Thursday, December 6, 2012

18: Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637), inspiration for community living

Nicholas Ferrar, from a portrait by Cornelius Janssen in the Senior Fellows’ Common Room, Clare College, Cambridge

Patrick Comerford

Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637) was the guiding light of one of the most remarkable experiments in Christian community living in the history of Anglicanism. An English academic, courtier and businessman, he gave up his successful careers, was ordained a deacon and retreated with his extended family to the manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire), where they lived in community.

Nicholas Ferrar was born in London on 22 February 1593 and was baptised five days later. The Ferrar family claimed to be closely related to Robert Ferrar, Bishop of Saint Davids, who was burned at the stake in Carmarthen on 30 March 1555, in the reign of Mary I. Nicholas was the third son and fifth of six children of Nicholas Ferrar and his wife Mary (Woodnoth) Ferrar. The Ferrar family was wealthy and was deeply involved in the London Virginia Company, which had a Royal Charter for the plantation of the colony of Virginia. Nicholas Ferrar’s niece is said to be the first child to have been named Virginia. His family home was often visited by people like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake.

At the age of four, Nicholas Ferrar was sent to school at Enborne, near Newbury, Berkshire, and is said to have been reading perfectly by the age of five. He was confirmed by the Bishop of London in 1598, contriving to have the bishop lay hands on him twice.

The chapel of Clare College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In 1605, at the age of 13, he entered Clare Hall, now Clare College, Cambridge. He was elected a fellow-commoner at the end of his first year, took his BA in 1610 and was elected a fellow that year. While he was an undergraduate in Cambridge, he first met the priest-poet George Herbert.

He probably received the degree MA in Cambridge in 1613, and he may have been planning an academic career as a Cambridge don. But Nicholas Ferrar’s health had been weak since his childhood, and the damp air of the Fens was bad for his health. By the time of his graduation his health had become a cause for serious concern, and he was advised to travel to warmer climate of continental Europe, away from the damp air of Cambridge.

In 1613, Ferrar obtained a position in the retinue of the Queen of Bohemia, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King James I and wife of the Elector Frederick V. He left England in April, but by May he had changed his mind and left the Court to travel alone. Over the next few years he visited Holland, German principalities, Austria, Bohemia, Italy and Spain, and learned to speak Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish.

He studied in Leipzig and in Padua, where he continued his medical studies, and he broadened his religious education through meetings with Anabaptists, Jesuits, Oratorians and Jews.

During this time, he recorded many adventures in his letters home to his family and friends. Finally in 1618 he is said to have had a vision that he was needed at home, and returned to England.

On his return to England, he was refused a Professorship at Gresham College, London. Meanwhile, he found that the family fortunes which had been invested primarily in Virginia were faring badly and were under threat. His brother John had become over-extended financially and the Virginia Company was in danger of losing its charter.

From 1619, Nicholas devoted much of his energies to the affairs of the troubled Virginia Company. In 1622, he succeeded his elder brother John as the company’s Deputy, becoming responsible for its day-to-day administration. In 1624 twin disasters struck – the company was dissolved and John faced a threat of bankruptcy.

In 1624, Ferrar was elected an MP for Lymington, Hampshire, and in Parliament he tried to promote the cause of the Virginia Company. He also worked closely in the Commons with Sir Edwin Sandys, and together they were part of the parliamentary faction known as the “country party” or “patriot party,” grouped around Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, which seized control of the finances from a rival group, the “court faction,” grouped around Sir Thomas Smith, also a prominent member of the Virginia Company.

In a pamphlet, Sir Thomas Smith’s Misgovernment of the Virginia Company, Ferrar accused Smith and his son-in-law, Alderman Robert Johnson, of running a company within a company to skim off the profits from the shareholders. The argument ended with the London Virginia Company losing its charter following a court ruling in May 1624.

The turn of events convinced Nicholas and the family that they should renounce worldliness by leaving London and devoting themselves to a life of godliness. At the age of 33, Nicholas abandoned his successful political and commercial career to move to found a community of prayer. He retired from parliament in 1625 and bought the deserted manor and village of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, a few miles off the Great North Road, with the support of his mother, Mary Ferrar, and his brother John.

Little Gidding had been deserted since the Black Death in the 14th century. The Ferrar family probably found Little Gidding through a recommendation from John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, whose palace was in the nearby village of Buckden.

On Trinity Sunday 1626, Nicholas Ferrar was ordained a deacon in Westminster Abbey by William Laud, the Bishop of Saint Davids and later Archbishop of Canterbury, although Nicholas made it clear that he would not proceed to the priesthood. When he had been ordained, Nicholas pledged: “I will also by the help of my God, set myself with more care and diligence than ever to serve our good Lord God, as is all our duties to do, in all we may.”

The first thing his widowed mother did at Little Gidding was to enter the church for prayer, ordering it to be cleaned and restored for worship before any attention was paid to the house. The poet Richard Crashaw described Mary in her “friar’s grey gown” as “the gentlest, kindest, most tender-hearted and liberal handed soul I think is to-day alive.”

Mary Ferrar and the extended family and household – about 30 to 40 people – moved into the manor house, and Nicholas became the leader and spiritual director of the community.

This was the only religious community in the Church of England between the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the revival of religious communities that came with the Oxford Movement. The household was centred on the Ferrar family: Nicholas’s mother Mary; his brother John Ferrar, his wife Bathsheba and their children; and his sister Susanna, her husband John Collett and their children.

They restored the abandoned little Church of Saint John the Evangelist for their use. The household always had someone at prayer and had a regular routine. They read the daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer and also read the complete Psalms each day. Day and night, there was always at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer before the altar so that they might keep the word, “Pray without ceasing.”

They fasted with great rigour, and in other ways embraced voluntary poverty, so that they might have as much money as possible for the relief of the poor. The life of the Ferrar household was strongly criticised by Puritans, and the community was condemned by William Prynne in a series of scurrilous pamphlets as “an Arminian Nunnery.” However, the family never lived a formal religious life at Little Gidding; instead, this was a family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and according to High Church principles.

The community members looked after the health and education of the local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the Gospels. The community wrote books and stories on different aspects of Christian faith and practice, and many members of the family also learned the art of bookbinding from the daughter of a Cambridge bookbinder.

The community attracted much attention and was visited by King Charles I. He borrowed a Gospel harmony produced at Little Gidding and only returned it several months later in exchange for a promise of a new harmony to give to his son, the future Charles II. The Ferrars then produced a beautifully bound manuscript that passed through the royal collection and is now in the British Library.

The poet George Herbert (1593-1633), who had been a contemporary of Nicholas Ferrar at Cambridge, also became a friend of the community. At the time, Herbert was a deacon and held the prebend of Leighton Bromswold, four or five miles south of Little Gidding.

After being ordained priest, Herbert moved to Wiltshire. On his deathbed in 1633, Herbert sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish the poems if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul,” but otherwise, to burn them. Ferrar decided to publish them, and within half a century The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations had gone through 13 editions.

Nicholas Ferrar, who never married, died on 4 December 1637 at the age of 45. He was buried outside the west door of the church in Little Gidding. His papers are held at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

The leadership of the community at Little Gidding passed to his brother John Ferrar, and the Ferrar family continued its way of life and continued to attract many visitors. During a period of local unrest in the Civil Wars, John Ferrar and some of his family went to Holland in 1643, but they had returned to Little Gidding by 1646.

Charles I returned to Little Gidding twice more. Once he came with the Prince of Wales and donated some money he had won from the prince in a game of cards the night before. On his last visit to Little Gidding on 2 May 1646, at the height of the English Civil War, King Charles I briefly took refuge after the Battle of Naseby as he fled north to try to enlist support from the Scots.

Huntingdonshire was loyal to Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was born in Huntingdon. Cromwell had lived in Huntingdon, and nearby in St Ives and Ely, and was MP first for Huntingdon and then for Cambridge.

The community was forcibly broken up by the Puritan soldiers of Cromwell’s Parliamentary army in 1646, and the brass font from the church was thrown into the pond.

The last members of the community, John Ferrar and Susanna Collett, died within a month of each other in 1657. Little Gidding remained the property of the Ferrar family, however, and in 1714 John Ferrar renovated the church, shortening the nave by about two feet, installing wooden panelling and building the “dull façade,” as TS Eliot calls it.

Nicholas Ferrar … a window in the Chapel of Clare Chapel, Cambridge

TS Eliot and Little Gidding

TS Eliot honours Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding, his fourth poem in the Four Quartets.

Early in 1936, on one of his visits to the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire, Eliot was asked to read and criticise the manuscript of a verse play written by one of the members of this Anglican religious community, Brother George Every. The play, Stalemate – the King at Little Gidding, told the story of King Charles I’s visit in May 1646. Eliot was interested in the idea of Christian Community as the ideal of the Christian life, and had already read about the Ferrars – both the novel John Inglesant and Peckard’s Life were in Eliot’s library.

Eliot was an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where the Ferrar papers are held. He was brought to Little Gidding by the Dean of Magdalene, the Revd Hugh Fraser Stewart, and his wife, on Wednesday afternoon, 25 May 1936. They were accompanied by Virginia Woolf’s biographer Bernard Blackstone, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, whose Ferrar Papers was published 1938. Eliot may also have met Alan Maycock, who was about to publish his life of Ferrar.

The Four Quartets is a sequence of poetic reflections on the importance of time and intersections of timeless moments. After writing The Dry Salvages, Eliot wanted to complete what he now saw as a set of four poems, and quickly settled on Little Gidding, where he found one such “ intersection of the timeless moment” that spring afternoon.

Eliot wrote the final poem of his Four Quartets soon after. Little Gidding was published in 1942, Eliot published no more poetry afterwards, and he died in 1965.

The “place you would be likely to come from” is London and the blitz, or German air raids; the “route you would be likely to take” is straight up the A1 from London; Charles I is “a broken king.”

