJ (2005) The Men of the Mary Rose: Raising the Dead. Sutton Stroud


Antonio di Rienzo is a Florentine nobleman living in Exile in Nominally Protestant 1580’s Northern England. He doesn’t like it very much, but has little choice in the matter. He has a wife in Italy, a mistress with a penchant for dressing up in boys clothing, and a small manorhouse.

Mary Rose – Part 1

I wouldn’t do this quite this way nowadays- and after the Gresham ship, the wreck in the Adriatic I won’t even attempt to spell (Pavli comes into it, I believe), the Alderney ship, and the Baltic wrecks, I’m not sure I’d classify Mary Rose as unique, but it is very well excavated, very well conserved, and perhaps most important very well written up.




The Mary Rose- A Unique 16th Century Resource for Reenactors- Part 1- History

Antonio di Rienzo/Tom McKinnell


When mention is made of the Mary Rose the image raised in Britons of a certain age (ie, mine) is of sitting in school assembly halls, watching incredibly disappointing lumps of wood break surface; however to the reenactor the ship is an unparalleled social historical resource, giving information not merely about warfare and shipbuilding in the 1540’s, but also about living conditions, commoner class foodstuffs and preparation, clothing, pastimes, and even salvage techniques. To do more than give a brief summary of the ship would take many times the length of this article, but this can, at least, act as an introduction to those unfamiliar with the vessel, or its archaeology.

We have access to a number of sources about Mary Rose, including the Anthony Roll, Financial Accounts from the Tudor Household, accounts of the ‘Race around the North Foreland’, the Cowdray engraving, as well as the remains of the vessel herself.

The Anthony Roll is a fascinating picture of the late Henrician Navy. Produced by the official Anthony Anthony, it was presented to the King in 1546, a full year after Mary Rose sank, but still contains both details and a picture of her at or around the time of her sinking. This is a very different vessel, however, from the one originally built. Descriptions of her including the mention of her mainmast as being 150 feet long permit us (as the archaeology does not) to estimate her original length.



The North Foreland is an area on the coast of the county of Kent, and in 1513 Henry’s fleet engaged in a race to test their sailing abilities. Despite starting some 4 miles behind the leading vessels Mary Rose finished first- in the words of her Admiral, Sir Edward Howard:

The next ship that was to me, but the sovereynwas iij myl behind….. but the Sovereyn past not half a myle behind me. Sir, sche is the noblest ship of sayle [of any] gret ship, and this howr, that I trow be in Christendom”

Mary Rose was built in Portsmouth, Southern England, between 1510, and 1512. As Henry VIII did not take the throne until 1509, there is speculation that the vessel may have been ordered by his father, Henry VII. The context underlying her construction is likely to have been the massive expansion of the Navy at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII. This should be considered alongside political situations at the time- In 1509 he married Catherine of Aragon, creating an alliance between England and Spain. By 1511 he joined the Holy League- an alliance of England, Pope Julius II, Spain and Venice against France, united since 1491 with Brittany, and thus provided with extra ports opposite England on the Channel. This new threat required an increase in the size of his forces- 4 new ships were reported as being built in the December 1509, and 2 were ordered in January of 1510, and it is likely that one of these was Mary Rose.

Mary Rose was almost certainly built in Portsmouth or Southampton- the Venetian ambassador, writing in December 1509 refers to 4 vessels being built at Southampton, whilst the warrant signed by Henry in January 1510 orders that 2 vessels be built at Portsmouth. Certainly, construction was finished by the summer of 1511, because we have reference to her, by name in June of that year, and orders for her to be conveyed from Portsmouth to the Thames in July. She may not have been fully finished at that point, and it is likely her first port of call was the Tower of London, to have guns put on board, as well as her rigging.  Payments for gun parts end in April 1512, with the princely sum of £77, 0s, 3d for guns, gunstocks, bands, chambers etc.

We know from the Race around the North Foreland that she was a ship with fine sailing capabilities. Personal accounts of the time also suggest a speed of somewhere between 1.6 and 2.5knots, average, based on a letter written at Portland on 14th June 1514, referring to having landed troops at Cherbourg the previous day- this is a distance of about 60 nautical miles.

Mary Rose had an active career, almost entirely aimed at the French. She was first used in anger in 1512, when her duties were to clear the sea between England and Northern Spain of French naval opposition, to permit a fleet of troop transports to convoy 10-12 thousand English soldiers to Fuentarabia in North East Spain, near the French border. We can get some clue of how Mary Rose was used by looking at her crew and equipment. In summer 1512, she is listed as having aboard 411 soldiers, 206 mariners, 120 gunners, and 22 others, for a total compliment of 729. A more usual crew has only 185 soldiers, 200 mariners, and 20 gunners, suggesting that Mary Rose was being used partially as a troop transport or amphibious attack ship herself. Mary Rose’s only expedition out of southern English waters was in 1513, when she sailed north, in support of the Northern English army, at war with France’s ally, Scotland, which culminated in the battle of Flodden.

By July 1514, under the new admiral, Lord Thomas Howard, things had settled down, and Mary Rose was placed ‘in ordinary’, that is, in reserve, with a reduced rigging and crew, where she remained, apart from a brief spell in 1520 as part of the fleet covering the Field of the Cloth of Gold, until 1522, when Henry’s second French war required her remobilisation. This was inconclusive, from a naval point of view, and Mary Rose returned to Ordinary until a major refit (referred to as ‘being newly made’) in 1526, and repairs in 1535-6. Documents for this period are few and far between, but it appears Mary Rose spent most of her time in Ordinary, until being remobilised for Henry’s third French War, in 1544-5.

The precise details of the war of 1544-5 need not concern us- essentially Henry, in alliance with the Emperor planned to invade France. In contrast to previous attempts to take Paris, however, this time Henry planned a far more limited objective- to extend the Pale around Calais, by taking Boulogne. Part of this entailed clearing the Channel of French shipping, to permit convoying of reinforcements and stores. With this in mind, then the fleet was gathered in Portsmouth, when a French fleet under Admiral d’Annebault hove into the Solent, on 19th July, 1545.



The English fleet order of battle was drawn up, with galleys on the wings, and the main fleet in the centre, including the Mary Rose. Her complement is listed from the same source as 185 soldiers, 200 mariners and 30 gunners. The night before, Henry had dined aboard the flagship Henry Grace a Dieu, with amongst others, Sir George Carew, whom he appointed Vice Admiral. It is said (but not confirmed) that the Captain of the Mary Rose at the time was Roger Grenville.

The only contemporary account of the sinking is derived from a report from the Imperial Ambassador:

“the disaster was caused by their not having closed the lowest row of gun ports on one side of the ship. Having fired the guns on that side, the ship was turning, in order to fire from the other, when the wind caught her sails so strongly as to heel her over, and plunge her open gunports beneath the water, which flooded and sank her.”

This tallies with an account from a Chronicle of 1548 which said that the Mary Rose was sunk by

laden with much ordinance, and the portes left open, which were low”


However, a French eye-witness (du Bellay) said she was sunk by French Gunfire. The number of survivors was low. Van der Delft says 25-30 from a complement of 500, du Bellay cites 35 men from 500-600 men.

We are given a fascinating contemporary picture of this battle by examining the Cowdray Engravings. The Cowdray murals were made somewhere between 1545 and 1548 for Cowdray house in Sussex. Unfortunately the house itself has since been destroyed by fire, but engravings of the murals were made in the 18th century. One of them shows the scene of the sinking.

In view of the differing accounts and image of the battle, there are several theories as to why the vessel sank. These can be summarised as, ‘Knaves, wind or battle damage’.

A report (published after 1575) in a biography of Sir Peter Carew, described Sir George Carew called out to his kinsman Sir Gawen that his crew was “a sorte of knaves whom he could not rule.” This is not mentioned anywhere else, and should be viewed with caution, as it is a biography of a Carew, and there’s a vested interest in it not painting Sir George too black.

There is then the suggestion that a gust of wind caught Mary Rose at an inopportune moment. It is certainly plausible- modern experiments with replicas show the ship was, after her last refit, which increased her heavy gun compliment, sufficiently unstable that increased crew presence on the upper castles, combined with open gunports, turning, and a gust of wind would result in the ship broaching. It should be noted that contemporary reports are not entirely reliable, as it reported the Mary Rose firing. All the cannons recovered have still been loaded.  

There have been suggestions battle damage may have resulted in the sinking of Mary Rose, from 1545 onwards. There is no archaeological evidence to support this, but as only half of the ship is found, it is possible.

The ship was not left alone. Almost immediately after the sinking, the Duke of Suffolk, one of Henry’s closest friends, was put in charge of a salvage attempt. The list of requirements given gives an idea of the plan intended; Two great hulks, lengths of cable, capstans and ballast. The plan was clearly to winch Mary Rose upright, with two great cables passed underneath her, and each attached to one of the other ships. As the rising tide lifted them, they would, in their turn, lift the Mary Rose. She could then be slowly moved into shallower water, and the process repeated until the ship could be refloated, and brought into harbour. Work started 3rd August, and yards and sails were rapidly recovered. The attempt was a narrow failure, but the foremast was pulled from Mary Rose, and it was deemed impossible to raise her. During the excavations of the 1970’s and 80’s, two cables were found passed underneath the hull, revealing just how close the salvage attempt of 1545 came.

