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Tudor religious polemics, William Turner, Reformation, polemics


While the entire subject of Tudor religious polemics has been more often regretted than studied, some of the more prominent controversialists, such as William Tyndale or Thomas More, have received some attention, but such has not been the fate of William Turner (?-1568). No full-length treatment of Turner exists, and what studies there are concern themselves mainly with his activities as a naturalist. This is all the more surprising when one considers that of all the radical Reformers who were dissatisfied with Henry VIII's reformation and transformation of the English Church into the Church of England, William Turner, physician to the Protector Somerset, lawyer, founder of the study of botany in England, Member of Parliament, Dean of Wells, Protestant polemicist, and a founding Father of the English Puritan Movement—was one of the most brilliant. Between the years 1543 and 1555, Turner published a series of five tracts with the common aim of denouncing the papacy of Rome as ungodly and the Church of England as Roman. Throughout these tracts, Turner made the polemical use of what might broadly be called "history" an important part of his polemical technique. The main contention of Turner's treatises is that the Church of Rome historically has manipulated the affairs of Europe and England to her own advantage, and that even after Henry VIII's break with Rome, the English bishops—and especially Stephen Gardiner—have treasonously acted on the Pope's behalf by attempting to retain Roman ritual and Roman dogma in the Church of England, hoping by this means eventually to restore the Pope's authority in the realm.