“Knowledge is power” and the Heads of States have known this from the very beginning. In some societies it was illegal to openly offer free education to the poor. The ability to read and write was to possess the power to organize, and to communicate with others over a distance, and monarchs saw this as a threat to their power. Even today, to prove a conspiracy, one has to provide proof of communication between conspirators. In this respect Rulers feared the written word in the hands of the masses.
The Church maintained power in the “Dark Ages” in much the same manor. The priests were the main form of communication between the church and the masses. During the “Middle Ages” Roman Catholic Church performed church functions and communicated in Latin. All “Papal Bulls” edicts from the Pope, such as the one condemning King Henry VIII were written in Latin, and the Papal Bull calling for the deposing of Queen Elizabeth I, in order to reestablish the Roman Catholic Church in England was also in Latin. This gave Philip II of Spain license to declare war on England. In 1588 the Spanish Armada sailed.
Letters of Mark were carried by ships’ captains to prove that they were making war, and not committing acts of piracy, so if their ships were captured, sunk, or taken as a war prize, their crews were taken as prisoners of war. If there was no letters of mark the crew could be hung without due process of law, rather the law of the sea, and hung as pirates.
So it can be said that, “the written word holds the weight of the law”. This concept comes from the church declaring that the “Holy Bible” was the written word of God, and so being was law. Not until the reformation was the Bible translated into common language, before the reformation the text was in Latin. The standard printed English Bible was the “Holy Bible authorized by HM King James” or the “King James Bible”.
During the “Wars of Reform” that was largely a religious war between Protestants or “Protestors” and the Catholic Church at raged for decades. In Catholic countries one could be burned at the stake for having a non-Latin text Bible in one’s position, considered an act of heresy.
During this time other things were being written and printed, travel logs and adventure stories were in print. Playwrights enjoyed popular attention in Elizabethan England, Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe being the most notable.
In Elizabethan England there was movement towards public education and improve literacy. This bring us to the opening of the 16th century; more to follow.
JL Myers is a retired Mesquite resident with several published books. His column, Art of Writing, appears weekly on mesquitelocalnews.com. You can contact Myers through his online column posted on Fridays or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org