After the abandonment of salvage attempts in 1545, the Mary Rose was left to her watery grave. But she was to be found again in the 19th century.

In 1836, divers working on other wrecks in the Portsmouth area were asked to look at the seabed where fishermens nets were constantly being snagged on some underwater object. John Deane, and two others subsequently found a deeply buried wreck, with some artifacts. A wide variety of objects were found and raised by Deane, including 13 cannons, portions of rope, bronze sheaves from rigging blocks, bows and even human bones. Deane then requested a number of shells from the Admiralty to blast his way into the hull, and remains of these have also been found. Also raised was one of the anchors, and a portion of the main mast, which has not survived, but is described as having been, ‘almost as large as that of a 75 gun ship’. There were no 75 gun ships in existence at the time, but the diameter of a 74’s mainmast was 37inches. Deane claimed to have totally destroyed the Mary Rose, but this is obviously not true. The ship was marked on Admiralty charts, and forgotten.

In 1965, Alexander McKee, historian and amateur diver invited a group of amateur divers to investigate wrecks in the Solent- the Royal George (1782), the Boyne (1795), and the Mary Rose. Working separately was a group of naval divers under Lt-Commander Dax. Each was searching in different parts of the Solent, as the 16th century accounts, and the Cowdray engraving was insufficiently precise to allow the site to be fully found. It was decided that each group would combine, and search 19th century charts in the Admiralty. This revealed the location found by Deane, and this then became the centre for the search. A side scan sonar tracing in 1967 located a buried ‘feature’.

In the start of the 1970 excavation season, after heavy winter storms, the team found frame ends protruding from the seabed. This coincided with the sonar anomaly, and the Mary Rose had been found.

Why had Mary Rose survived over 400 years? The first reason is that it became buried beneath a protective layer of hard clay, which formed as the upper (port) side of the ship collapsed into the wreck. This protected the starboard side of the wreck from the effects of erosion in the strong tides of the Solent. The contents of the wreck were partially protected from decay by the conditions in which they were thus stuck, with very little oxygen. This largely protected the conditions, although certain remains, notably proteins in horn and similar materials suffered badly, and metals in particular were badly affected.  This introduces a possible bias- whilst everything that was found can be associated with Mary Rose, it is important not to forget that what we have is not everything that was there.

Over the next 12 years, the ship was excavated in situ, and then on 9th October, 1982, Mary Rose was raised in a metal frame, and carried back to Portsmouth. Unlike the Vasa she could not be raised in a more conventional fashion, as a little under half of the ship was still intact. As the system used involved tunnels under the hull, from which bolts and straps were strung to fix the ship to its frame, it bore an echo of the system originally envisioned by Henry’s salvage team in 1545



Arnold T (2001) The Renaissance at War. Cassell London

Gardiner J and Allen MJ (ed)(2005) Before the Mast: Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose: The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 4 The Mary Rose Trust Portsmouth

Hardy R (2006) Longbow: A Social and Military History (2nd ed). Sutton Stroud

Marsden P (2003) Sealed by Time: The Loss and Recovery of the Mary Rose: The Archaeology of the Mary Rose, Volume 1 The Mary Rose Trust Portsmouth

Moorhouse G (2006) Great Harry’s Navy: How Henry VIII gave England Sea Power. Phoenix London

Stirland AJ (2005) The Men of the Mary Rose: Raising the Dead. Sutton Stroud


Antonio di Rienzo is a Florentine nobleman living in Exile in Nominally Protestant 1580’s Northern England. He doesn’t like it very much, but has little choice in the matter. He has a wife in Italy, a mistress with a penchant for dressing up in boys clothing, and a small manorhouse.


Again, not how I’d write it now, as my understanding has changed. The ‘Counter’ or ‘Catholic Reformation deserves a lot more emphasis than I’ve given it here (not helped by the fact I’ve front balanced the 16th century to the early reformations). I’d also include more on women, not necessarily as driving forces in Reformation, but in how they experienced it and indeed lived it- more of a Social History approach.  I do think, however, that for those in the SCA (like me) who have a 16th Century persona, the subtitle of the class is spot on. It really is the Elephant in the room.

Reformation: The 16th Century Elephant in the SCA’s Room

Don Antonio di Rienzo Ruspoli

The SCA has, as one of its few real rules, an edict against the mandatory performance of any act of religion. This is intended to limit any obligations to the actual ceremonies of any faith being compelled, but as is the nature of these things, it has somewhat slid, so that religion is generally viewed as an ‘off limits’ area for the society.

This is both a pity, and a problem, for without an understanding of religion as it had an effect on the lives of our personae, we really do not understand what life was like for them. At no time within our period is this more the case than in the 16th century, where the issue of the Reformation stands as a defining factor without whose presence, I would argue, we really do not do the 16th C justice. Now, time is limited, so I’m afraid this is only a whistle-stop tour, and will inevitably leave a whole lot of gaps.

Let me declare here my own religious background- I come from the setting of the Church of England, which at its best teaches a quietly devout, and very questioning faith. And at its worst preaches ineffectively and tries to helplessly see the good in everything. I hope you’ll forgive me if I let too much of either come into this class. The other warning I’m going to make is that this talk will circulate around the ‘Great Man’ theory of History, currently very unfashionable. I make no apology for my claim that without specific men (Great is sometimes too much of a claim), the Reformation would not have occurred in quite the same way. Unfortunately, they are almost all men. Women, whilst making some stylish cameo appearances in this story, are usually neglected in the theological and higher political fields.

So. It all begins with one man, nailing papers to the door of a church in Wittenb… no. It really doesn’t. As we saw from my Heresy class, it’s more complex than that.

It might start with 3rd or 4th century schisms in the Church, but we’ll begin it with one man, who some of you may have met in my last class on heresy. He was an Oxford Don, named John Wycliff, who came up (as others had before) with the idea that the Church was way too rich for a body who had been instructed to ‘go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me..” (Matthew 19:21), and was further too involved in secular politics, and wouldn’t it be great if reform dealt with these problems, driven by religiously educated secular people. Didn’t catch on, and he got told to shut up, and behave quietly in his country parish. But his ideas reached Bohemia, where another man, Jan Hus, agreed with, and preached them. He was summoned to an Imperial Diet under safe conduct, seized, put on trial for heresy, and burned at the stake. This is worth remembering, when we come to the Diet of Worms.

Allow me to set the scene as it stood in the years prior to Luther… (although the subject and the route to it, including a number of ‘wrong turns’ along the way, have been addressed already in my previous talk on Heresy). With the exception of the Bohemian Hussite Church, Western Christianity (and you will note I am consciously excluding the Orthodox or Eastern, the Syriac, the Ethiopian and the Nestorian varieties of Christianity here) was fairly homogenous. After a period where it was felt that supreme power in the church rested in councils especially towards the close of the Great Schism in the Western Church of the Latin Rite, (Concillism), power was increasingly centralised in the person of the Pope.

The dominant theology of the time included a very tidy structural element of the afterlife. The first element, of course, was heaven, the second hell, and for those neither saved (yet) nor damned, was Purgatory. This was (in general) a place of cleansing and penitence where sins were punished, but with a finite time limit- in this instance the Last Judgement. Purgatory was also the home for those babies who had died before Baptism, but also before they had a chance to sin, in the Limbus Infantorum, and similarly it was also home for the Old Testament Prophets, who living before Christ, were unable to be saved, but who had not merited Hell. Now, because the Pope had the authority of Christ (‘And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Matthew 16:19), he had a huge treasury of ‘surplus’ virtue on which to count, from Christ, and from the Saints (who by definition were already in heaven with a surplus of virtue). It would be miserly then if he didn’t share that good luck with people. Now, in theory penance was necessary to get hold of this virtue, but in reality it was achieved through one of three routes; good works, through the saying of masses for souls (mutual aid, since the souls in purgatory were assumed to be saying prayers for those who prayed for them), or through the purchase of an indulgence from the Pope or one of his representatives, which indicated the balance of payment had been released from heaven to forgive sins (although this was supposed to still be accompanied by confession and penance).

Now, the theologically acute will have noticed a fault with this- Augustine we agreed last class had said man was helpless, and could do nothing to help himself. So, what’s with penance and good works? Well, firstly, there was biblical justification for penance. John the Baptist had said, “Do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3, Vulgate). This then was indication that penance was what good Christians should be doing. Secondly, the Church had got around the question of worthlessness. Yes, it agreed, human works were in themselves worthless, unless they were accepted as greater by God, much as say a temporary copper coinage issued by a Crown was to be accepted as worth the face rather than the true value. In the same way, Scholasticism argued, God accepted the fundamentally worthless Works of man as being worth an ‘attributed’ value. And thirdly, of course, Augustine’s own doctrine of obedience to the Church (see Donatists) resulted in him also supporting this doctrine of the Church.

