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Political Protest and Prophecy Under Henry VIII.

Jansen edits ten prophetic texts which circulated in the 1530s, most of them previously unpublished. These prophecies are political, using animal symbolism in the tradition of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which the authors understood in terms of heraldry. They circulated especially during the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37), and J. tries to give us, as nearly as possible, the forms they had then. She selects those texts mentioned in government investigations, the ones which seemed most popular, and draws them from three manuscripts. J. prefaces her texts with a description of a sample case, that of John Dobson, executed for treason in 1538, and then sketches in the general political background. She follows the texts with her own brief analysis.

J. stresses the function of these prophecies in popular and clerical resistance to Henry's reforms. The Yorkist kings had already used them to influence popular opinion, but in the 1530s they circulated clandestinely in manuscript, presumably since no one would print such material. Usually, the prophecies were old, often from the 14th century, reinterpreted and reworked, so Dobson could say in his defence that he merely repeated what Merlin, Bede, and Thomas of Erceldoune had said. Old prophecies carried authority, since the prophets lacked involvement in current affairs and included events that had already happened, a fact which gave credibility to these forecasts of the future.

J. annotates but does not analyze the phenomenon of reinterpretation, inherent in this practice. "The Cock of the North" received three separate political readings in its 300-year career, and "The Marvels of Merlin" served both Catholic and Protestant resistance. They thus raise issues similar to those John Wallace studied in the political poetry of the 17th century and merit further study, as do other matters in these texts, among them the survival of the Crusading idea, not surprising in the older texts but present also in a 16th-century prophecy like "France and Flanders Then Shall Rise." Prophecy by dice, a late medieval development, suggests French origins by its terminology, while astrological prophecy by colors is completely obscure, and J. leaves that text without notes. In her background discussion she mentions other modes which no longer survive: the use of rolls and prophecy by pictures. The tradition of political prophecy obviously has many facets; by editing and annotating these texts, J. has laid the groundwork for their serious study.
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Author:Murrin, Michael
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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