Authors: John Bale

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and essayist

Identity: Christian

Author Works


King Johan, wr. 1531(?), pb. 1538

Three Laws, wr. 1531(?), pb. 1547

God’s Promises, wr. 1538, pb. 1547

John Baptist, wr. 1538, pb. 1547

The Temptation, wr. 1538, pb. 1547

The Dramatic Writings of John Bale, pb. 1907 (John S. Farmer, editor)


The Image of Both Churches, 1541 (part 1), 1545 (part 2), 1547 (part 3)

A Brief Chronicle of Sir John Oldcastle, the Lord Cobham, 1544

The Acts of English Votaries, 1546

The First Examination of Anne Askew, 1546

The Latter Examination of Anne Askew, 1547

An Answer to a Papistical Exhortation, 1548

Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Scriptorum, 1548

An Expostulation Against the Blasphemies of a Frantic Papist, 1552

The Apology of John Bale Against a Rank Papist, c. 1555

Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Catalogus, 1557, 1559 (revision of Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Scriptorum)

Acta Romanorum Pontificum, 1558 (in Latin), 1561 (in French), 1571 (in German), 1574 (in English as The Pageant of the Popes)

A Declaration Concerning the Clergy of London, 1561


Pammachius, 1538 (of Thomas Kirchmayer’s play; no longer extant)

The True History of the Christian Departing of Martin Luther, 1546 (from German accounts collected by Justus Jonas, Michael Cellius, and Johann Aurifaber)

Edited Text:

A Treatise to Henry VIII, c. 1548 (of John Lambert’s work)


John Bale, the outspoken antipapist bishop of Ossory, was educated by the Carmelites and took his divinity degree at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1529. He was a passionate advocate of the Protestant Reformation and wrote many polemical essays in its defense. Being a Protestant cleric, he was able to marry, after which he obtained a post in Suffolk.{$I[AN]9810000670}{$I[A]Bale, John}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Bale, John}{$I[geo]CHRISTIAN;Bale, John}{$I[tim]1495;Bale, John}

Thomas Cromwell, knowing of Bale’s popular anti-Catholic morality plays, became his protector. When Cromwell was beheaded in 1540 after the failure of the match he had arranged between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, the playwright and his family fled to Germany, but they were able to return upon the accession of Edward VI in 1547. Shortly after becoming bishop of Ossory, Bale antagonized Irish Catholics by refusing to be consecrated by Roman rites. When Mary came to the throne in 1553, he was again forced into exile, to return to England only after Elizabeth’s accession in 1558.

Of the forty plays that Bale seems to have written, very few have survived. His best-known play concerns King John; although it is an attack on Catholicism, it contains the basis for later historical dramas. In this work, Bale uses the form of the traditional morality play, but he allows the allegorical figures to speak with the historical ones. John, who acts as the champion of the poor widow England against the pope, is poisoned for his trouble by Dissimulation disguised as a monk. Verity tells the world of this treachery. Imperial Majesty (meant to represent Henry VIII) thereupon takes over the realm and hangs Sedition.

Despite his anti-Catholic bias, Bale lamented the destruction of the monasteries and their libraries; consequently, he prepared a catalog-history of fourteen centuries of English writers, Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Scriptorum. Queen Elizabeth I gave him a living at Canterbury for his declining years, no doubt in recognition of his effective writing and preaching. He died in Canterbury in November, 1563.

BibliographyBale, John. King Johan. Edited by Barry B. Adams. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1969. Primarily prepared for the specialist, this volume is a definitive analysis of the sole surviving manuscript of King Johan, with discussion of the play’s date, sources, costuming, and staging. Contains an analysis of the verse, with commentary on the play’s association with other plays of its time. Several appendices, one on the eccentricities of Bale’s orthography.Bryant, James C. Tudor Drama and Religious Controversy. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984. Bryant considers Bale’s play King Johan as a polemic supporting Henry VIII’s First and Second Royal Injunctions of 1536 and 1538, respectively. He also finds him to be a satirist of many elements of the Roman faith, including the allegorization of scripture.Fairfield, Leslie P. John Bale: Mythmaker for the English Reformation. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1976. Argues that Bale’s conversion from Catholicism led to his reinterpretation of England’s past (including concepts of sainthood), that Bale’s search for victims and opponents of Roman Catholicism led to his focus on Sir John Oldcastle and King Johan (King John), and that Bale wrote to correct Polydore Vergil’s slander of Oldcastle.Happé, Peter. “Dramatic Images of Kingship in Heywood and Bale. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 39, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 239-253. Happé compares and contrasts Bale’s King Johan and John Heywood’s The Play of the Wether (pb. 1533).Happé, Peter. English Drama Before Shakespeare. New York: Longman, 1999. A discussion of dramatic forms from the fourteenth to the late sixteenth century that provides a concise overview of the life and works of Bale.Happé, Peter. John Bale. New York: Twayne, 1996. A basic biography that covers the life and works of Bale. Happé focuses his discussion on the dramatic works. Bibliography and index.Harris, Jesse W. John Bale: A Study in the Minor Literature of the Reformation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1940. Excellent coverage of the major events of Bale’s life, including two periods of exile in Germany. Contains a discussion of Bale’s dramas, with attention to their actual performances and their relationship to the drama of the time. Also includes a discussion of Bale’s historical writings.Mattsson, May. Five Plays About King John. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1977. Bale’s play is discussed in every chapter and is studied in connection with the anonymous The Troublesome Reign of King John, William Shakespeare’s King John (c. 1596-1597), and two later plays about that monarch. Bale’s play is considered in connection with the exercise of royal power, the throne’s relationship to the church and the temporal lords, and the issues of public and private morality.Walker, Greg. Plays of Persuasion: Drama and Politics in the Court of Henry VIII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Deals with Bale’s connections with Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, and John de Vere. Sees King Johan as a reflection of the dangers facing the Henrician court in 1538-1539, when Bale’s play was performed at Cranmer’s residence, the timing suggestive of Bale’s fears of the French-Spanish truce and the schemings of an English cardinal, Reginald Pole.
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