The Wolf-Human Hybrid Motif used in Protestant Propaganda against the Re-Catholicism of England

Keywords: Protestant Reformation, Peace of Augsburg, wolf-human hybrid, Stephen Gardiner, Calvinism, Eucharist, Catholicism, Devil

The wolf motif was used to symbolise Catholic greed during the Protestant Reformation. However, the reoccurring theme of a wolf-human hybrid devouring sheep was used to point to the violence of the Catholic Church against Protestants. The wolf who was the natural enemy of sheep, not only represented the papacy but also the Devil and heresy (Tresidder, 2004, p. 521). The anonymous engraving, The Lambe Speaketh (1555), represented Catholicism and explicitly named individuals within the Church in England. The engraving made in the northern Calvinist German city of Emden for a pamphlet written by an exiled English Calvinist depicts English subject matter amidst re-Catholicisation during the reign of Queen Mary I between 1553-55 (Harms, 1980, p. 16). The central figure features Stephen Gardiner (c.1483-1555), Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, as the ravenous wolf who persecuted Protestant reformers. He was depicted as a beastly wolf-human hybrid with a wolf’s head, and human hands and feet revealed from beneath his robes.

Anonymous, ‘The Lambe Speaketh’, illustrated in William Turner, The Huntyng of the Romyshe Vuolfe, by Wylliam Turner Doctor of Phisik, Emden: Egidius van der Erve, 1555, (English language).
Etching, 26.4 x 19.1 cm,
London, British Museum.

The engraving was widely disseminated, and its reproduction in multiple copies suggests that its appeal extended beyond an English audience. The text in the engraving was initially written in Latin, and an English version soon followed in the same year thereby extending from a learned European audience to a local level (Jones, 2000, p. 288; Smith, 1998, p. 266). A coloured woodcut copy in German vernacular was also produced in 1555 in Nuremberg. Rather than naming and shaming members of the Catholic Church, the German language broadsheet used the example of England as a lesson to its German audience of the dangers of the Catholic Church more broadly (Smith, 1998, p. 264). One of the essential messages of the German print was to heed the direct word of God over this false prophet. Hence, the accompanying text begins with a warning quote from Deuteronomy 18.20: ‘Will a prophet be presumptuous and speak in my name, when I have not told him to do so, or if he calls on foreign gods, such a prophet has ruined his life; this is God’s command (‘Wirdt ein prophet vermessen sein und reden in den Namen mein/Da ich im nichts gepotten han / Uder rufft frembde Götter an. Ein solch prophet uerwnrcket hat Sein leben/ Dis ist Gots gebot.’ Translation by Gerda Dinwiddie).’

Anonymous, Der Kirchen in Engelandt gelegenheit, c.1555,
Nuremberg: Hans Glaser,
Coloured woodcut,
23.6 x 22.1 cm (image), 35 x 23.5 cm (sheet),
Zürich, Zentralbibliothek.
EU directive copyright on public domain images:

The engraving and woodcut copy was printed in the same year as the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which led to electors and princes being able to determine the religion of their estates in the Germanic territories: (Cuius regio, eius religio – ‘whose realm, his religion’) (Smith, 2016, p. 53). The changing state religion during the religious wars in the Holy Roman Empire was not dissimilar to the changing state religion of England. As territories changed religion, Protestants and Catholics unwilling to convert due to the whims of their rulers were persecuted. People were either forced to convert or move elsewhere (Smith, 2016, p. 53). An unfortunate consequence of the Peace of Augsburg was that it made reformed churches besides the Lutheran Church illegal within the Holy Roman Empire by excluding them from the peace deal, thus affecting the Calvinists of Emden (Bettenson and Maunder, 1999, pp. 238-39). Therefore, the original engraving based on English subject matter would have held special resonance with a German audience.

Notwithstanding the original target audience, the motif of the wolf-human hybrid clergy was distinctly German as wolves had become extinct in England by the sixteenth century (Pluskowski, 2006, p. 7). Calvinist, William Turner (c.1508-1568), authored the polemical work, The huntyng of the romyshe vuolfe (1555), which featured the original Lambe Speaketh engraving as a fold-out while in exile in Emden (Turner, 1555; Jones, 2000, p. 290). Turner may have been inspired by similar iconography used by Urbanus Rhegius (1489-1541) in Wie man die falschen propheten erkennen ia greiffen magas (‘How to recognise false prophets’) as he was familiar with Rhegius’ work (Rhegius, 1539). His first publication was a translation of Rehgius’ Latin text, Novae doctrinae ad veterem collatio (A comparison betwene the Olde learnyng & the Newe) in 1537 (Jones,2000, p. 290; Jones, 1988, p. 140). Turner would have no doubt been inspired by the simple, yet powerful motif that grabs the viewers’ attention.