From Little Gidding by TS Eliot:

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire
beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

The former Poet Laureate the late Ted Hughes claimed he was directly related to Nicholas Ferrar on his mother’s side and Hughes and Sylvia Plath named their son Nicholas Farrar after this Anglican saint.

Little Gidding today

The church in Little Gidding

The memory of the community survived to inspire and influence later experiments in Christian communal living, even after Little Gidding passed out of the hands of the Ferrar family.

The church was restored in the mid-19th century by William Hopkinson, who inserted four stained glass windows with the coats-of-arms of the Ferrar family (although this is incorrect), Charles I, Bishop Williams and Hopkinson himself. Hopkinson also discovered the vandalised font which had been dumped in a nearby pond by Puritans two centuries earlier and had it restored to the church. He also placed a magnificent 18th century chandelier in the church.

There was a revival of interest in Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding in the 19th and 20th centuries, typified by the historical novel John Inglesant (1881) by Joseph Henry Shorthouse. The eponymous hero is an Anglican courtier who spends some time at Little Gidding and fights at the battles of Edgehill and Naseby. After he takes part in negotiations on the king’s behalf in Ireland, he is tried and condemned for treason, but escapes execution. This once-popular book paints an intimate picture of daily life in the Ferrar family, of personalities, appearances and habits, as well as the daily routine of worship at Little Gidding.

The Oratory of the Good Shepherd, an Anglican religious community, was established at a meeting at Little Gidding in 1913.

The Friends of Little Gidding was founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock with the patronage of TS Eliot, to maintain and adorn the church at Little Gidding, and to honour the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his family.

Maycock’s interest in Nicholas Ferrar had been stirred while he was an undergraduate at Clare College, Cambridge. After World War II, Alan and Edith Maycock visited Little Gidding in 1946. They found the church in poor condition in July 1946 formed the Friends of Little Gidding, with the Bishop of Ely as president and TS Eliot as a vice-president.

The Community of Christ the Sower, inspired by the example of Nicholas Ferrar, was founded at Little Gidding in the 1970s. The Revd Robert van de Weyer, a lecturer in economics at Cambridge University and a descendant of George Herbert’s patron at Leighton Bromswold, founded a trust a lecturer in the 1970s to buy the farmhouse for a new community and as a place of retreat. He was the Warden of the Little Gidding Community from 1977 to 1998, and the NSM priest-in-charge of Great with Little Gidding and Steeple Gidding until 1993. The Community of Christ the Sower came to an end in 1998.

The Society of the Friends of Little Gidding was re-founded in 2004, and Tony and Judith Hodgson returned to Little Gidding the following year as the Wardens of Ferrar House, appointed by the Little Gidding Trust. The church continues in the care of the Giddings Parochial Church Council.

The Friends have organised renovations and repairs to the church. They continue to organise an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Nicholas Ferrar each July, and they celebrate Nicholas Ferrar Day each year on a day close to 4 December.

The Feast of Nicholas Ferrar is celebrated on 1 December in the calendar of the Episopal Church (TEC) in the US and was celebrated on 2 December in the calendar of the Alternative Service Book of the Church of England. However, it is debated whether Nicholas Ferrar died on Monday 4 December 1637, the day after the First Sunday of Advent, or on 4 December, the day on which he is now remembered in the calendar of Common Worship of the Church of England.

His commemoration may have been moved to 1 and 2 December because Saint John of Damascus is commemorated on 4 December. In Common Worship, Charles de Foucauld, Hermit in the Sahara (1916), is now commemorated on 1 December.

Ferrar House offers quiet days and accommodation in Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, and is adjacent to the original site where Nicholas Ferrar and his household came in 1625 and next to Little Gidding Church, which they restored to daily use: Ferrar House, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, PE28 5RJ.


The remembrance of death is very powerful to restrain us from sinning. For he should well consider the day will come (and he knoweth not how soon) … no more Suns will rise and set upon him; … no more seeing, no more hearing, no more speaking, no more touching, no more tasting, no more fancying, no more understanding, no more remembering, no more desiring, no more loving, no more delights of any sort to be enjoyed by him...let any man duly and daily ponder these things, and how can it be that he should dare …

Select bibliography:

Bernard Blackstone (ed), The Ferrar Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938).
JFM Carter, TT Carter, Nicholas Ferrar: His Household and His Friends (London: Longmans, Green & Co 1893).
Simon Kershaw (ed), Exciting Holiness (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 3rd ed, 1997, 2007).
Simon Kershaw, ‘Nicholas Ferrar,’
AL Maycock, Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding (London: SPCK, 1938).
Peter Peckard, Memoirs of the life of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar (Cambridge: J Archdeacon, 1790).
J Venn and JA Venn ( eds), Alumni Cantabrigienses (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958).

To join the Friends of Little Gidding contact: Membership Secretary, Friends of Little Gidding, Ferrar House, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, PE28 5RJ.

The Friends of Little Gidding website:

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Another version of this essay was first published on 1 December 2012 in the series ‘With the Saints through Advent’ on 1 December 2012 on

Thursday, November 1, 2012

17: Six composers, Taverner, Tallis, Marbeck, Byrd, Gibbons and Tomkins

Six English composers who shaped Anglican choral liturgy: top (from left): John Taverner, Thomas Tallis and John Marbeck; bottom (from left): William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins (Photomontage, Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the century or two after the Anglican Reformation, Anglican theology was developed not only by academic theologians and bishops, but by poet-priests such as John Donne and George Herbert, by architects, and by composers.

Six composers in particular stand out in this period: John Taverner (ca 1490-1545), who is regarded as one of the most important English composers of his era; Thomas Tallis (ca 1505-1585), who is considered the father of English choral music; John Marbeck (ca 1510–ca 1585), who produced a standard setting of the Anglican liturgy; William Byrd (1539/1540-1623); Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), one of the most versatile English composers of his time; and Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), a prolific composer of verse anthems.

Tallis, Merbecke and Byrd are honoured, together with a feast day on 21 November in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. All six have contributed immeasurably to the corpus of Anglican liturgical music.

1, John Taverner (ca 1490-1545)

John Taverner ... other composers modelled their work on his

John Taverner was born ca 1490, but we know little about his life before 1524. He appears to have come from south Lincolnshire, but there is no record of who his parents were. In one of his own letters, he says he is related to the Yerburghs, a well-to-do Lincolnshire family.

However, the earliest information is that in 1524 Taverner travelled from Tattershall in Lincolnshire, where he was a clerk fellow at the Collegiate Church, to Saint Botolph’s Church in nearby Boston as a guest singer. Two years later, in 1526, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey appointed him the first Organist and Master of the Choristers at Christ Church, Oxford. Wolsey had founded the college in 1525 and it was first known as Cardinal College. In 1528, Taverner was reprimanded for being involvement with Lutherans, but he escaped punishment for being “but a musician.”

Christ Church College, Oxford ... John Taverner was the first Organist and Master of the Choristers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wolsey fell from favour in 1529, and in 1530 Taverner left Christ Church College. As far as we know, Taverner had no further musical appointments, nor can any of his known works be dated after that time.

He may have stopped composing, and some sources say that after leaving Oxford Taverner worked as an agent of Thomas Cromwell, assisting in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

He eventually returned to Lincolnshire, and lived in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he was a small but reasonably well-off landowner. He became an alderman of Boston in 1545, shortly before his death. He died on 18 October 1545 and is buried under the bell tower of Boston Parish Church. The modern century composer Sir John Tavener claims he is his direct descendant.

Most of Taverner’s music is vocal, and includes masses, Magnificats and motets. Most of his works were probably written in the 1520s.

Taverner’s best known mass is the ‘Western Wynde’ Mass, based on a popular song

Taverner’s best-known motet is Dum Transisset Sabbatum. His best known mass is based on a popular song, ‘The Western Wynde,’ This ‘Western Wynde’ Mass is unusual for the period because the theme tune appears in each of the four parts, except the alto, at different times.

Taverner’s Masses are designed so that each of the four sections – Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus and Agnus Dei – are about the same length, often achieved by putting the same number of repetitions of the thematic material in each.

Several of his other Masses use the widespread cantus firmus technique, where a plainchant melody with long note values is placed in an interior part, often the tenor. Examples of cantus firmus Masses include Corona Spinea and Gloria Tibi Trinitas. Another technique of composition is seen in his Mater Christi Mass, which is based upon material taken from his motet of that name, and so is known as a “derived” or “parody” mass.

The Mass Gloria Tibi Trinitas is in six parts. The section at the words “in nomine...” in the Benedictus is in four parts, with the plainchant in the alto. This section of the Mass became popular as an instrumental work for viol consort. Other composers came to write instrumental works modelled on this, and the name In nomine was given to works of this type.

2, Thomas Tallis (ca 1505-1585)

Thomas Tallis is considered one of England’s greatest early composers

Thomas Tallis occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered one of England’s greatest early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship, and is also remembered as the teacher of William Byrd.

Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but it seems he was born in the early 16th century, towards the close of the reign of Henry VII, probably ca 1505. We know little about his childhood, although some biographers say he was a child of the Chapel Royal at Saint James’s Palace.

His first known appointment to a musical position was in 1532 as the organist of Dover Priory, a Benedictine priory. He moved to London, probably in the autumn of 1538, to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham. When Waltham Holy Cross was dissolved in 1540, Tallis acquired and preserved an important and influential musical treatise by Leonel Power.

His next post was at Canterbury Cathedral, and from there he was sent to become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543. There he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I until he died in 1585.

Throughout his time as organist and composer to successive Tudor monarchs, Tallis avoided the religious controversies of the day, although, like Byrd, he remained an “unreformed Roman Catholic.” Tallis was capable of switching the style of his compositions to suit vastly different demands of the different monarchs. Among other important composers of the time, including Christopher Tye and Robert White, Tallis stood out for his versatility of style and his consistent handling of his material.

