The stripping of the altars

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Much of this printed matter was reissuing classics which had long

Lifsince circulated in manuscript. Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed e of Jesu, Mirk's Festial, assorted works by Richard Rolle, and several versions of the Ars Moriendi all went through multiple editions. We have already noted the stream of clerical manuals produced in both English and Latin, most of them established classics going back to the fourteenth century or earlier. Caxton produced a new version of the Somme le Roi, the thirteenth-century Carmelite classic on the Ten Commandments, the deadly sins, and the virtues which had been translated into English as the Ayenbite of Inwyt. It had circulated in at least nine other English versions before the advent of printing.' Caxton also translated a similar work, the Book of Good Manners, from an early fifteenth-century French original. His account of his reasons for undertaking this translation throws a fascinating light on the drive behind the steady flow of such material which was to come from the presses right up to the break with Rome. Caxton recorded how his friend William Pratt, a devout city mercer who died in 1486, leaving instructions for an austerely religious funeral without pomp, had brought him the French original not long before his death, declaring that he wanted it translated and published "to the end that it might be had and used among the people for the amendment of their manners". The impetus here is not from the clergy, certainly not the result of official fiat, but the suggestion of a devout layman, anxious to improve the moral and religious tone of the community at large.'

The overwhelmingly traditional and orthodox character of the religious literature printed in England before 1530 did not mean that it was all of one sort. Variety was the essence of fast sales, and Wynkyn de Worde and Pynson provided it. There were pamphlets advocating the merits of the rosary, treatises on a good death or providing comfort and reassurance for troubled consciences, visions

57 H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers 1475-1557, 1970, pp. 65-7, 69-71, 182-93. There is a checklist of Wynkyn de Worde's publications on pp. 239-76. On Pynson's output see S. H. Johnston's unpublished PhD dissertation for the University of Western Ontario, 1977, "A Study of the Career and Literary Publications of Richard Pynson".

58 N. F. Blake, Caxton and His World, 1969, pp. 96-7.

59 G. D. Painter, William Caxton, 1976, pp. 155-6.HOW THE PLOWMAN LEARNED HIS PATERNOSTER 79

and revelations about Purgatory such as the Gast of Gy and the Monk of Eyttsham, the fourth book of the Imitation of Christ (on the Blessed Sacrament), a series of individual saints' lives, some of them, like the life of St Werburge, St Thomas, or Joseph of Arimathea, designed to promote pilgrimage to particular shrines.'" Pynson published similar pamphlets to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Blood of Hailes and to Walsingham." There were also hagiographical collections, some on a grand scale, as in Caxton's translation of the Golden Legend, expanded in successive editions to include newly popular saints and summaries of Old Testament stories, or, more modestly, Pynson's abbreviated translation of Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliae of 1516, probably issued for the religious of Syon, but intended more generally to promote pride in and devotion to English saints among the married laity."' And among the runaway best-sellers of the first quarter of the century were the sermons of John Fisher on the seven penitential Psalms, a searching and sombrely magnificent verse-by-verse exposition by the greatest preacher of the period. The sermons not only appealed to growing lay interest in scripture, but explored and expounded with great pastoral sensitivity the theology of repentance and forgiveness, and the doctrine of the sacraments."

Though some of this material was in Latin, most was in English, and printing gave an enormous impetus to the movement for vernacular religious instruction. This development brought its own tensions. Fear of Lollardy had made most Church leaders nervous of translations of scripture, even of such basics as the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the "De Profundis" Psalm recited for the dead. The problems this created for religious instruction in the face of growing literacy had been met in a variety of ways. The ban on English versions of the New Testament had to a large extent been ameliorated by the production of Nicholas Love's translation of the Meditationes Vitae Christi, for that work was essentially an expanded Gospel harmony, and went a long way towards satisfying lay eagerness for knowledge of the Gospels."' Other portions of

61) Johnston, "Pynson", pp. 30, 32, 35, 160-1.

61 J. C. T. Oates, "Richard Pynson and the Holy Blood of Hayles" The Library, 5th Series, XIII, 1958, pp. 269-77; J. C. Dickinson, The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, 1956,

appendix on "The Pynson Ballad."

