John Bale (1495-1563)


Life
b. 21 Nov., Cove, nr. Dunwich, Norfolk [var. Suffolk], ed. Carmelite convent; Jesus Coll., Oxford; converted by preaching of Lord Wentworth; revoked monastic vows; married a woman called Dorothy on the Pauline precept (‘He who cannot contain, marry’); called before archbishop for anti-Roman sermon at Doncaster, 1534; Kynge Johan (1538), regarded as the earliest historical drama in English; contains historical characters such as King John, Stephen Langton, Cardinal Pandolphus and the the Pope [Clement VII]; poss. first acted at St Stephen’s, Canterbury, and revived at Ipswich, 1561;
 
Bale enjoyed the protection of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex; m. ‘faithful Dorothy’, 1537; fled Cromwell’s at execution, 1540; resided in Germany, 1540-47, and wrote lives of Protestant martyrs such as Oldcastle and Anne Askewe, incl. that of William Thorpe attributed by Foxe to Tyndall, et al.; also The Image of Both Churches after the most Wonderful and Heavenly Revelation of Sainct Johan (1550), considered vigorous but immoderate; returned at accession of Edward VI; rector of Swaffham, Norfolk, 1551; met Edward at Southampton, 1552; appt. Bishop of Ossory, leaving for Ireland Dec. 1552;
 
consecrated Bishop of Ossory amid controversy caused by his refusal of the Roman rite at his consecration, demanding a Bible in place of the crozier, 2 Feb., 1553, Dublin; issued “The Vocation of John Bale to the Bishopric of Ossory in Ireland” (Harleian Miscellany, VI; publ. 1808-10); sought to suppress ‘idolatry’ [i.e., Catholicism] in Ireland and caused dissension with ‘slaughter’ in Kilkenny; fled to Dublin at accession of Queen Mary; fled to continent; captured by Dutch and imprisoned at St Ives; imprisoned at Dover; captured by Dutch again, pays £300; settles in Basel at accession of Elizabeth, 1558; does not take up position in Kilkenny; d. as prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral;
 
his works include translation of Kirchmayer’s Pamachius, filled with course and incessant abuse of priests and popery; Bale first listed as Irish writer by Sir James Ware (De Scriptoribus Hiberniae Libri Duo [2 vols.] (Dublin 1639; trans. edn., Harris 1739); the plays were edited by John S. Farmer as The Dramatic Works of John Bale (Early English Plays Ser. 1907); Bale is the subject of a novel by John Arden (John Bale, 1988). ODNB OCEL OXTH OCIL WJM

