THE SPIDER, THE FLY, AND THE COMMONWEALTH: MERRIE JOHN HEYWOOD AND AGRARIAN CLASS STRUGGLE James Holstun. ELH. Baltimore: Spring 2004.Vol.71, Iss. 1; pg. 53, 36 pgs
|Abstract (Document Summary)|
Holstun discusses John Heywood's, musician, poet, dramatist, and lifelong Catholic, long allegorical poem, The Spider and the Flie. He claims that Heywood's poem praises a state that never came to be--an absolutist but also populist regime that would hold off the depredations of agrarian capitalism. He further stresses that Heywood's allegorical dream vision of a field of English folk flourishing under the commonwealth reforms of a tolerant Catholic monarch, who finally turned out to be more interested in carting heretics to Smithfield than in saving copyholders perishing by inches.
Twentieth-century liberal historians as well as sixteenth-century English peasants have seen Edward Seymour (1506-1552), Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, as a compassionate friend to the poor-the "Good Duke" who fell prey to John Dudley, the Bad Duke of Northumberland.1 In his revisionist critique of this thesis, M. L. Bush sees Somerset's ostensible radicalism as reactive, contingent, and utterly traditional.2 All the same, in 1547, when he was probably the wealthiest person in England after the king, Somerset threw off the bone-deep reflexes of his class by converting his demesne lands to copyhold, dispossessing his own heirs of these lands, and giving greater security to many of his tenants.3 In 1548, he authorized a roving commission under John Hales to hear complaints about enclosure. It drew the wrath of landlords wherever it went, but he told Hales, "maugre the Devil, private profit, self-love, money and such like Devil s instruments, it shall go forward," and he rechartered it in 1549.4 That same year, he responded sympathetically to the peasant rebels who brought England closer to pitched class warfare than it had come since 1381. These rebellions included the Catholic Western or Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall and Devon; the largely Protestant risings of East Anglian peasants and artisans against enclosure and other economic grievances, notably, Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk; and a number of other significant rebellions in Surrey, Kent, Cambridgeshire, and elsewhere.5 Somerset conducted an unprecedented dialogue with many of the rebel camps. On 18 July, he promised the campmen of Norfolk that he would "extende in this case our authoritie Royall and absolute" by calling a reform parliament in October, one month early, and by commanding his royal commissioners "to reduce all ffermes and other landes to the same rents the same were leased for xl. yeres past."6
It would be difficult to overestimate the significance of these offers and others like them that Somerset sent to other rebel camps. England's ruling class did not take them lying down. In late July and early August, when he led the first expedition to embattled Norfolk, the Marquess of Northampton grievously disobeyed his orders, provoking a conflict during which the campmen killed the Earl of Sheffield.7 The shedding of noble blood made any negotiated conclusion to the rising almost inconceivable. Northumberland himself led a successful second attack in late August and a coup against Somerset in September. In November, at his trial of impeachment, six of the twenty articles accused Somerset of class treason for favoring agrarian rebels over the nations great landlords.8 Northumberland and his allies beheaded him in 1552.
In 1549, Robert Kett (1492?-1549), an elderly yeoman of Wymondham, Norfolk, enjoyed a comfortable annual income of about £50. He had easily weathered the Henrician and Edwardian reformations, retaining personal ties to the former abbot of the local monastery and to its chapel, while establishing new ties and accumulating properties. He hired laborers to work his freeholds and the properties he rented from the Duke of Northumberland, among others.9 He might have lived out his remaining years peacefully, burrowing into the middling position in the classic agrarian triad of landlords, tenant farmers, and laborers living off their rents, profits, and wages, which would lay the foundation for England's capitalist future.10 Indeed, in July of 1549 he played the bold capitalist yeoman by enclosing a Norfolk common for his own use.
But when his poorer neighbors resisted him, something snapped. With shamefaced solidarity, he joined them in leveling his own enclosures, led them in attacks on others, and helped them form the short-lived Protestant commune on Mousehold Heath, outside Norwich: the greatest practical Utopian project of sixteenth-century England. Kett and the campmen created a formal judiciary, a governing assembly representing the local hundreds, and a body of requisitioning foragers to supply the camp. They established ties to allies in the city, conducted military drill and regular church services using Cranmer's new prayer book, and sent formal petitions for political, religious, and economic redress to the King and Protector. Like many agrarian rebels of the period, they called for a return to the level of rents and fines under Henry VII, and the removal of enclosures instituted since his time. Diarmaid MacCulloch describes 1549 as "a time of apparently infinite possibilities, when ordinary people believed that they could themselves influence the future, and when the government appeared to agree." If their program had been instituted, it might have "clipped the wings of rural capitalism," in the words of S. T. Bindoff." After the campmen repulsed Northampton's assault, Northumberland's forces struck back, scattering and slaughtering them. Kett was captured, tried, and hanged in chains from the top of Norwich Castle.
John Heywood (1497?-1578?) was a musician, poet, dramatist, and lifelong Catholic.12 As a client to Princess Mary, a member of Thomas More's circle; husband to More's niece Eliza Rastell; and father to Jasper and Ellis (both of whom became Jesuits) and to Elizabeth (who became Elizabeth Donne, mother to John), he connects early Tudor, mid-Tudor, and Elizabethan Catholicism. But like most English Catholics, he lacked the soul of a martyr and made his peace with the Henrician, Edwardian, and Elizabethan reformations. At a succession of courts, he acquired a reputation as an epigrammatist and courtly wit.13 All the while, he displayed a considerable talent for accommodation and accumulation, acquiring grants from Henry, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, and the rents of lands confiscated from former abbeys and estates, from Thomas Cromwell, and from executed Catholic and Protestant rebels.14 In 1553, after inhabiting the shadows of various Protestant courts for almost twenty years, he reached the safe harbor of Mary's reign and, in 1556, published his magnum opus: a long allegorical poem, The Spider and the Flie.15
We might reasonably have expected a full-throated paean to Mary and the Catholic martyrs of the century. Instead, Heywood produces a remarkable continuation of the early Tudor estates debates and the radical commonwealth writing of the Edwardian gospellers. Heywood's poem offers the most sympathetic ruling-class literary treatment of Kett's Rebellion and a bold epistle to Mary in the third year of her reign, counseling her to bank the fires of Smithfield and return to the spirit of Somerset's anti-enclosure commission of 1548. In The Spider and the Flie, Heywood praises a state that never came to be: an absolutist but also populist regime that would hold off the depredations of agrarian capitalism.
