Thursday, August 30, 2012

8: John Jewel (1522-1571), bishop and first Anglican apologist

John Jewel (1522-1571) ... the first Anglican apologist and the ‘worthiest divine Christendom hath bred’

Patrick Comerford

John Jewel (1522-1571), whose surname is sometimes spelled Jewell, was a friend of Cranmer and Ridley, was exiled in the reign of Queen Mary, and later became Bishop of Salisbury. But he is best known as the first Anglican apologist and, in the words of Richard Hooker, as the “worthiest divine Christendom hath bred for the space of some hundreds of years.”

Jewel was born on 24 May 1522, the son of John Jewel of Buden in North Devonshire. He was one of ten children, and was educated privately by his mother’s brother, the Revd John Bellamy, Rector of Hampton, and other private tutors. During his schooldays, he contracted smallpox and his later weak health may have owed something to this illness.

In July 1535, he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied under John Pankhurst, who “was beginning at this time to be alive to the errors of Romanism.” It is said Pankhurst, who later became the Bishop of Norwich, first introduced Jewel to the ideas and thinking of the Reformation.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford ... Jewel was elected a fellow in 1542

In August 1539, Jewel transferred to Corpus Christi College, founded in 1517 by Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, as a centre for new learning in the University of Oxford. One of its earliest fellows, Reginald Pole, was Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Mary. Jewel graduated BA (Bachelor of Arts) on 20 August 1540, was elected a Fellow of Corpus Christi College on 18 March 1542, and proceeded MA (Master of Arts) on 28 January 1545. He remained in Oxford as a tutor at Corpus Christi College and as a reader in the Humanities and in Rhetoric.

In 1548, the Italian reformer Peter Martyr (Pietro Marture Vermigli), who had come to England at the invitation of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and he and Jewel soon befriended each other. Jewel later described Peter Martyr as “my father, my pride, even the half of my soul.”

John Jewell’s porch in Saint Leonard’s Church, Sunningwell, where he was rector in the 1550s

Jewell was probably ordained in 1551, the year he was appointed the Rector of Sunningwell, in Berkshire (but now in Oxfordshire), a parish about 5 or 6 km south of Oxford. He seems to have continued living in Oxford, visiting his parish on Sundays to take services. He received the degree BD (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1552, and was appointed public orator of Oxford University. In that role, he composed a letter of congratulations to Mary on her accession to the throne in 1553.

The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Baliol College in Oxford ... Jewel acted on behalf of Cranmer and Ridley at their trials (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mary I’s accession brought an end to the reforms of Edward VI’s reign. When Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley were put on trial in Oxford in April 1554, Jewel acted as their notary. However, in the autumn of 1554, Jewel signed a series of Catholic articles. Whether he did this of duty to the new monarch, to save his life or “for the sake of quietness,” he regretted his action for the rest of his life and his opponents, both Puritans and Roman Catholics, constantly used it against him in arguments.

Corpus Christi College expelled him for not attending the Mass, for preaching heresy and for his friendship with Peter Martyr. He found a new home in Broadgates Hall, now Pembroke College, and there he gathered many pupils. But he was living under suspicion, and he fled first to London then to Frankfurt, where he arrived in March 1555.

Jewel was not warmly welcomed by John Knox and William Whittingham. He was suspected after signing the Catholic articles in Oxford, although he made a public confession to atone for his weakness.

Jewel sided with Richard Cox and his supporters against Knox and Whittingham. Cox stood for the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and the teachings of Cranmer, whereas Knox and Whittingham wanted a far more Puritan service and adhered to the doctrines of Calvin. The rift between the Cox and Knox and their supporters continued to widen. Eventually Cox and Jewel complained to the magistrates and Knox was ejected from the city, while Jewel left Frankfurt and joined Peter Martyr in Strasbourg. The two friends then travelled to Zurich and also Padua.

Jewel believed that under the Catholic Mary Tudor England had relapsed into “a wilderness of superstition.” When she died in November 1558 and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I, the English Protestant exiles began to return home. Jewel returned with them, and sought to secure a “Low Church” or more Puritan or evangelical settlement of religion. Later, however, he accommodated his views to those of the new monarch, modifying his theology gradually in the light of his experiences of office and responsibility.

The site of Saint Paul’s Cross, on the north-east side of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, is marked by a more recent monument (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He was one of the theologians selected to debate with leading Roman Catholics at the conference of Westminster after Easter 1559. He was appointed the select preacher at Saint Paul’s Cross, beside old Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, on 15 June, and preached there regularly. He was nominated Bishop of Salisbury on 27 July 1559, but during the autumn months that followed, he was engaged as one of the royal visitors of the western counties.

In a sermon at Saint Paul’s Cross on 26 November 1559, he challenged all comers to prove the Roman Catholic. In his “Challenge Sermon,” Jewel outlined 27 “abuses” held by the Roman Catholic Church, including private masses, the distribution of the Holy Communion only in one kind, and the prohibition on people reading the Bible in their own language.

He said Roman Catholics, and not Anglicans, were guilty of innovation and heresy. He offered to return to that church if anyone could prove the case for these doctrines from the Bible, from the Fathers of the Church or from the decrees of the Councils of the Church in the first six centuries. His sermon, which provide the foundation for Jewel’s later work and become an important moment in Anglican theology, was based on I Corinthians 11: 23: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread...”

Salisbury Cathedral ... John Jewel was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury on 21 January 1560

When Jewel was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury on 21 January 1560, he found that the diocese had been impoverished by his predecessor, John Capon. He set about reforming the diocese, visiting parishes, encouraging the clergy to preach regularly, and preaching in the churches himself.

Following his consecration, he preached his Challenge Sermon again on 17 March before the court and at Saint Paul’s Cross just before Easter. Each time he repeated the challenge he had made at Saint Paul’s Cross the previous November:

“If any learned man of all our adversaries, or if all the learned men that be alive, be able to bring out of any old Catholic Doctor, or Father; or out of any old General Council; Or out of the Holy Scriptures of God, or any one example of the primitive church, whereby it may be clearly and plainly proved, that there was any private mass in the whole world at that time, for the space of six hundred years after Christ; Or [and here he lists 14 practices in the Roman Catholic Church with which he disagreed] ...; I promised then that I would give over and subscribe unto him.”

Dr Henry Cole, Mary Tudor’s Dean of Saint Paul's and a former Provost of Eton College, took up the challenge, but this resulted in Cole being imprisoned in the Tower of London.

As Jewel articulated his arguments in an exchange of letters with Cole, he wrote in Latin his Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae (An Apology of the Church of England). This was published in 1562 and is considered by Chapman as tyhe standard work in defining Anglican theology and by McGrath and others as the groundwork for much of Anglican theology that followed. Creighton sees it as the first methodical statement of the position of the Church of England.

During the years 1563-1564, Jewel was probably involved in issuing the Second Book of Homilies.

A more formidable antagonist than Cole was Thomas Harding, who was also from Devon and who had been one of Jewel’s contemporaries in Oxford. Harding once held Protestant views during the reign of Edward VI, but had returned to Catholicism in Mary I’s reign. He became Bishop Stephen Gardiner’s confessor and a canon-in-residence and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. Jewel had ejected Harding from Salisbury Cathedral for recusancy, and by then he was living in exile in Belgium.

A literary and theological battle, known as “the Great Controversy,” developed between the two. In 1564, Harding published an elaborate and bitter Answer to M. Juelles Challenge, which was followed in 1565 by Jewel’s Replie, then Harding’s Confutation in 1565 and Jewel’s Defence of the Apology in 1567. Their debate covered the whole field of theology that divided Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and their exchanges continued until Jewel’s death.

John Jewel’s ‘Defence of the Apology’ was published in 1567

As Bishop of Salisbury, Jewel became increasingly hostile to Puritan demands, and he refused admission to a benefice to his friend Lawrence Humphrey, who would not wear a surplice. He wrote an attack on Thomas Cartwright; which was published posthumously by John Whitgift (1532-1604), Archbishop of Canterbury.

Jewel was taken ill and collapsed after preaching in Lacock, Wiltshire. He was taken to the episcopal manor house at Monkton Farleigh, and he died there on 23 September 1571 at the age of 49. He was buried in Salisbury Cathedral, where he had built a library.

Jewel’s legacy

Jewel’s Apology was translated from Latin into English in 1564 by Anne, Lady Bacon, mother of Francis Bacon. CS Lewis writes of this translation: “If quality without bulk were enough, Lady Bacon might be put forward as the best of all sixteenth-century translators.” Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, wanted it made a set text for schools and universities, alongside the 39 Articles and The Book of Common Prayer.

The Apology defended Anglicanism against Roman Catholic criticisms of “innovation” and “schism” and was a vindication of the basis of authority in the Church of England.

It soon became one of the key texts of Anglican identity. It is an early embodiment of Anglican apologetics that are both Catholic and reformed,, setting the firm foundations of Scripture, Reason and Tradition. It gained what Mark Chapman describes as “semi-offiical status” in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean England and was bought by many parish churches as a “very notable and learned confutation of all the principal points of popery.”

In the reign of James I, Jewel’s works were published in 1609 under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft, who ordered his Apology to be placed in all parish churches throughout England.