Tallis married his wife Joan around 1552, and later in life, they lived in Greenwich, possibly close to the royal palace.

Queen Mary granted Tallis a lease on a manor in Kent that provided a comfortable annual income. Later, in 1575, Queen Elizabeth granted to him and William Byrd a 21-year monopoly for polyphonic music and a patent to print and publish music, which was one of the first arrangements of that type in England.

This gave Tallis exclusive rights to print any music, in any language, and his monopoly included “set songe or songes in parts.” In addition, Tallis and Byrd were the only people allowed to use the paper used in printing music. They used their monopoly to produce Cantiones quae ab argumento sacrae vocantur, consisting of 34 Latin motets dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, with 17 motets each by Tallis and Byrd, one for each year of the her reign. But they were strictly forbidden to sell imported music, nor did they have the right to music type fonts, printing patents were not under their command, and they did not own a printing press.

Tallis died at home in Greenwich on 23 November 1585, and was buried in the chancel of Saint Alfege Church, Greenwich. His wife, Joan, outlived him by four years, and it appears they had no children. His body may have been discarded by labourers when the church was rebuilt being in 1712-1714. Nothing remains of his original memorial in the church.

Tallis may be best remembered for his motet Spem in alium.

The earliest surviving works by Tallis, Salve intemerata virgo, Ave rosa sine spinis and Ave Dei patris filia, are non-liturgical devotional antiphons to the Virgin Mary. After the Reformation, the writing of Tallis and his contemporaries became less florid. His Mass for four voices is marked with tendencies toward a syllabic and chordal style and a diminished use of melisma. Tallis provides a rhythmic variety and differentiation of moods depending on the meaning of his texts. Tallis helped found a relationship that was specific to combining words and music. He also wrote several Lutheran chorales.

With the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and its new liturgy during the short reign of Edward VI, Tallis was one of the first church musicians to write anthems set to English words, although Latin continued to be used.

Following the accession of Mary I in 1553, the Roman rite was restored and styles of composition returned to the elaborate writing that prevailed earlier in the 16th century. Two of Tallis’s major works, Gaude glorioisa Dei Mater and the Christmas Mass Puer natus est nobis are believed to be from this period, although only Puer natus est nobis can be accurately dated to 1554. As was the practice at the time, these pieces were intended to exalt Queen Mary as well as to praise the Virgin Mary.

After Queen Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister in 1558, The Book of Common Prayer was restored and court composers resumed writing English anthems, and while the practice of setting Latin texts continued, liturgical polyphony was discouraged.

Tallis wrote nine psalm chant tunes for four voices for Archbishop Matthew Parker’s Psalter, published in 1567. One of the nine tunes, the Third Mode Melody inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams to compose his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis in 1910.

Tallis’s better-known works from the Elizabethan years include his settings of the Lamentations (of Jeremiah) for the Holy Week services and the unique motet Spem in alium written for eight five-voice choirs. Tallis is mostly remembered for his role in composing office hymns and this motet, Spem in alium.

Toward the end of his life, Tallis resisted the musical development seen in his younger contemporaries such as Byrd, who embraced compositional complexity and adopted texts built by combining disparate biblical extracts. Tallis’s experiments during this time period were considered rather unusual. Tallis was content to draw his texts from the Liturgy and wrote for the worship services in the Chapel Royal.

3, John Marbeck (ca 1510- ca 1585)

John Marbeck produced a standard setting for the Anglican liturgy

The theological writer and musician John Marbeck, Merbeck or Merbecke produced a standard setting for the Anglican liturgy. He is also known today for his setting of the Mass, Missa per arma justitiae.

Marbeck was probably from Beverley, Yorkshire. He appears to have been a boy chorister at Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor, and was an organist there from about 1541. Two years later he was convicted with four others of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake, but received a pardon owing to the intervention of the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. However, an English concordance of the Bible Marbeck had been preparing was confiscated and destroyed. A later version of this work, the first of its kind in English, was published in 1550 with a dedication to Edward VI.

In 1550, Marbeck published his Booke of Common Praier Noted, intended to provide for musical uniformity in the use of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. In his 1550 book, Marbeck set the liturgy to semi-rhythmical melodies partly adapted from Gregorian chant, but it became largely obsolete with the publication of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.

Marbeck also wrote several devotional and controversial works of a strongly Calvinistic character, and a number of his musical compositions are preserved in manuscripts in the British Library, and at Oxford and Cambridge.

He died ca 1585 while he was still the organist at Windsor.

Southwark Cathedral ... part of his heresy trial was heard here in 1543 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 19th century, the Oxford Movement inspired renewed interest in liturgical music, and the Irish-born John Jebb brought attention to Marbeck’s Prayer Book settings in 1841. In 1843, William Dyce published plainsong music for all Anglican services, with almost all of Marbeck’s settings, adapted for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Later in the 19th century, many editions of Marbeck’s settings were published, especially for the Holy Communion, with arrangements by noted musicians including Sir John Stainer and Charles Villiers Stanford.

Marbeck’s Communion setting was very widely sung by choirs and congregations throughout the Anglican Communion until the 1662 Book of Common Prayer began to be replaced by modern liturgies in the late 20th century.

A choir for young men and women at Southwark Cathedral in London is named the Merbecke Choir in his honour because his part of his heresy trial had been heard in the church in 1543.

4, William Byrd (1539/1540-1623)

Wiliam Byrd ... the texts of the motets included by Byrd and Tallis in the 1575 Cantiones reflect High Anglican theology

William Byrd was a Renaissance composer who wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphone, keyboard and consort music.

Byrd was born in London around 1539 or 1540 into a family that moved from Ingatestone in Essex to London in the 15th century. In his will, dated 15 November 1622, he says he is “in the 80th year of my age,” he was born in 1542 or 1543. However, on 2 October 1598 he wrote that he is “58 yeares or ther abouts,” indicating he was born earlier, in 1539 or 1540.

His brothers, Symond and John Byrd, were choristers at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, and Byrd may have been a chorister there under Simon Westcote, although it is also possible that he was a chorister with the Chapel Royal. According to Anthony Wood, Byrd was “bred up to musick under Tho. Tallis,” and a reference in the Cantiones sacrae published by Tallis and Byrd in 1575 confirms Byrd was a pupil of Tallis at the Chapel Royal.

One of Byrd’s earliest compositions was a setting for four male voices of the psalm In exitu Israel for the procession to the font in Easter week, written in collaboration with two Chapel Royal singers, John Sheppard and William Mundy. It was may have been composed near the end of the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558), when the Sarum Rite was restored to use.

In 1563, Byrd was appointed organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral, and he remained there until 1572. On 14 September 1568, he married Julian Birley; it appears to have been a happy marriage, and they had at least seven children.

However, his time at Lincoln was not without trouble. On 19 November 1569, the Dean and Chapter cited him for “certain matters alleged against him.” The allegations may have involved over-elaborate choral polyphony or organ playing that offended local Puritans. Byrd’s salary was suspended, and a second directive on 29 November gave detailed instructions on Byrd’s use of the organ in the liturgy.

In the 1560s, Byrd probably composed The Short Service during this time at Lincoln Cathedral. There he also composed his seven In Nomine settings for consort (two a4 and five a5), at least one of the consort fantasias (Neighbour F1 a6) and a number of important keyboard works, including the Ground in Gamut, the A minor fantasia and probably the first of Byrd’s great series of keyboard pavans and galliards.

Byrd began setting Latin liturgical texts as a teenager, and continued to do so at Lincoln. His De lamentation from this time continues the practice of setting groups of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah following the format of the Tenebrae lessons sung in Holy Week.

When he left Lincoln Cathedral, the Dean and Chapter continued to pay him a retainer to send his compositions back to the cathedral.

When the composer Robert Parsons drowned in the River Trent near Newark on 25 January 1572, Byrd was appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and from the outset he was named as “organist.”

At the Chapel Royal, Byrd found new opportunities to widen his scope as a composer and to make contacts at the Court of Queen Elizabeth. His output of church music is surprisingly small, but it stretches the limits of elaboration that were then regarded as acceptable.

In 1575, Byrd and Tallis received a patent for printing music and ruled music paper for 21 years. Byrd’s contribution to their Cantiones is highly varied. His work at this time shows the influence of the motets of Alfonso Ferrabosco I (1543–1588) from Bologna who was working in the Tudor court between 1562 and 1578. The Cantiones were a financial failure, and Byrd and Tallis petitioned Queen Elizabeth for financial help. They were later granted 21-year leases on lands and estates in East Anglia and the West Country.

From the early 1570s, Byrd was increasingly involved with Roman Catholicism, which became a major factor in his personal and creative life, and his known Roman Catholic associates included Thomas Paget, 3rd Lord Paget. Byrd’s wife Julian was first cited for recusancy at Harlington, in Middlesex, in 1577 and Byrd appears in the recusancy lists from 1584.

In 1583, he found himself in trouble when Thomas Paget became a suspect in the Throckmorton Plot, and for sending money to Roman Catholics abroad. Byrd’s membership of the Chapel Royal was suspended, his movements were restricted, and his house was searched. In 1586 he attended a gathering at a country house in the company of Father Henry Garnett, who was later executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot, and the Roman Catholic poet Robert Southwell.

Byrd’s commitment to the Catholic cause was expressed in his motets, of which he composed about 50 between 1575 and 1591. While the texts of the motets included by Byrd and Tallis in the 1575 Cantiones reflect High Anglican theology, there was a profound change of direction in the texts to which Byrd set his motets in the 1580s, such as his a persistent emphasis on the persecution of the chosen people (Domine praestolamur a5), the Babylonian or Egyptian captivity (Domine tu iurasti) and the long-awaited coming of deliverance (Laetentur caeli, Circumspice Jerusalem). It appears Byrd was reinterpreting biblical and liturgical and writing laments and petitions on behalf of Roman Catholics, for whom Byrd was a kind of “house” composer.

