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On the Late Massecher in Piemont

The story behind this piece is almost completely forgotten but I think it deserves a place here. The original text of the poem was first published in John Milton's, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673).

A striking piece of propaganda based on the Waldenses, an ancient Christian church many who under pressure from the Roman church during the 13th century, moved their settlement from Lombardy in the 13th century, into the hills of northern Italy and southern France (the Piemont or Piedmont). A series of bloody struggles in the late 15th century gained them the right to worship freely. Of central importance of the Waldensian religion was the rejection of graven images. This conviction was common as well to the Protestant sects which came into being in the 16th century; and the Waldenses were highly regarded by these new Protestants for the success with which they defended their faith.

Religion had become a central issue by the middle of the 17 th century and two camps formed Protestant and Catholic among the subsequent continental alliances . It was during this period that the Duke of Savoy annulled the treaty under which the Waldenses were protected from persecution. The subsequent massacres of the Waldenses by the Catholic authorities were among the most ghastly of that gruesome period.

Protestant entities, including England took a dim view of this. Milton's sonnet is just a small glimpse of the protest, but it is by itself in respect to anyone else other than scholars knows about any more.

In documents written by Milton as Latin secretary, Cromwell emphatically protested against such cruelty and treachery. Later in the year 1673, possibly after Cromwell's emissary, Sir Oliver Cromwell returned with his report, who may well have given Milton the details on his return, Milton composed his sonnet.

It was understood that the audience was to recall Tertullian's famous phrase, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" along with the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9 where the seed that fell on good ground brought forth as much as a hundredfold. The "stocks and stones" in the fourth line are the images around which worship centered in the Roman church. Such was to be the blood of these martyrs sown where the Pope-- The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow, a reference to his mitre with its three crowns, still rules. The last sentence is addressed to the Protestants to encourage conversions from the Whore of Babylon or the Roman Church from the rhetoric of the day, a referent to the Babylon of Revelation 16:19.


Cromwell, Oliver:
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.


Milton, John:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:


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