This left a late medieval church with seven Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Confession/Penance, Extreme Unction, the Eucharist), of which three were said to have scriptural basis (Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist).

Then along came Erasmus (1466-1536), the most famous of the early Humanists. Now, this term merits a little explanation. It is not allied to the current humanism. Instead it is fundamentally not a belief system, but a set of techniques for textual analysis, and these new skills of critical reading were applied to a whole set of new documents, brought west after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Desiderius Erasmus (aka Erasmus of Rotterdam) was one of the ultimate non-people of the medieval world- the son of a priest. He was born in Holland, probably in 1466 or 7, and joined a monastery in 1492. This was disastrous- he fell in love with another of the canons, and was miserable. He got his escape by taking a ‘temporary’ role as secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, and never looked back. He got permission to go to University in Paris.  Leo X eventually regularised the situation with a dispensation from his vows. He became something of a roving European man of letters, moving around, including to England, where he was Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. Whilst in England he was impressed by the teachings of John Colet, who argued for a simpler Christianity, closer to that of the Church Fathers, and improved Erasmus’ Greek to the level he could study original sources. His resulting translation of the New Testament from the Greek, along with its source material “Novum Instrumentum omne” was the first Greek New Testament published in the West, and it raised a number of issues, not least because it cut away a number of previously solidly believed translations by St Jerome, the most important of which was that John the Baptist did not say, “Go and do penance.” He instead said, “Go and repent.” This was a massive difference, which undermined the theological basis for penance.

Which brings us to our second ‘Great Man’. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was in many ways a contrast to Erasmus. Born to a nouveau riche family in the mining industry in Saxony, he was originally intended for the Law, but after a near miss from a lightning strike during a thunderstorm, he became a monk (1505). Tortured by his own perceived sinfulness and lack of worth, he continued to be ordained (1507) and was appointed to the University of Wittenberg to teach theology (1508), being awarded his Doctorate in 1512, and being appointed to the faculty.

Archbishop Albert Hohnzollern of Magdeburg (1490-1545), wanted to be Elector Archbishop of Mainz in 1514, and needed lots of cash, not just for the usual hefty fees for taking up his second See, but also to get a Papal Indulgence to permit him to hold both Archbishoprics. Fine. Except he didn’t have lots of cash. So he needed a loan from the House of Fugger, and then needed some way to repay. So it was agreed with Pope Leo X (aka Giovanni de Medici, 1475-1521, r1513-21), that a sale of indulgences could occur. The Fuggers would get repaid from the half Albert got to keep, Albert got his 2nd archbishopric, and the Pope got the rest, to help in the construction of St Peters (1506-1626!). Albert acquired the services of Johan Tetzel, a particularly impressive Dominican Friar and salesman, who had a real flair for selling indulgences, coining phrases like, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs”.

Luther was understandably upset by this fundamental mis-statement (as he saw it) of Catholic dogma. And he laid out his objections carefully in 95 individual topics for discussion (theses) which he then posted on what passed for the University Bulletin Board- the door of the Castle Church. These points included the fairly uncontroversial (‘When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, he meant that the whole life of believers should be one of penitence”), but also the more inflammatory, (“Christians should be taught that, if the Pope knew the exactions of the preachers of indulgences, he would rather have the basilica of St Peter reduced to ashes, than built with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep”). Unfortunately, he also decided it would be good to let Archbishop Albert know what evils were being done in his name, clearly without his knowledge. Albert passed on the theses to Rome, whilst others translated the theses into German, and the resulting explosion was inevitable. But Luther’s arguments, at this point, were hardly revolutionary. They did not challenge Purgatory, the value of Works, and Penitence to a priest. Part of the problem was the copy sent up the theological chain of command, part the factional inter-Friar fights, between Dominicans supporting Tetzel, and Augustinians supporting Luther. This was fundamentally a conflict between Augustine’s doctrine of Grace, versus his doctrine of Obedience to the Church. The Augustines favoured the first, the Dominicans the second.

In October 1518, Luther, initially summoned to Rome to explain himself, in person, to the Pope, was permitted to meet the Papal Legate, Cardinal Cajetan, who was himself a humanist, and had also downplayed the theological origin of indulgences. This concession was at the request of Luther’s Prince, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, who is one of the harder people to make out in this drama. Himself a very conventionally pious man, with a huge collection of relics, he nonetheless defended ‘his’ professor, and the realities of an Imperial election made the Elector worth listening to. Unfortunately the Cardinal was also a Dominican, and the meeting did not go well, with Luther slipping away from Augsburg in a hurry, and publishing a call for a general Council of the Church, a thing expressly forbidden by Pius II, in 1460.

In June 1519, Luther, and his colleague Karlstadt, arrived in Leipzig, to debate against Johann Eck  one of the leading theologians of Central Europe, Eck performed brilliantly, pushing Luther  on the subject of obedience from safe Concillar statements (‘Christ, not the Pope, is head of the Church’) to examination of the Hussites, and the statement that, “I am sure on this, that many of Hus’ beliefs were completely evangelical and Christian”. This meant, of course, that the Council of Konstenz which burnt him, had been in error! The following year, he was formally condemned for heresy in a Papal Bull, and in fairly typically ‘bull-ish’ Luther way, he publically burned the Bull. This is also the year he wrote three pivotal works.

Firstly, the ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation’ showed Europe exactly where Luther felt his support would be coming from- if the Church could not reform itself from within, then the Secular nobility would have to do the job, and further, it was their duty to overthrow the Antichrist, who was Pope. He further argued that the Clergy had been made into a separate caste by ritual separation, such as celibacy. He argued this must go, and further, that even in the absence of an ordained priest, Christians could select their own pastor, whose sacraments would be as good as any others. Vitally this book was written in German.

His second book was ‘On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ this time written in Latin, for a more academic and clerical audience. Here he pointed attention to the subject of sacraments. Defining them as consisting of a divine promise marked by a divine sign, both of which are only to be found in scripture. By this test, only Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance survived- and he wasn’t sure about penance, eventually relegating it. Like the Hussites (Ultraquists) he argued that all should drink wine as well as eat the bread at communion. He also attacked Transubstantiation, not in the way that others later would, but by dismissing the attempt to understand by reason what he viewed as fundamentally a miraculous occurrence- ‘This is my body…. This is my blood’.

His third work, ‘The Freedom of a Christian’ tackled one of the fundamental issues of the theology of Grace. If nothing we can do affects our final fate, what is the point in being good? He argued that good works come naturally to the saved Christian, as an expression of gratitude and love to the God who saves them.

All strong stuff. Charles V, elected Holy Roman Emperor (aged 19) in the summer of 1519, felt something had to be done. Eventually, setting aside protests from the Pope, he exercised his own jurisdiction, and summoned Luther to a formal hearing at the Imperial Diet, in Worms. Again, Frederick the Wise was behind this. Luther was given a formal safe conduct to attend- and remember just what happened to Hus when he accepted such an offer! Luther arrived in April 1521, after a fairly triumphalist tour of Germany. He was confronted by a pile of his books, and asked if they were his. He confirmed it. Then he was asked if he recanted. And amazingly, he asked for a day to think about it! The following day, he gave his answer- some of his books, he said, were polemic against the papacy, but this reflected ‘the experience and complaint of all men’, and ‘if then, I revoke these books, all I shall achieve is to add strength to tyranny’. He explained that unless shown to be in error by plain reason, or from Scripture, he could recant nothing. It is here that we find the most famous words Luther never said, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.’ (“Here I stand. I can do no other.”)

Now it was Charles V’s turn to take a day to think about what to do. He issued an edict declaring Luther a heretic and condemning him. But he honoured the safe passage. Luther left for Saxony, and as soon as within Frederick’s territory, he was kidnapped.

Luther’s disappearance was something of a shock to all concerned, but essentially, he was taken by deniable means to Fredericks castle at the Wartburg, to live for a while in disguise as ‘Junker Jorg’. He spent his time translating the New Testament into High German.

But back in Wittenberg, things had not stood still. In autumn 1521, Karlstadt put into practice arguments which were certainly present in Luther’s writings. He preached against clerical celibacy, and the ritual of the Mass. On Christmas day, he presided at Eucharist in a normal gown, rather than vestments, and gave both bread and wine to the laity. The next day he got engaged to a 15 year old girl.  Over the next month or so, this drew more people into Wittenberg, including radicals from all over Europe, some rather more extreme than Luther, amongst others, would be comfortable with. Arguing that the bread and wine were just reminders of the sacrifice of Christ, and that every baptism in scripture involved a profession of faith- of which infants were incapable. These arguments found favour with Karlstadt, and he also argued for the destruction of religious art, which happened in January 1522.  Frederick was furious. Luther had to return from the Wartburg, rather to the relief of Philip Melancathon, the Professor of Greek, who had been trying to keep Karlstadt in check. Luther basically reversed a lot of Karlstadts reforms, and expelled the most radical. He had no problem with religious art. It had no power. It was ‘for a witness, for recognition, for remembrance, for a sign’. He also firmly stated that infant baptism was staying- not least for reasons of realpolitik! (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities”  Romans, 13:1). In support of this division, Luther and Melancathon came up with the ‘Two Kingdoms’ theory, in effect a restatement of Christ’s “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and unto God that which is Gods.”.