Some texts could be interpreted as warnings against spies (Vigilate, nescitis enim) or lying tongues (Quis est homo) or marking the memory of martyred priests (O quam gloriosum). His setting of the first four verses of Psalm 78 (Deus venerunt gentes) probably refers to the execution of the Jesuit Edmund Campion in 1581.

Byrd’s Quomodo cantabimus is the result of a motet exchange with Philippe de Monte, director of music in Prague for the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. In 1583, de Monte sent Byrd his setting of verses 1-4 of Psalm 136 (Super flumina Babylonis), including the pointed question, “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” Byrd replied the following year with a setting of the defiant continuation, set, like de Monte’s piece, in eight parts and incorporating a three-part canon by inversion.

Thirty-seven of Byrd’s motets were published in two sets of Cantiones sacrae in 1589 and 1591. These collections were probably part of Byrd’s efforts to re-establish himself in court circles after the reverses of the 1580s.

In 1588 and 1589, Byrd also published two collections of English songs. The first, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs of Sadness and Pietie (1588), consists mainly of adapted consort songs.

The set reflects Byrd’s involvement with the literary circle surrounding Sir Philip Sidney, whose influence at court was at its height in the early 1580s. Sidney died at the Battle of Zutphen in 1586. But the most popular item in the set was the Lullaby (Lullay lullaby). In 1602 Byrd's patron Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester, discussing court fashions in music, predicted that “in winter lullaby, an owld song of Mr Birde, wylbee more in request as I thinke.”

The period up to 1591 saw important additions to Byrd’s output of consort music, some of which has probably been lost.

Byrd’s career entered a new phase around 1594. He was now in his early 50s, and he moved with his family from Harlington to Stondon Massey, a small village near Chipping Ongar in Essex. His ownership of Stondon Place, where he lived for the rest of his life, was bitterly contested by Joanna Shelley in a protracted legal dispute.

The move brought Byrd closer to his patron, Sir John Petre, a wealthy landowner and discreet Roman Catholic who owned two local manor houses, Ingatestone Hall and Thorndon Hall. Petre hosted clandestine Masses with music provided by his servants.

Byrd’s friendship with the Petre family dated from at least 1581, and he spent two weeks at the Petre household at Christmas in 1589. But Byrd’s continuing Catholic adherence of Byrd brought more difficulties, and he was fined regularly in the local courts for his recusancy.

Byrd now embarked on a programme to provide a cycle of liturgical music covering all the principal feasts of the Catholic calendar. The first stage included three Masses – in four, three and five parts – that were published by Thomas East in 1592-1595. All three contain retrospective features harking back to the earlier Tudor tradition of Mass settings that lapsed after 1558. His Mass for Four Voices, or the Four-Part Mass, is partly modelled on John Taverner’s Mean Mass, a highly-regarded early Tudor setting that Byrd may have sung as a choirboy. Taverner’s influence is particularly clear in the scale figures rising successively through a fifth, a sixth and a seventh in Byrd's setting of Sanctus.

All three Mass cycles employ other early Tudor features, notably the mosaic of semi-choir sections alternating with full sections in the four-part and five-part Masses, the use of a semi-choir section to open the Gloria, Credo and Agnus Dei, and the head-motif that links the openings of all the movements of a cycle. However, all three cycles also include Kyries, a rare feature in Sarum Rite mass settings that usually omitted it because of the use of tropes on festal occasions in the Sarum Rite.

The Kyrie of the three-part Mass is set in a simple litany-like style, but the other Kyrie settings employ dense imitative polyphony.

A special feature of the four-part and five-part Masses is Byrd’s treatment of the Agnus Dei, employing the technique Byrd had previously applied to the petitionary clauses from the motets in the 1589 and 1591 Cantiones sacrae. The final words, dona nobis pacem (“Prant us peace”) are set to chains of anguished suspensions in the Four-Part Mass and expressive block-homophony in the five-part setting. They may reflect the aspirations of troubled Catholics in the 1590s.

The second stage in Byrd’s programme of liturgical polyphony is formed by the Gradualia, two cycles of motets with 109 items, published in 1605 and 1607. Their appearance reflects the hopes of Roman Catholics an easier life under the new King James I.

The greater part of the two collections consists of settings of the Proprium Missae for the major feasts in the church calendar, including the major feasts of the Virgin Mary, All Saints and Corpus Christi (1605), followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and the Feasts of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, with additional items for Saint Peter’s Chains and the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament (1607).

The 1605 set also contains a number of miscellaneous items, mostly four- and three-part sections from the Primer or the Book of Hours. These include settings of the four Marian antiphons from the Roman Rite, four Marian hymns, a version of the Litany, the setting of the Eucharistic hymn Ave verum Corpus, and the Turbarum voces from the Saint John Passion, and various miscellaneous items.

The 1607 set omits several texts that were too sensitive in the wake of renewed anti-Catholic persecution after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Yet Byrd felt safe enough to reissue both sets with new title pages in 1610.

The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, rehearsing for Choral Evensong ... William Byrd contributed to Anglican church music and the emergence of the new verse anthem Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Byrd’s Roman Catholic loyalties did not prevent him from contributing to Anglican church music at the same time. His small output of church anthems ranges in style from relatively sober early examples (O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our queen, a6, and How long shall mine enemies, a5) to later works such as Sing joyfully, a6, which is close in style to the English motets of Byrd’s 1611 set.

Byrd played a role in the emergence of the new verse anthem, which seems to have evolved in part from the practice of adding vocal refrains to consort songs. His four Anglican service settings range in style from the unpretentious Short Service to the magnificent Great Service. Byrd’s setting is on a massive scale, requiring five-part Decani and Cantoris groupings in antiphony, block homophony and five-, six- and eight-part counterpoint with verse (solo) sections for added variety.

This service setting, which includes an organ part, was probably sung by the Chapel Royal Choir on major liturgical occasions in the early 17th century. Although its limited circulation suggests many other cathedral choirs found it beyond their ability, it was sung in York Minster from about 1618.

Byrd’s last collection of English songs, Psalms, Songs and Sonnets, was published in 1611, when he was over 70. This broadly follows the pattern of his 1589 set, and is laid out in sections for three, four, five and six parts, and includes two consort fantasias (a4 and a6) as well as eleven English motets, most of them setting prose texts from the Bible. These include some of his most famous compositions, notably Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles (a6), This day Christ was born (a6) and Have mercy upon me (a6).

There are more carols set in verse and burden form as in the 1589 set as well as lighter three and four-part songs in Byrd’s ‘sonnets and pastorals’ style.

Byrd also contributed eight keyboard pieces to Parthenia (1612–1613), a collection of 21 keyboard pieces containing music by Byrd, John Bull and Orlando Gibbons. It was issued in celebration of the marriage of James I’s daughter Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine, Frederick V, on 14 February 1613. Byrd’s contribution includes his Earl of Salisbury Pavan, composed in memory of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who died in 1612, and its two accompanying galliards.

Byrd’s last published compositions are four English anthems printed in William Leighton’s Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule (1614).

Byrd remained in Stondon Massey until his death on 4 July 1623, according to the Julian calendar, or on 14 July 1623 according to the Gregorian calendar. His death is noted in the Chapel Royal Check Book in a unique entry describing him as “a Father of Musick.” Despite repeated citations and fines for recusancy, he died a rich man.

Byrd’s output justifies his reputation as one of the great masters of European Renaissance music. His most impressive achievement as a composer was his ability to transform many of the main musical forms of his day and stamp them with his own identity. He assimilated and mastered the Continental motet form of his day, employing a highly personal synthesis of English and continental models.

Byrd virtually created the Tudor consort and keyboard fantasia, having only the most primitive models to follow. He raised the consort song, the church anthem and the Anglican service setting to new heights. Despite a general aversion to the madrigal, he succeeded in cultivating secular vocal music in an impressive variety of forms in his three sets of 1588, 1589 and 1611.

But, while Byrd had a major reputation in England during his lifetime, his music was in many ways without influence, although his pupils included Thomas Tomkins, Peter Philips and Thomas Morley.

Despite Byrd’s religious beliefs, it was his Anglican church music that came closest to establishing a tradition that was lasting. Despite his recusancy, he is honoured alongside Tallis and Merbecke and Byrd on 21 November in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.

5, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

Orlando Gibbons ... a leading composer in late Tudor and early Jacobean England

Orlando Gibbons was a leading composer in late Tudor and early Jacobean England of his day, and the organist at both Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal.

Gibbons was born in Cambridge in 1583, the son of William Gibbons, and was baptised on 25 December 1583. His brothers included Edward Gibbons (1568-1650), who was master of the choristers at King’s College, Cambridge; and Ellis Gibbons (1573-1603) who was a promising composer until his early death.

King’s College Cambridge ... Orlando Gibbons sang in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, where his brother Edward was the master of the choristers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Between 1596 and 1598, Orlando Gibbons sang in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, where his brother Edward was the master of the choristers. He matriculated a sizar from King’s College at Easter 1598, and received the degree of Bachelor of Music in Cambridge University in 1606. He was incorporated at Oxford University in 1607, but in the Dictionary of National Biography, he is wrongly supposed to be an MA of Cambridge.

James I appointed him a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he served as an organist from at least 1615 until his death.

He was conferred with a doctorate in Music (Mus.D.) at Oxford in 1622.

In 1623, he became the senior organist at the Chapel Royal, with Thomas Tomkins as junior organist. He also held positions as keyboard player in the privy chamber of the court of Prince Charles (later King Charles I), and organist at Westminster Abbey.

He was summoned to Canterbury to attend the wedding of Charles I, for which he had composed an ode. He was seized suddenly with apoplexy at Canterbury and died suddenly at the age of 41 on 5 June 1625. He was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, where a monument was erected to him.