He was the patron of the theologian Richard Hooker, who described Jewel as being the “worthiest divine Christendom hath bred for the space of some hundreds of years,” and who elevated Jewel’s Apology to a status equivalent to the 39 Articles, and Prayer Book Catechism.

Hooker had been prepared by Jewel as a student for university, and Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity owes much to Jewel’s training.

The west porch of Saint Leonard’s Church in Sunningwell, where Jewel was Rector, is said to have been his gift to the parish after he returned from his Continental exile. This unique, seven-sided porch, with a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance features, is attached to the west end of the church, under the shade of an old yew tree.

John Jewel’s Apology
John Jewel’s Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, published in 1562, is considered by many as the groundwork for much Anglican theology

John Jewel’s 1562 An Apology for the Church of England is the first methodical and cohesive presentation of Anglican theological thinking and answers the challenges and accusations posed to Anglicans at the time by Roman Catholic theologians. It could be argued that it forms the groundwork of all subsequent Anglican theology.

In the Apology, Jewel argues that a general reformation had been necessary, that reform by a body such as the Council of Trent was impossible, and that local Churches had the right to legislate through provincial synods.

The Apology is a relatively short work that runs to 42 pages in Latin and 56 pages in the Parker Society’s English language version. It is divided into six sections:

1 addresses the attacks made against Protestantism in Jewel’s day;
2 expounds Protestant doctrine;
3 claims the Church of England is in the true line of succession from the early Church Fathers;
4 exposes the scandals of the Church of Rome and the errors which he said it had fallen into;
5 discredits the claims of Rome to have the support of the Church Fathers;
6 argues against accepting the judgments of the Council of Trent.

Jewel claims that the Catholicity of the Church of England is provided by its doctrinal succession from the Apostles. Evidence for this claim of Catholicity is gathered through comparing the Church of England’s doctrine with that of the Church of the first six centuries. Those who cannot justify their views from Scripture prefer their “cold inventions” to the truth, which they have defaced and corrupted, he said.

Jewel then outlines the Christian faith as practised in the Church of England, basing his discussion on the Historic Creeds, and hen addressing the three-fold ordained ministry.

According to Scripture and the Patristic sources, no bishop is superior to any other, nor is any “worldly creature” to set himself up as head of the whole Church, as the Bishop of Rome had presumed to do, surrounded by his “parasites [who] flatteringly sing in his ears.”

Jewel then defends the Church of England’s position on the marriage of priests, Eucharistic doctrine and practices, and liturgical customs. If new and divisive ideas had been introduced into the Church, he said, this had been done by Rome, not by the Church of England, which had restored ancient practice.

Jewel concluded his Apology by defending, on the basis of ancient practice, the right of the Church of England to reform itself by means of a regional synod called by the secular authority.

Jewel agrees with other Reformers that Scripture was the ultimate authority for doctrine and practice, and that neither the Pope nor any other bishop is entitled to decide what the Scripture means. But Jewel differs from some of the Reformers in that he did not believe that Scripture is always clear in its meaning. When the meaning of Scripture is not clear, he argues, one should appeal to the Councils of the Church and the Early Fathers, to those who lived nearest the time of Christ, and ask what sense they made of Scripture.

The test of any teaching or practice in the Church, he says, is not whether it had been accepted by the mediaeval church, which had introduced “sundry horrible enormities,” but whether it can be supported by appeal to the Bible and the earliest Christian understandings of the Bible.

John Jewel in his own words:

O that our adversaries, and all they that stand in defence of the Mass this day, would content themselves to be judged by this rule! O that, in all the controversies that lie between us and them, they would remit the judgment unto God’s word! So should we soon agree and join together: so should we deliver nothing unto the people but what we have received at God’s hand. (Challenge Sermon)

For these causes, I say, we have thought fit, by this book, to give an account of our faith, and to answer truly and publicly, what hath been publicly objected against us, that the whole world may see the parts and reasons of that faith, which so many good men have valued above their lives, and that all mankind may understand what kind of men they are, and what they think of God and religion ... (Apology I.10)

Allow everyone to determine with themselves, whether that faith which they must needs perceive to be consonant to the words of Christ and the writings of the apostles, and the testimonies of the catholic fathers, and which is confirmed by the examples of many ages, be only the rage of a sort of madmen, and a combination or conspiracy of heretics. (Apology I.17)

Thus we have been taught by Christ, by the apostles and holy fathers; and we do faithfully teach the people of God the same things. (Apology III.2).

We say that man is born in sin and leadeth his life in sin, and that no man can truly say his heart is clean; that the most holy man is an unprofitable servant; that the law of God is perfect, and requires of us a full and perfect obedience; and that we cannot in any way keep it perfectly in this life; and that there is no mortal who can be justified in the sight of God by his own deserts; and therefore our only refuge and safety is in the mercy of God the Father, by Jesus Christ, and in the assuring ourselves that he is the propitiation for our sins, by whose blood all our stains are washed out; that he has pacified all things by the blood of his cross; that he by that only sacrifice which he once offered upon the cross, hath perfected all things; and therefore, when he breathed out his soul, he said, it is finished; as if by these words he would signify, Now the price is paid for the sins of mankind. (Apology II.21)

Christ himself dwelleth in our hearts by faith (Apology, II.23).

We affirm that bread and wine are holy and heavenly mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, and that by them Christ Himself, being the true bread of eternal life, is so presently given unto us as that by faith we verily receive his body and his blood. (Apology II.15).

In the Lord’s Supper there is truly given unto the believing the body and blood of the Lord, the flesh of the Son of God, which quickeneth our souls, the meat that cometh from above, the food of immortality, grace, truth, and life; and the Supper to be the communion of the body and blood of Christ, by partaking whereof we be revived, we be strengthened, and be fed unto immortality, and whereby we are joined, united, and incorporate unto Christ, that we may abide in him, and he in us. (Apology II)

In speaking thus, we mean not to abase the Lord’s Supper, that it is but a cold ceremony only, and nothing to be wrought therein (as many falsely slander us we teach). For we affirm, that Christ doth truly and presently give his own self in his sacraments; in Baptism, that we may put him on; and in his Supper, that we may eat him by faith and spirit, and may have everlasting life by his cross and blood. And we say not, this is done slightly and coldly, but effectually and truly. For although we do not touch the body of Christ with teeth and mouth, yet we hold him fast, and eat him by faith, by understanding, and by the Spirit. And it is no vain faith which doth comprehend Christ: and that is not received with cold devotion, that is received with understanding, with faith, and with spirit. For Christ Himself altogether is so offered and given us in these mysteries, that we may certainly know we be flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bones; and that Christ “continueth in us, and we in Him.” And therefore in celebrating these mysteries, the people are to good purpose exhorted before they come to receive the Holy Communion, to lift up their hearts, and to direct their minds to heavenward: because he is there, by whom we must be full fed, and live. (Apology II.15).

Nevertheless we keep still and esteem, not only those ceremonies which we are sure were delivered us from the apostles, but some others too besides, which we thought might be suffered without hurt to the church of God; because we had a desire that all things in the Holy Congregation might (as Paul Commandeth) ‘be done with comeliness and in good order’; but as for all those things which we saw were either very superstitious or unprofitable, or noisome, or mockeries, or contrary to the Holy Scriptures, or else unseemly for honest or discreet folks, as there be an infinite number nowadays where papistry is used, these I say, we have utterly refused without all manner exception.

We have departed from that church, which they had made a den of thieves, in which they had left nothing sound or like a church, and which they themselves confessed to have erred in many things, as Lot left Sodom, or Abraham Chaldea, not out of contention, but out of obedience to God; and have sought the certain way of religion out of the sacred Scriptures, which we know cannot deceive us, and have returned to the primitive church of the ancient fathers and apostles, that is, to the beginning a first rise of the church, as to the proper fountain. (Apology, Conclusion 1)

If the Church of Rome would now faithfully keep the traditions and doctrines of the apostles, we would frankly yield her all that honour that Irenaeus giveth her.

Select Bibliography:

John E. Booty, John Jewel as Apologist of the Church of England (London: SPCK, 1963, for the Church Historical Society).
Mark D. Chapman, Anglican Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012).
John Craig, ‘Jewel, John,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol 30, pp 108-113.
(Bishop) Mandell Creighton, ‘Jewel, John,’ Dictionary of National Biography.
John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, ed Henry Morley (London: Cassell, 1888) Available online at (Project Canterbury, ).
RW Jelf (ed), The Works of John Jewel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845-1850, for the Parker Society); volume 4 includes a memoir.
Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2nd ed, 1993).
Alister E. McGrath (ed), The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians (London: SPCK, 1998).
William Marshall, Scripture, Tradition and Reason (Dublin: Columba, 2010).
Stephen Neill, Anglicanism (London: Penguin, 3rd ed, 1965).
Richard H. Schmidt, Glorious Companions, Five centuries of Anglican Spirituality (Grand Rapids and Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002).

Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

7: Myles Coverdale (ca 1488-1569), Bible translator and bishop

Myles Coverdale (ca 1488-1569) … as seen in ‘The Letters of the Martyrs’: collected and published in 1564; republished in ‘Miles Coverdale’ (London: JF Shaw, 1837), Picture, Wikipedia)

Patrick Comerford

Myles Coverdale (also spelt Miles Coverdale) (ca 1488-1569) was a 16th-century Bible translator who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English.