How do we understand such moments of apparently disinterested action? Not, I think, as isolated acts of altruism, but as complexly intelligible instances of class conflict in a revolutionary situation. The mid-Tudor crisis shows us not only the economic struggle between exploiting and exploited classes intrinsic to all modes of production, but also a political struggle between two modes of production, which I will christen "aristo-capitalism" and "monarcho-populism."16 These terms feel all wrong from the perspective of the bourgeois revolution model that continues to dominate a good deal of thought about the period, particularly among literary critics. In this model, a class of commoner capitalist farmers, merchants, and manufacturers rises and overthrows a class of feudal lords. Twentieth-century historians have repeatedly turned to this model: in the controversy over the rise of the gentry initiated by R. H. Tawney in the 1940s, the simultaneous debate over the transition from feudalism to capitalism among Marxist historians and economists, and the Brenner Debate of the 1980s. Because they have been unable to locate and describe these ostensibly rising and falling groups, most historians have abandoned the bourgeois revolution model, though it does retain a ghostly halflife among anticommunist historians who wish to suggest that its failure means the failure of Marxist explanation as such.17
But another model of social change, with roots in Karl Marx's own writings, has drawn attention to the internal transformation of the English ruling class through new strategies for extracting surplus labor and new class alliances. When English lords lost their hold on the bodies of their serfs after the Great Rebellion of 1381, they turned to their lands, working to convert tenant copyhold to landlord freehold, and social property (church lands, commons, wastes, and forests) to private property. They worked with yeoman farmers to create and exploit a class of landless wage laborers. The forces of aristo-capitalism in Norfolk and throughout England included old and new nobility as well as yeoman tenant farmers eager to expand and improve their holdings. Gentlemen were certainly not the only ones interested in capitalist expropriation and improvement, but because of the powerful influence of the bourgeois revolution model, we probably do need to remind ourselves that there was no necessary conflict between hereditary landed property and the movement toward agrarian capitalist enclosure, engrossment, eviction, and improvement.
In opposition, we find an even more surprising monarcho-populist alliance: a post-feudal but anti-capitalist mode of production that attempted to use the resources of a newly centralized Tudor monarchy to maintain and even extend the relative independence enjoyed by free English small producers during their fifteenth-century golden age. This hybrid concept derives partly from the limits of sixteenthcentury political thought, which had a hard time articulating those models of impersonal collective agency that we see emerging from the capitalist and proletarian revolutions that began in seventeenth-century England. For instance, More s communist state of nameless citizens takes its name and its origin from King Utopus, who conquers barbarian peninsular Abraxa, transforms it into insular Utopia through a massive public works project, then into a communist state.18 But monarcho-populism is also a genuine discursive and practical phenomenon of Tudor England, for monarchists legitimated themselves through paternalist resistance to capitalist encroachments on small producers, while small producers legitimated themselves by invoking loyalty to a reigning monarch or Protector against some menacing middleman or interloper. The Norfolk campmen repeatedly declared their loyalty to Edward against traitorous gentlemen.19 After Northumberland defeated the campmen, their survivors fantasized about allying with the Dauphin or the Grand Turk against the gentlemen who had crushed them. In September 1549, Somerset petitioned the people to aid him in resisting Northumberland's coup. At his execution, he had to order the crowds threatening his rescue to maintain law and ordert During the mid-Tudor crisis, a tenuous alliance of monarchopopulist lords, their counselors, and small producers (yeoman tenant farmers like Kett, artisans, copyholders, and wage laborers) struggled with a stronger aristo-capitalist alliance of gentlemen, yeomen, their dependents, and their mercenaries. Classes split into class fractions, unified in blocs with other class fractions, and joined in conflict with other blocs. Nothing in later English history shows us the like, not even (particularly not even) the capitalist and imperialist Cromwellian Protectorate. From the perspective of their victorious opponents and the capitalist social formation that prevailed, wealthier monarcho-populists like Somerset and Kett looked something like class traitors. But from the Utopian perspective of monarchist small production that still seemed possible at mid-century, they look more like purposive and even self-interested radical/conservative actors, unified by anticapitalist commonwealth ideology. In The Spider and the Flie, Heywood writes the stillborn epic of mid-Tudor monarchopopulism. We can indeed continue to think of Merrie John Heywood the epigrammatist as a sort of Tudor Oscar Wilde, but only if we remember Wildes affinities with socialism and Irish republicanism, and the revolutionary nostalgia embedded in the very word "merry": in June 1550, one John Oldman, a Norwich fisherman, fondly recalled his weeks on Mousehold Heath, when he and his fellow campmen took their revenge on those voracious instruments of enclosure and "great devourers" of commoners: "[I]t was a merry world when we were yonder eating of mutton."21
As a 456-page quarto, with a preface, conclusion, and 98 chapters, each introduced by a two-page, full-page, or two-third-page woodcut, The Spider and the Flie required a substantial investment of the poet's and printers time and expense, and Heywood seems to have intended it as his great testament to literary posterity.22 Posterity didn't notice. The Spider and the Flie remains the least-loved long poem of sixteenth-century England, and the few recorded responses, from Heywood's day to our own, suggest the author's nightmare of negative judgment compounded by a failure to read. In The Description of England, which prefaces Raphael Holinshed, William Harrison refers to the literary tradition of artificial insect battles, then comments, "One also hath made a book of the spider and the fly, wherein he dealeth so profoundly, and beyond all measure of skill, that neither he himself that made it, neither anyone that readeth it, can reach unto the meaning thereof." Harrison s cryptic comment suggests some possible appreciation for Heywood's poem, but its effect, finally, is to close the book. Thomas Warton suggests that "there never was so dull, so tedious and trifling an apologue; without fancy, meaning, or moral" as this "very long poem in the octave stanza"; it is indeed very long-7689 lines by Jakob Haber's count-but its stanza is seven-line rhyme royale. John Berdan finds its meaning "undoubtedly obscure," comparing it to Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall as "a book that we never find just the leisure to complete." Robert Carl Johnson finds it guilty of disunity and concludes that it is "best left unread except by the cultural historian."23 Anyone who has read the entire poem, with its repetitions and digressions, its quirky syntax and wobbly punctuation, may occasionally feel some sympathy.24 But we might also say that Tudor England failed Heywood by failing to produce the monarcho-populist state and culture that would have rendered his poem more intelligible.
Generically, The Spider and the Flie derives from the mock-heroic tradition of the battle of insects, which goes back to the Batrachomyomachia, falsely attributed to Homer. Buz, the "fly of flies" (S, 1.26), out foraging on a spring day, is caught in a web set in a window lattice claimed by "spider Ie graund" (S, 60.264), or simply "the spider" (S, 3.37). When Buz defends the flies' access to these holes by common right, the Spider claims the right to all holes in lattices, and so also the right to slay trespassers and feed them to his family (his young son yearns to suck out Buz's brains). After a long, inconclusive debate, the Spider calls in Antony Ante (otherwise known as Ferce Fismere) as an advocate, while Buz calls in Bartilmew Butterfly. This debate also ends in a stalemate, as does a third, more heated one between a "tart taunting spider" and a "sharp saucy fly" (S, 43.187).
Finally, the minuscule hordes square off under the leadership of the Spider and the "graund captayne" (S, 57.246) of the flies, and the ensuing battle leaves five thousand dead flies, live hundred dead spiders. Antony Ante, captured by the flies, advises them to seek peace. They conditionally agree and send him to the castle of the spiders to negotiate for them. The Spider gains peace by promising the flies half the holes in the lattice, but later they find to their dismay that these particular holes contain only a sixth part of the area. After the Spider abuses and threatens him, Antony Ante returns to his anthill, vowing never again to involve himself in spiderly affairs. The Spider claims the right to slay the still-captive Buz, who finally submits. As the Spider closes in, the Maid of the House arrives, frees Buz, and strikes down the web. The Spider begs for clemency, but she denies it. After he confesses his fault, she crushes him and sweeps almost all the webs from the window lattice. The illustrated narrator, who strongly resembles the "I. H." of the frontispiece, observes all these events from his writing desk, just beneath the window, pen in hand. In a conclusion, Heywood sings the praises of Mary and Philip.