His sudden death and his immediate burial in Canterbury rather than London created rumours that Gibbons had died of the plague, which was rife that year. But two doctors present at his death performed an autopsy, opened his skull and reported no symptoms of plague.

His wife Elizabeth died a year later in her mid-30s, leaving Orlando’s eldest brother, Edward, to care for their children. Of these children, only the eldest son, Christopher Gibbons, became a musician.

To this day, Gibbons’s obit service is commemorated every year in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

One of the most versatile English composers of his time, Gibbons wrote a quantity of keyboard works, around 30 fantasias for viols, a number of madrigals (the best-known being The Silver Swan), and many popular verse anthems.

His choral music is distinguished by his complete mastery of counterpoint, combined with his wonderful gift for melody. Perhaps his best-known verse anthem is This is the record of John, which sets an Advent text for solo counter-tenor or tenor, alternating with full chorus.

He also produced two major settings of Evensong, the Short Service and the Second Service. The former includes a beautifully expressive Nunc Dimittis, while the latter is an extended composition, combining verse and full sections.

Gibbons’s full anthems include the expressive O Lord, in thy wrath, and the Ascension Day anthem O clap your hands together for eight voices.

Around 1611, he contributed six pieces to the first printed collection of keyboard music in England, Parthenia He was the youngest of the three contributors to this collection.

Gibbons’s surviving keyboard output amounts to 45 pieces. His writing shows his full mastery of three- and four-part counterpoint. His approach to melody in both fantasias and dances features a capability for almost limitless development of simple musical ideas, on display in works such as Pavane in D minor and Lord Salisbury's Pavan and Galliard.

6, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1625)

Thomas Tomkins ... links the great Anglican composers of Tudor and Stuart eras with the Laudian era and the Caroline Divines

Thomas Tomkins was an English composer of the late Tudor and early Stuart period, and the last member of the virginalist school. His life links the great Anglican composers of the Tudor and Stuart eras with the Laudian era and the Caroline Divines.

Tomkins was born in St David’s, Pembrokeshire, in 1572. His father, also Thomas Tomkins, had moved to St David’s in 1565 from Lostwithiel in Cornwall, and was a vicar choral and organist at Saint David;s Cathedral.

Three of the half-brothers of Thomas Tomkins, John, Giles and Robert Tomkins, also became eminent musicians. Around 1586-1594, the family moved to Gloucester, where Thomas Tomkins senior was a minor canon at the cathedral.

Thomas Tomkins lmost certainly studied under William Byrd for a time, and one of his songs bears the inscription: “To my ancient, and much reverenced Master, William Byrd.”

Byrd may have helped the young Thomas to find a place as chorister in the Chapel Royal. All former Chapel Royal choristers were given a place at university, and Tomkins was affiliated to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1607.

In 1596, he was appointed organist and master of the choristers at Worcester Cathedral. In 1597, he married Alice Patrick, a widow nine years his senior. Her first husband Nathaniel, who died in 1595, had been Tomkins’s predecessor at Worcester. Thomas’s only son, Nathaniel, was born in Worcester in 1599, and he spent the rest of his life there, becoming a respected musician.

Tomkins, like Thomas Morley, was a pupil of Byrd, and he signed copy of Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597). In 1601, Morley included one of Tomkins’s madrigals in his collection, The Triumphs of Oriana.

In 1612, Tomkins oversaw the construction of a new organ in Worcester Cathedral by Thomas Dallam, the foremost organ-builder of the day. He continued writing verse anthems, and his collection of 28 madrigals, the Songs of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts was finally published in 1622 with a dedicatory poem by his half-brother, John Tomkins, by then the organist of King’s College, Cambridge.

Throughout his life, Thomas Tomkins maintained an intimate and loving relationship with John, who later became the organist of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, and then of the Chapel Royal.

By about 1603, Thomas Tomkins was appointed a Gentleman Extraordinary of the Chapel Royal. This was an honorary post, but in 1621 he became a Gentleman Ordinary and organist under his friend and senior organist, Orlando Gibbons. The duties included regular journeys between Worcester and London.

When King James I died in March 1625 Tomkins, and the other Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, were required to attend to both the music for the king’s funeral and for the coronation of his son, King Charles I.

However, these tasks were too much for Gibbons, who died of a stroke in Canterbury, where Charles was supposed to meet his future bride, Princess Henrietta Maria of France. This placed an even greater strain on Tomkins. Because of the plague, however, the coronation was postponed until February 1626, giving Tomkins time to compose most of the eight anthems sung at the ceremony.

In 1628, Tomkins was named “Composer of [the King’s] Music in ordinary” with an annuity of £40. This post, the highest honour available to an English musician, but his appointment was quickly revoked on the grounds that it had been promised to his predecessor’s son. However, he continued to perform his dual duties in Worcester and London until 1639.

The English Civil War broke out in 1642, and Tomkins’s wife Alice died that year. Worcester was one of the first casualties of the civil war. The cathedral was desecrated, and Tomkins’s organ was badly damaged by the Parliamentarians.

In 1643, Tomkins’s house near the cathedral suffered a direct hit by cannon shot, making it uninhabitable for a long period, and destroying most of his household goods and many of his musical manuscripts. About this time Tomkins married his second wife, Martha Browne, the widow of a lay clerk of Worcester Cathedral.

Further conflict and a siege in 1646 caused untold damage to Worcester. With the choir disbanded and the cathedral closed, Tomkins turned to composing some of his finest keyboard and consort music.

In 1647, he wrote a belated tribute to Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and a further one to the memory of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, both beheaded in 1641 and both admired by Tomkins.

Charles I was executed in 1649, and a few days later the royalist Tomkins composed his Sad Pavan: for these distracted times.

His second wife Martha died around 1653. Tomkins, now aged 81, found himself in serious financial difficulties. In 1654, his son Nathaniel married Isabella Folliott, a wealthy widow, and Thomas went to live with them in Martin Hussingtree, four miles outside Worcester. He expressed his gratitude by composing his Galliard, The Lady Folliot’s, in her honour. He died two years later on 9 June 1656 and was buried in the churchyard of Martin Hussingtree on 9 June 1656.

Thomas Tomkins ... recorded by the Choir of Sidney Sussex College Cambridge

Tomkins wrote madrigals, keyboard music, consort music, anthems, and liturgical music. Stylistically he was conservative, ignoring the rising Baroque practice around him, and he avoided writing in most of the popular forms of the time, such as the lute song, or ayre. His polyphonic language, even in the mid-17th century, was that of the Renaissance.

He was a prolific composer of verse anthems, writing more than any other English composer of the 17th century except William Child. These were highly regarded at the time, and have survived through the efforts of his son, Nathaniel Tomkins, who edited most of it and published in 1668 as the collection Musica Deo sacra et ecclesiae Anglicanae; or Music dedicated to the Honour and Service of God, and to the Use of Cathedral and other Churches of England).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

16: William Bedell (1571-1642), Caroline Divine and translator of the Bible into Irish

Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) with Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

William Bedell (1571-1642) is an oft-neglected bishop of the Church of Ireland among the Caroline divines, yet he is remembered in Ireland for his insistence while he was the fifth Provost of Trinity College Dublin that divinity students there should learn the Irish language to enhance their ministry to all the people, and for his commitment at Trinity and as Bishop of Kilmore to undertaking the translation of the Bible into Irish.

William Bedell was born at Black Notley, a mile outside Braintree in Essex, on 29 September, or about 25 December, 1571, the second of three sons and six children of John Bedell, a yeoman, and his wife Elizabeth (née Aliston or Elliston). His grandfather and father were both men of strong religious convictions, and the grandfather was known as a stern disciplinarian. William’s maternal family had Puritan sympathies.

William Bedell and his elder brother John were educated by a Mr Denman of Braintree, who was violent with his pupils and a blow he inflicted on William left him permanently deaf in one ear.

Emmanuel College, Cambridge ... William Bedell was an undergraduate and later a fellow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the age of 12, William was sent to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a new foundation that had become a centre of Puritan influence. There he became a student of Laurence Chaderton (1536-1640), the first Master of Emmanuel, and found a mentor in the Puritan theologian, William Perkins (1558-1602) of Christ’s College, a prominent and vigorous anti-Roman polemicist. Bedell was admitted a pensioner at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in Michaelmas Term, 1 November 1584, and he matriculated in Lent 1585. On 12 March 1585, he was elected a scholar, the nineteenth scholar on the list from the foundation of Emmanuel College.
Bedell graduated BA in 1589, proceeded MA in 1592, and in 1593 he was elected a fellow of his college, the fourteenth fellow on the list from the foundation, including the first three fellows nominated by the founder, Sir Walter Mildmay.

Mildmay had designed Emmanuel College as a place of education for the ordained ministry. As a fellow, Bedell became the catechist of the students in the doctrines of the Christian faith, a task similar to the early offices held by Lancelot Andrewes at Pembroke, William Perkins at Christ’s, and John Preston at Queens’.

Bedell was ordained priest by John Sterne, the Suffragan Bishop of Colchester, on 10 January 1597. He received the degree BD in 1599, acted as Burar of Emmanuel College in 1601. In 1602, he was appointed Vicar of Saint Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds, one of the largest parish churches in England.

Punters in summer sunshine on the Backs in Cambridge ... there are no university records of Bedell receiving the degree DD in 1602 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Perkins, died in 1602, Bedell bought his library. By then he was known for his scholarship in theology, the Bible and the classics, and was proficient in Arabic, Chaldean, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Syriac. His reputation as a linguist led Italian friends in Venice to ask him to compile an English grammar.

His son William, along with other biographers, including Gilbert Burnet, HJ Monck, ES Shuckburgh and other biographers say Bedell received the degree DD at the University of Cambridge in 1602, and Aidan Clarke suggests that receiving this doctorate terminated his fellowship of Emmanuel College. However, this last degree is not recorded by Venn or in other university sources, and it is not mentioned in his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Bottigheimer and Larminie, by Gamble or in his biographical entry by Crooks.