He was probably born around 1488 in the parish of Coverham, near Middleham in the Coverdale district in North Yorkshire around 1488. Pearson suggests Coverdale was an assumed name, taken from the area he came from, and was not his original family name.

It is said he studied philosophy and theology at Cambridge University – Foxe says he received the degree BTh (Bachelor of Theology), while Cooper says his degree was BCL (Bachelor of Canon Law), although neither degree is listed by Venn. He was ordained priest in Norwich in 1514 by John Underwood, titular Bishop of Chalcedon, suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Norwich, and the Franciscan Prior of Bromholm, Norfolk.

In 1523, Coverdale entered the convent of Austin Friars in Cambridge, where the prior was Robert Barnes, an early follower of Martin Luther and a future martyr. Barnes probably influenced Coverdale in favour of Reform.

A plaque at Chetwynd Court, King’s College, Cambridge, marking the site of the White House Tavern where Latimer would joined those who discussed Reformation ideas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From 1521 on, Reformed-minded thinkers at Cambridge were discussing Luther’s writings at the White Horse Inn, which came to be called “Little Germany.”

Those who met at the White Horse Inn included Robert Barnes, as wells as Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Hugh Latimer, later Bishop and Oxford martyr, Thomas Bilney, who changed Latimer’s views about the Reformation, Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Tyndale, Bible translator, Nicholas Shaxton, later Bishop of Salisbury, John Bale, later Bishop of Ossory, and Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible and future Bishop of Exeter.

When Barnes was tried for heresy in 1526, Coverdale assisted in his defence. But soon after the trial, Coverdale left the Austin Friars convent in Cambridge. From 1527, Thomas Cromwell was his friend and protector. By Lent 1528, Coverdale was “going in the habit of a secular priest” in Steeple Bumpstead and other parishes in Essex, devoting himself to full-time preaching against the religious abuses of the day. Before the end of the year, he decided to leave England for continental Europe, although Cooper, Pearson and others say he received the degree Bachelor of Canon Law (BCL) at the University of Cambridge in 1531.

The title page of Coverdale’s Bible, 1535

In 1534, Coverdale translated Campensis’s 1532 Latin paraphrase of the Psalms. On 4 October 1535, he published the first complete English Bible in print, the so-called Coverdale Bible. Earlier, in 1525, William Tyndale had translated the Greek New Testament into English. As Coverdale was not proficient in Hebrew or Greek, he used “five soundry interpreters” in Latin, English and “Douche” or German as source text. He made use of Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, following Tyndale’s Antwerp edition of November 1534, and of the Old Testament books translated by Tyndale – the five books of the Pentateuch and Jonah.

The Coverdale Bible was published in Antwerp, partly financed by Jacobus van Meteren. When it was smuggled into England, Coverdale’s translation gained great popularity and eventually was published by English printers. In 1537, his translations were included in the Matthew Bible.

An illuminated copy of The Great Bible in Saint John’s College, Cambridge, printed on parchment and perhaps one of two referred to in a letter from Miles Coverdale and Richard Grafton in Paris to Thomas Cromwell on 23 June 1538 the title page shows Henry VIII presenting a Bible to clerics and laymen; below are Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell

Convinced by Thomas Cromwell of the need for an official English Bible, Henry VIII commissioned Coverdale to revise his translation for this purpose. Coverdale was in Paris in 1538, superintending the printing of the revised translation that would become known as the Great Bible of 1540. That year also saw the publication in London and Paris of editions of a Latin and an English New Testament, in which Coverdale compared the Latin Vulgate with his own English translation.

Henry VIII had a Coverdale Bible put into every English church, chained to a lectern, so that everyone in England would have access to a Bible.

Coverdale returned to England in 1539, and lived briefly in Newbury, Berkshire. However, his friend and protector, Thomas Cromwell, was executed in 1540, and a fearful Coverdale felt compelled to go into exile again, with his new wife, Elizabeth Macheson, who was of Scottish descent. They lived for a time in Tübingen, where he is said to have received his doctorate (DTh).

From 1543 to 1547, he was a pastor and schoolmaster at Bergzabern, now Bad Bergzabem, in the Duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrucken. But this provided little income and he lived in poor circumstances. Back in England, all of Coverdale’s books were condemned on 8 July 1546 and many were burned at Saint Paul’s Cross on 26 September 1546 by the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner.

In March 1548, he was in Frankfurt, when the new English Order of Communion reached him. He immediately translated it into German and Latin and sent a copy to Calvin, whose wife had befriended Coverdale at Strasbourg. However, Calvin does not seem to have approved of it as highly as Coverdale.

When Coverdale returned to England in March 1548, he was well received in the court of Edward VI, and was made the new young king’s chaplain and almoner to the queen dowager, Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. Coverdale preached the sermon at her funeral in September 1548, and also preached at Sir James Wilford’s funeral in November 1550, and at Lord Wentworth’s funeral in Westminster Abbey in March 1551.

A sermon he preached in Saint Paul’s on the Second Sunday in Lent, 1549, was followed immediately by the pulling down of “the sacrament at the high altar.”

In 1549, he wrote a dedication to Edward VI for a translation of the second volume of Erasmus’s Paraphrases. When Lord Russell was sent to suppress of the ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ in Devonshire that year, Coverdale accompanied him as chaplain and preached on the field.

In 1550, he translated Otto Wermüller’s Precious Pearl, for which the preface was written by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset, who had derived spiritual comfort from the book while he was prisoner in the Tower of London.

Peter Martyr wrote from Oxford in 1550 to tell Henry Bullinger the news that their “well-acquainted” friend was to be made a bishop and that “nothing could be more convenient and conductive to the reformation of religion, than the advancement of such men to the government of the church.” It was another year, however, before Coverdale became Bishop of Exeter in 1551.

On 14 August 1551, John Vesey was deposed as Bishop of Exeter and Coverdale was named as his successor. He was consecrated in Croydon on 30 August 1551 by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and John Hodgkins, suffragan Bishop of Bedford. At the same service, John Scory was consecrated Bishop of Rochester, and all the bishops, including Coverdale, were robed in surplices and copes.

At his Palace in Exeter on 20 December that year, Coverdale ordained four deacons, and two days later commissioned one of them, Anthony Randall, to expound and preach the Word of God in Latin, or English, in any church, or other decent places, throughout the diocese. Two of the other three deacons he promoted to priesthood in the chapel of his palace.

On 1 January 1552, he ordained, infra domum suam, John Grosse deacon and likewise priest in uno et eodem die. His other ordinations were conducted in his cathedral. On, 3 July 1552, he ordained two deacons; on 24 July, one deacon; and on 22 May 1553, two deacons, one of whom, Thomas Richards, ordained to the priesthood also in uno et eodem die. This abuse was subsequently forbidden in 1603 under Canon 32.

His subsequent manner of life is described by John Hooker, the historian of Exeter, who was knew him: “He preached continually upon every holy-day and did read most commonly twice in the week in some one church or other within this city. He was, after the rate of his livings, a great keeper of hospitality, very sober in diet, godly in life, friendly to the godly, liberal to the poor, and courteous to all men. Void of pride, full of humility, abhorring covetousness and an enemy to all wickedness and wicked men, whose companies he shunned, and whom he would in no wise shroud, or have his house or company. His wife, a most sober, chaste and godly-matron. His house and household, another church in which was exercised all godliness and virtue. No one person being in his house which did not, from time to time, give an account of his faith and religion, and also did live accordingly.”

Yet, as a bishop he sat as a judge in the trial of Von Parris, a Dutch surgeon living in London, who was burned at the stake in April 1551 for his Socinian opinions.

However, Coverdale was not popular in his western diocese. At Queen Mary’s accession in 1553, he was deprived of his see as a married bishop and imprisoned, supposedly for person debts to Queen Mary, and John Veysey was restored as Bishop of Exeter. An Act of Council permitted Coverdale to go to Denmark “with two of his servants, his bagges and baggage, without any unlawfull lette or serche.”

His brother-in-law was chaplain to King Christian II of Denmark, but Coverdale declined an offer from King Christian II of a parish in Denmark, and preferred to preach at Wesel to the numerous English refugees there, until he was invited by Duke Wolfgang to return to Bergzabern. But he never relinquished his episcopal claims and until his death he continued to sign himself Myles Coverdale quondam Exoniensis or Myles Coverdale quondam Exon.

He was in Geneva in December 1558, and is said to have helped to prepare the publication of the Geneva Bible. He may also have been the anonymous translator into English the treatise on the Eucharist Compiled by John Calvine, a man of no less learnyng and literature than godly studye and example of lyvyng; wher unto is added the Order that the churche of Christe in Denmarke, and in many places, countries, and cities of Germany doth use, not onelye at the Holye Supper of the Lorde, but also at the ministration of the blessed Sacramente of Baptisme and Holy Wedlocke.

He returned to England in 1559 after Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne. However, he was not reinstated as Bishop of Exeter, perhaps because of his Puritan scruples about vestments. Clothed in a plain black gown, he assisted at the consecration of Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Church of Saint Magnus the Martyr … Coverdale was rector from 1564 to 1566, and died in the pulpit (Photograph: Steve Cadman)

His friend the Bishop of London, Edmund Grindal, suggested his name to Cecil as Bishop of Llandaff in 1563, but he declined the invitation. In 1563, he received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) at the University of Cambridge by incorporation from Tübingen. In April 1564, he was commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge to admit Bishop Grindal to the same degree.

