The Lion, the Witch, and the King: Thomas Stapleton’s Apologia pro Rege Catholico Philippo II (1592)*

Machielsen, Jan
February 2014
English Historical Review;Feb2014, Vol. 129 Issue 536, p19
Academic Journal
Historians have rarely acknowledged the restraint shown by Catholic exile writers in their portrayals of Queen Elizabeth. As a general rule, exiles took care to restrict their often stringent criticism to the queen’s government or advisers. This restraint has been obscured, in part, by the Apologia pro Rege Catholico Philippo II (1592) written by Thomas Stapleton (1535–1598), Regius Professor of Scriptures at the University of Leuven (Louvain). The Apologia represents the queen as a malignant genius and witch responsible for much of the world’s evils. This article shows that the Apologia, hitherto read as transparently the work of an English Catholic exile, was written for a largely Netherlandish audience, played to Netherlandish concerns, and appeared under a Netherlandish pseudonym. English involvement in the Revolt of the Netherlands on the side of the Protestant rebels meant that anti-Elizabethan sentiment in the Spanish Netherlands was widespread, and the Apologia was part of Stapleton’s efforts to bridge English and Netherlandish Catholic concerns. By presenting his criticism of Elizabeth as a defence of and a sign of devotion to Philip II of Spain by a loyal subject, Stapleton sidestepped accusations of disobedience levelled against the Catholic exiles by the English government. Careful study of Stapleton’s representation of Elizabeth shows why as a general rule other Catholic apologists, such as Robert Persons and Richard Verstegan, did not follow suit. Stapleton’s portrayal of a powerful and malignant queen highlights how the standard representation was influenced by a language of loyal opposition and a need for the nominal preservation of obedience.


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