William Bedell was chaplain to Sir Henry Wooton, the English ambassador in Venice, from 1607 to 1610 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bedell left England in 1607 when he was appointed chaplain to Sir Henry Wooton (1568-1639), then the English ambassador in Venice. He stayed in Venice for almost four years, acquiring a reputation as a scholar and a theologian. He studied Hebrew there with the rabbi of the synagogue in the ghetto, Leon da Modena, added Italian to his repertore of languages, and acted as a theological mentor to the leaders of the anti-papal party in Venice.

At the time, Venice was in conflict with the Papacy under Paul V and was resisting the Papal claims to ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the city. The Senate of Venice asserted its right to veto clerical appointments, to control church building, and to put the clergy on trial in civic court. In response, the Pope had placed Venice under an interdict in April 1606, and ordered the Jesuits and other religious orders to leave.

Bedell arrived in Venice at the closing stages of the dispute and after the interdict had been lifted. In common with other Englishmen in Venice at the time, he had expectations of converting the Venetians to the Reformation, and became a close friend of the reformer Paolo Sarpi, a Servite friar. After an the attempt to assassinate Sarpi, Bedell wrote a few days later to his friend, Dr Samuel Ward, later Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, saying: “I hope this accident will awake him a little more and put some more spirit into him, which is his only want.”

Bedell wrote a series of sermons with Sarpi’s disciple, Fulgenzio Micanzo, circulated a translation of the Bible in Italian, and translated The Book of Common Prayer into Italian, published posthumously as Il libro delle preghiere publiche ed administrazione de sacramenti ... secundo l’uso della chiesa Anglicana (London, 1685). However, by the time he returned to England in 1610, the Pope and the Doge had been reconciled through the mediation of Henry IV of France, Venice had returned to the Papal fold, and Sarpi’s influence in the city had waned.

Bedell returned to England through Constantinople in 1610, accompanied by Dr Jasper Despotine, a Venetian Protestant, who settled as a medical practitioner in Bury St Edmunds. Bedell too settled in Bury St Edmunds, and there he married Leah Mawe (née L’Estrange, or Bowles), widow of the town’s Recorder, Robert Mawe, who died in 1609, on 29 January 1612 and the mother of two sons and a daughter. They had four more children: William (born 14 February 1613); Grace (born 29 May 1614); John (born 9 August 1616); and Ambrose (born 21 March 1618). Grace and John died young while William and Ambrose survived to adulthood.

In England, Bedell assisted in the publication of a translation of Sarpi’s histories of the Council of Trent, the Interdict, and the Inquisition. In 1615, he was presented by Sir Thomas Jermyn as Rector of Horningsheath in Suffolk, near Bury St Edmunds, then in the Diocese of Norwich. He successfully resisted an exorbitant demand by the Bishop of Norwich, John Jegon, a former master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, for induction fees.

Bedell remained rector of the parish for 12 years, and might have been happy to continue living in comparative obscurity but for a chance encounter in Cheapside with a Venetian friend, Giovanni Diodati, when they were both visiting London. Diodati introduced Bedell to Thomas Morton, Bishop of Lichfield, and that chance encounter and introduction led to Bedell’s name being suggested for the position of Provost of Trinity College Dublin, which became vacant in 1627 after Sir William Temple died in office on 15 January.

William Bedell became Provost of Trinity College Dublin in 1627 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The candidates for provost favoured by the Vice-Chancellor of Dublin University and Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, included the Puritan Richard Sibbes of Gray’s Inn and the millenarian Joseph Mede of Cambridge. Neither was acceptable to the future Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who would become the Chancellor of the university in 1633, and neither could secure the support of the majority senior fellows and junior fellows.

Eventually, Laud and Ussher agreed on William Bedell, who had no prior connections with Ireland. Wooton brought Bedell’s name to the attention of Laud, and wrote to King Charles I in praise of Bedell’s learning, life and Christian temper: “I think hardly a fitter man for that charge could have been propounded unto your Majesty in your whole kingdom, for singular erudition and piety, conformity to the rites of your Church and zeal to advance the cause of God.”

Sidney Sussex College Cambridge … Bedell wrote to Samuel Ward expressing his sense of uncertainty about moving to Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

At first, Bedell was not interested in moving to Ireland with his family. He was happy in his Suffolk parish, and thought it would be hazardous to take his wife and children to a strange land. On 15 March 1627, he wrote to his friend Samuel Ward of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, repeating his sense of uncertainty, expressing his contentment with his present situation and explaining how ignorant he was of the situation in Dublin.

However, he told Ward he was prepared to overlook his own convenience in order to obey the will of God. On the nomination of King Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and on the advice of Ussher, the Fellows of Trinity College Dublin voted for Bedell as Provost, although Bedell later reported in England that vote had not been unanimous.

After much consideration, Bedell gave up his “competent living of above £100 a year, in a good air and seat, with a very convenient house, near to my friends, a little parish, not exceeding the compass of my weak voice.” He left his parish in Horningsheath on 23 July 1627, arrived in Dublin on 13 August, and was sworn in as Provost on 20 August.

He returned briefly to England, and felt his plans for reforming the college were being undermined by Ussher and his allies. He confided to Ward that he was thinking of resigning as Provost. However, Ussher refused to accept Bedell’s resignation, and eventually, but with some hesitance and apprehension, he resigned his parish and returned to Dublin in July 1628. He lived the rest of his days in Ireland.

The chapel of Trinity College Dublin … as Provost, Bedell restored discipline to chapel observances (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Once in office in as Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Bedell set to work vigorously and conscientiously. He restored discipline among the fellows and students, especially in regard to chapel observances. He produced a complete and ordered version of the statutes. He instituted the reading of a chapter of the New Testament during Commons by a native Irish speaker, introduced prayers in Irish in the chapel, composed the college’s Latin graces, prescribed that no married man should be admitted a Fellow or Scholar, and formalised Sir William Temple’s distinction between Senior and Junior Fellows by explicitly excluding Junior Fellows from the government of the college and the election of a Provost.

King Charles later observed that by Bedell’s “care and good government there hath been wrought great reformation to our singular contentment.”

Bedell is often regarded as most forward-looking as Provost when it comes to fostering Irish studies in Trinity College Dublin. However, he was motivated less by literary or historical considerations than by his desire to give ordinands in the Church of Ireland the ability to preach to the native Irish in their own language.

Half a century earlier, in April 1576, the Chief Governor of Ireland, Henry Sydney (1529-1586), had commended to Queen Elizabeth a proactive mission strategy that included seeking out university-trained preachers in England who were competent in Irish or, in their absence, Gaelic-speaking preachers from Scotland. Sydney also urged the appointment of Irish-speaking bishops so that “thousands would be gained for Christ.”

Things had changed little in Ireland 25 years later, however, and in 1602 Francis Bacon wrote to William Cecil in similar vein, pointing to the need for “Bibles, catechisms, and other books of instruction [in] the Irish language.”

Bedell employed Murtagh King (Muircheartach Ó Cionga) to teach Irish at Trinity. Ó Cíonga was a member of a bardic family from Kilcoursey in Co Offaly, known as poets and scribes, and drafted legal documents for their patrons, the Fox and Mageoghegan families.

King first appears are as Murtagh O Kinge of Kilcolly and Murtho O King of Fox’s County in legal documents the 1590s. In the 1610s, he was an agent and receiver to Lord Lambert’s lands near Athlone, Co Westmeath. From 1627 he was employed by Bedell to teach Irish to himself and students in Trinity College, and under Bedell’s influence he conformed to the Church of Ireland.

He insisted as little as possible on the differences with respect to doctrine between Catholic and Protestant, bringing him into conflict with the Puritan party in the college, especially with Dr Joshua Hoyle, Professor of Divinity.

A plaque at Kilmore Cathedral recalls the former bishop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In 1629, probably on the nomination of William Laud, then Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Bedell was appointed Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. Archbishop Ussher of Armagh was warned by his agent in London that a plot was being mounted by Laud and others to have Ussher removed as Vice-Chancellor of the university of Dublin, but Laud sought to pacify him, denying that he was trying to remove him and claiming “I heartily love” the freedom granted in Trinity’s charter.

Bedell was consecrated bishop on 13 September 1629 in Saint Peter’s Church, Drogheda, by Ussher, assisted by Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down, Theophilus Buckworth, Bishop of Dromore, and James Spottiswood, Bishop of Clogher. However, Bedell found the amalgamated dioceses in a deplorable state. Shortly after arriving in Kilmore, he wrote to Laud telling him that “the plantations are raw and the churches ruined.” He told Laud that his cathedral was “without Bell or Steeple, Font or Chalice.”

He devoted much of his energies to repairing the cathedral and to refurbishing other churches in the diocese, often with the assistance of his Roman Catholic friends and neighbours. In the face of much opposition he devoted himself to relieving the great hardship and poverty among his people.

He was asked by the court of the Plantation Commission to “lay out” the town of Virginia, Co Cavan, after complaints from the residents about the landlords’ failure to build the town and to provide a church for worship.

“He observed with much regret that the English had all along neglected the Irish, as a nation not only conquered but undisciplinable, and that the clergy had scarce considered them as part of their charge, but had left them wholly in the hands of their own priests, without taking any other care of them, but the making them pay their tithes.”

He started to reform the abuses he found in the diocese, and as a first step towards a remedy he took action against pluralists. This thrust him into immediate conflict with the Dean of Kilmore, Nicholas Bernard, a former chaplain to Ussher, and to sharp exchanges between Bedell and Ussher.