After surviving an attack of the plague that year, he was appointed by Grindal to the parish of Saint Magnus the Martyr, near London Bridge, where he was the rector from 1564 to 1566.

His wife Elizabeth died in September 1565, and on 7 April 1566 Coverdale married his second wife, Katherine. Five months later, he resigned his parish in September 1566 rather than conform to the Act of Uniformity.

He was too poor to pay the first-fruits, £60.16s.10d., and at length Queen Elizabeth forgave him that debt. He resigned from Saint Magnus the Martyr in the summer of 1566, but continued preaching actively in London, although by then he was in his 70s.

On 20 January 1569, Coverdale died after preaching in the pulpit in Saint Magnus the Martyr Church. He was not expected to preach that day but there was no preacher available, and his biographer John Hooker recalled:

“Certain men of the parish came unto him, and earnestly entreated that considering the multitude was great, and that it was pity they should be disappointed of their expectation, that it would please him to take the place for that time. But he excused his age and the infirmities thereof, and that his memory failed him, his voice scarce to be heard, and he not able to do it, that they would hold him excused. Nevertheless such were their importunate requests that … between two men he was carried up into the pulpit, where God did with his spirit so strengthen him, that he made his last and the best and the most godly sermon that ever he did in all his life. And very shortly after he died, being very honourably buried with the presence of the Duchess of Suffolk, the Earl of Bedford, and many others, honourable and worshipful personages.”

He was buried in the Church of Saint Bartholomew’s by the Exchange. When that church was demolished in 1840 to make way for a new Royal Exchange, his remains were moved to Saint Magnus the Martyr.

Punting on the River Cam or the Backs, behind Clare College, with the pinnacles of King’s College Chapel in the background … Coverdale’s biographers do not say which college he attended and disagree about which degree he received and when (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Coverdale’s legacy

Coverdale has been described as a “pious, conscientious, laborious, generous, and a thoroughly honest and good man”. It could be said that he had a part in the publication of more different editions of England language Bibles in the 1500s than any other person.

His work in translating and editing the Bible place him among the leading scholars of his time. Coverdale’s Bible was the first in which the non-canonical books were left out of the body of the Old Testament and placed by themselves at the end of it under the title Apocripha.

Nor should Coverdale be dismissed as some Biblical literalist or fundamentalist. In his introduction to his translation of the Bible, he wrote:

“It shall greatly help ye to understand the Scriptures if thou mark not only what is spoken or written, but of whom and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstances, considering what goeth before and what followeth after. ”

His translation of the Psalter continued to be used for centuries in The Book of Common Prayer, and is the most familiar translation of the psalms. Many musical settings of the psalms make use of Coverdale’s translation.

Coverdale was not as proficient a translator as Tyndale and knew little of the original Hebrew. But he was prodigious – one estimate says he translated or revised on average 2,400 words a day – and he understood the rhythms of the English language, with the beauty of alliteration and repetition. Paul Stanwood says Coverdale was not so much translating the Psalms as providing an English mirror of their sense, repeating whole phrases for emphasis, so that his verse is easy to remember and is hauntingly poetic.

However, as Stephen Neill has pointed out, there are places where Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms makes nonsense. How could “indignation vex him, even as a thing that is raw” (Psalm 58: 8)? Or how does one imagine “the beasts of the people … humbly bring pieces of silver” (Psalm 68: 30)?

Although Coverdale does not appear in the Common Worship Calendar of the Church of England, Coverdale and Tyndale are remembered together on 6 October in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. There is a Coverdale Road and a Miles Coverdale Primary School in London. Coverdale Hall is a fictional college in Durham in Catherine Fox’s first novel, Angels and Men (Hamish Hamilton, 1996).


Almighty God, you planted in the heart of your servants William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale a consuming passion to bring the Scriptures to people in their native tongue, and endowed them with the gift of powerful and graceful expression and with strength to persevere against all obstacles: Reveal to us your saving Word, as we read and study the Scriptures, and hear them calling us to repentance and life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Select bibliography:

Coverdale’s works, most of them translations, number 26 in all. Almost all his works, with his letters, were collected and edited by the Revd George Pearson and published by the Parker Society, Cambridge, in two volumes in 1846.

David Daniell, ‘Coverdale, Miles (1488–1569)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol 13, pp 739-747.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant, Edward VI and the Protestant ReformationLondon: Allen Lane, 1999).
Stephen Neill, Anglicanism (London: Penguin, 1965).
(Revd) George Pearson Remains of Myles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, for the Parker Society, 1846). Paul Stanwood, ‘The Prayer Book as Literature,’ pp 140-149 in Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

6: John Bale (1495-1563), ‘bilious’ bishop and playwright

John Bale ... spent only six months in Ireland as Bishop of Ossory in 1553

Patrick Comerford

John Bale (1495-1563) was an English theologian, historian, controversialist, playwright, literary historian and Bishop of Ossory, whose unhappy disposition and habit of quarrelling earned him the nickname “bilious Bale.”

He was born in the village of Cove, near Dunwich in Suffolk, on 21 November 1495, into a family of humble origins. He was one of several children of Henry and Margaret Bale.

At the age of 12 he was sent to the Convent of Carmelite Friars in Norwich, where he received his schooling. The convent contained an extensive library which Bale later described as “noble and fair.” From Norwich, he moved to the house of Holme, which may be the Benedictine house at Hulme in Norfolk or the Carmelite Priory at Holn Abbey, near Alnwick in Northumberland.

Jesus College, Cambridge ... Bale claimed he was a student here but there is no university record of any degrees conferred on him (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, it has been said, Bale entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1514. The best-known of the Reformers associated with Jesus College was Thomas Cranmer, later Archbishop of Canterbury. It is presumed Bale took the degrees BA (Bachelor of Arts), and then MA (Master of Arts) in 1519. Bale says he also spent time abroad, studying in Toulouse and Louvain, before returning to Cambridge. It is has been accepted widely that he received the degree BD (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1528 or 1529, and some accounts also say he later received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) in either 1531 or 1551.

Although Bale is listed by Venn and others, there is no university record of any degrees conferred on him, and Richard Rex in a recent study has pointed out that there is no evidence that Bale was ever at Jesus College. Bale says he spent 15 years at Cambridge, but Rex says the traditional account of his time at Jesus College arises from a misinterpretation by the Stuart antiquary Thomas Fuller of Bale's own recollections.

A plaque at Chetwynd Court, King’s College, Cambridge, marking the site of the White House Tavern where Matthew Parker joined those who discussed Reformation ideas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At first, Bale was an opponent of the new learning and a zealous Roman Catholic. But in Cambridge he came into close contact with Reformed-minded thinkers who were discussing Luther’s writings at the White Horse Inn, which came to be called “Little Germany.” Those who met there from 1521 on included Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Barnes, Prior of the Austin Friars in Cambridge and a future martyr, Hugh Latimer, later one of the Oxford martyrs, Thomas Bilney, who changed Latimer’s views about the Reformation, Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible and future Bishop of Exeter, Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Tyndale, Bible translator, and Nicholas Shaxton, later Bishop of Salisbury, as well as John Bale.

Many of the group in the White Horse had been influenced by a new translation of the New Testament by Erasmus and by the ideas of Luther. Many of them also preached at the Church of Saint Edward King and Martyr, close to King’s College, Cambridge.

After leaving Cambridge, with or without a degree, Bale seems to have gone to the Carmelite community in Maldon as Prior. By 1530, he had been transferred to the Carmelite Convent in Doncaster, where he was Prior.

In 1533, he was elected Prior of the Carmelite Friary (Whitefirars) in Ipswich. In the past, the Carmelite friars at Ipswich included John Kynyngham, who was the confessor of John of Gaunt and debated frequently at Oxford with John Wycliffe; Nicholas Kenton, the historian, poet, philosopher, theologian and orator, who became the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1445; and Thomas Lavenham, author of a Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics and one of the first fellows of All Souls’ College, Oxford in 1447.

At Ipswich, Bale wrote a number of works and made an intensive survey of the writers of Britain whose works were preserved in the monastic libraries of his time. But he was the last Prior, and before the Dissolution of the Monasteries he laid aside his monastic habit, renounced his vows, and caused great scandal by marrying, saying, “that I might never more serve so execrable a beast, I took to wife the faithful Dorothy, listening attentively to this divine saying: let him who cannot be content seek a wife.” Earlier, he had stated that it was better to marry than “to burn.”

His marriage angered the clergy of Ipswich, but he soon left Ipswich and became the Vicar of Thorndon in Suffolk.At an early stage in East Anglia, he enjoyed the patronage of Thomas, 1st Lord Wentworth, to whom he later attributed his conversion.

In 1534, he was called before the Archbishop of York to answer for a sermon he had preached at Doncaster, attacking the invocation of saints. Later he was called before John Stokesley, Bishop of London, but he avoided imprisonment through the powerful protection of Thomas Cromwell. Bale is said to have attracted Cromwell’s attention by his dramas, which were morality plays, or scriptural plays setting forth the reformed opinions.

