Marian exiles

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The Marian Exiles were English Protestants who fled to the continent during the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I and King Philip.[1][2][3] They settled chiefly in Protestant countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, and also in France, Italy and Poland.

Exile communities

According to English historian John Strype, more than 800 Protestants fled to the continent, mainly to the Low Countries, Germany, and Switzerland, and joined with reformed churches there or formed their own congregations. A few exiles went to Scotland, Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries.

Notable English exile communities were located in the cities of Emden, Strasbourg, Cologne, Wesel, Duisburg, Worms, Basel, Frankfurt, Aarau, Zürich, Geneva, Padua, and Venice. The exiles did not plan to remain on the continent any longer than was necessary; there was considerable controversy and anxiety among them and those who remained in England over the legitimacy of fleeing, rather than facing, religious persecution. This concern contributed to the attention and authority given to those who remained in England and were martyred, as in the writings of one of the most famous exiles, John Foxe.

During their continental sojourn, few of the exiles became well integrated economically or politically into their new communities. With the exception of the exile community in Aarau, the majority of exiles were clergy (67) or theological students (119). The next largest group was composed of gentry (166) who, with others back in England, financed the exiles. This group included Sir John Cheke, William Cecil, Sir Richard Morrison, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir Anthony Cooke, Sir Peter Carew, Sir Thomas Wroth, Dame Dorothy Stafford, and Dame Elizabeth Berkeley[disambiguation needed]. Of about 500 known English exiles, there were 40 merchants, 32 artisans, 7 printers, 3 lawyers, 3 physicians, 3 yeomen, 13 servants, and 19 men with no profession. Of the artisans 12–17 were weavers who settled in Aarau. Strype names London merchant and exile Thomas Eton as the host-general of all the exiles. Financial backers for the exiles included London merchants Richard Springham and John Abel. Support also came from the King of Denmark, the Prince Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Württemberg, the Duke of Bipont, and many continental leaders of the reformed movement: Heinrich Bullinger, Konrad Pelikan, Bibliander, Josias Simmler, Wolphius, and Ludwig Lavater.

The Marian exiles included many important or soon-to-be important English Protestant leaders. Former and future bishops among them included John Aylmer, Miles Coverdale, John Ponet, John Scory, Richard Cox, Edmund Grindal (future archbishop of York, then Canterbury), Edwin Sandys (future archbishop of York), John Bale, John Jewel, James Pilkington, and Thomas Bentham. The conflicts that broke out between the exiles over church organization, discipline, and forms of worship presaged the religious politics of the reign of Elizabeth I and the emergence of Puritanism and Presbyterianism.[4]


The English congregation in Strasbourg organised its services in conformity with the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Its leaders and membership included at times the former and future bishops John Ponet, John Scory, Richard Cox, Edmund Grindal, Edwin Sandys, John Aylmer, and John Bale. Others there included Cheke, Morison, Cook, Carew, Wroth, James Haddon, John Huntington, John Geoffrey, John Pedder, Michael Renniger, Augustin Bradbridge, Thomas Steward, Humphrey Alcockson, Thomas Lakin, Thomas Crafton, Guido and Thomas Eton, Alexander Nowell, Arthur Saule, William Cole, Christopher Goodman, Richard Hilles, Richard Chambers, and one or both of the Hales brothers. Myles Coverdale apparently made several visits to the Strasbourg community.[3]


The first English exile group in Frankfurt arrived on 27 June 1554. With the help of a local magistrate, they secured the use of a vacant church building. They held their first service on 29 July using a reformed liturgy drawn up by William Whittingham. The congregation adopted a semi-presbyterian system where deacons were expected to preach.

At the request of local authorities in this Lutheran city, the English church order had been made to conform to the newly established French reformed church in Frankfurt. The French church included a number of Walloon weavers who had been brought to England by Protector Somerset. Since then they had been under the supervision of Valerand Poullain, formerly John Calvin's successor as minister of the French congregation in Strasbourg. In England, Poullain's congregation had as much autonomy as the London Stranger churches and, like them, based their church order on the models of Zwingli and Calvin.

Following this continental reformed precedent, the English exiles in Frankfurt offered themselves as the model church for all the English in exile and put out a call for ministers from the other congregations. However, they had gone further than many of their countrymen would follow, particularly those in Strasbourg and Zürich who wanted to retain use of the second (1552) Edwardian Book of Common Prayer. For that reason the English Church at Frankfurt became preoccupied with disputes over the use of the prayerbook and church order in general.

The chief members of the Frankfurt congregation during its existence were David Whitehead, Sandys, Nowell, Foxe, Bale, Horne, Whittingham, Knox, Aylmer, Bentham, Sampson, Kelke, Chambers, Isaac, both Knollyses, John and Christopher Hales, Richard Hilles, Bartholomew Traheron, Robert Crowley, Thomas Cole, William Turner, Robert Wisdome. An informal university established by the congregation had Horne teaching Hebrew, John Mullins (who came from Zurich after Knox left) teaching Greek, and Traheron teaching theology.