On the day of Bedell’s consecration, Ussher asked the new bishop to grant a benefice to Bernard, which would have been the dean’s fourth preferment. Bernard too had been educated at Cambridge, and later became Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain. Bedell refused Ussher’s request on the grounds that Bernard could not minister to a parish where the people spoke Irish. However, Bernard circumvented the bishop and obtained the appointment to the parish through a a decree issued by the Primate’s Prerogative Court.

Bedell complained to Ussher, telling the archbishop that Bernard could not preach without using the services of an interpreter and was interested not in the pastoral care of his parishioners but only in the stipend that allowed him “to fat himself with the blood of God’s people.”

He sided with the Roman Catholics of Kilmore against the excesses of Alan Cooke, the chancellor of the diocese. He suspended Cook in 1629 on the pretext that were flaws in his patent of appointment, and sat in his own diocesan court and acted as judge himself. He told Ussher: “So long as the officers of our court prey on them [the people], they esteem us no better than publicans and wordlings … if the honestest and best of our Protestants be thus scandalised, what may we think of papists such as are all in a manner that we live among?”

Bedell told Ussher the Primate’s courts were corrupt, and he repeated this accusation in a letter to Laud on 7 August 1630: “This man was more burdensome to that part of the country than the contribution to the soldiers.”

Although Ussher had previously removed Cooke from a similar post in Meath for similar reasons, he was abrupt in his reply to Bedell. He held that Cooke was sufficiently qualified for the position, and the church courts found that Cooke had legally acquired the right as chancellor. Ussher accused Bedell of pulling down houses that others had spent a long time building, and of building castles in the air.

In the end, although he continued to be active in his diocesan court, the bishop was unable to remove his chancellor. Laud went so far as to regret that other bishops had not followed Bedell’s example in putting down abuses.

As a prime means of gaining the hearts of the people, Bedell studied the Irish language and encouraged the use of Irish. His only work in Irish to be published in his lifetime was his Aibgitir i Theaguisg Cheudtosugheadh an Chriostaide or The ABC or the Institution of a Christian was printed in Dublin in 1631. It contains letters, numbers, catechetical staples such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, four New Testament passages, and a number of prayers, all in parallel English and Irish texts.

In 1633, he resigned the See of Ardagh, where he had encountered opposition from Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike for reaching out to the Irish. However, he retained the See of Kilmore so he could concentrate on developing that diocese further and oversaw the renovation of neglected church buildings.

In very petulant terms, Ussher censured Bedell for learning Irish and for preaching to the people of his diocese in the only language they knew. In this, Ussher showed how he shared the prejudices of his class, in direct opposition to the principle of the Reformation which supported the translation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy into the vernacular.

But Bedell believed that the Irish too had souls which ought not to be neglected until such time as they should learn Irish. Undaunted by Ussher’s words of censure, Bedell commissioned the translation of the whole Bible into the language.

The translation was undertaken by the Church of Ireland Rector of Templeport, the Revd Murtagh King of Templeport, Co Cavan, who had been employed by Bedell to teach Irish at Trinity College Dublin and who was ordained priest by Bedell on 23 September 1633. However, Ussher had King removed and replaced by the Revd William Bayly, claiming King was ill and unfit. Bayly had been ordained without Bedell’s consent by Cooke’s father-in-law, the Bishop of Kilfenora, and his standard of Latin “caused much merryment.”

Bedell excommunicated Bayly as an intruder, but the Primate’s Court overruled Bedell; Bedell refused to recognise the court’s competence, but he found he was unable to restore King to his parish.

Bedell persisted, and in February 1634 he wrote to his friend Ward in Sidney Sussex College telling him: “I am purposed with God’s assistance to set forth the Bible in the Irish tongue, which I have caused to be translated, and am now causing to be written out fair … I purpose, if God sends me life, to add some Homilies chosen out of the Fathers.”

Bedell revised the whole work himself, comparing it with the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so he could correct the errors in the English. He made preparations to print the work at his own house, and also translated into Irish and printed and circulated some of his sermons and homilies, and a catechism in English and Irish.

The bishop led a simple life and travelled for miles on foot or on horse, travelling the dangerous byways to visit distant parts of his diocese. He provided assistance to those who conformed to the Church of Ireland, enabling them to study for the ministry.

Bedell complained to Laud that that Ussher on his visitations to the Diocese of Kilmore usurped “all episcopal rights … every three years.” In 1638, he called a synod of all the priests in the Diocese of Kilmore to discuss lax discipline and to draft canons for his and their guidance.

Cooke and Bayly secured an order from Ussher forbidding Bedell to do anything to the prejudice of Dr Cook and ordering him to reverse the order of excommunication against Bayly. They also used the opportunity to claim that Bedell had contravened the constitution of the Church of Ireland by calling the synod and enacting canons. Bedell confided his troubles to Laud in a letter on 24 May 1639. In his reply on 28 June, Laud regretted that the bishops had not supported Bedell and agreed that the canons were not exceptional. However, he suggested that the times might not be congenial for experiments like this.

Cooke and Bayly took their case against Bedell to the King in Chancery in 1639, but their case were probably not resolved before the rebellion of 1641 broke out.

With the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the local warlords, led by the O’Reillys, took control of the area. Bedell refused to flee to England and decided to remain with his people. As the war unfolded, he continued to minister in his church and refused many offers of refuge, including those of his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Eugene Sweeney. The O’Reillys “gave comfortable words to the bishop” and Bedell’s house at Kilmore, Co Cavan, was left untouched, becoming a place of refuge for people seeking shelter from the rebels.

The respect he shows for Roman Catholics in his writings and discussions was reflected in the way which he and the many fugitives who crowded his house and out-offices were treated initially by the rebel leaders. He was joined by the Bishop of Elphin, Henry Tilson. They exercised their religion freely, services were held frequently, and the Bread and Wine for the Holy Communion were specially supplied for them.

His memoirs describe with emotion and feeling about the personal sufferings and outrages the English settlers endured as they were driven off their plantations, but there is nothing in his writings about the massacre so often discussed by historians. It is moving to read his account of preaching to his people from the words: “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head. I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me, round about.”

In the end, though, the rebels insisted upon the dismissal of all who had taken shelter in his house, and when the bishop refused he was seized and imprisoned with some others in the nearby island castle of Lough Oughter, Cloughoughter Castle. After about two months his sufferings increased. He and his sons, with others, were removed on 18 December to Loughoughter castle, a little tower in the middle of a lake, and his own house and library were spoiled by the insurgents.

He was held there for several weeks and was released only after drawing up for the insurgents their Remonstrance and Statement of Grievances for presentation to the Lords Justices, “pleading on their behalf for graces from King Charles.”

Bedell was now in the house of his friend, the Revd Denis Sheridan. But he continued to suffer from the effects from being in the draughty and damp castle, and never recovered from his hardships. He died of typhus on 7 February 1642. His last words were: “Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.”

Willaim Bedell’s grave in the churchyard of Kilmore Cathedral, Co Cavan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

His captors acceded to Bedell’s wish to be buried in a corner of the churchyard in Kilmore, Co Cavan, beside his son, and his wife Leah, whose death in 1638 had brought him terrible grief. His funeral took place in the presence of his O’Reilly captors, the Confederate forces provided a military guard of honour at his funeral and among his pallbearers was the rebel leader Myles the Slasher. A large military force fired a volley over his grave, crying, according to some accounts: “Requiescat in pace, ultimus Anglorum.” Father Edmund Farrely, a Roman Catholic priest who was present, was heard to exclaim: “O sit anima mea cum Bedello!, May my soul be with Beddell’s.” His grave is shaded by a sycamore tree, said to have been planted by his own hands.

His Irish neighbours called him optimus Anglorum – the best of the English – and his nobility, charity and ecumenism were renowned in an age of tyranny, injustice and bitter division. In true Laudian fashion, Bedell, according to his son, was “disposed rather to contract the differences between Protestants and Papists than to widen them.”

Bedell’s legacy and writings:

In his time in Venice, Bedell had moved from the Puritanism of his Cambridge education to a more accomodating and tolerant Anglicanism. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Bedell “the most faultless character in all ecclesiastical history.” He is seen today by many as a pioneer of toleration and “a hero of liberal, cosmpolitan Protestantism.”

Bedell was concerned mainly with nurturing a well-organised and well-instructed community in his diocese, able to commend their faith to the people among whom they lived. To do this, they needed a reputable, resident clergy in their parishes who could speak and preach in the Irish language. He believed the failures of the Reformation in Ireland were due to the dark blemishes of the Church of Ireland and its failure to offer a just system of administration and the liturgy ion the language of the people.

Michael Kennedy and others would argue that the failure to provide The Book of Common Prayer in Irish for two full generations between 1549 and 1608 was a contributing factor in the comparative lack of success of the Reformation in Ireland. A similar argument could be advanced when it comes to the failure to advance the printing of an Irish-language Bible. A printing font of Irish type was provided in 1571, but it still took another generation before an Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer was actually printed, and when the New Testament was published in Irish in 1602, only a limited edition of 500 copies was printed.

Due to the unstable political situation in Ireland in the years that followed Bedell’s death, his translation of the Old Testament into Irish was not published until 1685, when it was published in London, accompanied by an earlier translation of the New Testament completed by William Daniel (died 1628), Church of Ireland Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Francis Marsh of Dublin and the Lismore-born physicist and philosopher, Robert Boyle (1626-1691), a son of the Earl of Cork, were instrumental in its publication. This Bible was also used in the Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland, especially Argyll.

Bedell’s writings show a depth of character that was in advance of his time in many respects.

According to Ian Hazlett, Bedell’s enlightened outreach “belies notions of predictable bullying, comprehensive indifference or airy optimism on behalf of the Established Church or imported ministers.”