He also describes his writing process in a few cryptic lines that have bedeviled attempts to establish a topical reading:
The thing, yeres mo then twentie since it begoon.
To the thing: yeres mo then ninetene, nothing doon.
The frewte was grene: I durst not gather it than,
For fear of rotting: before riping began.
This dating suggests that Heywood began the poem in 1536 or earlier, put it down in 1537 or earlier in an unpropitious moment, and concluded it more recently. Even if we assume that Heywood chronicled his own writing process with scrupulous accuracy, this leaves us with at least seven times and contexts, which we can group most economically by identifying the primary antagonists as follows.
First, 1525-1526: Buz as the commons, the Spider as Thomas Wolsey.25 Mass public protests ended Wolsey's proposal to finance Henrys French wars with the "Amicable Grant."26 This crisis offers us no central, Buz-like rebel, but its peaceful populist conclusion, with monarch and commons strategically uniting against extortionate middlemen, does suggest the end of Heywoods poem.
Second, 1532-1535: Buz as Catholic martyr More, the Spider as Protestant tyrant Henry VIII.27 Henrys lengthy examination of More may well lie behind the Spiders of Buz, but the poem lacks any significant religious allegory, and its protagonists have fates opposite to those of More and Henry.
Third, 1533-1536: Buz as Protestant martyr John Rastell, Heywoods father-in-law, and the Spider as state Catholic tyrant Henry VIII, or Cromwell acting for him. After Rastell wrote his Catholic apology, the Neu; BoA:g of Purgatory (1530), John Frith answered him so forcefully in A Disputacio[n] of Purgatorye (1531) that Rastell converted to Reform principles. After working for a time with Cromwell, he moved further in a Protestant direction. Jailed for denying the right of curates to tithes and oblations, he died in 1536.28 Given Heywood's inclination toward a moderate religious toleration, Rastell may well be on his mind, but the same problems apply as with the More identification.
Fourth, 1536-1537: Buz and the flies as the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Spider as Henry. In the Pilgrimage, a group of northern Catholics rose against the dissolution of the monasteries and sometimes also against enclosure and gentlemen more generally. We can't rule out some resonance, since Heywoods focus on agrarian unrest does suggest some aspects of the Pilgrimage, and he might well have feared "rotting" if he had sided with it during Henrys reign or Edwards.29 But Heywood refers only obliquely to the Pilgrimage, and, once again, the poem diverges from the Pilgrimage in its lack of a strong religious dimension and in its final chastening of the spiders.30
Fifth, 1543-1544, 1556. Buz as Heywood himself, the Spider as Thomas Cranmer. During the final years of Henry's reign, Bishop Stephen Gardiner seems to have drawn several members of the More circle into the Prebendary Plot: an effort to charge Cranmer with failing to enforce the conservative Six Articles.31 In February 1544, Henry appointed Cranmer himself to investigate-not a promising development for the alleged plotters. Heywood, indicted and charged with conspiracy, displayed his characteristic flexibility by publicly recanting and proclaiming Henrys religious supremacy, gaining a pardon and the restoration of his lands.32 Bolwell says the Spider suggests Cranmer, who recanted his Protestantism before being burned to death on 21 March 1556, the year of the poem's publication.33 The specter oi death may indeed have provided Heywood with a felt model for the dangers faced by Buz and Antony Ante. But what struck contemporaries most about Cranmer's death was his return to the Protestant fold and godly martyrdom.34 Moreover, Heywood s sensibility doesn't tend toward this sort of vindictiveness, and by the late 154Os, he had reconciled adequately with Cranmer to compose an interlude for him.35
Sixth, 1549-1551: Buz and the flies as Somerset, Kett, and the East Anglian rebels, and the Spider as Northumberland. Given that Northumberland crushed Kett's Rebellion in 1549, executed Somerset in 1552, tried to install his daughter-in-law and son on the throne in 1553, and died on Mary's scaffold after publicly repenting, he strongly suggests the Spider, as Ward first suggested (S, ix). Heywood s extended allegorical discussion of commons and copyholds as lattices suggests Kett's Rebellion, as does the flies' camp around the "tree of reformacion," which recalls the Oak of Reformation on Mousehold Heath, where the Norfolk campmen held their open-air courts during the summer of 1549 (S, 52.222).36
Seventh, 1556: Buz as Marian commoners, the Spider as the English ruling class. just before the battle, Antony Ante attempts to persuade the spider camp to temperance, arguing, among other things, that a bloody victory over the flies would leave the spiders in perpetual dread of vengeful rebellion. The Spider responds by accusing him of being a traitor to his class and by recalling two fly revolts from six years earlier-one in the east, one in the west, each following different religions. These rebellions ended with the hanging of the fly captains, the slaying of many fly soldiers, pillaging of the survivors, and loss of the harvest (S, 60.265, 267). Thus the Spider distances the current rebellion from Kett's Rebellion and from the Prayer Book Rebellion, emphasizing the class division between spiders and flies rather than the religious division between Protestants and Catholics.
Finally, contexts 6 and 7 predominate. If Kett's Rebellion has topical pride of place, it's because this struggle between a Protestant ruling class and Protestant peasants resists a polemically religious explanation. The poem never mentions transubstantiation, and its two references to purgatory refer to the purgatory-on-earth of battle and subjection (S, 57.244, 59.259). It never mentions Thomas Wyatt's 1554 Protestant rebellion against Mary. Most of those who eall the poem a partisan Marian allegory of Protestant-Catholic conflict refer to it rather fleetingly, while most of those who give clear evidence of having read it-none of them writing from a historical materialist perspective-refer to it as a narrative of class hatred and struggle.37 Heywood thus leaves the literature of patronage and Catholic polemic and moves toward a Humanist focus on economic custom and class struggle.38 And by imagining another revolt of the commons on the model of Kett's Rebellion, Heywood suggests that its causes persist in Marian England.
The Spider first tries to make short work of the fly. Heywood satirizes ruling-class conspiracy theory, which attempts to trace social tumults to individual agitators: when Buz the fly reveals his name, the Spider responds, "Whereby I may (and do) take occacion, / To thinke: that thou hast bene the soole procurer, / Of every flie" (S, 20.94). We then move into an extended debate over copyhold tenure, the great battleground of sixteenth-centuiy agrarian struggle: will landlords gain tenancy at will, which would allow them to raise rents and change leases with no restraint, or will tenants gain freehold, which would allow them to hold the land with low rents or no rents and little or no demand for fines or fees at renewal? Buz accuses the Spider of desiring prerogative power, "power ryall," and the Spider more or less agrees, saying that the "lordes wyll" rules in "every pety courte of copy holde." Buz insists on the "custome of the maner," which forms "To tenauntes a bukler, to lordes a bridle." Even if this hole were the Spider's freehold and Buz his copyholder, custom "bindthe the lordes wyll in judgement" (S, 24.110-11).39 Tawney observes, "A copyholder is a tenant at will, though qualified by the addition of the words 'by copy of court roll according to the custom of the manor.'"40 Buz then makes an even bolder assault on the manorial prerogative power of lords: "But you are not my lorde, nor I your tenant," and "clerely I claime: all holes in all lates, / To be flies freholde" (S, 24.111). All "trew trying of custome" should be conducted in "Westminster halle," which the Spider rejects out of hand as a place where "I nor no spider maie cum" (S, 25.113).