Meanwhile, in Zurich, another revolt against the Church was taking place. But unlike Luthers, which was based on an objection to theological matters, the Zurich reformation was based around objections to how the Church was being run. The peoples pastor of the Grossmunster, Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) had (he claimed) independently come to the conclusion, based on his Humanist education, and reading the works of St Augustine, around 1516, of the problems with the Churches policies. In spring 1522, he attended the Lenten meal of a Zurich printer and his 12 friends, who sat down to 2 sausages! Zwingli sat out the sausages, alone of the attendees, but when the story broke, he preached on why it was unnecessary to obey the Lenten restrictions, and published his sermon. Zwingli’s main point was that Lent was not in the Gospel- it was a rule of man, which might be obeyed, if desired, but if made compulsory, detracted attention from the commands of God. Soon after, Zwingli married, and in 1523, his supporters on the town council agreed to a series of disputation between Zwingli and the canons about his proposals for church reform. They didn’t acknowledge the right of the Council to do this, and failed to turn up, letting him win by default! Zurich’s churches were purged of images, and attention moved onto the Mass.  Was this a form of idolatry? In April 1525, the Mass was banned in Zurich by the Town Council! Instead, Zwingli argued that the communion was a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, and a sign of a communal membership of Christianity. So, what of Baptism? Luther had settled it basically by saying, ‘You just have to take this one on faith’. Luther had casually suggested a rather more persuasive argument, likening infant baptism to the circumcision of Israelite babies, which signified their covenant with God. Luther didn’t really develop this line, but Zwingli did, unfortunately not convincing everyone. In January 1525, a group of more radical spirits baptised each other, and broke bread and wine, and gave each other communion. This lead to another disputation, and in due course, to the execution (by drowning) of several of this group, now named ‘Anabaptists’ (rebaptisers).

At the same time, back in Saxony, religious houses had been being closed (and the funds sneakily absorbed by the State), resulting in a surfeit of ex-religiouses. Whilst most of the men could find occupations, this left the women. It was viewed then, as an act of charity, to marry them off, and arrangements were smoothly made. One aristocratic ex-nun, Katherina von Bora however indicated her displeasure with the choice suggested for her, and indicated that Dr Luther would do very nicely. They married in 1525. Luther continued developing his view of Grace, with a rather pessimistic view of mans capacity for self improvement, and this lead to his final break with Erasmus, and the latters statement that ‘I will put up with this Church, until I see a better one’.

So, how did these reformations take off, and why didn’t that of Wycliff. The main reason is the printing press. Luther was a prolific writer of books, but also of pamphlets, and hymns. This approach was widely popular, Argula von Grumbach (1492-1554) a south German noblewoman wrote a series of polemical letters and pamphlets calling people to the Evangelical cause.


All of this rather heated environment contributed to the ‘Peasants War’ in 1524-5, which Luther launched a diatribe against. He really did not want to lose the support of the Princes, and it shows. He was fortunate, however, that the advance of the Turks in the Balkans distracted Imperial attention at this vital period, as Princes started to join the Lutheran cause, starting rather surprisingly with the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who declared himself instead Duke of Prussia! Johann, Frederick’s successor as elector of Saxony, also declared himself an Evangelical, followed in 1526 by Landgraf Phillipp of Hesse, whose marital problems were, in some ways, a prefiguration of Henry VIII’s. This is not to say that everything went the Evangelical way. In Bohemia, the Hapsburgs enforced the persecution particularly of Anabaptists, and this lead to an increasing emphasis in that branch of reform that the Godly must try and separate themselves from the ungodly. They upped sticks, and some moved to Moravia, where as ‘Hutterites’ they found much in common with some of the more radical Hussites, where a number of bizarre ‘proto-communist’ settlements were constructed.

In 1529, another Imperial Diet met, this time at Speyer, and here at last is where the Evangelicals get the name by which they are now generally known. Whilst a Catholic majority passed a number of resolutions, there was sufficient Evangelical support to get a formal ‘Protestio’ on record. Those who signed up to the Protestio were… Protestants. Realising the problems that would attend the minority, Philipp of Hesse invited the leading Protestant Theologians to his family castle, for a discussion on the subject of their disagreements, to find some sort of consensus. Sadly things were essentially doomed when Luther chalked ‘This is my body’ in Latin on the table, covered it with the tablecloth and said nothing further. This point was an insurmountable barrier to the uniting of the two protestant faiths, but did permit Melancathon to publish the combination of where agreement had been made, and the Lutheran position on the Eucharist, as the ‘Augsburg Confession’, which defined to the public precisely what Lutheran belief was.

Perhaps at this point it was still viewed as not impossible for this all to blow over, but increasingly the threat of military action became a reality, and the ‘Protestant Princes’ drew up a baldly religious mutual defence treaty- the Schmalkaldic League, named after the small town in Germany it was signed.  Similarly, Zwingli drew together the Reformed cities of Switzerland and the upper Rhine into the Christian Civic Union and indeed fought a brief war against the Catholic cities of the Swiss cantons. This got Zwingli most of what he wanted- so the Swiss ‘mandated’ territories got to vote on an individual community level as to whether they would follow Catholicism or Reformed Protestantism. Unfortunately, the enemy of good is better, and Zurich imposed an economic blockade on some of the Catholic cities, and were then somewhat surprised to find an army marching upon them!

In the ensuing battle, Zwingli was killed. Luther, always a good holder of a grudge quoted, ‘Those who live by the sword, die by the sword’. But Zwingli’s work survived, largely due to his successor in Geneva, Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). His theology differed slightly from his predecessor, and it is tempting to speculate that had it been he at the meeting with Luther, and agreement might have been forged, for whilst Zwingli saw the Eucharist purely as a memorial- a ceremonial ‘knot in the handkerchief’, Bullinger felt that alongside this, God reached out spiritually to the worshippers- perhaps not out of the range of compromise with Luthers spiritual presence. He also developed the idea of the ‘Covenant’ with ‘Gods People’, advancing them beyond Zwingli’s sole use in regard to infant baptism. This was to be of relevance to Calvin, later in the Reformations.

Another intermediary figure (both figuratively and literally) was Martin Bucer (1491-1551), originally a Dominican friar, until meeting Luther. Until 1549 he worked largely in Strasbourg, but also as he had a greater emphasis on the Love of God, and a rather sunny view of the difficult characters who surrounded him, he was much used as an intermediary. He came to the view that as he fundamentally agreed on the subject of the Eucharist with both Zwingli and Luther, then it followed that they must be in agreement with each other, if they could only be led to see it. Following the Schmalkaldic war, he was obliged to sign up to the Augsburg interim in 1548 (see later), and in 1549, he was exiled to England, as Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, dying before the Marian counterreformation.

All of these reformers, however, worked alongside the relevant powers in their Principalities or States, and hence they are referred to as the ‘Magisterial Reformation’. The same is most emphatically not true of the Anabaptists. Where the Magisterial reformers and the Catholics were united on the ‘correct’ early history of the church, particularly the great Councils of the Early Church (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon), which were discussed at great length in my previous class, the Anabaptists increasingly felt that the alliance of the Church with the Empire of Constantine was a fundamental error, compromising the Church. This in turn led them away from the theology of St Augustine, to that of the pre-Concillar theologian Origen, which focused their thoughts back towards one of the major issues discussed at Nicea- the nature of Christ, and his position in the Trinity. Assuming the  orthodox position was not taken, there were two precisely opposed views they could take- Christ was entirely divine, and any signs of suffering or humanity were merely an illusion; or that Christ was entirely human, and it is blasphemous to worship him in the same way to God the Father- a resurgence of the Arian controversy. Followers of this line of thinking included Miguel Serveto a Spaniard of Jewish antecidents, who fled Catholic Spain, and was executed for heresy by Protestant Geneva. Ecumenical cooperation, indeed! Another example was Melchior Hoffmann who declared Strasbourg the New Jerusalem, rather to the displeasure of the city council, who locked him up in 1533. It is unclearly precisely when he died- perhaps a decade later, still waiting for a 2nd coming, but he probably lived to see the results of the ‘New Jerusalem’ when it came, not in Strasburg, but in the north German city of Munster, of which Anabaptists took control (via the city council) in 1534, ejecting the Prince-bishop, with Jan Matthiasjzoon as leader. He was killed in an ill advised sortie (with 12 followers), and Jan van Leiden took over leadership. Conditions inside the besieged city deteriorated to a horrifying degree, all goods were held in common, and polygamy made mandatory Finally, the city was betrayed after a 17 month siege (by both Catholic and Protestant lords), and Jan and his followers underwent exemplary executions. The pincers used, and the cages used to display the corpses can still be seen. Anabaptistry as a violent force was spent, but the pacifist remnants of it remained around the Low Countries as Mennonites, and other similar groups. And in due course, they retreated to the New World, where we know them best as Amish.