Anonymous, ‘Title Page’, of Urbanus Rhegius, Wie man die falschen propheten erkennen ia greiffen mag, Brunswick: Anders Goldbeck, 1539. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Instead of a wolf, it was more common in England to use sly foxes as a motif to represent the hypocritical popery. Foxes were known for their cunning and were also used as a symbol for the Devil (Collinson, 2003, p. 214; Scribner, 1981, p. 77; Ferguson, 1959, p.18; Salisbury, 1994, p. 131). Turner described Stephen Gardiner as a fox who turned into a wolf after emerging from his imprisonment in the Tower of London (Turner, 1555, p. 3; Jones, 1988, pp. 166-67). In this way, he suggested that Gardiner graduated from the deviousness of a fox to the outright ravenous and blood-thirsty wolf. This point was emphasised in the etching above Gardiner’s wolf head: ‘in youth a foxe that haue byn/ in age am a woolfe more valient in synne […] but noue I feede on men.’ The German broadsheet similarly states: ‘A malicious, sly fox, very clever was I once, full of deceit, but now that I grew old, I use force just like a wolf. Previously I strangled little lambs, geese, ducks, chickens in general, now I murder sheep, rams and wild rams, whatever I meet, I slay it (‘Ein tuckischer/listiger fuchs gar klug/ War ich vorzeiten vol betrug/ Nun aber/ da ich worden alt/ Brauch ich gleich wie ein Wolff/ gewalt/ Vorhin wurgt ich die Lemlein klein/ Gäns/enten/hüner/ingemein/Jez mordt ich schaff/ böck/ unn die wider/Was ich antreff leg ich darnider’ translation by Gerda Dinwiddie).’

Emden not only became one of the settlements for fleeing English Protestant exiles but was also the headquarters of Calvinist Protestant propaganda (Doran and Durston, 2002, p. 119; Garrett, 2010, p. 49; Whaley, 2012, p. 501). The huntyng of the romyshe vuolfe was banned in England the same year it was published in 1555 suggesting the book, with its accompanying broadsheet, had already been smuggled into England through messengers (Jones, 2000, p. 291; Garrett, 2010, p. 50). However, the English pamphlet would have found a ready audience amongst the minority exiled English Protestants in Emden. The book was later re-edited during Elizabeth I’s reign and published in London with the new title, The Hunting of the Fox and the Wolfe in 1565 (Jones, 2000, p. 287). The title page featured the wolf-headed bishop devouring a sheep with the text of Matthew 7.15, thereby bringing this distinctly German iconography to England (illustrated in Jones, 2000, p. 291).

The wolf-headed clergy represents the violence inflicted on English reformers, using the symbolism of the Eucharist. The central lamb was portrayed strung up, hanging over an altar, evoking the crucifixion of Christ. The blood of the sacrificial lamb was depicted spurting out into chalices held by the wolf-headed Catholic clergy who were active participants in the persecution of Protestants. They include the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (c.1500-1569), the Bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559), and the Dean of Westminster, Hugh Weston (c.1510-1558) (Alexander, 1987, p. 163; Foxe, 2009, p. 319). The consumption of wine, representing the blood of Christ was paralleled here with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The cannibalistic metaphor of communion illustrated in this image reflects the literal interpretation by Catholics that the Eucharist bread and wine embodied the flesh and blood of Christ (Mark 14.22-25). The metaphor further served as a critique of this Catholic superstition, whereby Calvinists interpreted the Eucharist symbolically (Coudert, 2012, p. 522; Chrisman, 1982, p. 240; Waite, 2003, p. 4; Sider, 2007, p. 39; Wiesner-Hanks, 2006, p. 157). Instead of consuming the embodiment of the Lord’s saviour, Christ’s flock are being consumed by the greedy wolf-headed clergy, the very people they were meant to protect. Where in Catholicism, an ordained priest only has the power to offer Christ as a sacrifice, the print suggests that the bishop is not a true man of Christ (Wiesner-Hanks, 2006, p. 157). In a direct reference to Matthew 7.15-16, the clergy wear dead lambs tied around their necks like shrugs. The gluttonous ways of the wolf-headed clergy was articulated in the text underneath the image, which stated that they ‘eate much and drinke muche.’ The wolf, who was often used to symbolise the seven deadly sins, was used to refer to the sins of the Catholic Church, from their gluttony to their wrath against Protestant reformers.