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Works
Older Editions
  • Illustrium Majoris Britanniae Scriptorum in quinque centurias divisum ([Wesel] 1548) [continued 1557-59, indebted to John Leland’s Collectanea and Commentarii];
  • King John [Kynge Johan, 1538] (Camden Society [printed by Collier] 1838);
  • Three Laws of Nature, New Comedy and Interlude Concerning the Three Laws of Nature, Moises, and Christ, Corrupted by the Sodomites, Pharisees, and Papists (1538; rep. London 1562);
  • A Tragedy or Interlude Manifesting the Promises of God unto Man by All Ages in the Old Lawe from the Fall of Adam to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (1538), and Do., rep. in Old Plays (London: Robert Dodsley 1744 & edns.; rep. [ed. W. Carew Hazlitt] 1874-76; facs. rep. NY: Benjamin Blom 1964);
  • Acta Romanorum Pontificum usque ad tempora Paulo IV (Basel 1538; Frankfurt 1567; Leiden 1615); Yet a Course at the Romish Fox (Zurich 1543);
  • A Mystery of Iniquity, Contained Within the Heretical Genealogy of Prince Pantolabus is here both Disclosed and Confuted (Geneva 1545);
  • ‘The Vocation of John Bale to the Bishopric of Ossory in Ireland’ [1553], in The Harleian Miscellany, VI (10 vols., London 1808-10);
  • The Apology of John [Johan] Bale against a Rank Papist (1555);
  • The Image of Both Churches, after The Most Wonderfull and Heauenly Reuelation of Sainct Iohn The Euangelist, Contayning a Very Fruitfull Exposition or Paraphrase vpon the Same [... &c.] [compyled by Iohn Bale] 3 pts. (London: Thomas East [1570]) 8°.;
  • The Pageant of the Popes, Containing the Lives of all the Bishops of Rome from the Beginning to the Year 1555, Englished by J[ohn] S[tudley] (London 1574);
  • Select Works (London: Parker Society 1849), with pref. biog. by Rev. H. Christmas.
Modern Reprints
  • The Collected Plays of John Bale [facs. rep. of John S. Farmered., Select Plays, 1907] (Guildford: Charles W. Traylen 1966), 347pp., containing “A comedy concerning the Three Laws of Nature, Moses, and Christ”; “Tragedy or Interlude [of] the Chief Promises of God unto Man”; “John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness”; “The Temptation of Our Lord”; “John, King of England”; “A Note on the Tragedy of David and Absolom” [British Library, Stowe MS 957]; also Notebook and Word List, with engraved port. and facs. title of “The Lawes [... &c]” ANNO DOMINI M.D.XXXVIII [1538].
Bibliography (incl. in)
  • Charles Henry Cooper Athenae Cambrigenses (1858-61), Vol. I, pp.23-30, listing 90 titles, many anonymous;
  • Thomas Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica; sive de scriptoribus qui in Anglia, Scotia et Hiberniae (London 1748).

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Criticism
  • George Saintsbury, A Short History of English Literature. (London: Macmillan & Co.; NY: St. Martin’s Press 1963), p.227 [see extract];
  • Paul Hadfield, [on Bale’s Irish Vocacyon], in Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict, 1534-1600, ed. Brendan Bradshaw, Hadfield & Willie Maley (Cambridge UP 1994);
  • Peter Happe, John Bale (NY: Simon & Schuster 1996), 174pp.;
  • John McCafferty, ‘St Patrick for the Church of Ireland: James Ussher’s Discourse’, in Irish Studies Review (April 1998), p.89.
 

See also Eamon Duffy, The Stripping Of The Altars: Traditional Religion In England 1400-1580 (Yale UP 1992) [infra]; John McCafferty, ‘St Patrick for the Church of Ireland: James Ussher’s Discourse’, in Irish Studies Review, April 1998) [infra]; Katherine Walsh [on Bishop Bale] in Vincent Carey & Ute Lotz-Heumann, eds., Taking Sides? Colonial and Confessional Mentalités in Early Modern Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2003) [q.pp.], and Andrew Hadfield, Shakespeare, Spenser and the Matter of Britain (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2005) [chapter on Bale’s Vocacyon].

 

There is a fictional account of Bale’s time in Ireland in John Arden, John Bale (London: Methuen 1988), “I Am of Ireland”, pp.398-449 [see under Notes, infra].

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Commentary
George Saintsbury (Short History of English Literature, Macmillan & Co. 1963), credits Bale with the first historical play, and remarks that his his polemical intention was ‘to advance the cause of the Reformation by exhibiting the patriotic objection to the power of the Pope [though without] much dramatic grasp’; Further: ‘his treatment of personifications [viz., Stephen Langton, Cardinal Pandulph, Pope; Wealth; Power Dissimulation) is a thing which, whether definitely intended or not, is of the widest reach and suggestion.’ In a note, below, Saintsbury adds a potted biography, and calls him ‘a not very bright example of a Reformer in all ways, [who] wrote a good deal, incl. a bibliogrpahy of English literature and no less than twenty-two plays [...]’ (Saintsbury, p.227.)

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Eamon Duffy (The Stripping Of The Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, Yale 1992), remarks that Bale saw the Reformation as a providential and widely welcomed escape from the usurping despotism of the medieval papacy, in The Image Of Both Churches [ … &c] (cited by reviewer.)