Royal reactions to this Imperial set of problems varied- Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) wrote a famous attack on Luther  Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments) which Leo X rewarded with the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1521, which British Monarchs still list amongst their titles. By 1532 the situation had changed somewhat for Henry- lacking a male heir, and convinced his wife could not bear a male heir, he sought an annulment of the marriage on the (to him) reasonable grounds that he’d married his brothers widow, and although a Papal dispensation had been granted, he argued that as it was expressly forbidden in the scriptures, no Papal word could permit it. Of course, the situation was also expressly commanded in the scriptures, but in this situation the position of the Pope as a near prisoner of Katherine’s nephew the Emperor was rather more pertinent. The result was the breach with Rome.

France initially tried tolerance… and indeed cynical political playing, allying themselves with the Schmalkaldic league, on the grounds that the Emperors problems were Frances benefit. Unfortunately public opinion did not permit this sort of knife edge to be walked, and a large number of protestants fled France, including most notably a young lawyer working in Paris, in 1533, who fled to Geneva. His name was Jean Calvin (1509-1564). In protestant Basel, he wrote the first edition of his incredibly influential work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, ‘Christianae Religionis Institutio’. Despite only 3 or 4 years of Reformed Protestantism, Calvins work already showed the pessimism which would characterise his approach- mankind could not feel anything other than shame on regarding themselves after contemplating God, and all mans efforts to redeem himself were doomed to failure. Part of the reason for this work was to distinguish ‘good’ Protestants from Anabaptists. In 1536, on his way from Basel to the Evangelical New Jerusalem of Strasburg, he was forced by war to divert by way of Geneva, where he got caught up in the reformation. It was not a success. In 1538 he clashed with the city authorities, and was firmly ejected in the direction of Strasburg. Once there, he had the opportunity of watching Bucer at work, and redraft his Institutes. In 1541, he had the satisfaction of being invited back to Geneva by the city authorities, who were worried about the increasing religious disorder, and saw in their austere (?calvinist!) guest the best chance of settling it down. And settle it down he did, although in a strict fashion, which drew out the logical, and terrible, end point of Luthers work on justification by Faith alone. If some were predestined to salvation, others must be predestined to damnation. This did not sit well with all in Geneva, or the wider Protestant community- Melancathon was drawing back from predestination, saying only that God ‘called’ the elect, and there is no mention of predestination in the Augsburg confession. But Calvin was assured in his view, in part by the disappointing uptake of Protestantism. As he states in later editions of the Institutio, ‘the covenant… is not preached equally amongst all men, and among those to whom it is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance.’

Gain acceptance though it did, in England, where, as Henry VIII died, and his son, Edward VI (1537-1553) came to the throne as a minor, educated by Reformed tutors, Archbishop Thomas Cramner (1489-1556) started moving the English Church away from a position which was broadly Lutheran in doctrine (although still hating Luther!), towards Calvinism. Unfortunately for him, in 1553, Edward died, and attempts to move the crown to the Protestant Gray family failed, with the accession of Mary I (reigned 1553-8). The counter-Reformation (Catholic Reformation) in England broadly echoed military victories which had been occurring in Germany, as Charles V smashed the Schmakaldic league, with war continuing until a compromise peace in Ausburg in 1555. Things were further compromised by massive Protestant uprisings in the Hapsburg lands in Hungary, and whilst these were defeated in time, in 1550, Charles was forced to concede to the Protestant Parliament of Moravia (which had not rebelled), a degree of toleration, which was to last through to 1618. The Augsburg compromise gave a new definition to German religion- cuius regio eius religio. Between Lutherism and Catholicism, the Prince defined what your official religion was (with varying degrees of tolerance for others).

From 1545 Catholicism had been undergoing its own Reformation, at the Council of Trent which was to run by fits and starts until 1563. Trentine doctrinal ‘clarifications’  included the statement that Divine Revelation came from two sources- scripture and tradition (in the keeping of the Church). It also rejected Luther (and the other protestant) beliefs about mans inability, saying ‘God does not demand the impossible’, and reaffirmed the identity of all seven sacraments.

The latter half of the century is traditionally defined in terms of the rivalry between the Spain of Phillip II (from 1556) and the England of Elizabeth I (from 1558), and the political aspects of religious stories have cast this also as ‘The victory of Anglicanism’- which Elizabeth set about re-establishing on Henrician lines after her position was secure. This misses an important question. If the first half of the century was the Emperor (and England) vs France, where now was France?

The answer is simple. Imploding. Whilst the Netherlands and England caused Protestant irritation for Catholic Spain, France was busy fighting the French. From 1563, France was racked by a series of bloody civil wars, with three distinct sides- the Hugenots (Reformed Protestants, occasionally aided by Elizabethan England, or Switzerland), The Crown, and the Catholic League, largely under the control of the de Guise family, and sometimes aided by Spain. From this point, until 1593, when the protestant Henri IV (1553-1610) finally decided that Paris was ‘worth a Mass’ there were 8 wars, with less than 10 years of peace, and the alliances and twists and turns are eye watering. Of especial note, however is the St Bartholemew’s day massacre of 1572, when the Crown connived at the attempted assassination of Admiral Coligny (1519-1572), one of the Hugeont leaders, in town for the wedding of Henri of Navarre (later Henri IV), which was designed as a moment of unity. When Coligny was initially only wounded, an attack on his house finished the job, and led to a widespread massacre of protestants in Paris and beyond- it is estimated that in total 5000 died in these attacks.

In summary, and to recap: The Reformations (Magisterial Protestant, Radical (Anabaptist) protestant, and Catholic) grew out of a return to circulation of old texts, and the development of new methods of their interpretation, and promulgated by the printing press. Their adoption, especially in France and Germany was patchy and piecemeal, and this would lead to extensive wars- in period in France, and not long post period in Germany. And these thoughts, and the actions which led from them, shaped and coloured the 16th century, and, I would argue, a lot of the world, all the way through to today.

Timeline of the Reformation (adapted from Marshal 2009)

1378-1417                            The Great Schism (2-3 Popes)

1384                                       John Wycliffe dies

1414-18                                 Council of Constance including

1415                                       Execution of Jan Hus and Hussite Revolt

1453                                       Fall of Constantinople to Turks

1456                                       Gutenberg Bible

1483                                       Luther Born

1484                                       Zwingli born

1492                                       Granada conquered. Jews expelled from Spain. Something to do with America

1505                                       Luther becomes Augustinian Friar

1509                                       Calvin born, Henry VIII comes to throne

1517                                       Luther posts 95 theses in Wittenberg

1519                                       Luther (and Karlstadt) dispute with Eck in Leipzig. Charles V elected Emperor.

1520                                       Luther excommunicated and burns Papal Bull

1521                                       Luther attends Diet of Worms. Kidnapped by Frederick the Wise

1522                                      Luthers translation of the New Testament. Zwingli presides over Lent Sausage meal in Zurich. Luther leaves Wartberg, and reverses Karlstadt’s innovations

1523                                      2 Augustinian friars burned in Brussels- first martyrs of the Reformation

1524                                      Luther and Walter produce first ‘protestant’ hymn book

1523-6                                  Zurich reformation

1524-5                                   Peasants War in Germany

1525                                      Luther marries Katharina von Bora. Erasmus & Luther divide over Free Will

1526                                      Turks victorious at Mohacs. Hungarian nobles wiped out. Tyndale’s English New Testament printed.

1527                                      First Anabaptists executed by reformers (Zurich). Gustav Vasa declares independence from Rome

1529                                      Diet of Speyer. Protestatio gives name to ‘Protestant’.  Luther and Zwingli meet at Marburg. Fail to agree over Eucharist.

1530                                      Augsburg confession

1531                                      Schmalkalden league. Zwingli dies in 2nd Swiss religious war.

1532-5                                  Henry VIII breaks with Rome

1534                                      Francis I cracks down on Protestants in France. Calvin flees. Ignatius Loyola founds Jesuits.

1534-5                                  Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster

1536                                      Calvin publishes ‘Instituitio’. Calvinist reformation in Geneva and Denmark. Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII

1540                                      Jesuits recognised by Pope

1545-7                                  1st session of Council of Trent

1546-7                                  Schmalkaldic war

1547                                      Death of Luther. Lutheran princes defeated at Muhlberg. Death of Henry VIII. Reformed Protestantism in England

1548                                      Augsburg Interim reimposes Catholocism in Empire

1551-2                                  2nd session of Trent

1553                                      Servetus burned in Geneva. Mary I restores Catholicism in England

1555                                      Peace of Augsburg. Cuius region, eius religio.

1558                                      Mary I dies, Elizabeth accedes

1559                                      Henry II of France dies. Calvinist National Synod in Paris. Papal index of forbidden books

1559-60                                Religious revolution in Scotland.