In these plays, Bale denounced the monastic system and its supporters in unrestrained language and coarse imagery. The prayer of Infidelitas, which opens the second act of his Three Laws is an example of his profane parody. These brutal productions were intended to impress popular feeling, and Cromwell found in him an invaluable instrument.

When Cromwell fell from favour in 1540, Bale fled with his wife and children to Flanders and then to Germany, where he continued his controversial writings. His works there included collections of martyrologies of the supporters of Wycliffe, A brief Chronicle concerning the Examination and Death of Sir John Oldcastle, collected by John Bale out of the books and writings of those Popish Prelates which were present, which was published in 1544.

In 1546, he published an attack on the monastic system, The Actes of Englyshe Votaryes. In Marburg in 1547, he published three lives The Examinations of Lord Cobham, William Thorpe and Anne Askewe, &c. In Germany he also published the Pageant of Popes.

Bale returned to England on the accession of King Edward VI in 1547, and shared in the triumph of the more radical reformers. He received the living of Bishopstoke, near Eastleigh in Hampshire.

In 1550, while he was the Rector of Bishopstoke, he published in London The Image of bothe Churches after the most wonderfull and heavenlie Revelacion of Sainct John, written while he was in exile. This is the best example of Bale’s polemical abilities, showing his learning, his rude vigour of expression, and his want of good taste and moderation.

The Image of Both Churches is a thorough commentary on the Book of Revelation. Bale proceeded by taking short passages and following with a detailed paraphrase to explain the meaning and significance of such things as the opening of the seven seals, the first beast, the second beast with two horns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the going forth of the horsemen.

Bale’s primary concern was the identification of Antichrist. His understanding of the Book of Revelation differs markedly from the current popular view. For example, he knows nothing of a future Antichrist, a charming wonder-working man who will rise up at the very end of the age. This concept was taught by the Roman Catholic Church, but was refuted by Reformers, including William Tyndale and Martin Luther. Bale, however, says Antichrist is with us now, in the image of a Church. The opening of the seals describes what happens when God’s word is brought forth into the light. He believed that he was living in the time of the opening of the sixth seal, the Reformation, a time of great upheaval when the Scriptures were being freed from the grip of Rome. He understood the time of the seventh seal was when God’s word would go forth more freely and peacefully: the final season of God’s word while the present world stands.

Bale’s central thesis is that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy of how God’s word and those who love it (the “saints”) would fare at the hands of a false Church during the last age, between the Ascension of Christ and the end of the world.

Bale identified two types of churches. First there was, and would be until the end of the age, a false church, or Church of Antichrist, which persecutes those who do not bow to its dictates. He also speaks critically of Islam as the Church of Mohammed (“Mahomet”): its tyranny over the people (the “Turks”) and persecution of the saints. Bale’s view is that persecutions reflect the image of Antichrist’s Church. By contrast, the true Church loves and teaches God’s word truly.

The Image of Both Churches reflects clearly by the tenor and terror of the time. When Edmund Becke republished the Matthew Bible, revising many of the original 1537 notes and commentaries, he included Bale’s commentaries on the Book of Revelation and referred his readers to The Image of Both Churches.

In 1551, Bale was appointed Vicar of Swaffham in Norfolk, but he does not appear to have lived there. When Edward VI met Bale when he visited Southampton in August 1552, and on 22 October the king nominated Bale as Bishop of Ossory, a diocese vacant since the death of Milo Baron two years earlier in 1550.

Bale arrived in Bristol on 29 December 1552, but did not set sail for Ireland until 21 January 1553, and he arrived in Waterford after two days and two nights at sea. He set out for Dublin on horse the next day and stayed overnight in Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny, at the house of Adam Walsh, his commissary for the Diocese of Ossory.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... Bale insisted on Archbishop George Browne using the 1552 Prayer Book, which had not been authorised for use in the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From the beginning, Bale showed himself an uncompromising upholder of Reformation principles. When he was being ordained bishop in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 2 February 1553, he refused to be consecrated by the traditional rites used in the Church of Ireland., insisting that he was sworn to obey the laws of England.

The Irish bishops had not yet accepted the new ‘Form of Consecrating Bishops’ adopted by the English parliament, and it had not received the sanction of the Irish Parliament. Bale refused to be ordained by the old ritual, and despite opposition from the Archbishop of Dublin, George Browne, and the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cusack, Bale won his point. However, as Browne and the two assisting bishops, Thomas of Kildare and “Urbane of Duno,” were about to lay their hands on Bale the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Thomas Lockwood, publicly protested at the use of the new Prayer Book. Two days later, Bale fell seriously ill and wondered whether he had been poisoned.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, where Bale’s zeal for the Reformation was never tempered by discretion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bale’s account of his time in Ossory, Vocacyon of John Bale to the Byshopperycke of Ossorie, shows how his zeal for the Reformation was never tempered by discretion.

The sandstone Romanesque doorway in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As Bishop of Ossory, Bale had some of his plays acted by boys at the Market Cross in Kilkenny on Sunday afternoons, and he preached every Sunday and every holy day in Lent. After Easter, he moved to the bishop’s residence at Upper Court Manor, near Freshford, five miles outside Kilkenny. Hugh Mapleton, Bishop of Ossory, built the episcopal palace at Upper Court Manor in Freshford ( Achadh Úr, Aghour) in 1225, and this remained the favoured residence of the Bishop of Ossory until the 1550s.

However, Bale quarrelled bitterly with the aged and respected judge, Thomas St Leger, who visited Kilkenny to urge the people to reject his innovations. He failed to get the clergy of his diocese to introduce The Book of Common Prayer, and when he tried to remove what he called “idolatries” he was met with “angers, slaunders, conspiracies, and in the end slaughters of men.” He angered the priests by denouncing their superstitions and advising them to marry. Everywhere, his proposed measures aroused opposition.

His strident views alienated Lord Mountgarret from the Edwardian government and he allied himself with his neighbour, Fitzpatrick of Upper Ossory, to drive out the bishop.

Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. When the king’s death was announced in Kilkenny, Bale had doubts about recognising Lady Jane Grey as queen. But the Catholic party felt victory was at hand. Thomas Rothe, a magistrate and supporter of Viscount Mountgarret, demanded the Mass should be celebrated in Saint Canice’s Cathedral on 26 July 1553 to mark Saint Anne’s Day, although Bale had prohibited the celebration of the Holy Communion on any day other than Sunday.

The Market Cross in High Street, Kilkenny, where Bale had three of his plays performed on the day of Queen Mary’s coronation

When Mary Tudor’s accession was proclaimed to great celebration in Kilkenny on 20 August, there was a Catholic procession through the streets. Bale managed to preach in Kilkenny that day on Romans 13 and on the duty of obedience and, remarkably, three of his 25 plays were performed at the Market Cross in Kilkenny on the day of Queen Mary’s coronation.

On Saint Bartholomew’s Day, he preached on the text: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” That evening, he dined with Robert Shee, the Mayor of Kilkenny.

By 31 August, the old services and rituals had been revived throughout the Diocese of Ossory. A week later, when Bale sent five of his workers into his fields to make hay on Friday 8 September 1553, regarded as a holy day, they were attacked and killed, including three Englishmen and a 16-year-old girl, and the bishop’s horse was stolen.

Upper Court Manor, Freshford, Co Kilkenny ... Bale fled the bishop’s palace in September 1553, never to return (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Mayor of Kilkenny, Robert Shee, came to Bale’s rescue, and gave him an armed escort from Upper Court to Kilkenny. There he refused a request from his clergy to celebrate a Requiem Mass for Edward VI. Within a week, Bale fled, never to return to Kilkenny. In Dublin, an unsympathetic Archbishop George Browne refused him permission to preach in Christ Church Cathedral.

After some days or weeks in Dublin, Bale tried to escape to Scotland, but on the voyage he was taken prisoner by a Flemish crew that took him to Waterford. There he was handed over to the captain of a Dutch man-of-war, which was driven by the weather to St Ives in Cornwall. Bale was apprehended on a charge of high treason, but was soon released. From St Ives, he made his way to Dover, where he was arrested once again, but escaped one more time.

When he arrived in Holland he was again imprisoned, and only escaped in November by paying £300. From Holland, he made his way to Basel, and also spent some time in Frankfurt.

Bale was one of the signatories of a letter from the English congregation in Frankfurt on 24 September 1554, inviting John Knox to become their minister. Knox accepted the call, but the congregation soon split into two factions, one led by Richard Cox, former tutor to Edward VI and former Chancellor of Oxford University, who favoured using The Book of Common Prayer, and the other led by Knox and his supporters who favoured more radical forms of worship. Bales sided with Cox, and with John Jewel and other English exiles they accused Knox of high treason. The former English radical had now turned against his former Puritan allies, accusing them of “fierce despisings and cursed speaking.”

Knox eventually fled to Geneva, and Bale returned to Basel in August 1555, where he continued his writing. This second exile gave him time to carry on his work, and two editions of his catalogue of British writers were published in Basel in 1557-1559. This work owes much to the Collectanea and Commentarii of John Leland, but is disfigured by misrepresentations and inaccuracies.

Queen Mary died on 17 November 1558, and following the accession of Elizabeth I Bale returned to England in 1559, while Knox returned to Scotland. But by then Bale was an old and worn-out man, and he did not feel himself equal to the task of returning to the Diocese of Ossory. He was one of the bishops, along with Barlow, Scory and Coverdale, appointed by Queen Elizabeth in 1559 to consecrate Matthew Parker as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, but failed to present himself for the ceremony.

