A Catholic priest and writer, François Fénelon (1651–1715) was enlisted by the church to preach to French Protestants (Huguenots) in order to bring them back to orthodox belief. His bestseller work, The Adventures of Telemachus, adds to the story of the Odyssey (Document 4.1) by describing the travels of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Guiding Telemachus is his tutor, simply called Mentor (but later revealed as Diana, goddess of wisdom), who explains the tenets of a truly good society—one that abolished government, upheld the brotherhood of citizens, and looked back to ancient Greece as a model. Thus, Telemachus served as a fierce criticism of the rule of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France (1638–1715).
From François Fénelon, The Adventures of Telemachus. Trans Dr. Hawkesworth. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1872, pp. 450–8.
Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, was born in 1537, the same year as Edward VI, the only surviving son of the king who had sought a male heir so desperately. Jane, who like Edward was raised in the Protestant religion Henry had introduced to England, proved a diligent and intellectually gifted teenager. In spite of her youth and gender, Jane corresponded with Protestant authorities on the Continent, but fast-moving events in England precluded further study. When Edward died without an heir in 1553, the throne passed, by prearranged agreement, to his fiercely Catholic half-sister Mary.
However, in order to forestall a Catholic successor—and the dramatic rollback of the Protestant reforms instituted by Henry’s and Edward’s Church of England—Jane’s relatives proclaimed her queen. Her rule lasted a mere nine days. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary, who was then forced to consider whether Jane’s execution was warranted. Shortly before Jane’s death, at age 16, Queen Mary sent her own chaplain, Master Feckenham (sometimes rendered as “Fecknam”) to try to reconcile Jane to the Catholic faith. The results of this attempt were triumphantly recorded in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, published after the Protestant Queen Elizabeth had triumphed over Mary and the Catholics. Although the conversation recorded here is not a trial transcript—and is a highly partisan account—it does distill some of the central issues that divided Catholics and Protestants in an extremely chaotic and violent period.
“The Examination of Lady Jane Grey (1554),” from Denis R. Janz, ed., A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2008), 360– 362, taken from The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (London: Seeleys, 1859), 415–417.
John Foxe (1517–1587) authored this martyrology that especially focuses on the martyrdoms of 16th-century Protestants at the hands of Catholic inquisitors. This selection recounts the trial against Anne Askew, an Englishwoman who became actively involved in propagating Protestant beliefs—even being rejected by her husband as a result of her zeal. As in medieval inquisitions, the questions asked to Anne are aimed at clarifying where the error arises; here, she rejects the doctrine of transubstantiation and challenges the authority of “improper” priests. Her answers are logical and coherent as she unwittingly condemns herself. Anne was tortured in the Tower of London and burned at the stake in 1546 at the age of twenty-five.
“Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Select Narratives,” ed. John N. King (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Pp. 22–35.
Anne of France
“Madame la Grande,” as she was called, was the daughter of King Louis XI of France and briefly the regent for her brother Charles VIII. Anne (1461–1522) was an able stateswoman who managed royal lands and the ducal territories of her husband and oversaw the education and raising of aristocratic offspring. In this vein, Anne wrote a handbook for her only daughter, Suzanne, guiding her through the courtly gauntlet. Like Dhuoda’s handbook to her son (Document 8.5), Anne attempts to help her daughter avoid the pitfalls of courtly life—but in this case, a woman’s worst enemies are frivolity, immodesty, and a quick tongue. The Dr. Lienard referred to several times in this passage cannot be identified.
From Les enseignements d’Anne de France, ed. A.-M. Chazaud (Moulins 1878).
The Inquisition was well established in Spain at the time of Cortés’s conquest in the 1520s. A tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition came in the conquistadors’ wake, ultimately established at Mexico City in 1571 with authority to regulate Catholic morality throughout “New Spain.” Most of the Inquisition trials concerned petty breaches of religious conduct, but others dealt with the much more serious crime of heresy. In November 1598, the Inquisition became alarmed about the rise of a group who believed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. Among the group denounced to the Holy Office was Marina de San Miguel, a Spanish-born woman who held a high status due to her mystical visions. Her confessions, offered between November 1598 and January 1599, reveal the degree to which confessions of “deviance” could be extorted from a victim. In March 1601, Marina was stripped naked to the waist and paraded upon a mule. Forced to confess her errors, she was sentenced to 100 lashes with a whip.
Jacqueline Holler, “The Spiritual and Physical Ecstasies of a Sixteenth-Century Beata: Marina de San Miguel Confesses Before the Mexican Inquisition,” in Richard Boyer and Geoffrey Spurling, eds., Colonial Lives: Documents on Latin American History, 1550–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 79–98.
The witch hunt that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 has been frequently (if sensationally) depicted in modern films and plays. But a reading of the extant documents used in the trial of the supposed witches provides a more nuanced insight into the process of denunciation, conviction, and execution that unfolded in this persecution, which was among the last in the Western world. Although the Salem witch hunt resulted in the conviction of 30 and the execution of 19, the total number of persons who had been formally accused reached 164. Doubts about the guilt of those executed eventually led to a reconsideration of the procedures used in the trial, and the governor of the colony abruptly suspended the trials in the autumn of 1692. In spite of the admission by some of the Salem jurors that they had been mistaken, the judgments passed on seven of the convicted were not reversed until 2001.
Brian P. Levack, ed., The Witchcraft Sourcebook (New York: Routledge, 2004), 225–226, 228–229.
By Chaucer’s day (ca. 1340–1400), both England and Western Europe had changed a great deal. They were still arguably less advanced than the Muslim world, and warfare continued to bedevil the region. Nonetheless, they were wealthier, both more urban and more urbane, and had come a long way from the worst period of the great collapse in the Early Middle Ages. The great events of Chaucer’s era were the Hundred Years’ War and the onset of the bubonic plague. The former would not end till 1453, its conclusion greatly accelerated, as was the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, by the impact of gunpowder weapons.
This most interesting of times found a fitting chronicler in the author of The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1340 or later, the first child of John Chaucer, a reasonably successful rising man, who pursued both court and business interests. Chaucer himself served in a variety of court and government posts in his lifetime, even briefly holding a position as a Member of Parliament. He knew a variety of languages. His government work involved him in missions to the continent, including to Italy, and he was strongly influenced by Italian writers, especially Boccaccio. From 1387 onward (perhaps up to the very end of his life), Chaucer worked on The Canterbury Tales. Although he authored other works, it is for this great but unfinished collection of stories that he is best known. After his death in 1400, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first resident of a section that came to be known as “Poet’s Corner.”
The Canterbury Tales begins with a prologue that introduces the reader to the twenty-nine pilgrims who are joined together on this common journey, and Chaucer reveals much of the character of each in his brief capsule summaries. Chaucer’s device for introducing the tales is a sort of wager or competition proposed to lighten their journey by having each member of the company tell tales on their journey to Canterbury and on the way back. The traveler whose story is judged the best by the general company will be hosted to a sumptuous dinner on the completion of their journey. Included here his characterization of one of his more memorable personalities, the Wife of Bath, followed by her tale.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Portable Chaucer, ed. Theodore Morrison. Penguin Books (1967): 73–74, 243–53.