John McCafferty (‘St Patrick for the Church of Ireland: James Ussher’s Discourse’, in Irish Studies Review, April 1998), remarks of that, ‘sometime bishop of Ossory’ that he ‘honed the Protestant scheme of history developed on the Continent, according to which the Church of Christ has progressively degenerated, and by John Foxe in his massively popular and influential Acts and Monuments’. (McCafferty, p.89.)

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John Arden, “I Am of Ireland”, in John Bale [Chap. VI]:
‘Bale wrote his own account of his time in Kilkenny. He published it from his place of second exile, when Catholic Mary was Queen. He called it The Vocation of John Bale to the Bishopric of Ossory, &c.., and shaped it like a sermon, full of comparisons between himself and Saint Paul, and many justifications of all that he did and hoped for, with analogous scriptural texts to prove him right.
 He had a frontispiece engraved. This picture, made exactly to his orders, showed the “English Christian” confronted, very dangerously, by the threatening “Irish Papists”. It was like a scene from the sort of stage-play he had witnessed, indeed written and acted, so many times. … The “English Christian” is shown with a pious sorrowful face, head devoutly on one side, hands meekly folded in pacifistic supplication. A gentle little lamb rubbing itself softly against his leg, confidant of protection. On his head is a soft bonnet. The “Irish Papist”, on the other hand, comes striding forward drawing a falchion, his face tilted angrily upwards, aggressive moustachios, a fierce banditto hat; and at this command a savage dog hungering to tear the tripes of both the lamb and its kind guardian.
 The drawing give little hope that the Englishman will be able to save himself, short of a miracle. [… &c.] (p.399.).
[...]
 ‘Did he hate the Irish primarily because of their religion, or because they were not English? Probably in his own mind the distinction was not unclear. Catholic Irish were an enemy. Protestant Irish (had there been any) would likewise have been an enemy, their religion would have been hypocritical and would only have made them worse. For that was the way he found Ireland, the short time he lived amongst its people: and he never looked beyond it.’ (Ibid., p.399.)
[...]
 For the remainder, Bale entrusts the Irish narrative to Anthony Munday, who masqueraded in Rome and ‘Mr. Oaktree', and conversed with Proinsias Dubh Ó Dálaigh, a member of the Irish poet family from Co. Clare, who gives him an account of Bale which is translated into ‘a mixture of Latin and ungainly English' by one Brother Declan [Deaglán]. When Ó Bale suggests that if Dálaigh were not ‘shut up in [his] dark language', he might read the Scriptures, Ó Dálaigh responds: “Are Christ and the Saints so fuck-stupid they never laid hold on the Gaelic? By God, if not them fuck-stupid, then you!” (p.406).
[...]
 In this narrative, Ó Dálaigh offers the view that the ‘new guise’ of Protestantism might indeed save Ireland from its dissensions. There is also play upon Bale’s name:’For we called him Balla, which, tell him, Brother, is the Irish word for a wall: hard, blind, unyielding, to keep men out, to keep men in … Seánán an Balla … oh, Johnny the Wall.’ (p.412) - not overlooking the fact that Bale means ‘harm’ in English (idem.)
[...]
[Arden supplies Sir Francis Walsingham’s reflections on the narrative of Bale as supplied to Anthony by Prionsias Dubh Ó Dálaigh:
 ‘D[uke] of N[orthumberland]’s plots on Monday were never his scheme for Tuesday, and by Wednesday he’d reconstitute the full admixture all over again. But poor J. B., scapegoat every good day of the week. No less of a dandled doll than J. Gray herself. I’d have thought Black F. [for Prionsais/Francis] might ha’ seen it? But Irish subtlety only sees a selection of English ditto. In the end, I think, our treachery must always o’ermaster theirs. Why? because we are masters. All they can ever do is aspire. As is proven. (p.445.)
[...]
[Arden’s closes with account of the massacre of Smerick, in which he holds the Prionsias Ó Dálaigh was killed along with the others:]
‘Monday thought it not probable he would have been rare, in the frenzy of the massacre, how two English poets were immediately responsible for it - Edmund Spenser, the Lord Deputy’s secretary, who drafted the orders; and Captain Walter Ralegh, in charge of the execution-squad. Nor were they likely to know who Ó Dálaigh was. had they known, they would no doubt have segregated him with the garrison’s papist priests for torture as well as death. Irish poets were held to be worse than the Queen’s worst enemies, because of their skill in firing-up courage. / The atrocity in itself only escalated the rebellion’ (p.446).
 
