Why did Mihály Sztárai (Drávasztára?, ca. 1510–Pápa, 1575), one of the most successful Hungarian reformers of the 16th century call himself a “miserable man” at the end of the 1550s? Did he come into conflict and break with his followers – with the one hundred and twenty Protestant churches he had himself founded? Was he unfairly attacked by his fellow pastors? Was he at variance with himself or did he blame himself for some hasty deed he had bitterly regretted? Was his dignity as a bishop – of which he had been so proud – damaged? Or was he simply swept away by the tempest of Reformation that he himself had created and then tried in vain to appease?
The present paper attempts to answer the above questions with the help of a Hungarian historical song hitherto mostly neglected, Sztárai’s poem about the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The verse-chronicle written in 1560 describes an event that is extremely far geographically but all the more close in time, actually current, as it were: ‘Story of archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s faithfulness in the true faith, who was condemned to an awful death in England by Queen Mary for having denied the knowledge of the Pope’ – reads the argumentum of the poem. Cranmer, one of the legendary pioneers of English Reformation, the first senior bishop of the Church of England, was burned in Oxford on 21 March 1556, during the cruel prosecution of Protestants by order of the Catholic queen, Mary Tudor.
Sztárai’s source – John Foxe’s Protestant martyrology written in Latin (Rerum in Ecclesia gestarum… commentarii) −, had been published in Basel a year before the Hungarian verse-chronicle was written. Thus, the question is not how John Foxe’s martyrology found its way to Mihály Sztárai, rather how he adapted and interpreted it. Why did Sztárai feel a martyr, similar to Cranmer? It is obvious that the basic elements of the story could not in themselves urge Sztárai to adapt Foxius. Beyond the possibility of an abstract moral lesson, the minute details of Cranmer’s life and death also proved apt to convey a peculiar message, specifically addressing Hungarian readers. By the time Sztárai wrote the verse-chronicle in question, he had accumulated profound experience in the allegorising methods of figurative storytelling. Sztárai’s poem on Cranmer is an allegory. The historical verse narrative is not about the conflict of the Catholics and the Protestants but the controversy between the Lutheran and the Reformed denominations in Hungary. The Cranmerus-chronicle seems to confirm that in 1560, the Lutheran Sztárai saw himself as a deceived, failed, “miserable” man, as a “Protestant” bishop who had been removed from his office by his Reformed fellows.