62 There is a good discussion of Caxton's treatment of the Golden Legend, and his dis­tinctive additions, including a catechetical exposition of the Ten Commandments in the life of Moses, in Blake, Caxton and His World, pp. 117-23; Here Begynneth the kalendre of the new

Legende of England, Pynson 1516, RSTC 4602.

63 On the sermons see Richard Rex, The Theology of John Fisher, 1991, pp. 30-50.

64 M. Deanesly, "Vernacular Books in England in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth

Centuries", Modern Language Review, XV, 1920, pp. 354-5.


scripture circulated in loose verse translations and paraphrases. We have already encountered "Pety Job-, the verse rendering of the readings from the "Dirige", and countless Psalm paraphrases also circulated. Nevertheless, the fear of Bible translations was a major weakness in the educational and devotional programme of late medieval English Catholicism, and a principal reason why serious interest in religious education in the vernacular could tip over into, or be confused with, Lollardy. That educational programme sought to deepen and extend the religious knowledge and fervour of the common people, but the restriction of English Bible-reading to those who secured an episcopal licence effectively confined licit Bible ownership and readership to wealthy devotees like John Clopton of Long Mclford.' Foxe was therefore right, to the extent that printing fed the aspirations of a swelling English readership eager for devotional material and increasingly used to the deploy­ment of biblical stories and imagery in plays, paintings, and glass. It seems likely that even had the Reformation not reached England, and given the emphasis laid on the centrality of scripture by Erasmus, More, and Fisher, this particular ban would have had to go, sooner or later. Without the goad of Reformation, of course, the advent of an English version of the New Testament might well have been absorbed into the devotional mood which dominated English religious reading, without the doctrinal uncertainty and conflict which in fact ensued.'

However that may be, the pressure for the extension of the vernacular to all religious fundamentals, including the use of English versions of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Creed, had been achieved long before the Reformation reached England. More than a century before Mirk had urged parish clergy to encourage their parishioners to say their prayers in English, for "hit ys moch more spedfull and meritabull to you to say your Pater Noster yn Englysche then yn suche Lateyn, as ye cloth. For when ye speketh yn Englysche, then ye knowen and understondyn wele what ye sayn. "67 Though the basic texts of the primers remained in Latin till after the break with Rome, the demand for vernacular material was evident in the evolution of the early sixteenth-century primers, as more and more English material was added. A range of primers from a variety of publishers before 1530 were adding didactic and devotional matter in English, such as the "three verities', a brief

`'5 For a good discussion of lay Bible readership before the Reformation see Dr Richard Rex's (forthcoming) Henry VIII and the English Rejormation (London 1993), for the ultra-orthodox John Clopton's English Bible, see his will, Visitation of SnfrOlke, I p. 38.

Rex, Fisher, pp. I58-6o.


instruction on Faith, Hope, and Charity attributed to Gerson, the "Form of Confession", and the "Mailer to live well"."

That emphasis was even more evident in the history of printed instruction and devotion outside the primer. In 1500 the Syon monk Thomas Betson produced a catechetical treatise aimed at promoting religious knowledge and devotion among the simpler members of the community. This Ryght Profytable Treatyse ad­vertised the inclusion of English versions of the Paternoster, Ave, and Credo, "medefull to religyous people as to the laye people". Within a few years the circulation of catechetical treatises teaching English prayers was commonplace." In 1505 Wynkyn de Worde published The Arte or Crafte to Lyue !yell,' a comprehensive catechetical and devotional treatise adapted from the French and profusely illustrated. The pictures included a woodcut of Jesus teaching the Apostles how to pray, with the words of the Lord's Prayer in English above their heads (P1. 37): another English version of the prayer was given in the text. A similar woodcut of Moses and Aaron gave the words of the Ten Commandments, a device repeated on the title-page of another catechetical treatise, The Floure of the Commnauudementes.71 The Arte or Crafte was a remark­able collection of materials, expounding Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, Creed, Commandments (including the commandments of the Church about such things as fasting and payment of tithes), the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the works of mercy, and the sacraments. The long and very comprehensive section on the sacraments was illustrated with vivid woodcuts, displaying the sacrament itself with, above it, a smaller picture of its Old Testament type. Over the picture of the Mass was a vignette of Melchizedek offering bread and wine, above the picture of marriage Adam and Eve were joined together by God in the garden

