Penry, John (DNB00)

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PENRY, JOHN (1559–1593), puritan and chief author of the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts, born in 1559 in Brecknockshire, was son of Meredith Penry of Cefn Brith in Llangamarch, the surname originally being ap-Henry. John matriculated as a pensioner at Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 3 Dec. 1580. At the time he is said by his enemies to have held Roman catholic opinions, but he read, while at the university, the works of Bishop Bale and Cartwright, and soon adopted puritanism in its most extreme calvinistic form. In 1583–4 he graduated B.A. Subsequently he became commoner of St. Alban Hall, Oxford, and proceeded M.A. on 11 July 1586. His principles, he declared in later life, did not permit him to take either deacon's or priest's orders, although both were offered him. None the less he preached both at Oxford and Cambridge, and his sermons were described as edifying (Wood). Travelling in Wales, he preached publicly in Welsh with rousing ardour, mainly in the open air, and was deeply impressed by the spiritual destitution of his native country, which he attributed to the non-residence and incompetency of the clergy. In order to call the attention of the parliament which sat from 28 Oct. till 2 Dec. 1586 to the ecclesiastical condition of the Principality, he hastily wrote out, and published at Oxford (through Joseph Barnes) very early in 1587 ‘A Treatise addressed to the Queen and Parliament containing the Aequity of an Humble Supplication in the behalfe of the countrey of Wales, that some order may be taken for the preaching of the Gospel among those people. Wherein is also set downe as much of the estate of our people as without offence could be made known, to the end (if it please God) that it may be pitied by them who are not of this assembly, and so they also may be driven to labour on our behalfe,’ Oxford, 8vo, 1587. He abbreviated the later portions of the work in the vain hope that it might pass the press before parliament was prorogued in December 1586. Penry, who did not put his name to the volume, although he made no effort to conceal his authorship, drew a forcible picture of the ignorance of his fellow-countrymen—of their idolatrous belief in fairies and magic, their adherence to Roman catholic superstitions, the silence and greed of their pastors. He quoted Welsh freely, recommended the employment of lay preachers, and showed the necessity of a Welsh translation of the Old Testament. The New Testament had been translated in 1567. Edward Dounlee or Downley, M.P. for Carmarthen, presented Penry's petition with the printed treatise to the House of Commons, but neither attracted the attention of the house. The archbishop of Canterbury (Whitgift) was not, however, inclined to overlook so bitter an attack on the church. He issued a warrant, calling in the printed books and directing the author's arrest (Appellation, pp. 179–81). Five hundred copies of the ‘Treatise’ were seized, and Penry was brought before the court of high commission. Archbishop Whitgift presided, and in brutal language pronounced his opinions heretical. He was ordered to recant, but peremptorily refused, and was sent to prison for twelve days. He asked for further information respecting his offence, and was told that he would receive it at a later examination. He was not examined again, and at the end of a month was released. A few days later—apparently in April 1587—he married Eleanor Godley, who lived with her family in the neighbourhood of Northampton.

Penry's ‘Treatise’ and his action before the high commission court stirred the extreme section of the puritan party throughout the country to activity, and he resolved to pursue his attack on the bishops. It was through the press alone that the war could be effectively waged, but the obstacles imposed by the licensing laws on the publication of writings obnoxious to the authorities rendered it imperative to resort to methods of secrecy in the setting-up and distribution of books which assailed the existing order of things. Two puritan ministers, John Field and John Udall, offered to help Penry in the composition of a series of anti-clerical pamphlets; but Field died a few months later. The design was communicated to a puritan country gentleman, Job Throckmorton of Haseley, Warwickshire, who promised both literary and pecuniary aid. The bishops' sense of dignity was to be mercilessly outraged by means of coarse sarcasm and homely wit. Such weapons had been habitually used by Knox, Beza, and other protestant controversialists. Beza's ‘Epistola … Passauantij’ (Geneva, 1552) Penry had carefully studied, and his ‘Treatise’ illustrated how scandalous innuendo might be effectively employed in polemical theology. The joint writings of the confederacy should, it was determined, bear the pseudonymous signature of Martin Mar-Prelate. Martin was doubtless suggested by Luther's christian name.

