Henry Arthington
The Seduction of Arthington by Hacket Especiallie, with Some Tokens of His Unfained Repentance and Submission
[London]: Printed by R.B. for Thomas Man, 1592
Folger Shelf Mark: STC 799

Richard Cosin (1549?–1597)
Conspiracie, for Pretended Reformation: viz. Presbyteriall Discipline
London: by the Deputies of Christopher Barker,
Printer to the Queenes most excellent Majestie, 1592
Folger Shelf Mark: STC 5823 Copy 1

The two pamphlets represented here by their title pages formed part of a controversy over a false prophet, the kind of recurring controversy over religion's proper source of authority—a church government, the Scriptures, or the inner experience of belief—whose flames were regularly fanned by the book trade. In his (probably coerced) pamphlet, Henry Arthington recanted his belief in William Hacket, an illiterate maltmaker from Northamptonshire, whom Arthington and Edmund Coppinger—two respectable provincial gentlemen—had earlier hailed in Cheapside as the second Christ. The three were arrested. Hacket was executed for treason in July 1591; Coppinger died in prison after a hunger strike; Arthington won the queen's pardon through repentance and confession. In this pamphlet, Arthington thanks "providence" for preserving him from Hacket's sins, admonishes the people to "beware of Satans temptations," and demonstrates his sincere repentance with metrical meditations penned in prison.

In many respects, Arthington's confession resembles providentialized news and prodigy pamphlets of the period. Like them, it retains a peculiar mixture of the titillating and the admonitory in recounting spectacular crimes or excesses and an equally spectacular moral conversion. Arthington's confession reflects a polarized view of the world in which an all-pervasive malice and presence of Satan, combined with the human propensity to sin, is set against the awesome power of divine providence. Historian Peter Lake describes the ways in which cheap popular print genres of a slightly later period, such as the murder pamphlet, were appropriated to convey ideas about punishment, repentance, and God's power to save even the most hardened sinners.

As dramatic as it was, Arthington's confession did not satisfy the church hierarchy, still smarting from the attacks on their legitimacy in the series of anonymous pamphlets known as the Martin Marprelate tracts. In the second pamphlet shown here (and with at least the tacit authorization of the queen, published as it was by her printer), Richard Cosin, Dean of Arches and a distinguished civil lawyer, exposed the presbyterian roots of Hacket's "conspiracy." Leading Presbyterians strongly disavowed all knowledge of the conspirators' intentions and wished to dismiss the plot as the product of a lunatic fringe, but Cosin emphasized the anarchic and antinomian implications of Presbyterianism itself. Hacket and his companions were not mad, declared Cosin, but merely Presbyterian. Besides answering "the calumniations of such as affirme they were mad men," Cosin also drew a direct parallel between English Presbyterians and German Anabaptists, claiming "a resemblance of this action unto the like, happened heretofore in Germanie."

Cosin was himself one of those designated by the Archbishop of Canterbury to license books for the press in the late 1580s. That Alexandra Walsham deems his pamphlet "a polemical construct" merely confirms the vested interests of those who controlled the book trade. But Cosin's Conspiracie has also been historians' best available source for reconstructing the activities of William Hacket and his accomplices. Walsham suggests that Cosin ruthlessly exploited a rich archive of incriminating letters and papers that fell into his lap.

Peter Lake finds that strains of anti-extremist polemic used in the Hacket-Coppinger conspiracy under Elizabeth continued to occur into the 1630s. In particular, he examines the case of Enoch ap Evan, a deranged man who killed his brother and mother and became the subject of two popular pamphlets, in which he was used to personify the sort of disorder that the puritan rejection of divine, political and ecclesiastical authority would inevitably produce if it was left unchecked by those in authority.

For more information on the Hacket episode, consult Alexandra Walsham, "'Frantick Hacket': Prophecy, Sorcery, Insanity, and the Elizabethan Puritan Movement," Historical Journal 41 (1998): 27-66. On the Elizabethan Church, consult Peter Lake, Anglicans and Puritans?: Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988). For the later instance of opportunistic anti-Puritan polemic mentioned above, consult Peter Lake, "Puritanism, Arminianism, and a Shropshire Axe Murder," Midland History 15 (1990): 37-64. For more information about the polemical use of popular pamphlet genres see Peter Lake, "Deeds against Nature: Cheap Print, Protestantism, and Murder in Early Seventeenth-Century England" in Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England, edited by Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).