(Pl. 38).72 Each article of the Creed similarly had its own illustra­tion, complete with Old Testament type, the type being explained both in a quatrain at the foot of the picture and in the main body of the text. The seven deadly sins were treated separately in a treatise dealing with the apocryphal vision of Lazarus, each sin being illustrated with a lurid woodcut of the appropriate punishment. The collection also included a crudely illustrated prose version of the

68 Mary C. Eder, -71w Miner to Lyve Well and the Coming of English in Francois Regnault's Primers of the 1520s and 1530s-, The Library, 6th Series, VI, 1984, pp. 229-43.

69 Thomas Beston, A ryght prefytable treatyse, STC 1978. See Jan Rhodes's forthcoming article in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, ''Religious Instruction at Syon in the Early Sixteenth Century''.

The Arte or Craft(' to Lyve well, STC 792.

71 7'he Floure of the Commawurementes of God, W. de Worde 1505, RST( 23875.1. Wynkyn de Worde produced further editions in 1510 and 1512.

7 2 Art or Crafte, Cols xxxvi (r) ff.


fifteen tokens of the day of doom, and the history of Antichrist. The book was a commercial speculation, with no indication of clerical involvement in its English production, yet it certainly provided a full and lively coverage of the traditional catechetical programme, in a form likely to appeal to the widest possible lay audience.73

It was outclassed in this regard, however, by one of the most remarkable books of the century, once again translated from a French original. The Kalender of Shepherdes, which first appeared in a barbarous Scots version in 1503, was retranslated for Pynson in 1506, and again for Wynkyn de Worde, with smaller and inferior woodcuts, in 1508. It had a fourth edition in 1518, a fifth in 1528, and was reissued in both Mary's and Elizabeth's reigns.'

The Kalender is both a beautiful and an unmistakably lay book. It is an extraordinary mixture of calendrical, astrological, and medical lore, together with orthodox religious instruction imaginatively presented. Less comprehensive than the Arte or Craft(' to Lyre well, it nevertheless offered a basic course of religious instruction and exhortation in a form which was to prove popular and accessible thoughout the century. A major attraction of the book was the fine woodcuts, illustrating both the religious and the secular parts. The whole book sustains the conceit that it is written for and by simple men, symbolized by the shepherd "whiche was no clerke

understode no manere of scrypture nor wrytynge but only by his naturall wyt". The shepherd knows the stars and therefore can give guidance on astrology, and he is natural man face to face with the mysteries of life and death. The religious sections of the book, apart from a calendar "with the Fygures of every Saynt that is halowed in the yere" (a gross exaggeration), include a lengthy and elaborate treatment of the seven deadly sins depicted as trees with all their branches, and a shortened version of the vision of Lazarus, with its unforgettable woodcuts of the torments that await each of the deadly sins. In the text the visionary and macabre elements in the original have been edited out, and instead each section is a short and generalized meditation on the evils of each of the deadly sins, well adapted to catechesis or pious reading. After the analysis and punishment of the sins, the Kalender moves on to treat the Paternoster, giving first a brief exposition of the seven petitions, relating it to one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, then providing a slightly expanded devotional paraphrase, a large woodcut of Christ teaching the Apostles, with a literal English translation of the

7' On the Lazarus vision and the deadly sins see below chapter 10, "The Pains of Purgatory'', pp. 349-1.

