Article published about the legendary origins of the Lithuanian language

Latin inscription on a coin of Sigismund II Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania (1555)

My article ‘Lingua semilatina: de fabulata origine linguae Lituanicae apud auctores saeculi sexti decimi’ (‘A semi-Latin language: on the legendary origin of the Lithuanian language according to 16th-century authors’) has just appeared in the Latin language journal Vox Latina, which is published by the University of Saarland. The article explores the myth that developed from the late Middle Ages onwards that the Lithuanian language was a debased form of Latin, since the Lithuanians were supposedly descended from Romans who went astray on their return from Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain. The myth is interesting because it reveals the extent to which late medieval and early modern Lithuanian scholars (and scholars of other nations with knowledge of Lithuanian) recognised the distinctive and archaic features of the Lithuanian language – even if their explanation for these features was the wrong one. In reality, the occasional superficial similarities between Lithuanian and Latin derive from the fact that both are conservative and inflected descendants of a proto-Indo-European language. Nevertheless, Lithuanian and Latin belong to quite separate Indo-European language families.

The myth of Lithuanian’s origins in Latin is historically significant because it was one reason why Lithuanian scholars avoided writing in their native tongue for a very long time. Lithuanian scholars tended to write in Latin not only because it was the universal scholarly language of Europe but also because they believed it was the ‘Classical form’ of their own native language, Lithuanian, which they believed was a form of Latin corrupted by Gothic. Educated Lithuanians’ reluctance to use their own language had a deleterious effect on the development of Lithuanian national identity, especially after the Union of Lublin (1569) when Polish was often used as a literary vernacular but very little was published in Lithuanian. By contrast, the discovery by 19th-century linguists that Lithuanian was an extraordinarily archaic survivor of early Indo-European languages – a sort of linguistic ‘living fossil’ – had significant consequences for Lithuanian aspirations to restored nationhood at a time when Lithuania was oppressed within the Russian Empire.

This is my first Latin language article.


Exploring the political complexity of Laudianism

Peter Heylyn (1599-1662), chaplain to Archbishop Laud and Laudian apologist

The brand of churchmanship associated with Archbishop William Laud and his fellow bishops in the reign of Charles I has traditionally been viewed as the religious equivalent of Royalism in 17th-century politics, a sort of ‘Royalism at prayer’. In this post I want to suggest that Laudianism was more complex than this, and should not be seen as merely the ecclesiastical arm of the Royalist cause – with the consequence that Laudianism cannot be equated unproblematically with post-Restoration Tory high churchmanship.

The English Reformation began in 1533 with Henry VIII’s assertion of royal authority and supremacy over the church, and the idea of the monarch’s headship of the church remained central to the English Reformation in the absence of a clear guiding doctrinal consensus across the very different reforming reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth. Erastianism – the idea that the church was essentially subservient to the crown – was a keynote of the early English Reformation. However, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England was not truly the monarch, but rather the monarch in Parliament – raising the frightening prospect that a Parliament dominated by religious radicals might impose further reform on the church in the direction of puritanism and Presbyterianism. Opposition to puritanism in the late Elizabethan church elicited increasingly strident defences of episcopacy and orderly worship from anti-puritan bishops and clergy such as John Whitgift, Lancelot Andrewes and John Buckeridge, the latter of whom would tutor William Laud at Oxford.

John Buckeridge (1562-1631)

Combined with the anti-Calvinist theology of Arminianism, by the 1630s the super-charged anti-puritanism that Peter Lake described as ‘avant-garde conformity’ had begun to transform the Elizabethan religious settlement from a noncommittal compromise into an enthusiastic cult. Where earlier theologians had mounted an apologetic defence of the Church of England’s retention of a medieval form of church government, Laud and his friends and protégés insisted that the Church of England represented the most perfect form of Christianity. In addition to Arminianism and anti-puritanism, a third stream that fed into the complex phenomenon of Laudianism was a conservative element that had existed within the Church of England throughout Elizabeth’s reign and into the Stuart era which adopted a largely positive view of the medieval past. Conformist religious conservatives were sometimes crypto-Catholics, sometimes individuals who believed the English Reformation should have stopped with the break with Rome or with the 1549 Prayer Book, and sometimes people who cared little for religion at all, but distinctly feared the puritan threat.

