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‘The Lay Folks' Mass Book’ and Thomas Frederick Simmons: Medievalism and the Tractarians



Thomas Frederick Simmons (1815–84) combined his ecclesiastical duties and liturgical interests with editing the fourteenth-century Middle English Lay folks’ mass book (1879) for the Early English Text Society, with the aim of showing the continuity of the English Church from the medieval period through the Reformation. In the light of modern scholarship, this article recontextualises both medieval text and Simmons's own editorial practice, and shows how Simmons, as a second-generation Tractarian churchman, sought in this text – and others associated with it – evidence for the Church of England's Catholic underpinning in an imagined medieval English Church.



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We are indebted to William Whyte for extremely helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Bridget Nichols and Wendy Scase for encouragement.



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1 The lay folks’ mass book: or, The manner of hearing mass, ed. Simmons, Thomas F. (EETS lxxi, 1879).

2 Powell, Susan, ‘The transmission and circulation of The lay folks’ catechism’, in Minnis, A. J. (ed.), Late medieval religious texts and their transmission: essays in honour of A. I. Doyle, Cambridge 1994, 67–84 at p. 69.

3 For these details we are indebted to Steven Newman of York Minster Library.

4 Raine, James, Catalogue of the printed books in the library of the dean and chapter of York, York 1896, pp. xxiiixxiv.

5 The lay folks’ catechism, ed. Simmons, Thomas F. and Nolloth, Henry E. (EETS cxviii, 1901).

6 The prymer: or, Lay-folks’ prayer-book, ed. Littlehales, Henry (EETS cv, cix, 1895–7). This edition was based on CUL, ms Dd.xi.82. Littlehales had already edited the Prymer for an earlier, non-EETS edition, drawing on St John's College, Cambridge, ms G.24: The prymer: or, Prayer-book of the lay people in the Middle Ages, London 1891–2.

7 Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxonienses, Oxford 1891, and Crockford's Clerical Directory.

8 Six of the eight brothers were army officers, including Major-General Sir John Lintorn Arabin Simmons (1821–1903), governor of Woolwich, who, unlike Thomas, has attracted an ODNB entry. It should however be noted that Thomas Simmons's name does not appear in any of the contemporary lists of Sandhurst graduates, for which see <>.

9 See Kirby, James, Historians and the Church of England: religion and historical scholarship, 1870–1920, Oxford 2016, 86.

10 Manuale et processionale ad usum Insignis Ecclesiae Eboracensis (Surtees Society, 1875).

11 Pearson, A. H., The Sarum missal in English, London 1884. The first edition was published in 1868.

12 Matthews, David, The making of Middle English, Minneapolis, Mn 1999.

13 Maskell, William, The ancient liturgy of the Church of England, London 1844, and Monumenta ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, London 1846–7.

14 LFMB, pp. ix–x. A brief footnote in the 1882 Clarendon edition of Maskell's Ancient liturgy indicates that the author was aware of Simmons's B-text long before Simmons was, although he simply described it, in a footnote to the Confiteor Deo (Confession), as ‘consisting of long rubrics and prayers relating to the liturgy, all in English verse’ (p. 14).

15 Maskell, Ancient liturgy, 4.

16 See Herring, George, The Oxford Movement in practice, Oxford 2016, 207.

17 Thomas Frederick Simmons, ‘Standing before the Lord's table’, Contemporary Review (Jan. 1867), 22.

18 Pfaff, Richard, The liturgy in medieval England, Cambridge 2009.

19 Missale ad usum insignis et praeclarae ecclesiae Sarum, ed. Dickinson, Francis H., Burntisland 1861–83.

20 See Dowden, John, Further studies in the prayer book, London 1908, 17, 23, 27.

21 Cuming, Geoffrey J., A history of Anglican liturgy, 2nd edn, London 1982, 148.

22 Boffey, Julia and Edwards, A. S. G., A new index of Middle English verse, London 2005.

23 Ibid. item 1881.

24 Ibid. item 1961.

25 Aston, Margaret, Lollards and reformers, London 1984, 4970. See also Somerset, Fiona, Feeling like saints: lollard writings after Wyclif, Ithaca 2014.

26 The manuscript containing text A – known after its scribe as the ‘Heege manuscript’ – is a very miscellaneous collection, including markedly secular material. See, for instance, Scott-Macnab, D., ‘The hunttyng of the hare in the Heege manuscript’, Anglia cxx (2010), 102–23, and references there cited.

27 Gerould, Gordon H., ‘The lay-folks’ mass-book from ms Gg V.31, Cambridge University Library’, Englische Studien xxxiii (1904), 126 at p. 2.

28 William Caxton, The golden legend, London 1483 (ESTC S541), fo. 436v.

29 LFMB, 16, text B, line 160.

30 Ibid. lines 171–4.

31 Ibid. 46, text B, lines 488–91.

32 LFMB, 3. Maskell notes that ‘though now they are lost, there were formerly numerous other volumes in which complete instructions were to be found for the due vesting of both the celebrant and his assistant’: Ancient liturgy (1882 edn), 4–5.

33 LFMB, 6, text F, lines 21–4.

34 While in no sense tending towards anti-sacerdotalism both LFMB and the Tractarians clearly regarded eucharistic worship as corporate and of the whole Church. Simmons would have been well aware of the debates surrounding the issue of non-communicating attendance at the eucharist. See Härdelin, Alf, The Tractarian understanding of the eucharist, Uppsala 1965, 280–90.

35 Some dozen manuscript copies of the vernacular Prymer survive, listed in Littlehales's edition of the Lay folks’ prayer book: comparatively few, of course, in comparison with the many Latin versions that survive. Printed vernacular Prymers are however very numerous and may simply have replaced the manuscript versions subsequently deemed old-fashioned.