Note: The chapter ends with a recitation of ‘The Long-legged Queen’ by Prionsias himself at Wapping, and its memorisation in English by Munday’s mistress, from whom he is soon to part. (p.398-449.) In an earlier section (Book II), Arden gives an account of the Fitzgerald Rebellion of Silken Thomas, in which an English prelate is murdered in Dublin; ‘Wentworth said the King had hoped for that prelate to introduce the new ecclesiastical legislation [...] but now all was spoiled. … Papal excommunication of the King of England was rumoured: if it took place, an international crusade could theoretically be levied - and Irish rebels would include themselves in it./Which meant the Butlers as well as the Fitzgeralds, the native Ersemen as well as the Butlers; and a Franco-German-Spanish-Italian army could set foot on the beaches of Cork.’ (p.184.)

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Quotations
Promise, ‘If profit may grow, most Christian audience/By knowledge of things which are not transistor/And here for a time, of much more congruence/Advantage might spring by a search of causes heavenly/As these matters are that the Gospels specify’. (The play begins with an account of Creation by Pater Coelistis: ‘In me and my Son sempereternal ...’.)

The Temptation of Our Lord, ‘Follow Christ alone, for he is the true shepherd;/The voice of strangers do never more regard.’/ [Final lines.]

The Vocacyon of Johan Bale (1553), ‘Anon after ther harvestes are ended there/the Ke[r]nes, the Gallowglasses;and the other brecheless souldiers’/with horses and their horsegromes/sumtimes. iij. waitinge upon one iade enter into the villages with much crueltie and fearenesse/they continue there in great rauine and spoyle/and whan they go thens/they leave nothing else behinde them for payment/but lice lecherye/and intolerable penurie for all the year after.’ (Vocacyon, f. 46v.) [cited in R. Gottfried, Spenser’s Prose Works, Variorum Edn., Baltimore 1945, Vol. 10, where Gottfried remarks that Bale’s description of soldiers serves to represent many similar passages in Elizabethan writers.]

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References
W. Carew Hazlitt, in his 1874-76 edn. of Robert Dodsley’s Old Plays [1744], used a copy from the library of David Garrick with a torn title-page affording no date. A biographical note in this edition has it that at Kilkenny Bale ‘underwent a variety of persecutions from the Popish party in Ireland which at length compelled him to leave his diocese and conceal himself in Dublin’. A full account of his trials among the English and the Dutch follows. The edition cites as principal works his Scriptorum illustrium majoris Brutaniae quam nun Angliam et Scotiam vocant Catalogus, a Japheto per 3618 annos usque annum hunc domini 1557, prev. printed imperfectly at Wesel as Illustrium Majoris Britaniae [sic] Scriptorum hoc est Angliae, Cambraise, et Scotiae, Summarium (Wesel 1549), and republished with final additions as Illustrium [… &c] (Basel: Oporinus 1559). See Hazlitt, ed., Dodsley’s Old Plays [1744] (4th edn. 1874-76; facs. rep. NY: Benjamin Blom 1964).

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Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed. Margaret Drabble), calls King John the first English history play bridging between the morality and the history-play proper. See also John Arden’s novel, The Book of Bale (1988), a study of rabid anti-Catholicism. [Short ODNB, bishop of Ossory, &c.; religious plays, history of English [sic] writers, and controversial works of great bitterness.]

Dictionary of National Biography cites Bale as being Bishop of Ossory, &c.; author of religious plays, history of English [sic] writers, and controversial works of great bitterness.

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Notes
Robert Bale (d.1503), a Carmelite friar of Norfolk and possibly a kinsman of John Bale wrote Annales Ordinis Carmelitarum.

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