Before Michaelmas 1588 Penry purchased a printing-press, which he deposited with the utmost secrecy in the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Crane, at East Moulsey, near Kingston-on-Thames. Robert Waldegrave, a London printer, was engaged to superintend the typographic arrangements, and he placed at Penry's disposal two compositors, who worked with great rapidity. Penry corrected the proofs of all the publications, and paid the workmen. Within three weeks the first of the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts was printed and circulated. It was known as ‘The Epistle,’ and was announced as a preliminary onslaught on the long and elaborate ‘Defence of the Church of England’ which Dr. John Bridges [q. v.], dean of Salisbury, had published in 1587. It is doubtful if Penry himself did more than revise the manuscript of ‘The Epistle.’ There followed from the Moulsey press, under Penry's own name and from his pen alone, ‘An exhortation unto the governours and people of his Maiesties countrie of Wales, to labour earnestly to have the preaching of the Gospell planted among them.’ This was dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke, lord president of Wales, and the rest of the governors. Thereupon Dr. Robert Some [q. v.], a member of Penry's own college at Cambridge, in ‘A godly treatise … and a confutation of errours broached in M. Penries last treatise,’ endeavoured to prove that Penry's account of the incompetence of the clergy was wilfully exaggerated. Penry immediately issued a second edition of his ‘Exhortation,’ in which he claimed to have answered Some's objections by anticipation. The postscript ran: ‘I have read Master D. Some's booke. The reasons he useth in the questions of the dumbe ministrie and communicating with them I had answered (as you may see in this booke) before he had written. The man I reverence as a goodly and a learned man. The weaknes of his reasons shalbe showed at large Godwilling.’ This promise he at once fulfilled in ‘A Defence of that which hath bin written in the questions of the ignorant ministerie and the communicating with them,’ 16mo, 1588. A further defence of Penry against Some's attack was written by John Greenwood [q. v.], and bore the title ‘M. Some laid open in his coulers.’

At this juncture Mrs. Crane, from whose house these pamphlets emanated, showed signs of alarm, and Penry found it necessary to secure a new home for his press. Through either his father-in-law, Godley, or his patron Throckmorton he obtained introductions to Sir Richard Knightley [q. v.], a puritan squire, who readily offered him and his press an asylum at his mansion of Fawsley in Northamptonshire. Penry's press was in working order at Fawsley in November, and there were printed in that month a fuller criticism of Dean Bridges's ‘Defence,’ entitled ‘The Epitome.’ There followed a broadside, ‘Certain minerall and metaphisicall school-points to be defended by the reuerende bishops’ (Lambeth Library). Throckmorton shares with Penry the responsibility for these lucubrations, which exasperated the champions of episcopacy, and Penry and his coadjutors found themselves the objects of biting attack by assailants who improved upon their own violence of language. Their antagonists included not only divines, but many men of letters [see Harvey, John, 1563–1592; Lyly, John; Nash or Nashe, Thomas]. Public excitement grew, and the need of concealment on the part of Penry and his friends was greater than before. While at Fawsley, Penry went about disguised like a gallant, wearing a light-coloured hat, a sword at his side, and ‘a long skye-coloured cloak,’ of which the collar was edged with gold and silver and silk lace. At Christmas the press was removed to another house of Knightley's at Norton. But it was deemed imprudent to make a prolonged stay in one place, and early next year Penry temporarily settled with another sympathiser, John Hales, who lived at a house at Coventry, known as the White Friars. From Coventry he issued, on 9 March 1588–9, in continuation of his earlier appeals on behalf of Wales, ‘A viewe of some part of such publike wants and disorders as are in the service of God, within her Maiesties countrie of Wales, togither with an humble Petition unto this high court of Parliament for their speedy redresse’ (without place or printer's name). The running title is ‘A Supplication unto the High Court of Parliament.’ At Coventry Penry also printed a fortnight later ‘Hay any worke for Cooper,’ a slashing reply to the ‘Admonition’ of Thomas Cooper [q. v.], bishop of Winchester. In June he stayed with his friend Throckmorton at Haseley, whence he passed in July to Wolston Priory, the residence of Robert Wigston. A London compositor, John Hodgkins, with two assistants, printed under his superintendence, partly at Haseley and partly at Wolston, the Mar-Prelate tract ‘Theses Martinianæ or Martin Junior’ (22 July), and ‘Iust censure and reproofe of Martin Senior’ (29 July). ‘More work for Cooper,’ a further attack on the bishop of Winchester, was in part set up in type at a press which Penry had sent to Newton Lane, Manchester. In August 1589 this press was seized by the authorities at the instigation of the Earl of Derby. Nothing daunted, Penry procured the publication of ‘More Work’ from Wolston immediately afterwards. In September the ‘Protestatyon of Martin Marprelate’ was issued from either Haseley or Wolston. About the same time Penry vehemently attacked the bishop of London in ‘A briefe discovery of the untruthes and slanders (against the true government of the church of Christ), contained in a sermon preached the 8 of Februarie 1588 by Dr. Bancroft, and since that time set forth in Print, with addicions by the said Authour. This short answer may serve for the clearing of the truth untill a larger confutation of the sermon be published,’ 4to, n.d. Finally, Robert Waldegrave, who had migrated to Rochelle, printed under Penry's auspices ‘A Dialogue. Wherein is plainly laide open the tyrannicall dealing of the Lords Bishopps against Gods children; with certain points of doctrine, wherein they approove themselves (according to D. Bridges his judgement) to be truley the Bishops of the Divell,’ 12mo.