Henry Spelman (c. 1562-1641)

It is no accident that many early antiquaries were religious conservatives of this kind. Henry Spelman, for example, bewailed the destruction of the Reformation and advocated the sanctity of church property, the independence of the church from royal interference (guaranteed by Magna Carta) and the importance of inherited ecclesiastical privileges such as tithes. For Spelman, the Royal Supremacy had been the means of achieving the independence of the English church from ‘the Romish yoke’, but the Supremacy was by no means an end in itself; it was, rather, the way in which the Church of England enacted Clause 1 of Magna Carta: Quod ecclesia Anglicana libera sit…

As a result of the complex mixture of factors that went to make up what we know as the Laudian tendency within 1630s conformity, there were tensions within Laudianism itself. Julian Davies has argued that ‘Carolinism’ was Charles I’s distinct ecclesiology, which sought to reinvent the monarch as a sacred figure who ruled the church by virtue of a sacramental authority conferred by Divine Right. This stood in contrast to the Henrician, Edwardian and Elizabethan idea of the monarch as the Supreme Governor of a church whose government was determined by the monarch in Parliament. The rise of ‘Carolinism’ divided Laudians between those of a more Erastian tendency and those who valued the authority of the church above all else. On the one hand, Charles I’s personal support for Laudianism made it imperative for Laudians to ally themselves with the Stuart monarchy, but on the other Laudian theology was moving away from the idea that the church should be subject in any way to a secular ruler.

As James I and VI famously said, ‘No bishop, no king’, meaning that the episcopal rule of the Church of England established by the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559 was also the mainstay of the English monarchy. Back in Scotland, James had tussled with Presbyterian theologians such as Andrew Melville who insisted James was a mere member of the Church of Scotland, and subject to it. The royal supremacy was an intrinsic part of Charles I’s agenda for the Church of England, spearheaded by Laud, yet Laudians were also engaged in a project of arguing that the structure of the Church of England was not only the best means for the king to govern church as well as state: the Church of England, for Laudians, was also the most perfect form of Christianity. Advanced Laudians set no limit to the authority of the church, emphasising the church’s right to assert its privileges against laymen. Implicitly, that included the king himself. Like the alliance between Bourbon legitimism and Ultramontane Catholicism in 19th-century France, the alliance between anti-Erastian episcopalianism and the Stuart cause in the 17th century was a contingent marriage of bedfellows who, in other circumstances, might have been diametrically opposed, because the current of Laudian clericalism naturally ran counter to unrestricted royal authority.

The political tensions within Laudian Anglicanism began to show after the execution of Archbishop Laud himself in 1645 and the abolition of episcopacy the following year. Anglicanism (that is to say, Church of England episcopalianism) became a proscribed confession, forced into exile or underground – a situation that prompted much soul-searching among Anglicans, especially after the execution of the king himself in 1649. While the inevitability of a Stuart restoration is all too easy to discern in hindsight, for Anglicans of the 1650s it was by no means obvious that Charles II would ever return to rule. In the same way that Thomas White sought a way to reconcile English Catholics with the Cromwellian regime, so some Anglicans began to consider their options. Even Peter Heylyn, Laud’s chaplain, biographer and chief apologist, began to contemplate the possibility of supporting a Cromwellian monarchy that might be persuaded to re-establish an episcopalian Church of England.

Oliver Cromwell – restorer of episcopacy?

For Royalists who had lost hope of a Stuart restoration, the coronation of King Oliver and the re-establishment of a stable monarchy was a lesser evil compared to the victory of the more radical elements in Parliament and the army. Heylyn was in contact with a member of the Lord Protector’s Council of State and, at the time of Cromwell’s death, he seems to have been keen to present Cromwell with a copy of his book Ecclesia Vindicata; or, the Church of England Justified (1657). Ecclesia Vindicata was an extensive justification of the Church of England’s episcopal form of government, not so much in the polemical form of an attack on the Presbyterian and Independent alternatives, but in the form of an exposition of the benefits of episcopacy.