74 Modern reprint ed. H. Oskar Sommer, The Kalender of Shepherdes, 1892.HOW TILE PLOWMAN LEARNED HIS PA"( ERNOSTER 83

Lord's Prayer, followed by a brief exposition of the excellences of the prayer. The Hail Mary (Pl. 39), Creed, and Commandments are similarly treated. This whole section is extremely effective, approaching the prayers it expounds in a variety of ways well calculated to bring out its meaning for simple readers or listeners and using the illustrations to drive home the text. The same resourcefulness is shown in the handling of the other religious items in the book. There are a good many vigorous woodcuts – a man in a storm-tossed boat illustrates an extended reflection on the mutability of life, Death with his dart accompanies a stirring poem on judgement and the need to repent. The text is equally resource­ful, for the treatment of the Commandments is varied by the inclusion of "The X commaundementes of the deuyll":

Be dronkyn upon thy holy daye

And cause other to synne and thou may.

Thy fader nor thy moder loke thou love nor drede. And helpe them never thou they have node. Hate thy neyghboure and hure hym by enuy Murder and shede mannys blode hardely.75

Throughout the book short sections of basic religious instruction are inserted on such matters as the best way to help souls in Purgatory, the nature of contrition, the love of God, and the dignity of the human soul. All this is set in the context of elaborate and finely illustrated astrological and calendrical material of the sort found in almanacs. The whole book reads as if it was compiled to cater for the tastes, but also to improve the theology, of Robert Reynes of Acle.

Pynson, in commissioning his new translation, clearly saw himself as contributing to the basic task of catechesis. The book, he claimed, was "very profytable bothe for clerkes and laye people to cause them to have greate understondyng and in espessyal in that we be bounde to 'erne and knowe on peyne of averlastinge deth". It was not enough to know the Paternoster, as everyone did. We must also know the laws of God and of the Church, and the remedies against the deadly sins. There were many men and women, Pynson thought, who "thynkes them selfe wyse and knowes and lernes many thyngis but that that they be bounde to lerne ... as perfectly as there pater noster". The book was therefore, in his view, prin­cipally a contribution to teaching people the Commandments. Complaints about the ignorance of the people were of course a commonplace of all catechetical literature, as was Pynson's contrast

7.5 Sommer, Kalender, pp. 89-90.

between the worldly wisdom of men and women and their religious ignorance. The Ordynary had made much the same point when it insisted that "Many faders and moders be rnoche desyrous to nourysshe / to clothe/ and to make purchases / and to gader goodes for the bodges of theyr children. But ryght fewe there be the whiche thynke on the soule in techyng them and makynge them to kepe the doctryne and the lyffe of holy crystyente."' There is no need to doubt Pynson's sincerity in declaring his desire to rectify the situation; few Tudor tradesmen saw any conflict between serving God and making money.

The Kalender of Shepherdes is of particular importance because it establishes the assimilation into popular culture, by commercial publishers for a mass audience, of the official educational pro­gramme of the Church. It was once again a commercial speculation, emphatically a lay book. The success of that assimilation is of course a moot point: many clergy would have been disturbed by the placing of theology cheek by jowl with popular astrology and prognostication. Yet the Kalender certainly found a readership which would have considered unpalatable many more sober didactic treatises, for it was a commonplace of the time, despite the efforts of the clergy and the torrents of paper discharged from the presses, that the people were often resistant to catechesis. In 1510 Wynkyn de Worde published an amusing pamphlet in lively doggerel, illustrating this truism, "a lytell geste how the plowman lerned his pater noster".

The poem derives in fact from a story used by St Bernardino to illustrate the duty of a parish priest to teach his people, and appears to have been translated from a French version into English, an interesting reflection of the openness of English religious culture in the late Middle Ages to a common European set of concerns and resources. But the whole pace of St Bernardino's story has been tightened up and the humour adapted to English conditions.' It tells of a wealthy plowman, his house and barn stocked with the abundance his farming skills have brought him, who comes in Lent to his curate to be confessed. The curate begins to test his religious knowledge, first asking him to recite his belief

The plowman sayd unto the preste Syr I beleue in Jhesu Cryste

Which suffred deth and harrowed hell As I have herde myne olders tell.

Ibid. p. 7.

77 Here beynneth a lytell geste how the plowman lerned his pater noster, Wynkyn de Worde 1510, RSTC 23004. I am grateful to Richard Rex for drawing my attention to the link with

St Bernardino, for whose version of the story sec A. G. F Howell, St Bernardino of Siena, 1913, p. 286.

