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The 1559 Books of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Reformation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2015

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The 1559 Book of Common Prayer printed by Richard Grafton has been dismissed by bibliographers, who have suggested that Grafton printed it as ‘agent for Jugge and Cawood’ (the Queen’s Printers) and ‘improperly put his name in the imprint’. Relying on evidence from a 1559 Grafton prayer book in the collection of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, which contains the signatures of members of Elizabeth i’s Privy Council that can be dated prior to the opening of Elizabeth’s Reformation Parliament, this article argues not only that Grafton’s Book of Common Prayer was legitimate (indeed ‘authorised’), but also that it may have been printed in a limited edition, perhaps to be circulated in association with the Bill for Uniformity.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 The Book of Common Prayer: the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, ed. Brian Cummings, Oxford 2011, p. lix.

2 Walter Howard Frere, A new history of the Book of Common Prayer with a rationale of its offices: on the basis of the former work by Francis Procter, London 1920, 99.

3 See Norman L. Jones, Faith by statute: parliament and the settlement of religion 1559, London 1982; Stephen Alford, Burghley: William Cecil at the court of Elizabeth I, New Haven–London 2008. Diarmaid MacCulloch's, Thomas Cranmer (New Haven–London 1996) is invaluable for understanding the distinctly Protestant theology that marked both the 1549 and 1552 – and hence the 1559 – editions of the Book of Common Prayer.

4 Frere, A new history, 95.

5 Ibid. 98–9.


6 Ibid. 99 n. 1.


7 John Henry Blunt, The annotated Book of Common Prayer: being an historical, ritual, and theological commentary on the devotional system of the Church of England, London 1866, p. xxvii.

8 Ibid. pp. xxxiv–xxxv.


9 Ibid.


10 J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 1559–1581, London 1953, 33–84.

11 As Diarmaid MacCulloch points out, Bowers's argument is based on the a priori assumption that the lavish musical settings would not have fitted the period between 1549 and 1552. Unfortunately for Bowers's argument, the composer, John Shepard, died three weeks after Elizabeth's accession, so the music could not have been composed for her chapel royal: ‘Putting the English Reformation on the map’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th ser. xv (2005), 75–96 at p. 88.

12 Bowers, Roger, ‘The Chapel Royal, the first Edwardian Prayer Book and Elizabeth's settlement of religion, 1559’, HJ xliii (2000), 333Google Scholar, 336–7.

13 Henry Gee, The Elizabethan Prayer-Book & ornaments: with an appendix of documents, London 1902, 31–50.

14 Book of Common Prayer [Grafton: 1552], fo. 100. Gee did not note it, but the issue with which Guest's letter seems to be concerned is both kneeling and the communicant receiving in his or her hands. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer observed that in past times people had carried away the bread for superstitious uses, therefore ‘it is thought convenient the people commonly receive the Sacrament of Christes body, in their mouthes, at the priestes hande’. A more careful analysis of Guest's letter in relationship to the issues of 1559 (and not just the 1559 Prayer Book) would still be helpful.

15 Gee, Elizabethan Prayer-Book, 41.

16 Ibid. 72–5.


17 Ibid. 80 n. 1.


18 Ibid. 87.


19 Ibid. 102.


20 Ibid. 128.


21 Jones, Faith by statute, 187.

22 Ibid. 186.


23 Ibid.


24 Ibid. 136–7.


25 Ibid. 137.


26 Ibid. 89. Jones is here relying on a manuscript of the Commons Journals: House of Lords Records Office, Commons manuscript journals, i, fo. 189.


27 Jones, Faith by statue, 93.

28 Ibid.


29 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to the privy council, 7 Oct. 1552, in Gee, Elizabethan Prayer-Book, at pp. 224–7.

30 Ibid.


31 Act of Uniformity, 1559, in Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer, at pp. 186–92.

32 Neale, Elizabeth I and her parliaments, 51.

33 W. A. Jackson and F. S. Ferguson, completed by Katharine F. Pantzer, A Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475–1640 / first compiled by A. W. Pollard & G. R. Redgrave. 2nd. edn, London 1976–91, ii. 87. ‘Mr. Hetherington’ here refers to the Prayer Book bibliographer John Hetherington, upon whose work Katherine Pantzer based her entries on the Book of Common Prayer in the revised STC. Further references to this second edition of the STC will appear as RSTC (revised STC).

