Treasure of the month - July 2008
William Turner: The rescuynge of the romishe fox (1545)
For a transcript of the poem, click here
William Turner (1508-1568) was born in Morpeth, Northumberland, and 2008 marks the quincentenary of his birth. Turner is best known for having been the first person to classify plants in England in a scientific and systematic way, and is often referred to as The Father of English Botany. His most famous publication was his Herbal, first published in 1551.
Fewer people, however, know that, as well as possessing a passion for botany, Turner was also a radical and outspoken Protestant reformer of his day. Turner held the belief that Henry VIII had not taken the English Reformation far enough and that the English church was still rife with what he viewed as corrupt Roman Catholic practices and dogma. He blamed this on a faction of conservative bishops, led by Stephen Gardiner, who was Bishop of Winchester and a highly influential churchman. He viewed Gardiner as a Machiavellian schemer who was determined to perpetuate the influence of the Pope in England.
Turner raged against Gardiner through the publication of a series of vitriolic tracts. The rescuygne of the romishe fox was one of these. Turner prefaces the tract with the little poem we see here, in which Roman Catholic influences in England are portrayed as "the bannished fox of Rome". The poem implies that Gardiner has attempted to stamp out these influences reluctantly and half-heartedly, so that they will simply reappear over time. Turner ends the poem with the provocative and highly controversial accusation that Gardiner is guilty of nothing short of treason, comparing him with John Fisher, the Catholic bishop, cardinal and martyr who was executed by Henry VIII for refusing to recognise him as head of the Church of England.
The image accompanying the poem is that of a fox with cropped ears and clad in the style of a Roman Catholic monk.
The rescuynge of the romishe fox other wyse called the examination of the hunter devised by steven gardiner (1545) PI 274.2 TUR
With thanks to Dr David Gardner-Medwin for suggesting this month's Treasure.