From the moment that the ‘Epistle’ had appeared in the winter of 1588, every effort had been made by the officers of the high commission court and the privy council to unravel the mystery of Martin Mar-Prelate and his tracts, and throughout 1589 witnesses were constantly under examination by the archbishop, the bishops, and the council. The capture of the Manchester press was the first reward of their exertions. Suspicion naturally fell on Penry, who had openly attacked the bishops in his ‘Treatise.’ In 1590 the author of ‘The Almond for a Parratt,’ a reply to Martin Mar-Prelate (attributed to Thomas Nash), denounced him by name as the protagonist of the controversial drama. On 29 Jan. 1589–90 an officer of the archbishop searched his house at Northampton, ransacked his study, and took away with him some printed books and written papers. Penry stated that all that was seized were a printed copy of ‘The Demonstration of Discipline,’ attributed to John Udall, and one of his own replies to Dr. Some in manuscript (Appellation, pp. 6–46). The mayor was directed to apprehend Penry as a traitor, but he successfully kept in hiding, and, with money supplied by Throckmorton, ultimately managed to escape to Edinburgh. His colleague Udall was less fortunate. He was arrested at the time of Penry's escape. When he and witnesses against him were examined, much information respecting the method of publishing the Mar-Prelate tracts came to light, and Penry was directly incriminated. Before leaving England he succeeded in issuing his defiant ‘Th' Appellation of John Penri unto the Highe court of Parliament from the bad and injurious dealing of th' Archb of Canterb. and other of his colleagues of the high commission: wherein the complainant, humbly submitting himselfe and his cause unto the determination of this honourable assembly; craveth nothing els, but either release from trouble and persecution, or just tryall,’ 12mo.

In Scotland Penry was well received, and he preached from church pulpits. Queen Elizabeth applied to James VI for his banishment from the kingdom, and James issued an edict ordering him to quit the realm. But the Scottish presbyterian clergy ignored the proclamation, and Penry continued in Scotland under their protection. In December 1590 James told the English ambassador that Penry had left Scotland. As a matter of fact he did not re-enter England till September 1592. Some part of the interval he spent in pursuing his attack on episcopacy. After he had settled in Edinburgh there appeared in London ‘A treatise wherein is manifestlie proved that reformation and those that sincerely favour the same are unjustly charged to be enemies unto his majestie and the state. Written both for the clearing of those that stande in that cause, and the stopping of the sclaunderous mouthes of all the enemies thereof’ (Edinburgh?), 4to, 1590. A second part was promised. An answer ascribed to Thomas Nash appeared the same year, under the title of ‘The First Parte of Pasquils Apologie,’ in which Penry was once again denounced by name as Martin Mar-Prelate. ‘Who had the ouersight of the libell at Fawslie? John of Wales: who was corrector to the press at Coventrie? John of Wales!’ A further appeal to the English government to reform the church on the lines Penry had suggested followed in ‘A humble motion with submission unto the Right Honourable L. L. of his majesties Privie Counsell. Wherein is laid open to be considered how necessarie it were for the good of this Lande, and the Queenes Majesties safety, that Ecclesiasticall discipline were reformed after the worde of God, and how easily there might be provision for a learned ministery’ (Edinburgh?), 4to, 1590.