Subsequently, Bale was nominated on 1 January 1560 as canon of the eleventh prebend of Canterbury Cathedral, an appointment which he told Parker he regarded as a due acknowledgment of his past sufferings: “I have been rewarded of my contraye for my paynes, the Lord wele knoweth.”

In Canterbury, he continued his distasteful attacks on those he disagreed with, asking for the cardinal’s hat and heraldic arms to be removed from Cardinal Reginald Pole’s memorial, saying it was “neither decent nor tolerable, but abominable and not to be suffered.”

He may have divided his final years between Canterbury and Ipswich, where he had once been the Carmelite prior. He had revised his play King Johan several times over his lifetime, and revised in for the last time between September 1560 and his death three years later. The 22 lines of praise for Queen Elizabeth that he added at the end of the play have become associated with her visit to Ipswich in August 1561 because the single surviving copy was found among some old papers, probably once belonging to the Corporation of Ipswich.

Bale never realised his plans to write a history of England. He died in Canterbury in November 1563 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. After his death, his collected papers and books passed to Archbishop Matthew Parker.

Bale’s literary contributions

John Bale’s lasting reputation rests on his literary works rather than his theological writings

Bale was an indefatigable collector and worker, and examined many of the valuable libraries of the Augustinian and Carmelite houses before their dissolution. Bale expressed indignation and dismay at the destruction of libraries as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries, saying: “To destroye all without consyderacyon, is and wyll be unto Englande for ever, a most horrible infamy amongst the grave senyors of other nacyons.”

His work contains much information that would otherwise have been lost. His autograph note-book in the Bodleian Library in Oxford contains the materials collected for his two published catalogues arranged.

Bale is a figure of literary importance as the author of Kynge Johan (ca 1538), a play that marks the transition between the old morality plays and the English historical drama. In the list of his works he mentions a play De Joanne Anglorum Rege (Of King John of the English), written in idiomate materno (in the mother tongue).

The play is a mixture of history and allegory, the events of the reign of King John being transferred to the struggles of the writer’s own day, so that Kynge Johan is a polemic against the Roman Catholic Church, in which King John is presented as the champion of the Church of England while the Roman Catholic Church keeps the English people remained in bondage.

Elsewhere, King John is called a Lollard and accused of “heretycall langage,” and he is finally poisoned by a monk of Swinesead. Allegorical characters are mixed with the real persons. Ynglonde vidua (Widow England) represents the nation, and humour is provided by Sedwyson (sedition), occupying the role of Vice in a pure morality play. One actor was expected to play many parts, for the stage directions include: “Go out Ynglond, and dress for Clargy.”

The original manuscript of Kynge Johan was found in the 1830s among the Corporation Papers at Ipswich, and the text was edited by John Payne Collier for the Camden Society in 1838.

Bale’s plays are doggerel, and are totally wanting in decorum. Only five of his mysteries and miracle plays have survived, although the titles of the others, quoted by Bale in his own Catalogus, show that they were animated by the same political and religious aims. The Three Laws of Nature, Moses and Christ, corrupted by the Sodomytes, Pharisees and Papystes most wicked, produced in 1538 and again in 1562, was a morality play.

The direction for the dressing of the parts is instructive: “Let Idolatry be decked like an old witch, Sodomy like a monk of all sects, Ambition like a bishop, Covetousness like a Pharisee or spiritual lawyer, False Doctrine like a popish doctor, and Hypocrisy like a gray friar.”

The title of his earliest play, written in 1538, indicates its purpose: A Brefe Comedy or Enterlude of Johan Baptystes Preachynge in the Wyldernesse; openynge the craftye Assaults of the Hypocrytes (i.e. the friars) with the glorious Baptysme of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Tragedye; or enterlude manifesting the chief promyses of God unto Man and The Temptacyon of our Lorde were also written in 1538.

Bale’s most important work is his history of English literature, Illustrium Majoris Britanniae Scriptorum, hoc est, Angliae, Cambriae, ac Scotiae Summarium in quinque centurias divisum (A Summary of the Famous Writers of Great Britain, that is, of England, Wales and Scotland, through five centuies) published in Ipswich and Wesel for John Overton in 1548 and 1549. It is a valuable catalogue of the writings of British authors through five centuries arranged chronologically.

A second edition, almost entirely rewritten and surveying 14 centuries, was printed at Basel in 1557-1559 with the title Scriptorum illustrium majoris Britanniae Catalogus (Catalogue of the Famous Writers of Great Britain). This chronological catalogue of British authors and their works was partly founded on John Leland’s De uiris illustribus.

Bale’s theological legacy

John Bale was one of the most vocal and most radical reformers of the first generation in England and Ireland. He had a quarrelsome disposition and attacked his enemies with vehemence and scurrility. Much of this was directed strongly and forcibly against the Roman Catholic Church and its writers. A century later, the antiquarian Anthony Wood described him as “foul-mouthed Bale.”

Bale would have been a remarkable man in any age, possessed as he was of exceptional energy, courage, and determination. He was also a man of great theological and historical learning, and of an active mind. But he is probably best remembered for his prolific anti-Roman Catholic propaganda.

MacCulloch describes him as “a connoisseur of evangelicals who was not inclined to suffer hypocrites gladly, however highly placed.” He was a coarse and bitter controversialist and awakened equal bitterness amongst his opponents. Dickens characterises Bale as “one of the stranger human creatures of early academic Protestantism.”

Bale’s obsession in his writings with the homosexuality of the traditionalist clergy is notorious, and MacCulloch argues that this was no doubt fuelled by some unhappy experience in early life. Bale’s own words suggest that he may have been abused as a child by Carmelite friars, athough there is no evidence that he himself had homosexual leanings.

Bale popularised the genre of martyrology for an English audience, later taken to its logical conclusion in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. But none of the Reformation writers in England equalled Bale in acerbity, so that he was known as ‘Bilious Bale.’ He indulged a lifelong state of righteous indignation, and his controversial spirit was a hindrance to his learning, and his prejudices led him into frequent misstatements.

Phillpott points out that historians who look at Bale find themselves trapped in a web of fiction and myth-making, partly created by the man himself. In his autobiographical accounts in his Vocacyon and his catalogue of English writers, Bale exaggerates or twists the facts and his role in events to make a point. In his Vocacyon, Bale’s intent was to write a polemical account of his escape from Ireland as a parallel to Saint Paul. In his Catalogus, he wishes to present himself as one link in a chain of English writers preserving the true faith against the heresies of antichrist. Although both accounts are filled with accurate facts about Bale’s life and career, neither can be taken as entirely true.

Peter Happé claims that Bale’s autobiography “reads like a piece of fiction,” and says Bale presents himself with a “self-dramatizing tendency.” Leslie P. Fairfield goes even further, dismissing Bale as the “Mythmaker for the English Reformation.”

He aroused such opposition that when he left Kilkenny it was a more staunchly Catholic place than it had been before his arrival.

Yet Bale might better be remembered for his contribution to 16th century life because of his contribution to English literature, as the author of the oldest-known historical verse drama in English, and for his extensive listing of the works of British authors just as the monastic libraries were being dispersed. He helped to preserve England’s manuscript heritage in part through his cataloguing of ancient English writers and texts and in part through his influence on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, who became a great patron of ancient manuscripts.

An Irish afterword

The base of the Shee cross on the village green in Freshford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

After Bale’s hurried departure from Kilkenny, the Shee family took over the former episcopal manor and lived in Uppercourt for 100 years. When Lucas Shee of Uppercourt died in 1622, his wife, Ellen Butler, erected a cross in his memory at the back entrance to Uppercourt. The street to that entrance is still called Buncrusha or Bohercrussia Street, from the Irish Bun na Croise or Bothar na Croise, meaning “Base of the Cross” or “Road of the Cross.”

In 1653, the Cromwellian Captain Sir George Askew was given Uppercourt and the Shee family was forced to leave.

The present house at Upper Court was built around 1790 by Sir William Morris. The Eyre family came in 1879 and stayed until 1918, when the Maher brothers bought it. The Mill Hill Fathers bought the house in 1932 and it became a secondary school. In 1989, the house was sold and used for the storage and restoration of antique furniture. It is now at the centre of a well-known stud farm. The house has some fine Italian plasterwork ceilings.