34 Ibid.


35 Unless otherwise referenced below, this account of Whitchurch and Grafton relies on Alec Ryrie, ‘Whitchurch, Edward (d. 1562)’, and Meraud Grant Ferguson, ‘Grafton, Richard (c. 1511–1573)’, ODNB online, accessed Nov. 2012.

36 A. S. Hebert, Historical catalogue of printed Bibles in English, 1525–1962, rev. and expanded from the edition of T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule (1903), London 1968, 28.

37 Slavin, A. R., ‘The Rochepot affair’, Sixteenth Century Journal x (1979), 13Google Scholar.

38 Ferguson, ‘Grafton, Richard’.

39 Calendar of the patent rolls, Philip and Mary, London 1936, i. 53.

40 Peter W. M. Blayney, The Stationers' Company and the printers of London, 1501–1557, Cambridge 2013, ii. 764–5, 779, 86–108.

41 8 Nov. 1558: Calendar of Patent Rolls, Philip and Mary, iv. 53.

42 For a complete account of this important pageant and gift see Hester Lees-Jeffries, ‘Location as metaphor in Queen Elizabeth's coronation entry (1559): Veritas temporis gilia’, in Jayne Elisabeth Archer, Elizabeth Goldring and Sarah Knight (eds), The progresses, pageants, and entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I, Oxford 2007, 65–85.

43 RSTC iii. 181.

44 The Black Rubric was added to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer in response to pressure by some of the more radical reformers to remove the rubric specifying that communicants should receive the bread in their hands, kneeling. It upheld the practice of kneeling, but specified that ‘it is not meant thereby that any adoration is done, or ought to be done, either unto the sacramental bread or wine there bodily received, or to any real and essential presence there being of Christ's natural flesh and blood’: quoted in Frere, A new history, 85.

45 Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer, p. lx.

46 Ibid. p. lix.


47 Book of Common Prayer [Grafton: 1559], Corpus Christi College Library, Oxford, phi.F.3.7.

48 The Corpus Christi librarian, Joanna Snelling, and her assistant, Julie Blyth, have been most generous of their resources and time in providing me with this information and with access to the collection.

49 John Roche Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, n.s. VIII: 1558–70, London 1893, 31.

50 D. E. Hoak, The king's council in the reign of Edward VI, Cambridge 1976, 12, 15.

51 Act of the Privy Council, 1558–70, 43.

52 R. N. Carter, ‘Mason, Sir John (c. 1503–1566’), ODNB online, accessed Nov. 2012.

53 See Devereux, E. M. J., ‘Empty tuns and unfruitful grafts’, Sixteenth Century Journal xxi (1990), 3356; Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, pageantry and early Tudor policy, Oxford 1977, 346CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Winthrop S. Hudson traces the evangelical associations of the ‘Athenians’ at Cambridge who assumed important roles in the government and reformation of Edward vi:The Cambridge connection and the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, Durham, NC 1980. Cecil was, of course, part of this group, but there was also a second generation who assumed important roles in Elizabeth's government. In addition to Cecil were Nicholas Bacon, Francis Russell, William Parr and Francis Knollys, whom Hudson describes as ‘kindred spirits’, ‘allies and friends’, and, above all, ‘earnest Protestants’ (p. 99). Ambrose Cave was a kinsman of Cecil and according to the ODNB, ‘a committed Protestant’: Sybil M. Jack, ‘Cave, Sir Ambrose (c. 1503–1568)’, ODNB online, accessed Nov. 2012. Stephen Alford's Burghley sees a similar pattern of personal and religious alliances working together at the onset of Elizabeth's reign to assure a thoroughly Protestant restoration of religion.

55 ‘The device for alteration of religion, in the first year of Queen Elizabeth’, BL, ms Cotton Julius, F.VI, fo. 167. This differs in minor but important points from its printed version in Strype, reprinted in Gee, Elizabethan Prayer Book, 195–202.

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