Hagiography, Vows Broken and Fleeing For His Life

Sketch of John Bale 1495-1563 by Wendy Harty 2019. When I sketch faces I start with the eyes. With every stroke of John Bale’s whiskers, which were numerous, I wondered what those eyes were trying to tell me. “Don’t judge me, only God can judge; be loving and kind there is so much evil and power wielding Kings and Queens directed my path; and chose your battles wisely. I was called controversial, argumentative and bilious. Yes, I was!”

Dear Keziah and Wendy and those who descend from me;

I am privileged and very bright as a lad. At age 12, I was sent off to join the Carmelite friars at Norwich, England. Oh the words, the ideas, the books. Just like you Wendy, I read and read. I believe the words of the controversial author, with a connection to Samuel Atwood and Edward Bangs, Margaret Atwood, “I chose and having chosen had less choices to make.” I fled not once but twice with the choices I made.

By age 34 I had my Bachelor of Divinity from Jesus College at Cambridge. How different my life might have been if King Henry VIII hadn’t wanted a divorce. At first King Henry sided with the Catholic Church against the Protestent Reformation and Martin Luther. A decade later, King Henry’s choice changed history forever. The Pope’s refusal to grant Henry a divorce led to the King abolishing papal rule over the Church in England. Henry VIII declared himself Head of the Church of England (Anglican) and took over the courts. He dissolved the monasteries, absorbing and redistributing their massive wealth as he saw fit. Thomas Cromwell was the King’s influential adviser.

I had become the Prior or Dean of the Ipswich Carmelite house in 1533, the same order I had joined at age 12. I broke my vows and married my “faithful Dorothy”, 1536. I wrote coarse writings against my former religion but dealt gently with my order of Carmelites because I esteemed the learning I had learned there. My world was not a kind and loving place. I wrote two hagiographies – writing of the lives of the saints with a political agenda. Was Sir John Oldcastle a traitor and an outlaw or as I wrote about him, a revered Protestant martyr. The second, Mistress Ann Askew was fifteen when her sister died who was betrothed. Her father replaced her as the bride. They hated each other. For twenty years, the Lollard’s had flourished with the teachings of John Wycliff and the translation of the Bible to English. Ann read and memorized Bible passages and began to preach. She asked King Henry VIII for a divorce. Ann got caught in a palace intrigue and was racked! The details are gruesome and they transported Ann on a chair because she could not walk to her burning at the stake.

I worked tirelessly to collect and personally examined the valuable libraries of the Augustinian and Carmelite monasteries before their dissolution. My notebook is preserved in the Oxford Library, 14 centuries of alphabetically arranged authors and their writing, that would otherwise have become lost. I developed and published an extensive list of the works of British authors just before the books in the monasteries were destroyed and dispersed.

I was summoned before the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London, for my preaching. I was charged with heresy. I escaped and fled with the help of Thomas Cromwell, whose attention I had attracted with my miracle plays. He used my anti-Catholic pamphlets as invaluable propaganda tools. Cromwell used my writings against the church. In 1538, I wrote the oldest known historical verse drama on the subject of King John. These were historical plays, medieval religious drama full of abusive, insulting and mocking vocabulary – profane parodies. I was a zealous advocate of Protestant reform, expressing my views in my writings. When Cromwell well from favor in 1540, I fled with my wife and children to Antwerp, Belgium.

With King Edward VI ascending the throne we returned to England and made a living being Rector of Bishopstoke at Hampshire and then promoted to Anglican Bishop of Ossory 1552-1553 in Ireland: appointed Oct 22, installed Feb 2, 1553 and ended September 15, 1553. I clashed bitterly with Judge Thomas St. Lawrence of the Irish Court who opposed the Reformation.

Mary, Queen of Scots, ascended the throne and England became Catholic again. I, John Bale, fled again. I tried to escape to Scotland, but our ship was captured by a Dutch man-of-war, which a storm forced into St. Ives, Cornwall. I was arrested on suspicion of treason, but released. I narrowly escaped at Dover again and escaped to the Netherlands and Frankfurt and Basel. I spent my eight years in exile writing. My autobiographical prose was written about my experience as Bishop of Ossory, my conflicts with the Irish church and my exiles, called “The Vocacyon of John Bale”.

When Queen Elizabeth I took the throne we returned and I received in 1560 a prebendal stall as Canon of Canterbury, where I lived out my life for three more years before being buried in the cathedral there in 1563, aged 68. I lived through 6 reigning monarchies: King Henry VII 1485-1509; King Henry VIII 1509-1547; King Edward VI 1547-1553; Queen Mary I 1553-54; Philip and Mary 1554-1558; and Queen Elizabeth I 1558-1603. With each my fortunes ebbed and waned.

The writings that survived: “The Chief Promises of God”, “The Three Laws of Nature”, “The Temptation of our Lord”, “A Brief Comedy of John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness”, and 2 editions 1548 and 1559 of the English authors and their writings.

John Bale 1495-1563 married Dorothy Watts 1495

Henry Bale 1548-1593 married Margaret Senner 1554-1612

Lady Susan Bale 1574-1650 married William James III Cole Earl of Enniskillen (see my previous blog Enniskillen Castle).

In support of the facts of Daniel Cole 1614-1694. Death Dec 21, 1694 in Eastham, Barnstable, Massachusetts Note: “We, John Cole, Timothy Cole, Isreal Cole, James Cole, William Cole, Daniel Cole and Thomas Cole, Daniel Doane and his wife Hipsibath, John Young and his wife Ruth, Joshua Hopkins and his wife Mary, and Medad Atwood and his wife Hester (Esther) have mutually agreed to be contented and satisfied with ye divition and settlement of ye Estate”.

Medad and Esther Cole Atwood were parents to Samuel Atwood married to Hannah Doane parents of Keziah Atwood the subject of my novel.

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