Translating iconoclasm: William Thomas’s The Perygrine and the Historie of Italie

Susanne Bayerlipp

Abstract:

Iconoclasm is always a “physical rupture with the past”, Margaret Aston writes.1 When Henry VIII ordered the removal of all idolatrous images from the churches and monasteries in 1538, the breaking of the images was to visualize the break with Rome. The king’s divorce and his subsequent politics had placed England at the centre of a religious and political dispute all over Europe. Especially in Italy the controversy divided the Catholic majority and the jurists and theologians of the great universities. This is the setting into which the go-between William Thomas inscribes his dialogue The Perygrine, defending Henry’s line of action. I will illustrate in which way the power of the word contested with the power of the image and which strategies were applied in this propagandistic text to succeed. By juxtaposing the dialogue to Thomas’s Historie of Italie, I will furthermore show how a similar line of argument and verbal imagery is being used to denounce the Pope, stylizing him as the iconoclast of Roman antiquity. In Thomas’s accounts iconoclasm is not a rupture with the past but re-establishes historic continuity.Abstract: Iconoclasm is always a “physical rupture with the past”, Margaret Aston writes.1 When Henry VIII ordered the removal of all idolatrous images from the churches and monasteries in 1538, the breaking of the images was to visualize the break with Rome. The king’s divorce and his subsequent politics had placed England at the centre of a religious and political dispute all over Europe. Especially in Italy the controversy divided the Catholic majority and the jurists and theologians of the great universities. This is the setting into which the go-between William Thomas inscribes his dialogue The Perygrine, defending Henry’s line of action. I will illustrate in which way the power of the word contested with the power of the image and which strategies were applied in this propagandistic text to succeed. By juxtaposing the dialogue to Thomas’s Historie of Italie, I will furthermore show how a similar line of argument and verbal imagery is being used to denounce the Pope, stylizing him as the iconoclast of Roman antiquity. In Thomas’s accounts iconoclasm is not a rupture with the past but re-establishes historic continuity.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.

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