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Martin Marprelate

Martin Marprelate was the name used by the anonymous author or authors of the Marprelate tracts. These circulated illegally in the years 1588 and 1589. Their principal focus was an attack on the episcopacy of the Anglican Church. In 1583, the appointment of John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury had signalled the beginning of a drive against the Presbyterian movement in the church, and an era of censorship began. In 1586, by an edict of the Star Chamber, the archbishop was empowered to licence and control all of the printing apparatus in the country.

The true identity of "Martin" has long been speculated upon. Many have suggested John Penry, who was hanged in 1593, others Edward de Vere and Christopher Marlowe. As the tracts had to be printed in secrecy, some sort of organisation was clearly involved to handle their production and distribution, and as their intent found widespread support among the Puritan element, some sort of communal authorship is likely.

Penry was definitely involved in the printing, and his press was frequently relocated to different parts of the country in order to avoid the authorities. He himself denied any involvement in the actual authorship.

The government was concerned enough at the virulence of the attacks on the ecclesiastical hierarchy to respond in kind, hiring professional writers such as Thomas Nashe, Robert Greene and John Lyly to write counter-tracts. Like most polemics, the tracts are full of hatred of their opponents, describing the bishops as representing the Antichrist, and equally convinced of the righteousness of their own cause.

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