The opponents debate the relative virtues of speedy prerogative justice through the decision of a single spider, and deliberate common law justice produced by a jury of flies. The Spider rejects the latter and proposes that "Lawe, in my lordship: must trie customes defence," to which Buz responds sarcastically: "Will is now cum in againe: and must be cald law, / By thy ground laid for copy hold at will, / It seemth" (S, 27.122-23). He hesitates to enter into a manorial court ruled absolutely by the Spider, since "the law is eended, / In sum case, in sum place: as folke are freended" (S, 27.123).41 The debate expands to a discussion of the relative virtues of absolute and democratic rule (S, 27.124-31). The Spider invokes the arguments "leide by a learned clerke formerly, / For the rule of one ruler capitally"-perhaps Sir Thomas Elyot, Heywoods associate in the More circle (S, 27.125).42 Just as tyranny is worse than misrule by a few, or misrule by many, so rule by a king must be better than rule by peers or by the commons, for "whose contrary is worst (saith he) thats beste" (S, 27.127).43 He employs analogical argument: one God, one keel to the ship, one rafter to the house, one captain for an army, one ruler bee to a hive, one crane for a flock, one shepherd for a herd. Buz responds that "man and man" are all of the same kind and defined by "lybertee . . . gods great gifte"-a very early use of the word to indicate leveling natural right-so human rule should not be compared to the rule of natural superiors over inferiors (S, 27.125). he suggests they move away from Scholastic arguments based in clerkly authority, to Humanist arguments based in reason and experience (S, 27.125-26). he invokes the long-term and stable democratic government of a city by a council or "senate," perhaps reflecting Ileywood s own admission to the freedom of the City of London in 1523 and his membership in the Stationers' Company (S, 27.12728).44
The argument remains unresolved, though Heywood tips his hand by dramatizing the corruptions of absolute rule:
[BUZ:] For your selfe hath your selfe avouchte,
Plaintif, pleader, jurer, Judge, and jailer.
[SPIDER:] Stop fly (what) from a reasoner to a railer?
[BUZ:] I cry you mercy. Sir if this do displease,
I reverse and revoke it streight. for I have:
As small apetight, as I shall have small ease,
To move you. [SPIDER:] Well since thou forgevenes dost crave,
Stande up fly. I forgeve even as god forgave.
(S, 27.131, my attributions)
The spiders decline into blasphemous hubris signals Buz's victory in the debate; nonetheless, he remains captive.
After this impasse, the Spider and Buz decide to debate by proxy: Antony Ante for the Spider, and Bartilmew Butterfly for Buz. Heywood immediately suggests his sympathies by showing the Spider subtly bribing Antony (S, 31.144). When Antony and Bartilmew fail to determine which side has more "honestie," Heywood ratchets up the conflict through a debate between a "quareling spider" and a "cockyng flie," who try to determine which side has more dishonesty (S, 43.190). The debate degenerates into abuse, and Antony's negative judgment on these "knaves" suggests a certain evenhandedness (S, 45.201). But the debate itself suggests Heywoods continuing Humanist abhorrence of aristocratic prerogative power as well as his solidarity with workers. While the spider proceeds by mere insult, knaving the fly and accusing flies of unmotivated libel, the fly proceeds by reason and witty dialectic. he concedes that flies have libeled spiders, but adds that spiders have also libeled flies. And he refuses to remain at the level of discourse, saying that the flies' ill words derive from the spiders' appropriation of the commons: "Thus when we speake (I say) if our spech ill be, / Of your ill deedes: cum our ill woordes: everychone" (S, 44.192).
The quarrelling spider employs the innovative and individualist reflexive of ownership denounced by so much early modern anti-enclosure literature: "What ill or wrong deedes: do we to you devise? / Our owne windowes to use, as our owne will aplise" (S, 44.193). His claim suggests Sir John Cheke, who tells the East Anglian rebels that "langes majesties lawe and his comaundement is, that every man should safely kepe hys owne, and use it reasonably to an honest gaine of hys living." William Wager's Covetous in Enough Is as Good as a Feast doubles his tenant s rent and tells him, "And that a man should make what he can of his own it is reason. / I warrant you there be enough that that rent will give." In his Epigrammes, Robert Crowley's Bente Rayser insists, just before he falls providentially sick, "that wyth hys owne he myghte / alwayes do as he lyste." And the "gredie cormerauntes" in Crowley's The Way to Wealth ask "shal we suffer the vilaines to disprove our doynges? No, we wil be lordes of our own & use it as we shal think good!"45
The cockyng fly responds with communitarian commonwealth ideology, criticizing competition among landlords-perhaps the plundering of monastic lands-as well as the expropriation of plebeians:
The quarrelling spider does not respond directly, hut moves into a frantic discussion of the price controversy: because of inflation, flies pay what amounts to smaller rents and fines and charge higher prices. But spiders raise rents, responds the cockyng fly, and he reveals a larger, commonwealth sensibility by considering those pensioners and wage laborers who can raise neither rents nor prices:
But spiders: letting farms, and flies holding farms.
Thone letting farms hie, thother selling vitels dere.
And of all ware sellers: ech shifteth from harms.
By reising his ware, as other wares apere.
But all that on their pencions (or pence) live mere:
In windowes: without lande to let, or ware to sell,
Where ever thei dwell: mai thinke thei dwell in hell.
As Raphael Hythloday concludes Utopia by attacking "a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the commonwealth," so the cockyng fly blames "ye hie hed spiders: in a conspiracie," who "Conspire in all windowes, to kepe fermes at heith" (S, 44.196).47 He traces the greater dishonesty of spiders to their greater "covetusnes," that negative touchstone of the Commonwealthsmen, and moves to John Ball's famous proverb from 1381:
Wise flies can not brooke it: for thei Rude in booke:
This demaund written. When Adam doive and Eve span,
Who was in those golden daies a gentleman.
None as who saie. And were there none now (say wee)
The worlde shuld be as good now, as it was then.
If yeman flies: were put in autoritee,
We wold rule as well, as spiders gentlemen:
[QUARRELLING SPIDER] Shal Iak sauce rule now flie?
[COCKYNG FLY] sir by these bones ten:
We shall sure be rulde: in all kinds of lawse,
As well by Iak sause: as by maister John dawse.
(S, 44.197; my attributions)48
The fly's dialectical superiority over the spider also appears in his status as respondent (he thus gets the rhymes) and in his plays on words:
[QUARRELLING SMDER] Do you none ill deedes: to us good
sir (quoth he?)
Yes sir (quoth the flie) Oies to spiders do one,
In our curtsy made to you: downe to grownd gone:
Most sinfully we commit idolatry.
For we therein, woorship false imagery.
Like a plebeian gospelling reformer, the cockyng fly spurns the practice of "bending our knees to ball [Baal]"-a Reformation byword for popish idolatry (S, 44.197).49 He attacks the spiders' failure to keep good household, and their inclination to "Looke liily: speake lordly: commaunde all, and do nought" (S, 44.198).