Anthony Milton has speculated that Ecclesia Vindicata was Heylyn’s attempt to convince Cromwell to re-establish the ‘right’ kind of episcopacy, since there were rumours in circulation that Cromwell might re-establish a limited form of episcopal government over the church. In the event, Cromwell neither declared himself king nor moved towards appointing bishops, and the Lord Protector’s death precipitated a chain of events that would end in the restoration of Charles II. Peter Heylyn’s dallying with the Cromwellian regime does not seem to have been forgotten, since although Heylyn was restored to his benefices and, as Sub-Dean of Windsor, he presented the sceptre to Charles II at his coronation, Heylyn received no further preferment after the Restoration.

Heylyn is, in fact, the perfect example of a Laudian so advanced in his views on the supremacy of the church that he was noncommittal in his attitude towards monarchy. In his Short View of the Life and Reign of King Charles, Heylyn showed little inclination to portray Charles as a saintly figure or add to a hagiographical myth surrounding the monarch. Instead, Heylyn criticised Charles for setting aside ‘that Regall Majesty which might and would have kept him safe from affront and scorn, to relie wholly on the innocence of a virtuous life, which did expose him finally to calamitous ruine’. In another work, Parliaments Power in Lawes for Religion (1645), Heylyn explicitly attacked the idea of the monarch in Parliament as the church’s supreme authority. Later, in Ecclesia Vindicata, he argued the right of Convocation to govern the church and claimed that the Royal Supremacy was a gift of the clergy to the monarch.

While James I may have believed that the institution of episcopacy bolstered the institution of monarchy, it is clear that Peter Heylyn had some misgivings about whether the institution of monarchy bolstered the church. If disagreement over the issue of episcopacy was a major cause of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Laudians like Heylyn concluded that the preservation of episcopacy mattered above all else; certainly above the authority of Parliament and perhaps even above the authority of the king himself. The thought that the Royal Supremacy was potentially a dispensable element of England’s ecclesiastical polity was not one that even Heylyn explicitly articulated, but it was implied by some of Heylyn’s conclusions.

The Seven Bishops

At the Restoration of the monarchy, high churchmen understandably rallied round the Stuart monarchy, eager to ensure that their vision of the Church of England was the one adopted in the new Act of Uniformity. The burgeoning cult of Charles I as a martyr – as well as the inclusion of a commemoration of the king’s martyrdom in the new Book of Common Prayer – tied the Restoration church very closely indeed to the House of Stuart. However, the events of 1688 pulled advanced high churchmen in two separate directions that exposed the tensions inherent in the high church position. Historians have traditionally focussed on Tory and high church opposition to James II’s policy of religious toleration because James was explicitly moving away from the fiction of a single, national, comprehensive English church that underpinned the Restoration settlement. However, James’s Declaration of Indulgence was also an Erastian assertion of royal power over the church; James was extending the royal prerogative into his role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, just as he had extended it in the secular sphere. On one level, therefore, the principled opposition of the Seven Bishops to James’s Declaration was not a matter of Protestant bishops versus a Catholic king (as the population at large saw the event); it was, rather, a disagreement on the nature and extent of the prerogatives of the Supreme Governor. Had he still been living, Heylyn might have deemed James ungrateful to the clergy for the gift of the Supremacy.

When James was declared by Parliament to have forfeited the crown in 1689, high churchmen were placed in a difficult position. On the one hand, the clergy had sworn oaths to James II as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the high church position was closely associated with unquestioning support for the House of Stuart. High church theology supported the doctrines of passive obedience and Divine Right. On the other hand, if the preservation of the Church of England’s settlement was the priority, then compromise with William and Mary was the overriding imperative, given that James II could not be trusted to honour the Church of England’s status as the national church.

In 1688 sincere high churchmen, some of whom remembered the bleak days of the 1650s, therefore found themselves in good faith on opposite sides in the Non-Juring controversy – which has sometimes been portrayed too simplistically as a matter of latitudinarian Williamites versus high church Non-Jurors. The more advanced high churchmen who supported the Revolution did so not because they contemned their former oaths but because they considered it indifferent who the Supreme Governor was as long as the settlement of the church was protected. As Heylyn had argued, the office of Supreme Governor was a gift bestowed by the church on the king rather than an absolute right inherent in the crown.

