The Tudor Antichrists, 1485-1603

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Bossert, Kathleen Meredith Barker
Cartwright, Kent
The sixteenth-century Antichrist often dons the papal tiara, and he occasionally wears the Spanish crown. He hides in German clerics, and he appears as the Grand Turk, an Eastern harbinger of a not-so-distant Doomsday. While scholars acknowledge the persistence of this figure in Reformation polemic, no critical study examines its multiple rhetorical, linguistic, and metaphoric functions in sixteenth-century texts. My dissertation fills this gap. I examine the figure of the Antichrist in the theological, political, and literary works of Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, Thomas More, William Tyndale, John Bale, Thomas Kirchmeyer, Francis Davison, John Jewel, Thomas Harding, Edmund Spenser, and others. These sixteenth-century writers adapt medieval Antichrist lore to accommodate a new understanding of the figure--one that is increasingly political and tied to emerging notions of English national identity. The Antichrist in particular reveals the inherent difficulty of considering late sixteenth-century texts in isolation from the traditional Middle Ages, and my study joins the ongoing conversation about the putative medieval/early-modern period divide. I argue that the depth of Reformation writers' religious and political arguments derives in good measure from the afterlife of early exegetical traditions. Hence, in the figure of the Antichrist, latent medieval apocalypticism intersects with sixteenth-century notions of eschatology and millenialism, imperialism, and nascent Orientalism.