When the spider denounces him as "captain caitif" (an echo, perhaps, of "Captain Kett") and "an hereticke," the fly responds with a savage parody of auricular confession:
I defie (quoth the flie) the wrech that so seith.
Harke: I will evin in your eare: confesse my feith.
The flie: blowing a while, in the spiders eare:
The spider: that while: brething in the flies necke,
Both cride out, as thei had ben stoong on a speare.
This episode reprises and revises Gentleness and Bobility, Heywood's interlude of more than thirty years before, in which a Knight, a Merchant, and a Plowman debate the nature of true nobility. Like the fly, Heywood's Plowman invokes Ball's couplet (S, 44.197).51 Both quick-witted commoners, fly and Plowman, easily best their opponents in debate. Both dim-witted aristocrats, spider and Knight, degenerate into bullies who knave their opponents, whereupon the commoners comically assault them (S, 44.198).52 After an initial argument, the Knight and the Merchant establish an aristo-capitalist alliance against the Plowman, but he clearly refutes their arguments, drives them offstage, and delivers a sympathetic address to the audience, praying that "God wyll send / A tyme tyll our govemours may intend / Of all enormytees the reformacyon." After he leaves the stage, the Phylosopher, his monarcho-populist ally, closes the play by echoing his arguments, attacking the aristocracy of blood, and calling on a benevolent but firm monarch to visit "condygne ponyshment" on incorrigible offenders.53
But the mid-Tudor crisis weakened Heywoods early Henrician confidence in the power of counsel, and it changed the economic self-sufficiency of the small-holding peasant from a hardy ideal to an embattled hope: where the debate in Heywoods interlude leads to an appeal to the king for reform, the debate in his epic leads to a pitched battle. In a last-ditch effort to hold off the conflict, Antony Ante moves between the two camps, playing on the primal class fears of each: the peasants' fear of enserfment, the nobles' fear of extermination. He tells the flies that many of them will die, that an unsuccessful battle will make any later truce with the spiders less favorable, and that they will turn on each other if they defeat the spiders. Worst of all, if they fail, the "frank free franklin flies" risk becoming "vile bonde slaves" (S, 57.242-45). During the pan-European struggles following the demographic collapse of the fourteenth century, Eastem European aristocrats had, in fact, re-enserfed the peasantry. This was the abiding fear of English peasants, some of whom were still technically bonded labor, as alluded to in the most famous of the Norfolk campmen's demands: "We pray thatt all bonde men may be made ffre for god made all ffre with his precious blode sheddyng."54
Antony tells the spiders that they risk a great mortality, that even if successful, they will live in constant fear of an uprising, that they cannot possibly kill all the flies, and that the flies may well kill all of them (S, 59.259-60). Similarly, quite a few Tudor plebeians seem to have been unconvinced of the metaphysical necessity for gentlemen. In 1540, John Walker of Griston proposed killing gentlemen and their children in the cradle, "for yt were a good thinge yf ther were so many jentylmen in Norff. as ther be whyt bulles." Robert Bumham, parish clerk of St. Gregory's, Norwich, is reported to have said, "There are too many gentlemen in England by 500." Even Northumberland knew that gentlemen needed peasants more than peasants needed gentlemen. After crushing Kett's Rebellion, he prudently interrupted the celebratory bloodbath by observing, "There must be measure kept, and above all things in punishment, men must not exceed. He knew their wickednes to be such, as deserved to be grievously punished, and with the severest judgment that might bee. But how farre would they goe? would they ever shew themselves discontented, and never pleased? Would they leave no place for humble petition; none for pardon and mercie? Would they be Plowmen themselves, and harrow their owne lands?"55
Despite Antony's efforts, the battle commences. The rout of the campmen at Dussein Dale, outside Norwich, might well have provided Heywood with a model for some mock-heroic narrative relief from the debates that have defined almost the entire poem. When Kett's campmen broke and ran, Northumberland's mercenaries immediately slaughtered thousands. Northumberland then tortured nine "ringleaders" to death on the Oak of Reformation (they were half-hanged, cut down, castrated, their bowels removed and burnt before their eyes, then beheaded) and conducted many more hangings during the next two weeks. Robert Kett escaped on horseback.56 The government captured him and tried him and his brother William. In December, they hanged Robert alive in chains from Norwich Castle, William from Wymondham Church, leaving them there to perish and rot in the open air. The government divided their property, and that of many other campmen, among the victors, thus accelerating the capitalist agrarian engrossment that had set the rebellion off in the Erst place.57
But Heywoods peculiar genius was not oriented to the heroic or the mock-heroic. His illustrator does depict the battle with a magnificent, two-page plate, but Heywood provides only six stanzas on the battle (S, 66.302-3, 304-5). At this point, he begins moving away from the rout of the campmen in 1549 toward a meditation on England's present and future. He transforms this rout into yet another draw: the flies suffer 5000 dead, but the spiders lose 500, far in excess of the gentlemen's actual toll in Norfolk (S, 55.305).58 Heywood s aristocrats, like those of Edwardian England, fancy corporal spectacle as a technique of class hegemony, but with no captives and no executions, they simply string up the bodies of dead flies (S, 71.333). After the Spider offers a final settlement, the Captain of the Flies attempts an orderly peace. He begs Antony Ante for forgiveness, releases him, then calls his troops together for a farewell speech. To his dismay, all but forty have left the field, prompting him to reflect in disgust on "the rewdnesse and lightnesse of the common sort of flies." He vows never again to rise up in battle against the spiders (S, 77.359). Another fly rejects future rebellion in strategic, not ethical terms:
I tooke and take . . . our clayme right
Yet agaynst our superiors, to be stout:
To attayne our right: by force of furious fight
A blinde flie might se that out of the waie quight.
Which wold not be heard: but ere I agayne stun
As I now sturd, Ile be hangd at mine owne dur.
(S, 77.359, 362)
"[T]ake" as well as "took," despite the abandonment of armed struggle.59 Unlike Captain Kett, Heywood's rebels live to fight another day-or at least to think what they think, and petition. This is not a triumphant plebeian victory, but neither is it Northumberland's slaughterhouse or Cheke's demonizing vision of rebellious peasants.
The Spider offers what seems at first a reasonable compromise: full pardon and half the holes in the lattices for the flies, and a fair trial for Buz, "as standth with reason, law, custome, and conscience," and the flies agree (S, 75.355). But the Spider designates only the smaller, lower holes, which amount to "scant the sixt parte of the roome"(S, 82.383). When one fly protests that they intended "to have: with halfe the holes, halfe the plat here," the Spider glibly responds that he intended otherwise, and besides,
At time of this graunt, I was (as who say.)
Stressed by you: you prisoner (as it weare)
And all bonds so forced, of no force are they:
Be answerd: and warnd, rebellion to for beare.
As everie flie: had had a flea: in his eare,
At curtsie low made, from the spider they slank.
They mervelus blank, and the spider as crank.