Bishop Samuel Seabury (1729-96)

To conclude, therefore, I should like to argue that Laudianism was not the ultimate conformist theopolitical stance; rather, it contained within it a germ of ecclesio-political radicalism that saw the church as independent of the state – or at least potentially independent of the state, if such independence became necessary. Laudians were not Erastians. In 1689 episcopalians in Scotland found themselves in much the same situation as Anglicans in the 1650s, asserting their identity as a national church while marginalised from national life. When a Scottish Episcopalian bishop consecrated Samuel Seabury as the first Episcopal bishop for the United States of America, the co-existence of episcopacy with a republican form of government finally exploded the fiction that Episcopalianism was necessarily linked to monarchism.

The history of interpretation of the Laudian phenomenon is a history of misappropriation. The Laudianism of 1633–60 cannot be equated unproblematically with Restoration high churchmanship, nor with the Non-Jurors, nor with post-Revolution high churchmanship in the juring church. And Laudianism certainly cannot be equated with the Oxford Movement or Anglo-Catholicism (the greatest misappropriation of all, which would require a separate exploration). After the Restoration, and even more so after 1688, Laudian high churchmanship fragmented into different traditions with varying degrees of importance assigned to the tenets of monarchical sacrality and ecclesiastical independence. But the logical consequence of favouring the latter over the former was, potentially, a very radical agenda indeed for ecclesiastical government.


Review: Mysticism in Early Modern England by Liam Temple

My review of Mysticism in Early Modern England by Liam Temple has just appeared in British Catholic History, the journal of the Catholic Record Society. The book is a groundbreaking one that demonstrates the centrality of the Benedictine monk Augustine Baker to all 17th-century mystical thought – Catholic, Protestant and radical – and demonstrates the importance of the neglected mystical tradition to the history of the later English Reformation.


Contract signed with Arc Humanities Press: Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic

An Old Prussian pagan priest makes an offering. Woodcut originally from Jan Malecki, Libellus de sacrificiis et idolatria veterum Borussorum (1551)

I have just signed a contract with Arc Humanities Press for a new book, Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic: Sixteenth-century Ethnographic Accounts of Baltic Paganism. The book will be an edition and translation of the key early modern Latin sources (primarily by Polish and Italian authors) that describe ongoing pagan beliefs and practices in sixteenth-century Lithuania and Prussia. The book will make the key sources on Baltic pagan religion available in English for the first time.

The Baltic peoples of Prussia (Lithuania Minor, today’s Kaliningrad Oblast) and Lithuania were almost unique among European nations in retaining their ancestral pre-Christian religion until the late Middle Ages. While the conversion of the Prussians was the justification for the Baltic Crusades, which brought Prussia and Latvia under the rule of German military orders, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania not only remained officially pagan but also expanded into a vast Central European empire. Although Lithuania formally converted to Christianity between 1387 and 1413, according to some accounts the nation was not fully Christianised until the eighteenth century.

Map of Samogitia and Lithuania (1539)

In sixteenth-century Europe, the existence of semi-pagan Lithuania was a puzzle to many scholars in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, who tried to understand what the Lithuanians believed in an effort to convert them properly to Christianity – an effort hampered by the newly erupted religious divisions of the Reformation within Poland-Lithuania itself. Indeed, the intellectual challenge posed by the continued existence of paganism in the Baltic is comparable to the challenge of Spain’s discovery of indigenous peoples in the New World with no knowledge of the Christian faith. Scholars were simultaneously fascinated by the alien nature of Baltic religion and condemnatory of the ignorance of pagan idolatry; yet the detail in which early modern authors attempted to describe Baltic paganism suggests that curiosity at least partially overcame religious bigotry in the milieu of Polish Renaissance Humanism. These texts represent the birth of a new form of early modern ethnography that was less concerned with condemning the heinous superstitions of pagans than with engaging with pre-Christian religion as a manifestation of human culture.

