Relation of the Fearefull Estate of Francis Spira, in the yeare, 1548

London, printed by I.L. for Phil. Stephens, and Christoph. Meredith, 1638.


12mo. pp. [iv], 80. A-C¹² D⁶. [lacking A1 apparently blank]. Roman and Italic letter, text within box rule. Title with typographical ornament, woodcut initial, typographical headpiece. Age yellowing, first leaf of text with tear in upper outer corner removing contemporary autograph (dated 1648) on recto, just touching running head-line & first line on verso, t-p dusty and soiled at fore-edge, tear at blank gutter, tiny worm trail in text, block a little loose and worn at corners, some minor marginal staining, the odd thumb mark. A completely unsophisticated copy in contemporary sheep, covers bordered with a double blind rule, worn and stained, spine with small tear at head, lower corner of lower cover worn.

Exceptionally rare edition, (one of three first printed in 1638), of Bacon’s work, recorded in one copy only, at the Folger Library. The other two editions of the same year are also extremely rare, each recorded in five copies only. The work is a retelling of the story of the Italian Protestant Francesco Spiera’s apostasy in 1548. Spiera had been denounced to the Inquisition, and, fearful that he would lose his wealth and impoverish his family, he renounced Protestantism publicly, both at St. Mark’s in Venice and in his hometown of Citadella, near Padua. He began to hear a voice warning him not to apostatise, and admonishing him for denying God and sentencing him to eternal damnation. Convinced that he had been forsaken by the Lord, Spiera fell into despair and left with his family for Padua, where his condition quickly came to the attention of prominent theologians, including Pier Paolo Vergerio, the bishop of Capodistra, and Matteo Gribaldi. He refused food maintaining his conviction that God had forsaken him and finally, almost eight weeks later, he starved to death. 

“Vergerio, Gribaldi, and three other notable figures- Henry Scrymgeour, Sigismund Gelous, and Martin Borrhaus, wrote eyewitness accounts of Spiera’s agony and death. These were gathered together and published in Latin in 1550, together with prefaces by John Calvin and Celio Secondo Curione, another Italian Protestant. Separate editions of the narratives in this book appeared within the year in Latin, Italian, and English. .. This was just the the first wave of a tide of sixteenth-century publications about Spiera in all of the major European languages. His story was told in every imaginable kind of literature-theological tracts, sermons, plays, ballads, and popular “wonder books” .. Hardly anyone remembers Spiera anymore. And yet to readers all over sixteenth-century Europe, he was a familiar figure. His notoriety was not only broad; it was lasting. … Finally, Nathaniel Bacon produced an English recension of the original set of Latin narratives. This circulated clandestinely in Puritan circles; it was finally published in 1637 or 1638 as A ‘Relation of the Fearefull Estate of Francis Spira.’ Prior to 1800, the book was reissued at least ten times; there were eight American printings as well. The last edition of Bacon’s book listed in the British Library catalog was issued in 1845, almost three hundred years after Spiera’s death. …English Puritans’ interest in the Spira story peaked in the 1630s, when the Arminian counterrevolution transformed previously orthodox Calvinists into a harried minority within the church. Robert Bolton published an influential commentary on the Spira story as early as 1631, and Bacon produced his recension of the various eyewitness accounts of Spira’s death. The manuscript of Bacon’s ‘Fearefull Estate’ was already widely known some years before it was published; the London turner Nehemiah Wallington copied out the whole book in 1635. Bacon’s Spira story was longer than any other English version, and it accordingly introduced more issues and greater complexities into the story. It is possible to see in it some of the tensions and connections to which readers might have responded. The narrative establishes a series of oppositions, between which Spira – and the reader – has to choose: fidelity/apostasy, faith/renunciation, hope/despair, persecution/membership, salvation/damnation, even life and death …Moreover, Bacon’s portrait of Spira is extraordinarily vivid. It relies heavily on eyewitness accounts, fashioning dramatic dialogue between Spira and the men who try to console him. In fact, the book reads at times like a play, in which each of the principals has dialogue to speak, and Spira naturally gets the best lines. As a portrait of suffering, it is powerfully realistic, even though it depicts an extreme and uncommon situation.” Michael MacDonald. ‘The Fearefull Estate of Francis Spira: Narrative, Identity, and Emotion in Early Modern England.’

A very rare and most interesting work.

ESTC S124275. STC 1177.5. 


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