The blood spurting into chalices of the wolf-headed clergy further symbolised the spilling of blood of the martyred Protestant reformers, many of whom were executed by burning at the stake. The reformers were represented as small rams at the bottom of the altar, tied up by their legs awaiting the same grizzly end. The rams bear the names of the executed. These reformers were high-ranking members of the Church of England: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556); Bishops Nicholas Ridley (c.1500-1555), Hugh Latimer (c.1487-1555), and John Hooper (c.1495-1555); prebendaries in the Cathedral Church of Paul, John Rogers (c.1505-1555), and John Bradford (1510-1555) (Smith, 1998, p. 261; Doran and Durston, 2002, pp. 120, 207; Foxe, 2009, pp. 36, 141). Instead of wolves, these former clergymen were portrayed in the likeness of the gentleness of Christ (Salisbury, 2000, p. 55). In other words, they were shown as the true followers of Jesus.

The wolf-headed bishop represents the Catholic Church’s greedy lust for power. Illustrated by three men at the top on the left of the altar, they were depicted as attempting to restrain the bishop by pulling on a rope tied around his neck. The power of the bishop is evident as three men attempt to restrain him with little effect. This scene alludes to The House of Lords’s attempt to restrict Gardiner in 1554 when he tried to revive old heresy laws to enable heretics to be burned at the stake (Smith, 1998, p. 261; Loewenstein, 2013, p. 106). The text beside the men proclaims: ‘We will not [let] this felon to reign over us.’

This image also suggests that like the Devil, the Catholic wolf leads their followers astray and into damnation. This point was underscored by having the Devil overlook the scene from the top-right corner. He holds a banner with the inscription: ‘Youe are my verye chyldren in that youe have slayne the Prophetes. For even I from the begynning, was a murtherer’ – accentuating the connection between the clergy and the Devil. A group of men at the bottom left are portrayed tied to the bishop by rings in their nose. They represent the simple commons who passed the heresy bill a month earlier and have been depicted quite literally being led by their noses (Smith, 1998, p. 261). Their ignorance is revealed by the inscription beside them that reads: ‘Thoue only arte holye, thoue only arte learned & thoue only irreprehesibe.’ In the case of the German vernacular woodcut, the inscription held by the Devil states ‘I am [the] Pope (‘Ich byn Pabst.’).’ Therefore, in the German edition, the Pope was the Devil and was thus behind the execution of Protestants. The Devil was shown sitting amongst a plume of smoke, paralleling the typical portrayal of God shown amongst clouds. This placement suggests that the Devil had replaced God in the Catholic Church.


Gina Alexander, ‘Bonner and the Marian Persecutions,’ in Christopher Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation Revised, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Bettenson, Henry and Chris Maunder (eds.), Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Miriam Usher Chrisman, Lay Culture, Learned Culture: Books and Social Change in Strasbourg, 1480-1599, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.

Collinson, Patrick, Elizabethans, London: Continuum, 2003.

Coudert, Allison P. ‘The Ultimate Crime: Cannibalism in Early Modern Minds and Imagination’ in Albrecht Classen and Connie Scarborough (eds.), Crime and Punishment in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Mental-Historical Investigations of Basic Human Problems and Social Responses, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012, pp. 521-555.

Doran, Susan and Christopher Durston, Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England, 1500-1689, London: Routledge, 2002.

Ferguson, George, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Foxe, John, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: Select Narratives, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Garrett, Christine Hallowell, The Marian Exiles: A Study in the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Harms, Herausgegeben von Wolfgang, Deutsche Illustrierte Flugblätter des 16 und 17. Jahrhunderts, volume 2, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1980.

Jones, Malcolm, ‘The Lambe Speaketh…: An Addendum,’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 63, 2000, pp. 287-94.

Jones, Whitney R. D. William Turner: Tudor Naturalist, Physician and Divine, London: Routledge, 1988.

Loewenstein, David, Treacherous Faith: The Specter of Heresy in Early Modern English Literature and Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Pluskowski, Aleksander, Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006.

Rhegius, Urbanus, Wie man die falschen Propheten erkennen, Brunswick: Andres Goldbeck, 1539.

Salisbury, Joyce E. The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, New York: Routledge, 1994.

Salisbury, Joyce E. ‘Human Animals of Medieval Fables’, in Nona C. Flores (ed.), Animals in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 49-67.

Scribner, Robert W. For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Sider, Sandra, Handbook to Life in Renaissance Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Smith, Rowena J. ‘The Lambe Speaketh…:An English Protestant Satire,’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 61, 1998, pp. 261-67.

Smith, Jeffrey Chipps, ‘German Art in the Sixteenth Century: An Introduction,’ in Michael Eissenhauer (ed.), Renaissance & Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach, Munich: Prestel, exh. cat. 2016, pp. 28-58.

Tresidder, Jack, The Complete Dictionary of Symbols: in Myth, Art and Literature, London: Duncan Baird, 2004.

Turner, William, The Huntyng of the Romyshe Vuolfe, Made by Wylliam Turner Doctor of Phisik, Emden: Egidius van der Erve, 1555.

Waite, Gary K. Heresy, Magic, and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2003.

Whaley, Joachim, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire: Volume I: Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia, 1493-1648, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s