In September 1592, when the controversy was subsiding, Penry left Edinburgh, with the intention, according to his own account, of renewing his evangelising efforts in Wales, his own ‘poor country.’ But he went no nearer Wales than London. There he joined a congregation of separatists meeting near Stepney. He declined all offers of office among them in conformity with his theory that Christian churches should have no definitely appointed ministers. At first he was not molested. But next year Anthony Anderson, vicar of Stepney, recognised him, and on 22 March 1592–3 he was arrested at Ratcliff at the vicar's bidding. On the 24th he was committed to the Poultrey Compter. He was examined more than once, and clergymen were admitted to the prison with a view to arguing him into conformity. He restated his objections to episcopacy, and to the discipline of the established church, asserted that his views were sanctioned by Wyclif, Latimer, and Luther, and asked permission to take part in a disputation with his examiners in the presence of the queen and council. A full report of the examination to which Mr. Fanshaw and Mr. Justice Young subjected him on 10 April was published in the Low Countries, and circulated by his friends in England, together with reports of similar examinations of earlier date of Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, who were now Penry's fellow-prisoners. On 16 May Penry drew up a paper declaring that he was ‘not in danger of the law for the books published in his name, viz. upon the Statute 23 Eliz., made against seditious words’ ({{sc|Strype}, Whitgift, p. 412; Waddington, Penry, p. 181).

Although the evidence in the possession of the authorities naturally suggested that he would be charged with complicity in the authorship of the Mar-Prelate tracts, no accusation was drawn up against him on that score. On 21 May 1593 he was put on his trial before the court of queen's bench, on a charge of having, while at Edinburgh, feloniously devised and written certain words with intent to excite rebellion and insurrection in England. There were two separate indictments (Coke, Booke of Entries, 1614, pp. 353–4). In the first were quoted sentences alleged to be by Penry, in which the queen was described as having turned against Christ, and as preventing her subjects from serving God according to his word. The second indictment collected a number of expressions attributed to Penry, in which the ministers of state and of religion were denounced as conspirators against God—a troop of bloody soul-murderers, and sacrilegious church-robbers, while the council was credited with delighting in persecuting God's true saints and ministers. The quotations were not taken from Penry's published works, but apparently from some manuscript notes found in his house at the time of his arrest. Despite the insufficiency of the evidence as set forth in these indictments, Penry was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. From the queen's bench prison he sent next day letters to his wife and children, bidding them be steadfast in the faith, and a protest to Burghley against the verdict. In the latter he apparently admitted the papers set out in the indictments to be notes of his composition, but they were ‘confused, unfinished, and unpublished.’ They contained remarks in opposition to his own views; he had intended to revise them, but had laid them aside for fourteen or fifteen months. He should die the queen's faithful servant; he was no enemy to public order in church or state, he neither sought vainglory nor contention, and had not striven to found any school of religious opinion. If his death could procure quietness for the church of God, and for his prince and kingdom, he was satisfied to die; but he desired the queen to be informed at once of his loyalty (Strype, Whitgift, p. 413, App. p. 304; Brook, Puritans, ii. 59–63; Waddington, Penry, pp. 186–200). Just a week later, on 29 May, he was suddenly ordered, while at dinner, to prepare for execution, and at five o'clock in the afternoon he was hanged at St. Thomas-a-Watering, Surrey. A rhyme expressing the satisfaction of the orthodox at his death was current at the time in the north of England. It ran:

The Welchman is hanged
Who at our Kirke flanged,
And at her state banged;
And brened are his buks:
And tho' he be hanged,
Yet he is not wranged:
The deu'l has him fanged
In his kruked kluks.