The Spiders bad faith here suggests two moments in Northumberland's career. First, he offered a solemn pardon to the last resistant band of campmen, then presided over at least nine days of hangings.61 second, after he established his power as de facto Protector, he tried to reverse the anti-capitalist mainstream of government legislation through a statute that restored Henry III's Statute of Merton, and specifying that "Lordes of Waste Woodu and Pastures might approve them selfes of their Waste Woode and Pastures, notwithstandinge the gaynesayinge and contradiction of their Tenantes, whiles the same Tenantes had sufficient pasture."62 Fearless Hugh Latimer mocked this "sufficient" in his 1550 sermon on covetousness delivered before Edward VI and (presumably) Northumberland.63
Heywood develops his analysis of prerogative power as the Spiders trial of Buz resumes. The Spider suggests that the two of them change places and consider the case. Moving quickly into character, Buz says, "Spiders owe all windows, he sware by gods blist" (S, 84.390). Henderson says this suggests Buz's fatal and punishable flaw of pride.64 It seems to me more like a Tudor Humanist version of Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson: by showing Buz begin to act like a spider, Heywood further mocks the gentle ethic of blood and grimly confirms the cockyng fly's vaunt that "If yemen flies: were put in autoritee, / We wold rule as well, as spiders gentlemen" (S, 44.197). Having set up this judicial thought experiment, the Spider briskly scampers out of his role and "graunted it trew. sterting out streyte: / To the flie. saying syr ye have saide right well" (S, 84.390). Buz pleads the conditioning effect of "prosperite" and "adversite," and begs that his words be ignored, to which the Spider responds, "Thou art . . . a monster now woxe. / In myne iye a flie, and in mine eare a foxe" (S, 85.393).
Reneging on his earlier promise to resume the trial on the four-part grounds of reason, law, custome, and conscience, the Spider reduces the earlier discussion of right to a discussion of customary power:
Custom: one cheef'e post principall (as erst saido)
Declarth: and hath declarde this six thousand ye re,
All flies (or anie flie) in copwebs (or copweb) staide:
How ever they cum theare, if they theare appere:
No reason: in reason and law: aledge here:
Could discharge them thence, but streight there cumth a maine,
A spider: who sleath him and suekth out his braine.
Thus lordly custom overwhelms reason, justice, and conscience, and the spider articulates a ferocious version of order theory: "we woorke copwebs everie wheare, / To save flies by feare, copwebs to for beare" (S, 87.405).
Finally, without admitting guilt, Buz relents and submits, for "right nought prevayled" in the Spider's eyes (S, 87.406). He requests the privilege of addressing a farewell speech to a dozen flies and delivers what seems, on the face of things, a homily against disobedience and willful rebellion: "No law alowth flies: to win their right by fight." They must proceed only by petitioning, "humblie sewing, with bills of faire wrighting":
By ought (in anie law) that ever I wist:
Thus may flies sew, for right and not onh'e maie,
But sew so: flies must: forbiddin to resist:
Their higher powrs: by violence (anie waie)
Which waie not helping flies: their waie is to praie:
Unto the great god. To woorke spiders consent,
To geve and take right: in right rated extent. (S, 88.412-13)
And he fervently denies any role at all in the rebellion of the flies.
In chapter 89, just as the Spider begins to pierce Buzs skull, the Maid enters, frees Buz, and knocks down the Spider and his web-a dramatic moment heightened by the chapters shortness (one stanza), its introduction of a new character (nobody has even mentioned the Maid since chapter 3), and its violation of generic decorum (a human actor introduced alongside humanized insects). She reverses her expected solidarity with the nobility and gentlemen, and even eschews a regal neutrality above the contending forces. When the Spider claims the customary sanction of cobwebs, she reminds him that the debate was never over webs as such, but their extent (S, 91.420). Then she establishes precisely the sort of monarcho-populist alliance dreamt of by the campmen and briefly established by Somerset in 1548-1549:
In taking the flies part here: I take myne owne.
I: heing mayde of the house, my charge it is:
To se copwebs corrected. Thus over growne,
And so will I do (spider) be sure of this,
Well (quoth the spider) yf I have done a mis,
Redresse mine ill doing: and let me go free.
Naie naie spider (quoth the maide) that maie not be.
The Spider pleads that his actions were all at her service-an attempt to hold back flies who were blowing (laying eggs in) the meat, thus setting the Maid against her master and mistress (Christ and the Church). She rebuffs him, saying that his webs were for his own benefit, and that her master and mistress object less to ten flies in their dishes than to one spider (S, 91.422). She finds him guilty of "usurppacion abhominable," recalling his own words about the specific form of corruption characteristic of misrule by the few. Sardonically echoing the Spider, she claims the right by "custom . . . underpropped .. . With reason, with law, and with conscience" to press him to death (S, 91.423). The narrator concludes this episode with a class-conscious mirror for magistrates: "These two things are meete things (as me thinkth) to note. / The spider right now so hie: evin now so low. / The flie right now at eb, evin now a flote" (S, 91.424).
After his 1553 rebellion against Mary, during which he tried and failed to install his Protestant daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne, Northumberland returned to the fold of the Catholic faithful and spent his last breath in a fit of reactionary class bonding. In his scaffold speech, he offered a perfunctory apology for his rebellion, then a lengthy denunciation of the Reformation as "these seditiouse preachers, and teachers of newe doctryne, whiche pretende to preache Gods worde," who brought bloodbaths to Germany, and to England "warre, famuyne, pestylence, the death of our kinge, rebellion, sedicion amonge our selves, conspiracies." he thanked Mary for giving him trial by law and a gentleman's decorous death by the ax rather than a traitor's "vyle and cruell death, by hanging drawing, and quartering."65
Heywoods Spider, on the other hand, tardily converts to commonwealth ideology. In a chapter-long farewell to his son, he apologizes for his secular transgressions against commoner flies and also, it seems, against Somerset:
First: I declare and confesse my former life,
Cheefe: in time and place of mine auctorite:
To wring to the worse (by right or wrong in strife)
All flies or spiders: that wold stand against me:
Their distraction, was my felicite.
He then utters the poems strongest (but still rather weak) word against Reformation theology: "Where dawcocks: in doctrine: have dominacion, / There doth devision, bring desolacion. . . . In place of a shepherd, place not a shepe" (S, 92.429-30). But he also advocates forgiveness toward those penitents guilty of past infractions, and a certain measure of religious toleration:
And marke (my son) these points that I now cum to:
In commun order, of thy governing.
Who: honestlie doth, as other honest do:
And saith as those honest saie: or saith nothing,
Axe him not what he thinkth, for marke this othing [one thing]:
Whose deede and his thought: repungnantlie varie,
His woord and his thought: jar likewise contrarie.
Here, in the poem's must difficult stanza, Heywood offers casuistically crabbed but humane advice: suspected Protestants who maintain civil order and refrain from denouncing Catholicism should not be questioned too closely. For either their honest actions suggest that their mildly variant thoughts require no policing, or the repugnant distance between their conformist actions and their heretical thoughts suggests that they would not hesitate to utter conformist words and frustrate the inquisitors. This is not toleration, exactly; moreover, given the reluctance of so many Marian Protestants to deny their faith, it is manifestly untrue. But it would at least leave unpoliced the private space of conscience.
Then, in a boilerplate bit of counsel lore, Spider advises his son on choosing his advisors:
Thy councell choose, in these condiscions bent.