The village green in Freshford, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Select Bibliography:

‘Bale, John,’ Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911).
Richard Bauckham, Tudor Apocalypse. Sixteenth-Century Apocalypticism, Millennarianism and the English Reformation: From John Bale to John Foxe and Thomas Brightman (Abingdon, 1978, Courtenay Library of Reformation Classics 8).
(Revd) Henry Christmas, Select Works of Bale, DD, Bishop of Ossory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849, for the Parker Society).
Geoffrey Dickens The English Reformation (London, 1964, 2nd ed 1989. David Edwards, The Ormond Lordship in County Kilkenny 1515-1642 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003).
Steven G Ellis, ‘John Bale, Bishop of Ossory, 1552-3,’ Journal of the Butler Society, vol 2, no 3 (1984), pp 283-293.
Leslie P. Fairfield, John Bale: Myth Maker for the English Reformation (West Lafayette, IN, 1976).
William Haller, The Elect Nation: the Meaning and Relevance of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (New York, 1963).
Peter Happé, The Complete Plays of John Bale, vol 1 (Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2011).
Peter Happé and John N. King (eds) John Bale, The vocacyon of Johan Bale (New York, 1990).
Jesse W. Harris, The Life and Works of John Bale, 1495-1563 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1935).
Jesse W. Harris, John Bale, a Study in the Minor Literature of the Reformation (Urbana: Illinois University Press, 1940). This is Volume 25, Issue 4 of Illinois studies in language and literature.
John N. King, ‘Bale, John (1495–1563),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), vol 3, pp 482-486.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant, Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (London: Allen Lane/Penguin, 1999).
JHP Pafford (ed), King Johan by John Bale (Oxford: The Malone Society, 1931).
Matt Phillpott, review of The many lives of John Bale, (review no. 1175), URL:, date accessed: 22 July 2012.
Alfred W. Pollard (ed.), English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1914), pp 218-219.
Richard Rex, ‘John Bale, Geoffrey Downes and Jesus College,’ The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (Cambridge University Press, 1998), 49/03, pp 486-493.

John Bale is also the subject of John Arden’s novel, The Books of Bale (London: Methuen, 1989).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

5: George Browne (-1556), introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... Archbishop George Browne was the principal figure in introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

George Browne, who died in 1556 was an English Augustinian friar who became Archbishop of Dublin and during the reign of King Henry VIII he was the main figure in introducing the Anglican Reformation to Ireland. It has been said that there was practically no campaign on behalf of the Reformation, and no Reformation preaching as such in Ireland until Browne became Archbishop of Dublin in 1536. Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin has described George Browne as “perhaps the greatest Anglican irony of the Reformation.”

Although he may have been born either in Canterbury or London, Browne’s date of birth is unknown, and we know little about his background, his early life, family or career, or the circumstances of his ordination. Nor are there any known surviving or catalogued portraits or images of him. He may have been educated by the Augustinians in Oxford, and in 1532 he received the degree of BD (Bachelor of Divinity) at the University of Oxford.

In that year, Browne became the Prior of the large Augustinian Priory in London. Thomas Cromwell later appointed him the Provincial of the English Augustinian friars. Around this time, Browne sold two houses belonging to the order to Thomas Cromwell, and made himself available for the “advance of the King’s affairs.” Browne is said to have recommended himself to the king by advising the poor in distress about the religious changes to make their supplications to Christ alone.

Browne is said to have performed the secret marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, and he proclaimed Anne as Queen in a sermon in the Austin Friars Church in London on Easter Day that year.

In 1534 or 1535, he received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity) from the University of Oxford.

In 1536, Cromwell appointed Browne, as provincial of the Augustinian Hermits or Austin Friars in England, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Hilsey, as the provincial of the Dominican friars (Blackfriars), to visit all the mendicant houses and to administer the 1534 Oath of Succession to all friars in London and the south of England.

Lambeth Palace, where George Browne was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin on 19 March 1536 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He received the degree of Bachelor of Divinity at the University of Oxford in July 1532, although Murray suggests Browne may have studied abroad and received his doctorate in theology in Continental Europe. On 20 July 1534, through Thomas Cromwell’s influence, he obtained the degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) at the University of Oxford “without costs or charges.” He subsequently received the DD at University of Cambridge by incorporation from Oxford in 1535.

That year, he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin, where the see had been vacant since Archbishop John Allen was murdered in Artane on 28 July 1534 during the rebellion of the Earl of Kildare. Having kept the see vacant for almost two years, the king filled it without any reference to the Pope. Browne was consecrated at Lambeth Palace on 19 March 1536 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, assisted by the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Shaxton, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Hilsey. Cranmer and Shaxton had been members of the early group of reformers who met in the White Horse Inn in Cambridge in 1520s.

Browne took up residence in Dublin in July 1536. His first duty in Dublin was to proclaim the Act of Supremacy and force it through the Irish Parliament. However, the delay in enacting the legislation for the programme for the Reformation and the lack of a royal commission left the archbishop unable to promote change for an entire year.

The actions of the deputy, whether from personal or political motives or a combination of both, suited the dominant families in the Pale who did not want religious change, and who were condemned by one English-born reformer as “papists, hypocrites and worshippers of idols.”

Clonfert Cathedral, Co Galway ... Richard Nangle was consecrated bishop by Browne, but was unable to gain possession of the diocese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On 13 June 1537, Browne consecrated Richard Nangle, an Augustinian Observant friar as the first reformed Bishop of Clonfert. However, the papal-appointed Bishop of Clonfert, Roland de Burgh, was an influential kinsman of the Earl of Clanrickarde and Nangle never took possession of his diocese, becoming instead, effectively, a suffragan of Dublin. Nangle continued to function as Vicar Provincial of the Augustinians in Ireland and was prior of the Dublin community when it was dispersed in 1539.

Meanwhile, Browne’s delay in pushing forward the Reformation prompted Henry VIII to rebuke both him and the Bishop of Meath, Edward Staples, in July 1537, for failing to advance his “affairs” in Ireland. Staples, who had been Bishop of Meath since 1530, had been forced to flee to England after the Earl of Kildare’s rebellion in 1534, and had returned to Ireland with Browne in 1536.

Browne found that the Pope’s authority was “not a little rooted among the inhabitants here.” He later complained that of the 28 most senior clergy in Dublin, there was “scarce one” who favoured the Reformation. He admitted that “neither by gentle exhortation, evangelical instruction ... nor by threats of sharp correction, can I persuade any, either religious or secular [priests], since my coming over, once to preach the word of God, or the just title of our most illustrious prince.”

The relations between Browne and Staples became hostile. Staples strongly supported the royal supremacy, and it was partly owing to his advice that Henry assumed the title of king of Ireland. But Staples clung to the Mass, and his quarrel with Browne became such a scandal that on 31 July 1537 Henry wrote to Browne threatening to remove him for his lightness of behaviour and pride, and to Staples censuring his neglect of his ecclesiastical duties.

The clergy of Dublin stubbornly refused to “open their lips in any pulpit,” but instead did everything they could behind the scenes to thwart the archbishop’s reformation campaign. He encountered the most virulent hostility from the Observant friars. Browne complained of the resistance of the clergy in Dublin to his injunctions and in late 1537 he was compelled to send his own servants in order to cancel the name of the ‘bishop of Rome’ from all liturgical books.

The royal letter chiding Browne and Staples seems to have had little effect, and on one occasion in 1538, while preaching before Browne in Kilmainham, Staples denounced the archbishop as a heretic. This sermon was examined by the Irish Council, and both Browne and Staples complained to Thomas Cromwell. However, the quarrel was patched up and as a reward for his zeal Staples was allowed to annex the archdeaconry of Kells in 1544.

However, Leonard Grey, who was Lord Deputy from 1536 to 1540, hindered Browne’s efforts to bring about religious change. In 1538, he released a leading Roman Catholic dissident in Dublin, James Humfrey, a Prebendary of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, who had been jailed by Browne in the archbishop’s prison at Saint Sepulchre’s Palace in Dublin. Browne complained that that action destroyed his credibility.

Saint Parick’s Cathedral and mediaeval ruins in Trim, Co Meath ... Grey’s actions in Trim undermined Browne’s authority (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On another occasion Grey “heard three or four masses” before Our Lady’s statue in Trim, Co Meath, while the suffragan Bishop of Meath, whom Browne had arrested, together with a number of friars, were being tried in the town for breaching the statute against the Pope’s authority. Grey’s public action encouraged the jury not to indict the clergymen.

Spurred into action by the king, Browne conducted a visitation early in 1538 and promoted the royal supremacy. In October 1538, he published Cromwell’s New Injunctions in Dublin and throughout the south-east Ireland. These injunctions included a decree to pluck down “any notable images or relics” and this was widely carried out in the Pale.

In February 1539, Browne issued a commission for the destruction of all shrines. All the precious metals and jewels were to be sent to the Exchequer. Christ Church Cathedral yielded £35.15s.6d. worth of valuables – the second highest amount after Our Lady’s Shrine in Trim, Co Meath. What happened to the relics themselves, including a miraculous speaking Crucifix from Christ Church Cathedral, is a matter of debate.

It is said Browne had all the relics from Christ Church, including Saint Patrick’s Crosier – known as baculus Ihesu or the “Staff of Jesus” – gathered into a heap and burned. The annalist of the monastery at Lough Key wrote that “there was not a holy cross, a statue of Mary nor a venerable image within their jurisdiction that they did not destroy.” But Browne specifically denied burning the relics, and there is evidence that the baculus Ihesu was in private hands in the late 16th century, and in the Diocese of Meath in the late 17th century.

The former priory cloisters at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A decision by the Royal Commissioners on 12 December 1539 was confirmed by Letters Patents from Henry VIII on 10 May 1541, reconstituting Christ Church Cathedral as a secular establishment. The Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity became the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral. The Prior, Robert Castle (alias Paynswicke) became the Dean, and the Sub-Prior, Richard Ball, became the Precentor respectively, while Walter Whyte, former Precentor, became Chancellor and John Moss, Sub-Precentor, became Treasurer.