(Weever, Funeral Monument, 1631, p. 56). According to Arthur Hildersam [q. v.], whose testimony is reported by John Cotton, Penry, while denying the meaning placed on the words quoted in the indictment, and positively asserting that he had no hand in compiling the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts, admitted that he had induced some of his fellow-subjects to absent themselves from the parish churches. But he had reached the conclusion that this course of action was mistaken, and acknowledged that the blood of the souls of those who had followed his advice lay at his door (cf. John Cotton, Reply to Roger Williams, 1647, p. 117).

Penry is reckoned by Welsh historians as the pioneer of Welsh nonconformity. He was an honest fanatic who believed himself to be an instrument of God charged with the reformation of the church of England, and with the sowing of the seed of the gospel in the barren mountains of Wales. In his writings he compared himself to St. Paul and the prophet Jeremiah. There is conclusive external evidence in favour of the theory that he was mainly responsible for the authorship and dissemination of the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts. Of the small committee, consisting of himself, Udall, and Throckmorton, which set on foot the Mar-Prelate controversy, Penry was the guiding spirit. In Harl. MS. 7042, in the British Museum, are the transcripts of Thomas Baker from the lost papers of Lord-keeper Puckering, and they contain the depositions of Penry's patrons, Knightley, Hale, and Wigston, as well as of the compositors in his employ, who were examined in the council or the high commission court in 1589 and 1590. All agreed that Penry was superintendent of the secret press, and, although one or two shyly think that he was not Martin, most of them express the belief that he wrote and revised the majority of the pamphlets. It was proved that he admitted the allegation whenever the question was directly put to him by his friends. But it is impossible to assign with certainty to Penry and his associates their respective shares in the Mar-Prelate publications. Matthew Sutcliffe, in his published ‘Answer’ to Throckmorton's ‘Defence’ (1595), allots to Penry the bulk of the work. Camden ascribes the authorship of all the tracts to Udall and Penry jointly.

In face of the extant testimony, the arguments against the assertion of Penry's authorship and general superintendence do not merit serious consideration. Dr. Dexter, the historian of congregationalism, who has endeavoured to transfer the responsibility to Henry Barrow [q. v.], argues that Penry's acknowledged works exhibit little of the characteristic violence of the Mar-Prelate tracts. But the former show at times a power of invective and a causticity which few of the Mar-Prelate tracts exceeded. In the ‘Protestatyon’ the author describes himself as a bachelor; this Barrow was, whereas Penry was married. But that pamphlet may be admitted to be mainly from another hand without disturbing the contention in favour of Penry's general responsibility. That he was not put on his trial for the tracts was doubtless due to lapse of time, and to the belief of the authorities that they could more easily convict him of other offences. Hildersam's report that Penry, before his death, solemnly denied the imputation rests on hearsay, and fails to counterbalance more direct testimony.

After Penry's death was published his ‘Profession of Faith, sent by Francis Johnson to Lord Burghley on 12 June 1593,’ together with a ‘Letter to the distressed faithfull Congregation of Christ in London, and all the Members thereof, whether in Bondes or at Liberty,’ 24 April 1593. The ‘History of Corah, Dathan, and Abiram applied to the Prelacy, Ministry, and Church Assemblies of England,’ 4to, appeared in 1609. The editor states that this unfinished tract was copied and circulated in the author's lifetime, and was intended for presentation to parliament. Penry's preaching in Wales is described in the preface. By his wife Eleanor, daughter of Henry Godley of Northampton, he left four daughters; the eldest was four at his death.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 154–8; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. i. 591; Thomas Rees's Nonconformity in Wales; Waddington's Life of Penry, 1854; Arber's Martin Mar-Prelate Controversy; Maskell's Mar-Prelate Controversy; William Pierce's Hist. Introduction to the Marprelate Tracts, 1908; Examination of Barrow, Greenwood, and Penry, 1593, in Harleian Misc.; Dexter's Congregationalism; Cal. State Papers (Dom.), 1590–3; Harl. MS. 7042; Brook's Puritans; Strype's Works; John Hunt's Religious Thought in England, i. 71–86, 100–7; Hammond's Lawful Magistrate, 1644, p. 26; Rowlands's Cambrian Bibliogr.]

S. L.