All records of the group were destroyed in World War II with the Frankfurt city archives, and only partial transcripts from prior scholarship remain. These records disclose that native Frankfurters distrusted the English and suspected they were being used by members of the nobility to diminish the privileges of the burghers. The English were also accused of unfair commercial practices and of competing with local artisans—accusations which led to detailed censuses of the immigrants.

Troubles at Frankfurt

The organizational and liturgical differences between the English churches in exile soon led to protracted conflicts concentrated in Frankfurt.

These conflicts are documented in a single printed source: the narrative and reprinted correspondence that comprise A Brieff discours off the troubles begonne at Franckford ... A.D. 1554. This book was printed anonymously in 1575 (though one extant copy is dated 1574) and reprinted in 1642, 1707–08, 1846, and 1907. It may have been issued in response to a sermon delivered at St. Paul's Cross on the subject of the Genevan form of church discipline then advocated by John Field. Though it remains uncertain, the book's editor is commonly identified as William Whittingham. Patrick Collinson has made a case for Thomas Wood as the editor, and M. A. Simpson has questioned the assumption that there was a single author behind A Brief Discourse who was part of the debates it concerns. Much of its material must have come to its compiler(s) from other hands, the letters it contains vary in apparent authenticity, and the documentary sources behind it are no longer extant except, in adapted form, parts of John Knox's account of his time in Frankfurt. Noting these things, Simpson conjectures that A Brief Discourse was the product of several editors, the last of whom he believes to have been John Field. The title page advertises A Brief Discourse as an explanation of the nature and origins of the conflicts in the Church of England then taking place and the emergence of separatism and Presbyterianism. It should by no means be taken as an "objective" history.

According to A Brief Discourse, John Knox was sent as a minister to Frankfurt from Geneva by John Calvin in 1554; he led the opposition to the prayerbook faction. Their first conflict centered on the order of the communion service. Knox would not use the Genevan order since it would offend others, but neither would he allow the use of the English prayerbook form. Thomas Lever led an attempt to construct a compromise order. The prayerbook faction was led by Richard Cox, who had left Strasburg to correct the situation in Frankfurt. However, others in Strasbourg and some who had moved from there to Frankfurt, opposed the prayerbook, so both congregations were divided from within. Some people may have remained out of the fight, and others, like Lever, changed sides over time. (In Knox's own account, Lever—who was his co-preacher—failed to support him and thereby exacerbated the division.) Knox found supporters in Whittingham (Cox's former student), Richard Chambers, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Cole, Edward Sutton, Thomas Wood, William Williams, John Staunton, William Hammon, Michael Gill, and others. Knox and Whittingham wrote a Latin summary of the English prayerbook and sent it to Calvin for his opinion which was that it contained "many tolerable foolish things." Knox, Whittingham, Foxe, and Thomas Cole drafted what they thought would be an ideal order, but it was rejected by the prayerbook faction. It was later used at Geneva by the English congregation under Knox.[5]

A compromise order, really a version of the prayerbook service that retained much of it, was nearly accepted by 13 March 1555, just as a new group of English refugees, including John Jewel, was brought in by Cox. The newcomers strongly objected to the compromise liturgy, which omitted the litany with the congregations' spoken responses. Tensions increased since it was known that some of the new arrivals, like Jewel, had subscribed to Roman Catholic doctrines under Mary before they left England. Although Jewel preached a sermon in which he confessed his fault, his presence would not have sat well with the more zealous exiles who were also prone to dislike Cox, a considerable pluralist, as the holding of multiple benefices was something "hot gospellers" under Edward VI had preached against. In May 1555 Knox preached on precisely this topic in Cox's presence, attacking the prayerbook and the scandal of pluralities. Knox nevertheless defied his own supporters in pleading that Cox's group be admitted as members of the congregation, which gave the prayerbook faction a majority.

Despite these tensions, another settlement was in sight, but Knox's staunchest antagonists rendered it irrelevant by notifying the local magistrates about Knox's An Admonition to Christians (1554) which disparaged Phillip II, Mary I, and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, whom Knox compared to Nero. Some of Knox's detractors felt that such radical language offended even sympathetic rulers and encouraged Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants in England and elsewhere. Notably John Hooper had just been burned at the stake in February, and his wife and children were among the Frankfurt exile community. (This was further ammunition for the pro-prayerbook faction, which also availed itself of the highly divisive argument that it was presumptuous to attempt to be liturgically purer than those who had accepted the prayerbook and were martyred back in England.) Unsurprisingly, Knox was asked to leave Frankfurt, and he did so on March 26. Sympathisers led by William Whittingham (Thomas Cole and John Foxe among them) left for Basel and Geneva. Nevertheless, the struggle, which had preceded Knox's presence, continued.