1562( intermit-1598)         Religious Civil Wars in France. Toleration in Poland

1562-3                                  3rd Session of Trent

1563                                      Frederick III establishes Calvinism in Palatinate. 1st edition of Book of Martyrs

1564                                      Calvin dies.

1566-7                                  Iconoclasm in Netherlands, followed by Dutch Revolt

1568                                      Mary Stuart flees to England. Morisco revolt in Spain.

1570                                      Pius V excommunicates Elizabeth I

1572                                      St Bartholomew’s day massacre

1589                                      Henri III of France assassinated (protestant) Henri IV becomes king.

1593                                      Henri IV converts to Catholicism

1598                                      Edict of Nantes





MacCulloch D (2004) Reformation: Europe’s House Divided. Penguin, London

If you only read one book on the reformations, this should be it.

Lindberg C (2011) The European Reformations. Wiley. London

Marshal P (2009) The Reformation: A very short introduction.

McGrath  AE (2011) Reformation Thought: An Introduction


So, a few years ago, I wrote this- a sort of Primer to Heretical and orthodox belief through the SCA period, prior to the Reformation(s). There are some things which I would now write differently, and probably will, at some point (perhaps for TI).

Heresy – a guide to the Perplexed By Don Antonio di Rienzo Ruspoli

To consider the differences between the Nicene and the Apostles Creeds (appendix 1) is, in some ways to consider the history of the first three centuries of Christian Theology. That one is about twice the length of the other speaks tellingly of the addition of extra information, and it is the clarification of these and similar later points of dogma which are the subject for this class.
What I will speak about in more detail is the various questions which have been asked over the 1600 years between Christ and the end of Period, and how the differing answers took people in different directions. This is not the Medieval Scholastic question about ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ (which they never really asked, and which Pratchett and Gaiman assure us the answer to is ‘one’ anyway), but vital questions regarding salvation, and damnation- not merely life and death, but like football, much more important than that.

I won’t really speak on the matter of the proceedings to try and punish heretics- the actions of Inquisitions and Church Courts is more than enough of a subject in its own right.

What I will also not be speaking about are the non-Christian religions of Europe- Judaism, Islam, and Paganism (still an official religion until the Christianisation of Lithuania in the 14th Century CE). For this reason, the Spanish Inquisition, mostly focused on Conversos (converted Jews) and Moriscos (converts from Islam), will not be appearing. Again, it is a subject in its own right. After some internal struggle (how appropriate) I have opted not to include the fusion religion Manichaeism itself, although some elements will appear later.

I also feel some degree of disclosure is appropriate in this sort of class. I am, and have been brought up as, a member of the Protestant Church of England, of a relatively High Church tradition, with an emphasis on questioning self-examination of what is believed, and why. I have attempted not to let any bias creep into my examination of the historical elements in either this class, or the reformation, but it is probably inevitable that some will do so, and I beg your pardon if at any point you detect any signs of sympathy with either an orthodox or a heretical position!

As a final point for this introduction, the subtitle is shamelessly stolen from the ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ of Maimonides, the great 12th century Sephardic Jewish Rabbi and Philosopher. This will bear no further direct part in our story, but his work was referenced by, for example, St Thomas Aquinas. It is, however, a cool title.

Before we really get started, I’d like to ask a few questions- answer as you think your persona would:
1) Can someone who has denied their faith to save their life be readmitted into the Christian Church?

2) Are the sacraments of the Church valid in and of themselves, or only if given by someone who is not himself a sinner?

3) Was there a time when God the Father was, but God the Son was not?

4) Is God the Son of the same substance as God the Father?

5) Was Christ solely wholly Divine?

6) Was Christ solely wholly human?

7) Was Christ a synthesis of human and divine?

8) If the world contains Evil, was it created directly by God?

9) Can the Devil be saved?

10) Can a man be saved by his own efforts?

11) Is mankind born sinful?

12) Does the Church carry Truths which are not to be found in Scripture?

13) Are the clergy different because of who they are, or because of the role they play?

14) Is there transubstantiation of the bread and wine during the Eucharist, and is Christ actually physically present?

15) Can a child be legitimately baptised given they cannot give affirmation of their acceptance of Christ?

Before we get onto the heresies proper, it’s worth noting that the Early Church was really bad at defining doctrine clearly. This is partly the effects of the synthesis of Greek Philosophy with a variant on Judaism, which did not entirely sit easily. Nor do the mass of testaments, epistles and other works make matter easier, since for many centuries, there was not clear agreement on what the correct books of the Bible were. This disagreement would resurface in the Reformation.

An example of an unusually influential early church thinker who did not become a saint was Origen (185-253 or 4 CE). He held that God is perfect, invisible, incorporeal, and transcending all things material. He is therefore incomprehensible to anyone material, and is beyond space and time. He permits himself to be limited by his own goodness, justice and wisdom, requiring himself to reveal himself to mankind. Origen held that the means of this revelation was the ‘Logos’ (the Word, who we will encounter later). To avoid Gnostic views, Origen stressed the unity of God, and put the Logos as subordinate, but still sharing the divinity of God (see Arius later). He also stressed the importance of examining Scripture in an allegorical sense, if a literal reading was impossible, absurd, or unworthy of God. By extension of the mercy and Grace of God, he held that all created beings, even the Devil, in time will be saved. Because of his influence on later heretics, his works were declared anathema in 543CE at the Synod of Constantinople. He would also appear in later works, although not by name, specifically he seems to have influenced Erasmus, in the 16th century.

Gnosticism refers to any one of a series of belief systems which may or may not relate to Christianity. In simplistic terms it argued that mankind are divine souls trapped in an imperfect physical world by a flawed or evil deity (the Demiurge), sometimes identified with the Abrahamic God, Yahweh. The most famous subgroups are Manichaeism (see appendix 4), and the Bogomils and Cathars, who will be discussed later. A variant of this Dualism were the Marcionites (about 144CE) who said that the God of the Old Testament was so very different to that of the New that they had to be different individuals. With this in mind, Marcion argued that only the New Testament need be followed and the Old discarded. The main effect this had was in galvanising Orthodox Christianity to start defining what the canonical books were.

The story of the major heresies kicks off with the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian (Emperor 284-305 CE). The Christian Church was persecuted, with a large number of people forced into the position of either denying their faith and handing over books, or potentially dying. This gives us our first two heresies.

Firstly, the followers of the Antipope Novatian (Novatianism) held that those who had denied their faith could not be readmitted into the Christian Church. Elected in Rome at the time of the election of Pope St Cornelius, who he felt was too lenient on apostates, he and his followers were excommunicated, partly for their denial of the authority of Cornelius, and partly for saying there were some sins which could not be forgiven by the Church, but only by God. Subsequently his followers extended this policy to other grave sins (murder, adultery, etc), and the heresy was still present in Alexandria around the year 600.

The Governor of North Africa at the time of Diocletian was relatively speaking leniently inclined, and was happy with Christians turning their books over as a formal renunciation. Whilst this saved their lives, they were then treated as traitors by the remainder of the community (Traditores). The question then arose: “Are the Sacraments of the Church valid in and of themselves, or only if given by someone virtuous?” This possibility leads to a situation where not merely might sacraments of the traditores be invalid, but also those given by any priest he had subsequently ordained. This position, held by a Berber bishop called Donatus Magnus (after whom the Heresy, Donatism is named) elevated in schism to a rival bishop who had been consecrated by a traditore lasted a long time, until the time of St Augustine of Hippo (end of 4th C, CE) a number of whose writings address the reason this heresy is false, but it was declared Heretical under Constantine, as one of the matters discussed at the Council of Nicea (325 CE). This rejection of ‘works’ or individual purity, but instead (as Augustine argued) relying on Grace as a means of redemption, formed part of the final argument against the Donatists, and it will be revisited in my class upon the Reformation.

Arianism is one of the greatest of the early heresies, and is worthy of consideration in more detail, since it was to resurface during the Reformation. Unfortunately, very little of Arius’ writings have survived to the present day, and so it is largely through fragments of his works, and the refutation and quotes from them in the writing of his opponents that we know them. This means that these factors should be treated with caution, since the majority of these quotes lack context, and we aren’t fully able to appreciate the details of his arguments. Arius (c250-336 CE) a presbyter in Alexandria in Egypt, raised the question of the nature of the son of God. If he is the son the argument goes, then there must have been a time before the son, and therefore Christ is created by the Father, and therefore in some nature, as a created being, subordinate to him. This is supported by John (14:28), “If you loved me you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Alright, this creation occurred before anything else was created, but nonetheless, Christ was a created being. Part of the argument for this is that in order to become human, a God would have to change, alter, learn, and indeed die. This is not consistent with the concept of a perfect God (since perfection cannot change, since it implies it was imperfect either to begin with, or after changing). Arius ties this concept to that of Logos, which is normally translated as ‘The Word’ (John 1:1), but it also implies the philosophical concept of an intermediary between spirit and physicality. Despite this link, however, it would be impossible for a created being (such as Christ) to know the mind of God.
The counterargument however also has scriptural support, most notably (later Saint) Athanasius of Alexandria pointed out: 1) No creature can redeem another creature 2) Arius says Jesus Christ is a creature 3) Therefore Arius says Jesus Christ cannot redeem humanity Of course, Arius did not deny Christ’s position as Redeemer, and the argument was about the logical coherence of his arguments. Additionally, if Christ was a creature, and we worship him (which again, Arius accepted was right) then Christianity was breaking a commandment by worshipping someone other than God.