Few, wise, secret, expert, temperate, and trew.
Satisfide with sufficiencie, and diligent.
All sale of justice; and all offers teschew:
That shall to thee, or commun welth hindrance brew.
But why should the Spider (or Northumberland) be addressing his son about religious toleration, and about choosing his counsel/ council? Inside the Spiders fatherly farewell, Heywood has encrypted his own bold advice to Mary to bank the fires of Smithfield and seek out advisors who will pursue commonwealth ideals-a crying need, given how many Edwardian plunderers survived in Marys Privy Council and parliament.
The Spider concludes with four apologies, whose substance and sequence suggest a commonwealth rather than a reactionary Catholic ideal: he apologizes to "the great god" (not the Pope), to "the whole worlde here" (not Rome), to his "good maistres maide" (not for rebelling against her, as Northumberland and Wyatt had done, but for forcing her to strain her arms in cleaning out the cobwebs), and to the commonwealth itself:
Fourthlie and finallie, remission sought:
By submission, to all spiders and flise:
That I in this window have offended ought:
In taking or geving the hooles in such sise:
Or stretched my copwebs here: in such wide wise:
As streightned anie part: of their lawfull right,
Of them, on knees: I praye forgevenesse in sight.
Everyone weeps copiously, even the Maid, but she proceeds to squish the Spider, duly depicted in a woodcut not for the squeamish (S, 94.436).66 In his conclusion, Heywood observes, perplexingly, that "as under that mayde: spider dide but one, / So under this maide; save one, (in effect) none" (S, C.453). Heywood egregiously understates the body count, for by the end of 1555, Mary had burned John Rogers, John Hooper, Rowland Taylor, John Bradford, Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and many laboring-class men and women.67 Either Heywood ceased composing in 1554 (which seems unlikely), or he is encouraging Mary to remember the promise of reconciliation when she began her reign, content herself with Northumberland's death, and cease her executions of Protestants.
After executing the Spider, the Maid tells all that "what thing brought that smart: eche when and wheare," was "misorder":
As god orderlie created creatures all:
So were they created, to orderlie entent.
To use them selues, ech creature in his call.
Of which created sort: the creator ment,
Spiders and flies twayne, to order to relent.
She promises "charitablie such an order to set: / To set you in rest": spiders will live "in tip of top: / Or in top sides of windows: copwebs shall make / Above the rech of my broome," and
Flies in the bodie of the window shall passe.
Not by thousands at once: sediciously,
But thorough hooles of lattes: or broken glasse:
Not blowing hensforth (so sawsmalapertlie:)
My masters and maistres meate: as yeares latlie:
They have done, but passe and repasse in nombre
And usage such as shall no house acmbre. This auncient order (in few woordes) here geevene,
Is all that I axe.
Henderson hears Heywood sounding the traditional theme "that rebellion is both immoral and foolhardy."68 But the Maid's pronouncements preserve only the form and not the content of evenhanded adjudication: "Eche in his degree" became disorderly, but "Cheeflie you spiders: usurping to excell," bringing some of the flies to idolize them as "head govemous general!" (S, 95.442), an argument that echoes the cockyng fly, whom she has presumably overheard (S, 44.192, 197). Reversing the usual way with these things ("To the gibbet!" for peasant rebels, "Be ye not covetous!" for enclosers), the judgment on the ruling class sounds quite specific and juridical, that on the laboring class vague and hortatory. Making cobwebs clearly indicates enclosing common or arable lands for pasture, while "blowing . . . meate" remains flylike but soft-focus. If it simply means camping and other sorts of riotous behavior, then forbidding it after forbidding enclosure offers no great punishment to the flies.69 By reforming the procedures in "yeares latlie" and proposing a return to the "auncient ordre," the Maid suggests the smallholder's utopian program of a return to the golden age of the English peasantry (S, 95.441). We can see this program in the demands of the campmen to fix rents at the levels of Henry VII's reign and to prohibit lords from overstocking the commons by raising sheep in excess of their household needs, and in Somerset's astonishing offer to meet their demands.70 If this is nostalgia, its nostalgia of a cunning and strategic sort: given the end of servile status and the inflationary devaluation of fixed rents, such a return might have produced a golden age indeed-a return to an age that had never been. The final stanzas and illustrations of the poem show the Maid vigorously sweeping out the window, leaving only "comers of copwebs unneth [hardly] sene" (S, 98.449).
How improbable is this idea of Heywood as a late Commonwealthsman, and of Mary as a reform-friendly Catholic version of her gospelling little brother? Marys commoner subjects seem to have seen her at first as a potential ally against the aristocracy. She made it a point of honor to pay all crown debts owed from Edward's reign, and she worked long hours, giving audience to all, not just to her Privy Council. She was known for her piety toward the poor: in disguise, she frequently visited workers on royal estates, giving charity and inquiring about their treatment. She scrupulously performed scrofula rites and washed the feet of commoners on ritual days. In her will, she left one thousand pounds to the poor of London and funded a new soldiers' hospital.71 During the summer of 1549, she stayed with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk at Kenninghall, eleven miles from the Ketts' Wymondham and fifteen miles from Norwich, and the Protectorate feared her possible involvement in the tumults of the summer-not just the Catholic Prayer Book Rebellion, but also the Protestant risings of East Anglia. The Privy Council accused her of employing servants employed in both rebellions, including one Pooley, "a captain of the worst sortassembled in Suffolk."72 The rebels who pulled down the enclosure of her park refrained from further molesting her, asserting "that she was kept too poor for one of her rank."73
Indeed, Mary owed her very reign to a revolt of the flies, for in 1553, East Anglian commoners, most of them Protestants, rose in her support against Lady Jane Grey and her father-in-law Northumberland, whom they hated worse than popery: "The men who rose in the stirs of 1549 also rose for Queen Mary. The events of July 1553 can be seen to some extent at least as the people s revenge on the aristocracy for the events of summer 1549."74 Two remarkable petitions from East Anglian gospellers underline this unexpected alliance. In 1553, a group of Norfolk commoners begged for a reform of agrarian grievances and pointed out the treachery of East Anglian gentlemen who had recently backed Queen Jane. In A Certain Godly Supplication Exhibit by Certain Inhabitants of the County of Nrfolk, probably dating from 1556, the year of Heywood's poem, the petitioners entreat Mary to maintain the Prayer Book and toleration for Protestants, reminding her that "if the holy word of God had not taken some root amongst us, we could not in times past have done that poor duty of ours, which we did in assisting the queen, our most dear sovereign, against her graces mortal foe, that then sought her destruction."75
Like these petitioners, Heywood writes to Mary in the voice of commonwealth counsel. We are used to associating commonwealth ideology with Edwardian gospellers, but we shouldn't forget its Catholic dimensions. Whitney R. D. Jones helpfully differentiates four groups of reformers: the Catholic More group (More, Catholic John Rastell, Heywood, Thomas Starkey, Reginald Pole, Thomas Lupset, and Elyot), early Protestants (John Frith and William Tyndale), the Cromwell group (Starkey, Rastell after his conversion, John Bale, William Marshall, Clement Armstrong, and Richard Morison), and the "Commonwealth party" proper (Somerset, Hales, and Latimer).76 Indeed, as Tawney eloquently argues in Region and tte Rise of Capitalism, the Commonwealthsmen and other anti-capitalist Protestants strenuously reasserted the economic theory of medieval Catholic Schoolmen: "The social character of wealth, which had been the essence of the medieval doctrine, was asserted by English divines in the sixteenth century with redoubled emphasis, precisely because the growing individualism of the age menaced the traditional concept."77 The medieval social gospel formed part of the common intellectual heritage for Hales and Crowley on the one hand, More and Heywood on the other.
