Reinstituting English Catholicism under Mary Tudor

Watson, Thomas (1513-84)

Holsome and catholyke doctryne concernynge the seuen Sacramentes of Chrystes Church, expedient to be knowen of al men, sette forth in maner of shorte sermons to bee made to the people, by the reuerende father in God, Thomas bishoppe of Lincolne. anno. 1558. Mense Februarij.

London: in ├Ždibus Roberti Caly, typographi, [really J. Kingston, Feb. 1558


Quarto: 18.1 x 13.2 cm. [ ]2, A-X8

PIRATED EDITION, printed in the year of the first edition.

Bound in 19th-century three-quarter red morocco and marbled boards, with wear to the joints and extremities. Printed in black letter and with a few woodcut initials. This copy is in very good condition with a few minor faults: The lower fore-corners of the first three leaves have been snipped away, far from the text and with no loss. The first few leaves are lightly soiled and there are a few incidental stains.

An interesting, pirated edition of these thirty sermons by Thomas Watson, Bishop of Lincoln from 1556-58. Robert Caly printed the true first edition in February 1558.

Thomas Watson, an ardent catholic and disciple of Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, resisted and preached against Protestant reforms during the protectorate of Edward VI. He narrowly avoided prosecution for treason and, as Gardiner’s chaplain, was imprisoned with him in the Fleet from 1550-1551. With the accession of Mary Tudor in 1553, Watson played a key role in the reversal of Protestant reforms and the reinstitution of Catholicism. Watson prepared the present work “for use in parish churches where the parish priest was not able or qualified to preach; this was one of a number of responses to the drive by Cardinal Pole to reform and revive the English church in the Catholic faith by the provision of educational material for the laity.”(DNB)

In 1553, at the request of Gardiner, now Lord Chancellor to the queen, Watson was sent to Cambridge to oversee the restoration of the “old religion” at the colleges. In 1554, already a “noted preacher and controversialist”, Watson preached two sermons before the queen on the Eucharist. As his preferments mounted, Watson became involved in the prosecution of heretics (including John Hooper) and more deeply involved in the formal program of Catholic reforms instituted by Cardinal Reginald Pole. In 1556, Pole sent Watson to Cambridge on a visitation. While there, Watson preached against the theology of Martin Bucer, the deceased enemy of his master Gardiner, and argued for “the restoration of certain ceremonies, referring particularly to the traditional usage of candles in procession on Candlemas.” Watson’s sermons against Bucer and the events that immediately follow afford us a glimpse into his personality. In the 1540’s, Gardiner had debated Bucer, who called Gardiner a “poisonous snake”, concerning the Eucharist. It must have galled Gardiner that, during his imprisonment under Edward VI, his old enemy was invited from Strasburg to Cambridge, where he worked closely with Cranmer and other reformers on the second prayer book. Given his devotion to Gardiner, Watson can hardly have had much love for Bucer, so it is hard not to see spite and revenge as two of Watson’s motivations when, after he had delivered his sermons against the “wyckedness and heretycall doctryn” of Bucer, the reformer’s body, which was buried in St Michael's Church, was disinterred and publicly burned.

With the accession of Elizabeth, the program of Catholic reform and, with it, Watson’s career came to an end. Watson spent most of the remainder of his life, from 1558 to 1584, in prison. He was first taken to the Tower in 1559. He was deprived of his bishopric and released, only to be returned to the Tower a year later. Watson was repeatedly found in violation of the terms of his release, which stated that he would not act “contrary to the laws of the established religion, nor seek to induce others to any such contrary act or opinion.” Among the charges made against Watson at the trials of various Catholics was that he “continued to exercise episcopal functions even after his deprivation and confinement.”

The mounting troubles faced by Queen Elizabeth: the bull of excommunication issued in 1570, the efforts of recusants to continue their activities in England, the Jesuit missions of the early 1580’s, all made the management of Watson and other Catholics more difficult. “In 1580 a solution was offered by Richard Cox, namely that the recalcitrant clergy should be sent to a former palace of the bishops of Ely, which was suitable for use as a prison. Wisbech Castle had been rebuilt in brick between 1478 and 1483 by John Morton, then bishop of Ely, to be an episcopal residence. It stood on a high terrace surrounded by a moat. Possibly because of its location in the fens of East Anglia, later bishops allowed it to fall into disrepair, and by 1580 it was in a ruinous and dilapidated condition, as well as in what the Jesuit Robert Persons described as ‘a most unhealthy spot’ (Hicks, 79)…. Watson died in prison in Wisbech Castle in September 1584. He was buried in the church of St Peter and St Paul, just outside the castle, on 27 September.” (Kenneth Carleton, DNB)

STC 25113