William Bedell depicted on a corbel on Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Bedell’s appearance is described in these words: “He was a tall and graceful person; there was something in his looks and carriage that discovered what was within, and created a veneration for him. He had an unaffected gravity in his deportment, and decent simplicity in his dress and apparel.” There is a contemporary portrait of Bedell in the Library of Emmanuel College, and he is commemorated alongside William Sancroft, the later Nonjuring Archbishop of Canterbury, in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne (1884) in the College Chapel. He is also depicted on a corbel on Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Bedell bequeathed a 13th century Hebrew Bible manuscript to Emmanuel College Cambridge. As for the rest of his books, his biographer writes of the dispersion of Bedell’s library: “And thus what enemies left friends took away … the Bishop’s books went every way but the right; and certain of his sermons were preached in Dublin, and heard there by some of Bishop Bedell’s near relations, that had formerly heard them from his own mouth.”

Bedell’s family

He left his two surviving sons, William and Ambrose, only small legacies of £80 and £60 a year each.
The eldest son, the Revd William Bedell, who was the bishop’s biographer, was born in Bury in 1613. He was ordained by his father in 1634 and became Vicar of Kinawley (Derrylin, Co Fermanagh) in the Diocese of Kilmore. He married Mary Barber from Essex, and after his father’s death, they left Ireland and returned to England. They first lived Black Notley in Essex, and then in Bury, where they stayed with Dr Despotine. William became was the Rector of Rattlesden in 1645, and remained there until he died in March 1671.

William and Mary Bedell had eight children, of whom the eldest, Leah, was baptised at Whepstead in 1643, and the other seven at Rattlesden: William, John, James, Ambrose, Penelope, Agnes and Isabella. The Revd John Bedell succeeded his father as Rector of Rattlesden, but died the following year, 1672.

The second surviving son, Ambrose Bedell, married in Ireland before the 1641 rebellion broke out. His wife Mary was a daughter of Peter Hill, Sheriff of Co Down. After the Restoration, he had a grant of lands in Co Cavan and Co Antrim. He died there in 1683, and had no surviving children.

It appears there are no longer any living descendants of the bishop.

After Bedell

Saint Feithlimidh’s Cathedral, Kilmore, built as a memorial to Bishop William Bedell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

After Bedell’s death, Robert Maxwell was nominated as Bishop of Kilmore on 17 November 1642 and was consecrated on 24 March 1643. Maxwell became Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh when the two sees were united again in 1661, and died in 1672.

Nicholas Bernard, Dean of Kilmore, became Cromwell’s chaplain, while William Bayly, now describing himself as “DD Oxford,” was suggested as Bishop of Kilmore. However, the letters patent for his appointment were revoked and instead Bayly was consecrated Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmaduagh by Ussher in Oxford on 2 May 1644. Bayly died two decades later on 11 August 1664 and is buried at Clonfert Cathedral, Co Galway.

Two centuries after Bedell’s death, Saint Feithlimidh’s Cathedral in Kilmore, about 6 km outside Cavan, was described in 1858 as “decayed, dilapidated and too small to accommodate the parishioners.” Plans were drawn up to demolish the old cathedral and to build a new one as a memorial to Bishop Bedell. Work began that year, when the foundation stone was laid by Lady Farnham in the presence of Bishop Marcus Gervais Beresford and 50 of the clergy.

The new church, designed by the English architect, William Slater, cost £8,000 and was completed in 1860. The cathedral is built in the Early Decorated or Middle Pointed style. Its plan is cruciform, consisting of nave, aisles, transepts, chancel and a central tower that is finished by a four-sided pyramidal roof. The porch was added to the cathedral in 1869.

The Romanesque doorway in Kilmore Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

A carved Hiberno-Romanesque doorway serves as the vestry door. This doorway originally formed part of the Cathedral at Toneymore, was built after the Diocese of Kilmore was first recognised at the Synod of Kells in 1152. When the Church of Saint Fethlimidh became the cathedral in 1454, Toneymore Cathedral fell into disrepair. The Premonstratensian Order salvaged the doorway and inserted it into the western gable of Holy Trinity Abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter. When the abbey was destroyed in 1570, the doorway was taken to the old cathedral in Kilmore, where it was used as the main entrance. It was moved to its present place when the cathedral was built as the Bedell Memorial Church in 1858.

The Bedell Boyle Lecture, organised annually by the National Bible Society of Ireland, is named in honour of Bishop Bedell Robert Boyle, who was involved in printing and publishing Bedell’s Bible. An original copy of Bedell’s Bible is on display in Kilmore Cathedral, the Bedell Memorial Church, outside Cavan.

Bedell’s grace

Front Square in Trinity College Dublin ... Bedell based the grace he wrote for Commons on the graces used in Cambridge colleges (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The grace at Commons in Trinity College Dublin begins in Latin:

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine.
Tu das iis escam eorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione tua …

The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord.
Thou givest them meat in due season.
Thou openest thy hand,
and fillest with blessing every living creature ...

This phrase is from Psalm 145: 14-15, and is used in almost all Cambridge colleges, although there are many variations. The version provided by Bedell for use in TCD is exactly as in the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, the Latin edition of the Bible published by Pope Clement VIII (1592-1602). These verses, with variations, are used at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and other Cambridge colleges, including Sidney Sussex, Christ’s, Clare, Jesus, King’s, Saint Catharine’s, Saint John’s and Trinity and in Oxford at Brasenose, Keble, Merton and New College. Bedell had been a fellow of Emmanuel College and it is likely that he also heard these lines many times in other Cambridge colleges.

The TCD grace then continues with the “before meat” prayer:

Miserere nostri te quaesumus Domine,
tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate sumus percepturi, benedicito
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Have mercy on us, we beseech thee, O Lord,
and bless thy gifts, which from thy kindness we are about to receive,
through Christ our Lord.

Similar words – Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi – are recorded as a blessing as early as the eighth century. This phrase – or variations on it – continues to be used as a pre-prandial grace at many Cambridge and Oxford colleges, and the variation found in TCD is almost word-for-word the same as the ante-cibum prayer used in Trinity College Oxford.

It may simply be a coincidence that the grace in Trinity College Dublin is a combination of the graces of Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Oxford. But perhaps it is also an acknowledgement by Bedell that these two colleges in Cambridge and Oxford share a name with his college in Dublin.

When the meal ends, the “after meat” grace, most of which is unique to TCD, begins in Latin:

Tibi laus, tibi honor, tibi gloria,
O beata et gloriosa Trinitas.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum et nunc et in perpetuum …

To thee be praise, to thee be honour, to thee be glory,
O blessed and glorious Trinity.
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever…

This is very similar to the start of the grace prayed after meals at Clare College, Cambridge, which was founded over 250 years before TCD. The words after the triple praise of the Holy Trinity, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” are a quote from the first chapter of the Book of Job.

The grace then continues:

Laudamus te, benignissime Pater,
pro serenissimis,
regina Elizabetha hujus Collegii conditrice,
Jacobo ejusdem munificentissimo auctore,
Carolo conservatore,
caeterisque benefactoribus nostris …

We praise thee, most gracious Father,
for the most serene ones,
Queen Elizabeth the founder of this college,
James its most munificent builder,
Charles its preserver,
and our other benefactors.

Queen Elizabeth I founded Trinity College Dublin in 1592; her successor, James I, gave generous grants of land to the college in the 1610s; his son Charles I was king at the time Bedell composed the graces; all three issued charters to the new Trinity College.

The grace then finishes:

rogantes te, ut his tuis donis recte et ad tuam gloriam utentes in hoc saeculo,
te una cum fidelibus in futuro feliciter perfruamur,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Asking thee,
as we make use of these thy gifts rightly and for thy glory at this time,
that we might exalt in thee together with the faithful happily in the future,
through Christ our Lord.

Having acknowledged the divine source of all wisdom, all present remain standing as the fellows leave. The undergraduates stay standing as the scholars then leave.

Select Bibliography:

Sarah Bendall, Christopher Brooke, Patrick Collinson, A History of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1999).
Karl S. Bottigheimer and Vivienne Larminie, ‘Bedell, William,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 4, pp 765-768 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
(Bishop) Gilbert Burnet, Bedell, William, Bishop of Kilmore, Life (Dublin, 1685 and 1736).
Aidan Clarke, ‘Bedell, William,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography, vol 1, pp 411-412 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, for the Royal irish Academy, 2009).
DWT Crooks (ed), Clergy of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation for the Diocesan Council of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, 2008).
Alan Ford The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997).
A Ford, J McGuire and K Milne (eds), As by Law Established (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1995).
Peter Galloway, The Cathedrals of Ireland (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, 1992).
W. Gamble, William Bedell, his life and times (n.d., privately printed for the author ca 1953 by Turners’ Printers, Longford).
Ian Hazlett, The Reformation in Britain and Ireland (London: T&T Clark, 2003).
Thomas Wharton Jones (ed), A true relation of the life and death of the Right Reverend father in God William Bedell, Lord Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland by Bishop Gilbert Burnet (London: Camden Society, 1872).
R Buick Knox, James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1967).
JV Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992).
Terence McCaughey, Dr Bedell and Mr King: the making of the Irish Bible (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, School of Celtic Studies, 2001).
HJ Monck Mason, The Life of William Bedell, DD, Lord Bishop of Kilmore (London: RB Seeley and W Burnside, 1843).
Brian Mayne (ed), The Prayer Books of the Church of Ireland, 1551-2004 (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004).
James Bass Mullinger, ‘Bedell, William,’ Dictionary of National Biography, vol 4 (1885), pp 105-108.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans (London: Fontana, 1989).
E Gordon Rupp, William Bedell, 1571-1642, A commemorative lecture given in the Old Library, Emmanuel College, on 1 December 1971 (Cambridge, 1972).
Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (ed), Two biographies of William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902).
J Venn and JA Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922-1953), part 1, vol 1, 1922, p. 115.
Alfred Webb, ‘Bedell, William,’ in A Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin: MH Gill & Son).

Updated 17 October 2013, with photographs taken in Kilmore by Patrick Comerford on 13 October 2013.