Thomas Bilson: Difference between revisions

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Southwark on the south bank of the river Thames in London was very much a cash generator in those days. (Back in the sixteenth century, Southwark was in many ways like a prototype Las Vegas.) In addition to the theatres, Southwark, Bankside was also a ‘red light’ district renowned for its brothels and contained an unconsecrated graveyard for the corpses of women who had worked in them. Far from condemning the brothels, the respective bishops of Winchester, Thomas Bilson included, drew up a set of rules for their regulation and opening hours. In addition to prostitution and pick pockets, the area was also renowned for its gambling dens, skittle alleys and bear/bull baiting, most of which were run by Philip Henslowe (1550-1616) who married a wealthy widow by the name of Agnes Woodward in 1579 and it is thought that with her money Henslowe had managed to acquire interests in numerous brothels, inns, lodging houses and was also involved in dyeing, starch making and wood selling as well as pawnbroking, money lending and theatrical enterprises. With regard to his relationship with actors and playwrights Henslowe wrote in his diary:—“Should these fellowes come out of my debt I should have no rule over them.” Although Philip Henslowe was undoubtedly the main operational manager and entrepreneur behind many of Southwark’s and the ‘see of Winchester’s’ cash generating entertainment enterprises — all taxes from these activities had to be paid to Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester. Indeed in the London Public Record Office is an entry relating to William Shakespeare’s unpaid tax, and carrying the annotation ‘Ep(iscop)o Winton(ensi)’ (to the Bishop of Winchester) — (*The Public Record Office, Exchequer, Lord Treasurers Remembrancer, Pipe Rolls, E.372/444, m. Dated 6 October 1600.) — which has led historians such as Ian Wilson in his 1993 book ‘Shakespeare the Evidence’ to surmise that perhaps William Shakespeare was living within the bishopric ‘see’ of Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester at this time. However somewhat curiously, William Shakespeare’s name does not appear in the church wardens’ annual lists of those residents registered as having attended compulsory Easter Communion. The church wardens annual lists of residents and the compulsory attendance of Easter Communion — in effect the commencement of the new year within the Julian Calendar — provided the paranoid bureaucratic authorities — fearful of Jesuit and Catholic uprisings with a detailed census as to the political status of its citizens and as a means to assess their military and tax obligations. William Shakespeare’s omission from this list and the reference to Thomas Bilson the Bishop of Winchester implies ‘a relationship’ between these two men which has hitherto been unexplained. — Indeed, the commonality of both men being to a large extent historical enigmas is curious in itself.
 
Thomas engaged in most of the polemical contests of his day, as a stiff partisan of the [[Church of England]]. In 1585, he published his ''The True Difference Betweene Christian Subjection and Unchristian Rebellion''. This work took aim at the [[Jesuits]] and replied to Cardinal [[William Allen (cardinal)|William Allen]]'s ''Defence of the English Catholics'' (Ingoldstadt, 1584).<ref name = SH>http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc02.html?term=Bilson,%20Thomas</ref> It was also a theoretical work on the "Christian commonwealth" and it enjoyed publishing success. Some historians have stated that the immediate purpose of ''True Difference'' was as much to justify Dutch Protestants resisting [[Philip II of Spain]], as to counter the Jesuits' attacks on Elizabeth I.<ref>Hugh Dunthorne, ''The NetherlandNetherlands's as Britain school of Revolution'', p. 141, in ''Royal and Republican Sovereignty in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Memory of Ragnhild Hatton'' (1997).</ref> [[Glenn Burgess]] considers that in ''True Difference'' Bilson shows a sense of the diversity of "legitimate" political systems.<ref>Glenn Burgess, ''The Politics of the Ancient Constitution: An Introduction to English Political Thought, 1603–1642'' (1993), pp. 104-5.</ref> He conceded nothing to popular sovereignty, but said that there were occasions when a king might forfeit his powers.<ref>Michael Brydon, ''The Evolving Reputation of Richard Hooker: An Examination of Responses, 1600-1714'' (2006), pp. 132-3.</ref> According to James Shapiro,<ref>James Shapiro, ''1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare'' (2005), p. 177.</ref> he "does his best to walk a fine line", in discussing 'political icons', i.e. pictures of the monarch.
 
===Theological controversy===