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An English Bishop Afloat in an Irish See: John Bale, Bishop of Ossory, 1552–3

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2018

Stephen Tong*
University of Cambridge
*20 Reynolds St, Pymble, NSW 2073, Australia. E-mail:


The Reformation in Ireland has traditionally been seen as an unmitigated failure. This article contributes to current scholarship that is challenging this perception by conceiving the sixteenth-century Irish Church as part of the English Church. It does so by examining the episcopal career of John Bale, bishop of Ossory, County Kilkenny, 1552–3. Bale wrote an account of his Irish experience, known as the Vocacyon, soon after fleeing his diocese upon the accession of Queen Mary to the English throne and the subsequent restoration of Roman Catholicism. The article considers Bale's episcopal career as an expression of the relationship between Church and state in mid-Tudor England and Ireland. It will be shown that ecclesiastical reform in Ireland was complemented by political subjugation, and vice versa. Having been appointed by Edward VI, Bale upheld the royal supremacy as justification for implementing ecclesiastical reform. The combination of preaching the gospel and enforcing the 1552 Prayer Book was, for Bale, the best method of evangelism. The double effect was to win converts and align the Irish Church with the English form of worship. Hence English reformers exploited the political dominance of England to export their evangelical faith into Ireland.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 2018 

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I would like to thank Jane Dawson, Ashley Null, Jacqueline Rose and Alexandra Walsham for their helpful and encouraging feedback on previous drafts of this article.


1 For an introduction to this discussion, see Bradshaw, Brendan, ‘Sword, Word and Strategy in the Reformation of Ireland’, HistJ 21 (1978), 475502CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Canny, Nicholas, ‘Why the Reformation Failed in Ireland: Une Question mal posée’, JEH 30 (1979), 423–50Google Scholar; Bottigheimer, K. S., ‘The Failure of the Reformation in Ireland: Une Question bien posée’, JEH 36 (1985), 196207Google Scholar; idem and Bradshaw, B., ‘Revisionism and the Irish Reformation: A Debate’, JEH 51 (2000), 581–92Google Scholar; Jefferies, H. A., ‘The Early Tudor Reformation in the Irish Pale’, JEH 52 (2001), 3462Google Scholar.

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5 Ibid.; see also Heal, Felicity, Reformation in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2003), 112CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For biographical details of Bale, see Fairfield, Leslie P., John Bale: Mythmaker for the English Reformation (West Lafayette, IN, 1976)Google Scholar; Happé, Peter, John Bale (New York, 1996), 125Google Scholar.

6 See Bale, Vocacyon, ed. Happé and King, 12–13, 17–18.

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12 Ellis, ‘John Bale’, 283–93.

13 For the Edwardian Reformation at this period, see MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant, 126.

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15 Bale, Vocacyon, sigs B8–C1, at C1. The king's direct involvement in Bale's appointment is consonant with the view that Edward began to take greater control of government from 1550 onwards, especially in regard to religious policy, despite still being a minor. See Jordan, W. K., Edward VI, The Threshold of Power: The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland (London, 1970), 367–8Google Scholar; Loach, Jennifer, Edward VI, ed. Bernard, George and Williams, Penry (New Haven, CT, and London, 1999), 130–4Google Scholar.

16 For details, see John N. King, ‘Bale, John (1495–1563)’, ODNB, online edn (October 2009), at: <>, accessed 31 October 2017.

17 Bale, John, The Lattre Examinacyon of Anne Askewe latelye martyred in Smythfelde, by the Wycked Synagoge of Antichrist, with the Elucydacyon of Iohan Bale ([Wesel]?, 1547)Google Scholar, sigs C4v–7v.

18 Bale, Vocacyon, ed. Happé and King, 6; see also Sybil M. Jack, ‘Paget, William, first Baron Paget (1505/6–1563)’, ODNB, online edn (January 2008), at: <>, accessed 31 October 2017.

19 Cranmer, Thomas, Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, ed. Cox, J. E. (Cambridge, 1846), 438Google Scholar. Armagh had been vacant since the Roman Catholic George Dowdall had fled to the Continent in 1551 on the grounds that ‘he would never be bishop where the holy Mass (as he called it) was abolished’: Original Letters and Papers in Illustration of the History of the Church in Ireland during the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, ed. E. P. Shirley (London, 1851), 58; see also Jefferies, Irish Church, 93–8. W. K. Jordan suggests that William Turner had been offered the see of Ossory, but had ‘declined because of his ignorance of the language’: Jordan, Threshold of Power, 368.

20 Ibid. Note that Cranmer refers to Goodacre as ‘Whitacre’; see also Bale, Vocacyon, sigs C2–C2v. For Goodacre, see Henry Jefferies, ‘Goodacre, Hugh (d. 1553)’, ODNB, online edn (2004), at: <>, accessed 31 October 2017.

21 A full copy of the letter is found in Bale, Vocacyon, sigs B8v–C1.

22 Walsh was later made dean of Waterford: Original Letters, ed. Shirley, 41–2, 47–8.

23 Ibid. 63.

24 Ibid. 61–2.

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26 Original Letters, ed. Shirley, 52–3.

27 Evenden, Elizabeth and Freeman, Thomas S., Religion and the Book in Early Modern England: The Making of John Foxe's ‘Book of Martyrs’ (Cambridge, 2011), 3879Google Scholar, at 38.

28 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. C1.

29 Cf. Acts 9; for a contrasting discussion, see Skura, Tudor Autobiography, 55–60.

30 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. F7.