In the process of the prayerbook dispute, Calvin weighed in when consulted to promote unity and compromise, although he agreed with those who took a low view of the prayerbook. Recalling the earlier Vestments controversy under Edward VI, the concept of adiaphora or "things indifferent" was again a centrepoint of debate, rather than being a source of consensus-building. The effect of this was that adiaphora was eventually abandoned as an arguing point on each side.[3]


Led mainly by Knox, the largest, most politically and theologically radical concentration of English exiles was at Geneva, reaching a peak of 233 people or about 140 households. (This was approximately 2% of the city's population.) Names, dates of arrival, and other information is preserved in the Livre des Anglais (facsimile edition by Alexander Ferrier Mitchell), a folio manuscript kept at the Hotel de Ville of Geneva. New members admitted to the church numbered 48 in 1555, 50 in 1556, 67 in 1557, ten in 1558, and two in 1559. Seven marriages, four baptisms, and 18 deaths are recorded.[6]

This was the first English congregation to adopt the wholly presbyterian form of discipline and worship that was resisted in Frankfurt. These forms and standards were printed in 1556 as the Book of Geneva which went through several editions after 1556 in Geneva and was in official use in the Church of Scotland from 1564 to 1645. Sometimes titled Book of Our Common Order, it is the basis for the modern Book of Common Order used by Presbyterian churches.

The English church in Geneva was also, of course, the scene of the Geneva Bible's production, which was to be the most popular English version of the era and the most notorious for its annotations that supported Reformed theology and resistance theory. At Geneva Knox wrote his infamous First Blast of the Trumpet Blowen Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women during the winter of 1557–58. Published in Geneva in the spring 1558, it denounced all female rulers in the most strident language. This was opposed by many other English exiles, especially those seeking favor with Elizabeth I, such as John Aylmer, who published a retort to Knox called Harborowe for Faithful and True Subjects in 1559. Christopher Goodman took a more circumspect approach in a How superior powers ought to be obeyd of their subjects & wherein they may lawfully by Gods Worde be disobeyed & resisted for which Whittingham wrote the preface. Laurence Humphrey, working out of Strasbourg, claimed to be clarifying what Knox, Ponet, and Goodman really meant when he defended passive resistance only and supported the legitimacy of female rule in De religionis conservatione et reformatione vera (1559).

John Calvin proposed that the English exiles should hold their own services in the building where he delivered lectures, later known as the Calvin Auditory. This worship in English continues in the building to the present day, under the Church of Scotland.

Members of the English church in Geneva included Sir William Stafford, Sir John Burtwick, John Bodley and the eldest of his five sons (Laurence, Thomas, and Josias who was later knighted), James Pilkington, John Scory, Thomas Bentham, William Cole, William Kethe, Thomas Sampson, Anthony Gilby, John Pullein, Perceval Wiburne, and Robert Fills.

See also


  1. Leo F. Solt (1990) Church and State in Early Modern England, 1509-1640, Oxford University Press, USA ISBN 0-19-505979-4
  2. George Edwin Horr (1910) "The Marian Exiles", Papers of the American Society of Church History, 2nd series, Vol.2, p.201, Putnam's, New York and London (Digitized by Google Books)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Christina Hallowell Garrett (1938) Marian Exiles: A Study in the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism, Cambridge University Press
  4. Patrick Collinson (1979) Archbishop Grindal, 1519-1583: the struggle for a reformed Church, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-03831-2
  5. Peter Hume Brown (1895) John Knox: a biography, A. and C. Black, London (Digitized by Google)
  6. Dan G. Danner (1999) Pilgrimage to Puritanism: History and Theology of the Marian Exiles at Geneva, 1555-1560, (Studies in Church History, 9.) New York: Peter Lang ISBN 0-8204-3884-7




  • William D. Maxwell, The Liturgical Portions of the Genevan Service Book used by John Knox While a Minister of the English Congregation of Marian Exiles at Geneva, 1556–1559. (London: The Faith Press, 1965.) [First published by Oliver and Boyd, 1931.]
  • Frederick A. Norwood, "The Marian Exiles—Denizens or Sojourners?" Church History 13:2 (June 1944): 100–110.
  • Brett Usher, "The Deanery of Bocking and the Demise of the Vestiarian Controversy," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 52.3 (July 2001): 434–455.
  • Ronald J. Vander Molen, "Anglican Against Puritan: Ideological Origins during the Marian Exile," Church History 42.1 (March 1973): 45–57.
  • Jonathan Wright, "Marian Exiles and the Legitimacy of Flight From Persecution," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 52.2 (April 2001): 220–43.