The reconstructed Samogitian pagan shrine at Šventoji (via Wikipedia)

While early accounts of the peoples of the New World have long been recognised as central to the development of the discipline of ethnography, Christian European engagement with the pagans of the Baltic has been overlooked in English-speaking scholarship. Yet it is a mistake to see the persistence of paganism in Lithuania as significant only within the context of Central European history. Lithuania, and subsequently the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was an empire of huge geopolitical and cultural importance in Europe as a whole. Furthermore, the pagan religion of the Balts is the only ancestral religion of any European people to be described in any level of detail in the modern era. Much light can be shed on the contested subject of pagan cultural and religious survivals, often debated in medieval studies, when we examine a culture where paganism actually did survive.

Featuring translations of ethnographic texts by Martynas Mažvydas, Michael the Lithuanian, Jan Malecki, Alessandro Guagnini and Jan Łasicki (amongst others), Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic seeks to unpick truth from exaggeration in early modern accounts of Baltic paganism. To what extent were the Lithuanians and Prussians really still ‘pagan’ in the sixteenth century, and to what extent can accounts by Catholic and Lutheran commentators be considered reliable? The book grapples with questions of Christianisation, the definition of ‘paganism’, and the nature of the Baltic pantheon while arguing that ongoing doubt about the sincerity of the Lithuanians’ Christianity was a thorn in the side of an already fractured early modern Christendom.


St Edmund, patron saint of pandemics on BBC Radio Suffolk

Designs for a reliquary made by Jean Chalette for supposed relics of St Edmund after 1631 (the original was lost at the French Revolution)

This morning I spoke to Mark Murphy on BBC Radio Suffolk (listen from time signature 1:53:15) about St Edmund’s role as the patron saint of pandemics, explaining the history behind this rather surprising feature of the cult of St Edmund. The idea of invoking St Edmund’s protection against infectious disease springs, essentially, from his instrument of martyrdom – arrows. In the Bible and in Christian tradition, the metaphor of arrows is used for infectious disease. St Sebastian, the Roman martyr who was tied to a tree and pierced with arrows, was invoked against the plague from an early date, and St Edmund occasionally appears alongside St Sebastian in medieval depictions, suggesting that a popular tradition of St Edmund as a plague saint existed in medieval England. However, no evidence survives that St Edmund was thus promoted by St Edmunds Abbey, even though the monk John Lydgate (Edmund’s biggest late medieval promoter) wrote about the plague.

Instead, the idea of St Edmund as a plague saint took off in the French city of Toulouse in the 17th century. Since at least the late 15th century, the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in the city had claimed to be in possession of the body of an English royal saint who came to be identified with St Edmund (a strange claim, given that Edmund’s body had been in Bury St Edmunds since the 10th century). In 1631 the city was ravaged by a terrible outbreak of plague and the Consuls invoked the saints enshrined at Saint-Sernin. When they invoked St Edmund, the plague came to an end – securing Edmund a place as one of the holy protectors of the city of Toulouse. In 1644 the supposed relics of St Edmund were solemnly translated to a new chapel and shrine, with a beautiful reliquary designed by Jean Chalette that depicted a plague victim supplicating the saint from his bed. Unfortunately the reliquary was stolen at the time of the French Revolution, when the church was ransacked.

A guide for pilgrims to Saint-Sernin published in 1762 includes a prayer to be said at the shrine of St Edmund for protection against infectious disease:

Lord, who by an incomprehensible effect of your mercy, accorded the blessed King Edmund the grace of victory over the enemies of your holy name: grant that by his prayers we may avoid the traps and the dangerous promptings of the enemy of salvation.

In the 19th century the Catholic Church of St Edmund, King and Martyr in Bury St Edmunds acquired some relics from Toulouse attributed to St Edmund, and as late as 1902 these relics were secretly carried through the streets of the town by a Jesuit priest during an outbreak of smallpox, when the town was in lockdown. We now know that these relics were not genuine – but we also know that the body of St Edmund is almost certainly buried somewhere in the precincts of his Abbey.