The conflict between Arianism and Trinitarianism was the first great Heresy of the early period of Christianity, and indeed is of importance because it marks a beginning of the link between Church and State, as Constantine felt obliged to intervene to prevent the breakup of the Church, which he felt was important for the stability of his Empire, and on a more individual basis, for the support of God for his rule. Arius’ opinions were condemned as heresy in 325 at the Council of Nicaea, but he was exonerated in 335 at the Synod of Tyre, and then posthumously declared heretical again in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople. It is worth noting that Constantine’s original thinking appears to have been quite pro-Arian, and indeed, he permitted Arius to return from exile towards the end of both their lives. This link up of Church and State had important implications, of course, since the Imperial Writ ran only so far, and in areas outside the Emperors control Arian beliefs held sway- many of the Barbarian tribes who subsequently caused the fall of Rome were Arian in belief.

In passing, it is worth noting that although Constantine summoned all the Bishops of the Church to Nicea (approximately 1800) only 250 attended, but the vote was decisively against Arius, and a new creed was produced (see appendix 1) which firmly closed the door on Arianism (verye God of verye God…. beinge of one substance wyth the father).
In a similar way to Arianism, the Macedonians named after Macedosius of Constantinople argued that it was the Holy Ghost who was the created element of the Trinity, in this case, by the Son. It was this heresy which prompted ‘And I beleve in the holye Ghoste, The Lorde and gever of life, who procedeth from the father and the sonne, who with the father and the sonne together is worshipped and glorified’ in the Nicene Creed.

Pelagius (?born 350ish, flc390-418) was British and possibly a monk, of whom relatively little is known, including the years of his birth or death, due to the venom with which details of him were suppressed by his opponents. His heresy, Pelagianism (which probably is a synthesis of his teachings with those of his followers, Caelestius and Rufinus) was amongst other things a denial of Original sin being inherited. He claimed that mankind was born innocent, and had the capacity, through self-denial, and ascetic behaviour to live a sinless life. To deny this would be to suggest that God had created a ‘faulty’ creation. This put him into direct conflict with his contemporary St Augustine (354-430), who held that mankind was essentially sinful, and unable to affect its own salvation, relying instead on a gift of divine grace. Another difference between the positions of the two camps would be in regard to Free Will. Pelagianism argued that human beings are completely free in their actions, as an essential prerequisite for moral action and spiritual renewal. From this, the main purpose of Christ was as a teacher and example. In contrast, Augustine held that whilst mankind had free will, it was limited by mankinds trend to sin, following the Fall. For Augustine, Christ is the ‘divine physician’ by whose ‘wounds we are healed’. Pelagius also argued that only the morally upright could be allowed to enter the church (see also Donatism).

Pelagius moved in c380 to Rome, where his Theology became more widely known. Around 405 he is said to have encountered a quote from Augustine’s Confessions which concerned him (implying a lack of human free will). The two entered a dispute on theology, of which only Augustine’s side survives (although a few of Pelagius’ works have survived, such as his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans). When Alaric sacked Rome in 410, Pelagius and his disciples fled to North Africa., and from there to Palestine, where St Jerome joined in the debate on St Augustine’s side. Again, Jerome’s writings survive, whilst Pelagius’ don’t. He was brought before a synod at Diospolis, where he defended his own teachings, whilst disowning some of the more extreme views of his disciple Celestius, and was judged not to be a heretic. After his acquittal, he wrote two major treatises, now lost, ‘On Nature’, and ‘Defence of the Freedom of the Will’, where he appears to have defended his position, and indeed accused Augustine of elevating evil to the same level of God (perhaps a reference to Augustine’s own past as a Manichaeist- appendix 3), and by stressing the evil of what man cannot help doing, implying a level of pagan fatalism and predestination, which would resurface in the reformation. One of the only writings in Pelagius’ own hand is his Epistle ad Demetria, explaining the ability of mankind to live a virtuous life, to an aristocratic Roman Lady considering a religious life.

“We cry out at God and say, ‘This is too hard! This is too difficult! We cannot do it! We are only human, and hindered by the weakness of the flesh!’ What blind madness! What blatant presumption! By doing this, we accuse the God of knowledge of a twofold ignorance- ignorance of his own creation and of his own commands…. God has not willed to command anything impossible, for God is righteous; and will not condemn anyone for what they could not help”.

The survival of this piece is due to its long attribution to his contemporary and enemy, Jerome. He was excommunicated in 418, and no more of him is heard after his settling in Egypt, and he was declared heretic in 431 by the First Council of Epheseus.

A development of his thoughts state that whilst man is incapable of achieving his own salvation without the Grace of God, he can make a first step in that direction unaided, which is then supported and aided by Grace, to achieve salvation. This belief, termed Semi-Pelagianism arose in Gaul as an attempted compromise between Pelagianism and Augustinism around 428, and was itself declared heretical in 529. The term itself was not used until 1577, as, once again, a heretical doctrine of the Early Church arose .

The First Council of Ephesus (431 CE) also condemned the beliefs of the Patriarch of Constantinople (428-31), Nestorius (c386-450), although the Assyrian Church never followed suit, leading them to be labelled as the Nestorian Church. Nestorian belief was tied into the divergent nature of Christ. He attempted to steer a middle way between those stressing the human nature of Christ, and the divine nature. Specifically he objected to the Virgin Mary being labelled as Theotokos ‘God Bearer’, feeling this elevated her to a Goddess like position. Nestorius did not believe that a union between man and god natures could occur, since in that instance Christ would suffer, grow old, and die, which God could not do. His opponents accused him of separating Christ into 2 people in a single body, which denied the Incarnation.

In contrast, Appollinarianism argued that Christ merely had a human body and lower soul (emotions), but a divine mind. Meanwhile the Monophysites argued that Christ had only one nature, and it was divine. And taking this further, the Docetisites argued that the crucifixion was an illusion, as was Jesus’ body, and that in reality as an incorporeal being, could not die (a belief taken up by the Cathars). At the other extreme, Ebionnites whilst accepting Jesus as the Messiah, refuted any identification of him as divine. It is arguable whether this constitutes a heresy or a completely different religion, or a sect of Judaism. In anycase, they continued in small numbers, possibly as far as the 12th century.

Nestorianism and Monophysitism (Appollinarianism having been declared heretical in 381) were revisited at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when Nestorius’ last supporters accepted his heresy in the face of a new definition (see appendix 2) of the nature of Christ, which also declared Monophysitism Heretical.

The Chalcedon Definition (Appendix 2) stated that Christ was both entirely Man and entirely God. This was not accepted by everyone. Nestorianism persisted in central Asia, whilst Monophysites remained in the Coptic and Ethiopian churches.

Iconoclasts arose in the late 7th century, and essentially entirely in the Eastern Church. The argument here is that Icons (or images in general) diverted worship from God (or whatever the image symbolised), to the image itself. They therefore argued for banning images of religious people, or even of Christ himself. Did this relate to Islam (which bans pictoral depiction of holy people)? Perhaps, but this could have arisen without the influence of Islam, and was often driven by the Emperors. This heresy dragged on for about 150 years, until 843, when the Empress Theodora brought Icons back in. Again, this heresy would rear its head up again in the 16th and especially 17th centuries.

The Bogomil heresy arose in what is now Bulgaria or Macedonia, led by the priest Bogomil in the 10th century. They called for a return to early Christianity, and emphasised the primacy of councils of the Church, rejecting Church Hierarchies. They were also Gnostic Dualists, believing that the world was not created by the Abrahamic God (who they viewed as good), but by the Devil. This may represent a development of the Armenian Paulicianism heresy of the 7th century, which held similar beliefs, along with possibly the belief in Adoptionism– that Christ was only adopted as the Son of God. It is unclear if there was a direct link between Bogomilism and Cathar beliefs. Bogomilism was eradicated in Bulgaria and Byzantium in the 13th century, but held on in Bosnia and Hertzegovnia until the Ottoman conquest.

Catharism (from the Greek, Katharoi, Pure) arose in Occitan between the 12th and 14th centuries. A dualist sect, resembling Paulicianism and Bogomilism, it also differed from orthodox Catholicism by having only one sacrament, the Consolomentum, which removed all sin, and was usually performed near death. Specifically they rejected the Eucharist. Additionally, some authors have accused them of Arianism. Their ‘priestly’ individuals, the Perfecti abjured from killing (including eating meat, although not always fish), war, capital punishment, the taking of oaths, and marriage- or at least heterosexual sex, with its possibility of producing more material creation. Their opponents labelled them as sodomites as a result.

