John Bale and the National Identity and Church of Tudor England
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Although some of John Bale's works seemed disconnected from contemporary events of his time (including his Biblical plays, bibliographic histories, and exegetical works), this dissertation contends that he took a highly active role in seeking to guide and influence England's national and political identity. Bale saw himself as a divinely called messenger to the monarch, to fellow preachers and writers, and to all Britons. King Johan, Bale's most famous play, demonstrated themes common in Bale's work, including the need for Biblical religion, the importance of British political and religious independence, and the leading role of the monarch in advancing these religious and political ideals. Bale depicted the ruler as having the ability to build on England's heritage of historical goodness and bring about its righteous potential. While loyal English clergy and citizens could help to build the Protestant land Bale envisioned, the Catholic Church and its adherents represented the greatest threat to this goal. Bale presented Catholics as treasonous heretics who had undercut England's sovereignty and perverted its proper religion for centuries. The Reformation and Henry VIII's break with Rome made it possible to escape this influence, but Queen Mary's reign--with its return to Catholic religion and reverence for the pope--showed how uncertain England's future could be. To combat these influences, Bale's works supported a national Protestant church, based in scriptural truth and headed by the monarch. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, Bale sometimes saw his desired governmental and ecclesiastical unity realized, but its most lasting manifestation came during Elizabeth's reign. Bale died early in this period, but his influence continued as Archbishop Matthew Parker and Bishop John Jewel--who each had strong ties to Bale during his life--cooperated with Elizabeth in making Bale's vision a reality. Bale's true importance was thus more politically aligned and more lasting than is often acknowledged.