The Paternoster, however, defeats him: asked to recite it by the curate, he is stumped, and the priest, warning him of the peril of his soul, refuses to shrive him. The plowman is in no mind to take to his primer with the children:

I wolde threshe sayd the plowman yet-es ten Rather than I it wolde leren.

I praye the syr persone my counsyll kepe

Ten wethers wyll I gyve the or my best shepe .. . So ye me shewe how I may heven reache. Well says the preest, I shall the teche.

The method he adopts is unorthodox, for he recognizes that the way to the plowman's soul is through his wallet. He reminds him of the famine which is killing poor men all over the country, while the plowman has plenty, and promises to send him forty hungry men. Each will have a Latin name which forms part of the Paternoster: to each the plowman must give what corn he asks, and he must remember their names, and the order in which they come. If he does so, the priest promises, he will repay double and give him absolution as well. The plowman agrees, and the priest rounds up every pauper in the district and sends them to the plowman. The poem relates gleefully how the ragamuffins come, first "pater noster" then "qui es in coelis", and strip the plowman of his hoarded riches, only to blow it on a spree at the alehouse.

They had ten bushelles withouten fayle

And layde fyve to pledge for a kylderkyn of ale.

After a fevered night trying to memorize their names, the plowman successfully recites his Paternoster, but when he demands his corn the priest tells him his reward is a hundredfold in Heaven. Outraged, the plowman cites the priest before the Church courts, where the case is dismissed and the parson commended.

Thus for his come that he gave there His pater noster he dyde lere.

The tale of the plowman is a jest: the enjoyment of the Tudor audience lay in the virtuous slyness of the priest and the discom­fiture of a greedy farmer who was expert in everything to do with heaping up wealth but did not know the most basic of all prayers. We certainly should not take it as an indicator of the general educational level of wealthy plowmen, but its effect does depend on the audience's sense of the general plausibility of the situation, as well as the enormity of the plowman's ignorance. Clergy and laity alike in early Tudor England perceived the centuries old catechetical enterprise as still very much a priority.

That enterprise was being pursued with inventiveness up to the very moment of Reformation and the break with Rome. Richard Whytford's A Werke for Householders, published in 1530, is one of the last pre-Reformation products of the catechetical programme which had underlain the English Church's teaching activity since the thirteenth century, and it is one of the most distinctive.' Whitford, a Cambridge graduate and a friend of More, Fisher, and Erasmus, was a monk of Syon, the Brigittine house on the Thames which was responsible for much of the devotional material in circulation in late medieval and early Tudor England. Much of that material was specifically intended for religious, and aimed to cultivate the inwardness and ascetic spirit which underlay their conception of the religious life. But the visionary writings of St Bridget, herself a married woman and a courtier, had exercised a profound influence over the spirituality of men and women engaged in secular affairs. Some of the tensions in Margery Kempe's quest for sanctity sprang from her efforts to emulate Bridget without withdrawing into religious life or entering a hermitage. The English Brigittincs had an extensive lay clientele, and the remarkable group of Brigittine writers who contributed so much to the devotional output of early Tudor England never wrote exclusively for a monastic readership, as the very act of printing their books indicates.' We have already encountered Thomas Betson's treatise on the English Paternoster, and many of the Brigittine writings of the period have this dual audience in mind. Something of the extent of their impact is reflected in the painted screen at Horsham St Faith's in Norfolk, dating from 1528 and funded by wealthy parishioners. Two of the panels most unusually depict mystics whose writings were propa­gated from Syon, St Catherine of Siena and St Bridget herself. Their presence is difficult to account for except through the contact of the donors with Syon or at least the literature emanating from there. This conjecture is strongly borne out by the fact that the painting of St Bridget is directly copied from a woodcut used in a number of Brigittine tracts, including one published by Wynkynde Worde in 1520, the Dyetary of Ghostly Helthe, which also included the image of St Catherine holding her burning heart, as she appears on the Horsham screen.'
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