The results of this rather sad story are well known. The Pope, Innocent III attempted to defuse the situation diplomatically, but unfortunately in 1208, his legate, Pierre de Castelnau was assassinated, possibly at the behest of Raymond, Count of Toulouse, resulting in Raymond’s (first) excommunication, and the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade, which is a hugely depressing topic, in which Innocent III offered lands in the Languedoc to any French nobleman who crusaded. This resulted in marked crusader successes, including the massacre of the entire population of the town of Beziers. After revolts, an Inquisition was established. Whilst many ordinary followers would recant (and under Inquisitorial justice, be saved), most Perfecti would not, and would be burned at the stake. Military action finally ceased in 1255.

Lollardry (mumbling) arose in England in the late 13th century, based around the teachings of John Wycliffe (c1320-1384), an Oxford Don and clergyman, who pointed out a number of issues with the contemporary Church. Specifically he pointed out the disparity between the poverty enjoined by Christ, and the riches of the Church. He also attacked the collection of annates and indulgences, and the involvement of the clergy in temporal politics. In these issues, it suited the Regent, John of Gaunt, to protect him, since he was attacking Gaunts opponents, and arguing for a return to early church poverty. He believed in a ‘hidden Church’ of the predestined saved, compared to the visible Chuch, of both saved and damned.

His main contribution however was drawn from his disillusionment with the tradition of the Church as handed down. In order to guide the ordinary man in his understanding, Wycliffe felt that the Bible had to be available in the vernacular. He started a translation of the Bible into English, a project which was not completed before his exile from Oxford to his country rectory, but which was completed, possibly also by his followers, before his death. Other Lollards condemned other issues, such as Transubstantiation, the veneration of relics, clerical celibacy, and capital punishment. As one of the leaders of the Peasants Revolt (1381) John Ball, preached Lollardry, serious repression started after this point (although Wycliffe and other prominent members who had condemned the revolted were still protected by their patrons). Henry IV outlawed the possession of translated Bibles in 1401, and the first execution occurred in 1410- the first layman executed in England for Heresy. Lollardry went underground, but at least some of the Bibles have survived, and despite occasional executions, it survived to be absorbed by the English Reformation.

Lollardry did have a slightly unusual offspring, however. In 1382 Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Emperor Charles IV married King Richard II of England. The connections she brought between England and Prague resulted in the works of Wycliffe becoming known in Bohemia. They came to the attention of a Czech academic called Jan Hus, (c1369-1415), who was strongly influenced, and began to attack moral failings within the clergy, and call for reform of the church. In 1409, Antipope Alexander V excommunicated Hus. In 1411, the discussion moved to indulgences, which I will speak of in more detail in my class on the Reformation. To try and put an end to the schism in the Church, Sigismund of Hungary (King of the Romans), called a Council of the Church at Constance in 1414. Hus was offered safe passage, and was also keen to bring an end to dispute, and attended. Unfortunately the prelates did not honour the safe conduct, and on June 5th 1415 he was put on trial for heresy. Offered the chance to recant, he explained he would do so if he could be shown their error in scripture, and he was duly executed on 6th July 1415.

Reacting in horror to this, the followers of Hus moved further away from Papal obedience, triggering a crusade against them. Which lost. As did a 2nd and 3rd. A century later, 90% of Czech crown lands were still following Hussite teachings. The movement split into sections of which the most numerous was the Utraquist (‘in both kinds’) who taught that both bread and wine must be given to all communicants, and who eventually reunited with the Holy See, and defeated the more radical Hussites in 1434 at Lipany. More radical sects include the Adamites who rejected all individual property, and moved to an island in the Nežárka river, where they lived communually, practicing nudity and free love until they were exterminated by other Hussites, the Taborites who believed in an abolition of social rank and were defeated at Lipany, and the Orphans, who were again on the radical wing.

Which brings us to Erasmus of Rotterdam. Never condemned as a heretic in his own lifetime, but with his writings posthumously condemned, he is, in some measure, the beginning of the avalanche which was the Reformation. He translated the Bible, not from the Vulgate Latin to English, as had Wycliffe, but from the oldest and best Greek versions he could find, into Latin, and noticed situations where St Jerome had got it wrong. John the Baptist, for example does not say ‘Go and do penance!’, he says, ‘Turn again’, or ‘Repent!’. And this attacked the whole Theological basis of the settled Western Catholic Church’s system of purgatory and penance. But that really is a subject for another day.

Appendix 1: Text of Creeds

Apostles Creed (1559 Prayer Book version) IBELEVE in God the father almightie maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ hys onely sonne our Lorde, which was conceived by the holy ghoste, borne of the Virgen Mary. Suffred under Ponce Pylate, was crucified dead and buried, he descended into Helle. The thirde daye he rose agayn from the deade. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the ryghte hande of God the Father almightie. From thence he shall come to judge the quicke and the deade. I beleve in the holy Ghoste. The holy Catholique Churche. The communion of sainctes. The forgevenesse of sinnes. The resurrection of the body. And the life everlasting. Amen.

Nicene Creed (1559 Prayer Book version) IBELEVE in one God, the father almighty maker of heaven and earthe, and of all thynges visible and invisible: And in one Lorde Jesu Christe, the onely begotten sonne of GOD, begotten of his father before al worldes, god of God, lyghte of lyghte, verye God of verye God, gotten, not made, beynge of one substance wyth the father, by whome all thinges were made, who for us men, and for our salvacion came doune from heaven, and was incarnate by the holy Ghoste, of the Virgine Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us, under poncius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the thyrde day he rose againe accordinge to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hande of the father. And he shal come againe with glory, to judge both the quicke and the deade, whose Kyngdome shall have none ende. And I beleve in the holye Ghoste, The Lorde and gever of life, who procedeth from the father and the sonne, who with the father and the sonne together is worshipped and glorified who spake by the Prophetes. And I beleve one catholicke and Apostolicke Churche. I acknowledge one Baptisme, for the remission of synnes. And I loke for the resurreccion of the dead : and the lyfe of the worlde to come. Amen.

Appendix 2: The Chalcedon Definition

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Appendix 3: Questions and Heresies

The orthodox answer for Catholicism will be given in italics, the relevant heresies in bold

1) Can someone who has denied their faith to save their life be readmitted into the Christian Church? Yes. Novatinism:

2) Are the sacraments of the Church valid in and of themselves, or only if given by someone who is not himself a sinner? Of themselves Donatism

3) Was there a time when God the Father was, but God the Son was not? No. Arianism

4) Is God the Son of the same substance as God the Father? Yes Arianism

5) Was Christ solely wholly Divine? No Docetism, Monophysites

6) Was Christ solely wholly human? No Ebionitism

7) Was Christ a synthesis of human and divine? No Appollinarianism, Nestorianism

8) If the world contains Evil, was it created directly by God? Yes Gnosticism

9) Can the Devil be saved? No Origenism

10) Can a man be saved by his own efforts? No Pelagianism

11) Is mankind born sinful? Yes Pelagianism

12) Does the Church carry Truths which are not to be found in Scripture? Yes Reformed Protestantism

13) Are the clergy different because of who they are, or because of the role they play? Because of who they are Reformed and Lutheran Protestantism

14) Is there transubstantiation of the bread and wine during the Eucharist, and is Christ actually physically present? Yes Reformed Protestantism

15) Can a child be legitimately baptised given they cannot give affirmation of their acceptance of Christ? Yes Anabaptistry

Appendix 4: Manichaeism

Not strictly a heresy, as it is not automatically related to Christianity, it is the classic Dualist theology, stating that there are two divinities, an evil creator and smiter and judge God, which is usually identified as the Old Testament Jewish God, and a benign true God, whose presence according to some versions was revealed by Christ, but who is not identical with Christ, although Christ shares in some of the elements of the divinity.

Manichaeism is the following of Mani, born in Mesopotamia in 216 or 217 CE, he was executed in 274 (or 277) CE by the King of Persia. In the intervening time he began preaching, from an early age, describing himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, but he believed the teachings of Jesus, Buddha and Zoroaster were incomplete, and he was there to complete the job.

It is a Gnostic belief system, with a series of versions of reality available to those who gain enlightenment, gradually revealing the ‘true’ spiritual nature of all things. It also stated initially there were two separate creations, of good and evil worlds, which coalesced into our world (after a further 2 creations and a war.) It held that the eternal struggle between good and evil was continuing within each individual. St Augustine was a follower of this religion before his conversion.


The Catholic Bridge has a helpful list of heresies:

The Catholic Encyclopaedia has some more information about Origen:

Dictionary of National Biography gives a biography of Pelagius:

Lindberg C (2010) The European Reformations, 2nd ed. Wiley, Chichester

MacCulloch D (2009) Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Penguin, London

MacCulloch D (2004) Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, Penguin, London

McGrath A (2009) Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. Harper Collins, London

McGrath AE (2012) Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 4th edition. Wiley, Chichester

Williams R (2001) Arius: Heresy and Tradition. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids

Yale Online: The Early Middle ages 284-1000