In this way, the last Augustinian Prior, Robert Castle, became the first Dean of Christ Church. The process of change continued between 1540 and 1542, finishing with a cathedral chapter of eight clergy.

In 1539, Henry VIII introduced his Six Articles, which endorsed many traditional Catholic doctrines and ceremonies, except those relating to purgatory, religious images and saints, and upheld the obligation of clerical celibacy. As a married man, Browne was at risk from this partial reversal of the Reformation, and in 1540 he separated from his wife, Elizabeth Miagh, although they had three children, and assumed the role of a more traditional bishop.

Anthony St Leger, who was the king’s deputy in Ireland from July 1540, continued his predecessors’ policy of avoiding religious controversy as far as possible. The remaining years of Henry VIII’s reign saw no further attempts to change the religious laws in Ireland, and St Leger won wide acceptance for an essentially Catholic religious settlement. In 24 of the 32 dioceses in Ireland, there was a bishop who acknowledged the royal supremacy. St Leger showed that many of the elites in Ireland, landowners, urban oligarchs and senior churchmen, were prepared to turn their backs on the papacy as long as they could retain their Catholic religion and practices.

Browne also had a struggle to recover alienated church lands. In 1542, he successfully contested a lawsuit with Lord Howth concerning the ownership of the island of Ireland’s Eye off Howth Head.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin ... Browne took an active role in its dissolution in 1547 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1546, the king instructed St Leger to accept the surrender of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and in 1547, in the dying days of Henry VIII and in the opening days of the reign of Edward VI, Browne oversaw the suppression of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and its chapter, ensuring that Christ Church would be the only cathedral in his diocese. All the plate, jewels and ornaments of Saint Patrick’s were transferred to Christ Church. Browne's later plans to establish a university at Saint Patrick’s, modelled perhaps on Christ Church in Oxford, never came to fruition.

The next stage of the Reformation got off to a slow start in the reign of Edward VI, while St Leger remained as Deputy in Ireland. However, after he was recalled in May 1548 and replaced with Deputy Bellingham, the pace of religious change accelerated.

In November 1548, Browne issued his Book of Reformation for use in churches, cathedrals and dioceses throughout the ecclesiastical province of Dublin. In 1550, he oversaw the introduction of the first Book of Common Prayer, already introduced in England in 1549. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was received with strikingly little opposition.

Anthony St Leger returned as Deputy in August 1550 but, despite his own religious conservatism, he actively promoted the official religious programme throughout the English lordship. He replaced the aged bishops of Waterford and Limerick with younger men who would support the Edwardian reformation, and he sent a royal commission to Limerick and Galway in January and February 1551 to introduce religious changes in those cities.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was first used on Easter Day 1551 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On Easter Day, 29 March 1551, the English-language 1549 Book of Common Prayer was used for the first time in Ireland in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, with Browne preaching the sermon. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was the first book printed with movable type in Ireland.

However, instructions to have the book made available in Irish were not followed, and in response to local hostility to services in the English language, St Leger had a Latin version of The Book of Common Prayer translated in Limerick on an experimental basis.

Armagh was the only diocese within the Pale where the Edwardian Reformation was held at bay. The Archbishop of Armagh, George Dowdall, continued to resist the Reformation until the summer of 1551, when St Leger was replaced as Deputy by Sir James Croft. Dowdall wrote to his cousin, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, that he would “never be bishop where the holy Mass was abolished.” He fled to the Netherlands and took refuge in the monastery in Centre in Brabant. The dignity of Primate of All Ireland, an ancient privilege of the See of Armagh, was now claimed by Browne, and was transferred by royal patent to Dublin.

Hugh Goodacre, an Englishman sent by Cranmer, was consecrated by Browne as Dowdall’s replacement in Christ Church Cathedral on 2 February 1553. However, Goodacre never reached Armagh – he died in Dublin on 1 May 1553, allegedly poisoned by Catholic opponents.

Goodacre came to Ireland with John Bale, a radical reformer who was part of the ‘Little Germany’ group of reformers in Cambridge. He was labelled ‘bilious Bale,’ and had been nominated as Bishop of Ossory. The second Book of Common Prayer (1552) had never been authorised for use in Ireland, and Bale claimed the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was still being “used like a popish Mass” in Ireland.

Bale insisted on the bishops using of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer at his consecration by Browne in Christ Church Cathedral in February 1553. With some hesitation, Browne and the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cusack, agreed to Bale’s demand, but Thomas Lockwood, Castle’s successor as Dean of Christ Church protested at the use of the new Prayer Book as the ordaining bishops were about to lay their hands on Bale.

A few months later, when Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne in July 1553, Bale was forced to abandon Kilkenny and the Diocese of Ossory and fled for his life from Kilkenny to Dublin. But Browne refused to allow Bale to preach in Dublin.

In October 1553, Mary sent St Leger back to Ireland as her Deputy with instructions to restore Roman Catholic order in the Church. She reinstated Dowdall as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and appointed local men to vacant Irish dioceses.

Dowdall, who had met Cardinal Reginald Pole while in exile, was a key figure in the Marian restoration in Ireland, along with William Walsh, later Bishop of Meath, and Thomas Leverous, later Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Bishop of Kildare (1555-1560). At the end of 1553, Dowdall called a synod for the Province of Armagh which ordered the restoration of Catholic rites and practices, and allowed for the reconciliation of clergy who had used Protestant rites. He ordered the burning of Protestant books and set up inquisitions to deal with any unrepentant heretics.

Queen Mary established a royal commission in April 1554 to remove any married clergymen from office in Ireland. Five bishops and a few lesser clergy were deprived, including George Browne as Archbishop of Dublin. In March 1555, Browne was absolved from the sin of apostasy and from the censure for violating the law of celibacy by Cardinal Reginald Pole, who was a papal legate and the newly-appointed Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury.

Not only did Browne receive a general absolution, but he became the Prebendary of Clonmethan or a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin – the cathedral he had helped to suppress in 1547. His former wife, Elizabeth Miagh, married his servant, Robert Bathe.

Browne ended his days in comparative comfort; some accounts say he died in 1556, others in 1558, although he may have died as late as 1559.

Browne’s successor, Hugh Curwen, was consecrated Archbishop of Dublin in September 1555 in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishop of Exeter and the Bishop of Bangor. When Curwen later transferred his allegiances to Anglicanism in the reign of Elizabeth I, he became the only Archbishop of Dublin to be recognised as such by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican successions.

Evaluating Browne’s contribution to Anglican theology

Archbishop James Ussher described Browne as “a man of cheerful countenance; in his acts and conduct, plain and downright; to the poor, merciful and compassionate.” Browne was a strict Erastian in Church polity, and has often been portrayed as the Patriarch of the Reformation Church of Ireland, with a standing equivalent to that of Thomas Cranmer in the Church of England.

James Murray, in his recent study, offers an explanation for the failure of the reforming initiatives by the Archbishops of Dublin and the Tudor viceroys. The members of loyal community of the Pale ultimately rejected the Anglican Reformation and because it perceived it to be irreconcilable with their own traditional English culture and mediaeval Catholic identity.

Brendan Bradshaw of Queens’ College, Cambridge, in evaluating the career of Browne as Dublin’s first Reformation archbishop, avoids the traditional stereotypes of the archbishop as an ogre to Catholics and a patriarch to Protestants, and has produced a more realistic assessment of him as a desultory royal functionary.

Select bibliography:

Brendan Bradshaw, ‘George Browne, first Reformation Archbishop of Dublin, 1526-1554,’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History 21/04 (Cambridge, October 1970), pp 301-326.
Brendan Bradshaw, ‘The Edwardian Reformation in Ireland,’Archivium Hibernicum 34 (1977), pp 83-99.
Brendan Bradshaw, The Irish Constitutional Revolution of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)
(Revd) Henry Cotton, Ecclesiae Hiberniae Fasti (Dublin, 1851-1860, 5 vols).
‘Dublin,’ in Charles Herbermann, (ed), Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).
Richard Watson Dixon, ‘Browne, George (d.1556),’ Dictionary of National Biography, vol 7, pp 43-45.
Raymond Gillespie, ‘The coming of reform, 1500-58,’ pp 151-194, in Milne (ed).
Dr Henry A. Jefferie, ‘Culture & Religion in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1558,’ Multitext Project in Iris History, UCC, (accessed 19.07.2012).
Kenneth Milne (ed), Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, A History (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000).
Brian Mayne in the Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer.
James Murray, ‘Ecclessiastical justice and the enforcement of the reformation: the case of Archbishop Browne and the clergy of Dublin,’ pp 32-51 in A Ford, J McGuire and K Milne (eds) As by law established: the Church of Ireland since the Reformation (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1995)
James Murray, Enforcing the English Reformation in Ireland, Clerical Resistance and Political Conflict in the Diocese of Dublin, 1534–1590 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
James Murray, ‘Browne, George,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 8, pp 161-162. (Brother) Colman O Clabaigh OSB, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012).
WJR Wallace (ed), Clergy of Dublin and Glendalough (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, and Dublin: Diocesan Councils of Dublin and Glendalough, 2001).
(Sir) James Ware, Works (Dublin, 1764, 2 vols).
(Revd) James Wills, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished Irishmen (Dublin, 1840-1847, 6 vols or 12 parts).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.