31 Ibid. sig. C1.

32 Ibid. sigs C1v–C2.

33 Ibid. sigs C2–C2v.

34 See comments regarding the contemporary use of ‘empire’ by Tanner, J. R., Tudor Constitutional Documents A.D. 1485–1603 with an Historical Commentary (Bath, 1922), 40Google Scholar; Elton, G. R., The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge, 1960), 332Google Scholar; Mottram, Empire and Nation, 11–34.

35 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. C4v.

36 Ibid. sig. B7v.

37 [John Ponet], A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kynges and other Civile Governours, with an Exhortation to all True Naturall Englishe Men ([Strasbourg], 1556); see also Alford, Stephen, Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI (Cambridge, 2002), 176–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mark Earngey, ‘New Light on the Life and Theology of Bishop John Ponet (1514–1556)’ (MPhil thesis, Oxford University, 2016), 41–3.

38 Walsh points out that in contrast to other Marian exiles, Bale was a first-generation reformer. This may help to explain the variance between Bale and Ponet on the royal supremacy: Walsh, ‘Deliberate Provocation’, 47.

39 Hadfield argues that the Old English in the Pale generally considered themselves as under the jurisdiction of the English crown: Hadfield, ‘Translating the Reformation’, 43–4; see also Reeves, Ryan, English Evangelicals and Tudor Obedience, c.1527–1570 (Leiden, 2014)Google Scholar, especially ch. 3; Chavura, Stephen, Tudor Protestant Political Thought, 1547–1603 (Leiden, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially ch. 5.

40 24 Hen. VIII c. 12, in Statutes of the Realm 3 (London, 1963), 427.

41 Tudor Royal Proclamations, 1: The Early Tudors, 1485–1553, ed. Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin (New Haven, CT, 1964), 403 (no. 287); emphasis added.

42 Short Catechism (London, 1553), sig. A2. For a full discussion of catechisms, see Green, Ian, The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c.1530–1740 (Oxford, 1996), 4692CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially 59–62.

43 Murray, Enforcing the Tudor Reformation, 20–47.

44 Original Letters, ed. Shirley, 11.

45 London, LPL, MS 602, fol. 104v.

46 Original Letters, ed. Shirley, 19–21, at 19.

47 Ibid. 17.

48 For other examples, see ibid. 22–5, 28–35.

49 Ibid. 32–3.

50 Jefferies, Irish Church, 93.

51 Original Letters, ed. Shirley, 39–41.

52 Ibid. 40.

53 The Books of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, ed. Brian Cummings (Oxford, 2011), xlvii.

54 A prayer from the Litany, The Boke of Common Praier (Dublin, 1551), sig. O5. This copy is housed in Trinity College Library, Dublin; a digitized version is available online at: <>.

55 Griffiths, David N., ‘Prayer-Book Translations in the Nineteenth Century’, The Library, 6th ser. 4 (1984), 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 11; Griffiths lists all translations of Prayer Books before 1900 in an appendix: ibid. 20–4. See also idem, ‘The French Translations of the English Book of Common Prayer’, PHS 22 (1970–6), 90–114, idem, ‘The Early Translations of the Book of Common Prayer’, The Library 6th ser. 3 (1981), 1–16.

56 Ibid. 23; Griffiths, ‘Early Translations’, 7. See also Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘The Importance of Jan Laski in the English Reformation’, in Christoph Strohm, ed., Johannes a Lasco (1499–1560). Polnischer Baron, Humanist und europäischer Reformator, Spätmittelalter und Reformation n.s. 14 (Tübingen, 2000), 325–46, at 336; Loach, Jennifer, ‘“A Close League with the King of France”: Lady Jane Grey's Proclamation in French and its Part in a planned Betrayal’, PHS 25 (1989–93), 234–41Google Scholar, at 235.

57 Heal, Felicity, ‘Mediating the Word: Language and Dialects in the British and Irish Reformations’, JEH 56 (2005), 261–86Google Scholar.

58 Griffiths, ‘French Translations’, 93.

59 Heal, ‘Mediating the Word’, 265.

60 Cranmer to Cecil, Miscellaneous Writings, ed. Cox, 438; see also Jefferies, Irish Church, 98–9.

61 Ellis, ‘John Bale’, 284.

62 Bale, Vocacyon, especially sigs F3–8.

63 Ibid. sigs C2–C3v. The presiding bishop was ‘George the archebishop of Dublyne’, who had ‘Thomas the bisshop of Kyldare & Vrbane ye bishop of Duno assisinge him’: ibid., sig C2v.

64 The Boke of Common Praier (Dublin, 1551).

65 Ellis, ‘John Bale’, 285; MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant, 52–6.

66 Bale, Vocacyon, sigs C2v–C3. Constitutionally, Lockwood was right; I thank Paul Cavill for pointing this out to me.

67 The Boke of Common Praier (Dublin, 1551), sig. S4v.

68 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. C3.

69 Ibid., sig. D5v.

70 Ibid., sigs C8–D4.

71 Bale first intended to travel to Scotland, but pirates intervened, and he ended up on the Continent: ibid., sigs D8v–F2v.

72 See Bradshaw, ‘Edwardian Reformation’, 95–6; Jefferies, Irish Church, 104–21.

73 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. D4v.

74 Ibid., sig. D5.

75 Jefferies, Irish Church, 101–3.

76 Ibid; Ellis, ‘John Bale’, 291–2.

77 Walsh, ‘Deliberate Provocation’, 59.

78 Bale, Vocacyon, sig. F2v.

79 A Brief Discourse of the Troubles begun at Frankfort, in the Year 1554, about the Book of Common Prayer and Ceremonies, ed. John Petheram (London, 1846), fol. xxxviii.

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