Of course, in one crucial way, Heywood was no More or Rastell, no Latimer or Somerset, not even a Hales or Crowley, for he was certainly not the stuff of martyrs or exiles. He admits as much through the character of Antony Ant, his most important autobiographical avatar: they share a genuine loyalism, a genuine toleration and populism, and a genuine reluctance to die as martyrs to principle. Antony moves between camps and struggles to avert a battle, even as both sides threaten his life. He is the only character in the poem with two names, which the embattled flies note signify his mixed allegiance (S, 52.222). He is also, as the Spider notes, morphologically divided-a "creper with spiders, and a flier with flise" (S, 60.265). Antony is chagrined at but not quite apologetic for his own expedient flexibility. Standing on the scaffold affixed to the Tree of Reformation, he tries to find a way out: "It was to him, a feeling greefe of grudge: / Unknowne to all: that have not felinglie: / Felt of the same, in their experiensie" (S, 53.223). After he is freed from the captivity and duress of both camps, Antony Ante returns to his "molehill," where he rationalizes to his fellow ants his decision to act on behalf of the flies:
As de la Bere first suggested, Heywood may be reflecting on his lifesaving repentance at Pauls Cross in 1544, after the failure of the Prebendaries Plot.78 But given the content of Antonys dangerous act-not conspiring against a heretic Archbishop, but mediating between flies and spiders-Heywood may be thinking about his future as well as his past, and anticipating a negative response from Mary or her Council to this very poem.79
Still, if Heywood lacked the vocation for martyrdom, he possessed qualities that were considerably rarer in mid-Tudor England: a distaste for sectarian triumphalism, a willingness to advise a friendly regime to return to a program of social reform initiated by its enemies, and a strict adherence to Commonwealth ideology, which traces social problems to social causes rather than to heresy. In Tudor England, Reformation and Counter-Reformation theology provided not only a unifying worldview but also an alibi for class conflict. Each could blame social tumult on an underlying religious cause, thus demonizing a prefabricated enemy. On the scaffold, Northumberland traced Kett's Rebellion to the seditious contagion of Reformation theology, as we have seen. Mary's chaplain John Christoferson traced the turbulent decline of the yeomanry to Protestantism.80 Writing in the midst of the rebellion, the Edwardian gospellers Cheke and Cranmer both moot the question of enclosure as a cause of social unrest. Cheke characterizes class oppression as "the yocke which ye fansi your selves burdened withal," and says that any (minor) abuses were already being cured. He explains the rising through excremental and bestializing metaphor, psychological and nationalist argument, and says that its effect, if not its intention, was to open the door to popish subversion.81 In his Sermon Concerning the Time of Rebellion, Cranmer apologizes for the gentlemen and conjures up the impending reality of the scaffold: "[F]or the gentlemen, in case those things be true wherewith they be charged, yet they have only done wrong to the poor commons in their inclosures and such like matters. But by these seditions the majesty of a most high and godly king is hurt and wronged, forsomuch as they take upon them his office, and as it were pulleth the sword out of his hands."82 In the midst of the 1549 rebellions, John Calvin wrote Somerset, telling him that sedition arises not from dearth, but from innate human depravity, laboring-class "malice," vestigial popery, anabaptistical "light spirits," and inadequate preaching of godly discipline. He advises Somerset to "hold the bridle shorte," for "insomuche as menne pardoneth suche enormities, it must followe that GOD must take vengeaunce."83
The Spider and the Flie refuses to offer a Marian version of this sort of homily, and insists on returning to commonwealth ideology. Though Heywood's interpreters have usually viewed the poem as unalloyed encomium to Mary, I think we should see it rather as bold loyalist counsel. Far from celebrating Mary's accession, the poem appeared two to three years into her reign; and the Maid's late appearance in the poem suggests Mary's tardiness in pursuing a program of commonwealth reforms. The Maid seems to have been somewhat lax in her housework, allowing the spiders to usurp upon the middle of the windows, until the resistance of the flies attracts her attention. Here, Heywood resembles no one so much as the fervently gospelling poet, editor, pamphleteer, and printer, Robert Crowley, whose great works of 1549-1551 criticize the failings of Northumberland's regime.84 By collapsing Mary's 1553 political/ religious struggle with Northumberland into the eampmen and Somerset's 1549 political/class struggle with Northumberland, Heywood suggests that the first cannot be final until the second is reversed.
After Mary's death, Heywood staged plays for Elizabeth, but the Act of Uniformity finally forced him into continental Catholic exile, where he died around 1578.85 The Spider and the File became a prodigious dead end for English poetry and Renaissance literature, as the dominant, Dudleian path of late-Tudor imaginative writing strongly rejected commonwealth ideals and traced rebellion to Catholic seduction, Protestant ruling-class slackness, and plebeian depravity. Richard Sackville and Thomas Norton's Gorboduc, written in part to celebrate the restoration to full aristocratic title of Northumberland's sons, Ambrose and Robert Dudley, shows Britain split by weak rule and partially restored by subjecting peasant rebels to condign justice. Sir Philip Sidney, Northumberland's grandson, wrote The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia on an estate formed by enclosure and eviction. His heroic princes hear the buzz of insects in the voices of soon-to-be-slaughtered rebellious plebeians: "never bees made such a confused humming."86 In The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser-client to both Sidney and Robert Dudley-hears them in those animalheaded peasant rebels who pester Spenser's King Arthur and Sir Guyon like a "swarme of Gnats" as they approach the House of Temperance, before Arthur slays their gauntly famished leader, Captaine Malegar. Spenser approaches Buz's debate with the Spider most closely when his egalitarian giant argues with Artegall that the world has deteriorated from its Edenic simplicity and equality-Spenser's hysterical anticommunist rendering of the smallholders concrete utopia of low rents under Henry VII. Artegall's trusty squire Talus refutes the (surprisingly short) giant by "Approching nigh unto him cheeke by cheeke" and shouldering him off a cliff. When Spenser tried his hand at an allegorical narrative of spider and fly in his Muioptomos, he turned Heywood's narrative of class struggle into a courtly intrigue of envy and spite.87
But Heywood's poem deserves commemoration as a remarkable act of cross-class sympathetic imagination-a voice, not just of the past, but of a future that never came to be. In Early Tudor Poetry, Berdan astutely describes The Spider and the Flie as the last hurrah of a medieval and specifically English allegorical tradition, prior to the influence of Italianate models, but moving past that tradition and toward Spenser in its suggestion of specific allegorical identities.88 This literary historical moment has a political and social equivalent: Heywood's allegorical dream vision of a field of English folk flourishing under the commonwealth reforms of a tolerant Catholic monarch, who finally turned out to be more interested in carting heretics to Smithfield than in saving copyholders perishing by inches.89