36 Aston, Lollards and reformers, 122.

37 See Butterworth, Charles C., The English primers (1529–1545), Philadelphia, Pa 1953.

38 Hunt, Arnold, The art of hearing: English preachers and their audiences, 1590–1640, Cambridge 2010.

39 See Scase, Wendy, ‘Reginald Pecock, John Carpenter and John Colop's “commonprofit” books: aspects of book ownership and circulation in fifteenth-century London’, Medium Aevum lxi (1992), 261–74.

40 See Hanna, Ralph, London literature, 1300–1380, Cambridge 2005.

41 See Scase, Wendy (ed.), The making of the Vernon manuscript, Turnhout 2013.

42 Aston, Lollards and reformers, 123. Langforde's Meditations are quite comparable in content with the LFMB, and it is no surprise therefore that Simmons printed (LFMB, 168) an extract from that manuscript on the vesting of a priest.

43 Caxton, Golden legend, fo. 435r.

44 For the most recent contextualising essays on this well-known, and massive, manuscript see Scase, Making of the Vernon manuscript.

45 A treatise of the manner and mede of the mass, lines 185–7: LFMB, 133.

46 LFMB, 389–95.

47 Such concerns are mirrored in the Tractarian sense of the drama of the eucharist, the emphasis shifting from the sacrificial to the sacramental, and the corporate aspect of worship: Härdelin, Tractarian understanding, 282.

48 Zieman, Katherine, Singing the new song: literacy and liturgy in late medieval England, Philadelphia, Pa 2008, 81.

49 See Targoff, Ramie, Common Prayer: the language of public devotion in early modern England, Chicago 2001, 26.

50 Zieman, Singing the new song, 81.

51 Spencer, Helen, English preaching in the late Middle Ages, Oxford 1993, 14.

52 Ibid. 41.

53 Aston, Lollards and reformers, 114, and references there cited.

54 Cuming, A history of Anglican liturgy, 4.

55 Dom Gregory Dix, The shape of the liturgy, Westminster 1947, 605.

56 Hardison, O. B. Jr, Christian rite and Christian drama in the Middle Ages, Baltimore Md 1965, 45.

57 The Book of Common Prayer: the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, ed. Cummings, Brian Oxford 2011, 61. Unlike the Articles of Religion, which were a distinct document, the Tractarians regarded the Catechism, though not itself liturgical, as part of the Prayer Book, it being until 1661 an integral part of the rite of Confirmation: Härdelin, Tractarian understanding, 49.

58 Rex, Richard, The Lollards, London 2002, 43–5, and Wilberforce, Robert Isaac, The doctrine of the holy eucharist, London 1853.

59 Zieman, Singing the new song, 82.

60 LFMB, p. xli.

61 As in Duffy, E., The stripping of the altars: traditional religion in England, c. 1400–c. 1580, 2nd edn, New Haven–London 2005, 118.

62 LFMB, p. xl.

63 Pfaff, Liturgy in medieval England, 461.

64 LFMB, pp. xiv–xv.

65 See Brilioth, Yngve, ‘The Romantic Movement and neo-Anglicanism’, in his The Anglican revival: studies in the Oxford Movement, London 1933, 5676.

66 LFMB, 40, text B, lines 440–5.

67 LFMB, p. xxix.

68 The doctrine of concomitance holds that Christ's body, being indivisible, is fully present in both elements, thus justifying the laity's restriction to one kind. It was emphasised at the Council of Constance in 1415 which posthumously condemned John Wycliffe and declared Jan Hus a heretic. The B-text of the LFMB explicitly refers in lines 235–6 to ‘And so I trow þat housel es/ bothe flesshe & blode’.

69 Rex, The Lollards, 42–5.

70 Cf. Pusey's, E. B. discussion of transubstantiation in A letter to the Right Rev. Father in God, Richard, lord bishop of Oxford, on the tendency to Romanism imputed to doctrines held of old, as now, in the English Church, 2nd edn, Oxford 1839.

71 Hudson, Anne, The premature Reformation, Oxford 1988, 282.

72 Ibid. 284. Pusey's Types and prophecies was never published, but see Douglas, B., ‘Pusey's “Lectures on types and prophecies of the Old Testament”: implications for eucharistic theology’, International Journal of Systematic Theology xiv (2012), 194216.

73 LFMB, 225.

74 This perhaps accounts for why he and Nolloth tried to find lollardy in their edition of the Prayer Book – although, as Hudson points out, in that they were possibly proceeding beyond the facts.

75 Kirby, Historians of the Church of England, 2.

76 Yates, Nigel, Buildings, faith and worship: the liturgical arrangement of Anglican Churches, 1600–1900, 2nd edn, Oxford 2000, 142.

77 See Liddon, Henry Parry, Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, iv, 2nd edn, London 1897, 211, and Härdelin, Tractarian understanding, 310–11.

78 In Tract 3 (1833), Newman, J. H. wrote that ‘there are some who wish the Consecration Prayer in the Holy Eucharist to be what it was in King Edward's first book; there are others who think this would be an approach to Popery’: Tracts for the times, new edn, i (1833–4), London 1838, no. 3, p. 1. Härdelin affirms both the importance of the 1549 version for the Tractarians, and their conservatism in matters of liturgical reform: Tractarian understanding, 259.

79 Dearmer, Percy, The parson's handbook, new edn, London 1903, 1.

We are indebted to William Whyte for extremely helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Bridget Nichols and Wendy Scase for encouragement.


‘The Lay Folks' Mass Book’ and Thomas Frederick Simmons: Medievalism and the Tractarians



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