Battle of the Bishops

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A rare 16th Century printed and manuscript volume documenting the heated argument between two Bishops over the right of Priests to marry is at risk of leaving the UK following its sale to a foreign buyer. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has imposed a temporary export bar on a volume which includes A Traictise declarying and plainly prouyng, that the pretensed marriage of Priestes… no mariage (1554) in the hope that a UK buyer can be found for the work.

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The book, by lawyer Thomas Martin and possibly the Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner (also Lord Chancellor of England), belonged to John Ponet, who had previously replaced Gardiner as Bishop of Winchester in 1551but fled into exile following Queen Mary’s restoration of the doctrine and personnel of the Catholic church.


The Traictise explicitly set out to refute the argument of Ponet’s A Defence for mariage of priestes (London, 1549) and to justify the Marian reintroduction of clerical celibacy. Although there are 22 other copies of the book in UK collections, this volume is unique in that it contains extensive annotations of the printed text and a book length manuscript that is part working notes and part draft text for Ponet’s own reply to Gardiner and Martin.



Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the traictise following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England, on the grounds that it is of outstanding significance for the study the history of the English Reformation and the adversarial culture of publication in sixteenth-century Europe.


Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:


“The story behind this manuscript is fascinating – two Bishops at loggerheads with each other, both with equally strong convictions, but at polar opposites on the issue of clerical marriage. This volume contains a wealth of information about a time when the fate of the Reformation hung in a delicate balance, – there is so much more to learn from it and I hope it can remain here in the UK.”


Christopher Wright from the RCEWA commented:


‘One of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s right-hand men, John Ponet was a key figure in the English Reformation. As a priest who had married even before English law allowed it – unfortunately, firstly to the bigamous wife of a Nottingham butcher; he subsequently remarried – he had both a personal and theological stake in the success of religious reform. This Traictise, written specifically to attack him and full of his furious notes for a published response, is the rarest of survivals. Few volumes take one with such immediacy to the passionate heart of religious debate during the troubled reign of Mary Tudor.’


The decision on the export licence application for the traictise will be deferred for a period ending on 23 December inclusive. This period may be extended until 23 March inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the archive at the recommended price of £116,500.

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