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Two Unpublished Letters of Stephen Gardiner, August–September 1547 (Bodleian Library, Oxford, ms Eng. th. b. 2)


This note is a transcription of two hitherto unknown letters of Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester (c.1497–1555), found in an early seventeenth-century Catholic commonplace book (Bodleian Library, Oxford, ms Eng. th. b. 2). Composed in late August or early September 1547 and addressed to several of the royal Visitors of Winchester, the letters are a delaying tactic in Gardiner's ongoing resistance to the Edwardian Injunctions and the ‘Book of homilies’, an attempt to win time until the calling of the parliamentary session. The strongly theological content of the letters challenges traditional characterisations of Gardiner as primarily a legalist.

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1 The letters of Stephen Gardiner, ed. Muller, James Arthur, Cambridge 1933 .

2 Clapinson, Mary and Rogers, T. D., Summary catalogue of post-medieval Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford: acquisitions, 1916–1975 (SC 37300–55936), Oxford 1991, ii. 721–2.

3 The anonymous ‘Apology’ first appeared in print in 1562, when the Protestant controversialist Thomas Cooper (c. 1517–94) published it alongside a rebuttal. Though the ‘Apology’ might of course have been written much earlier, Cooper indicates that it was a recent production, directed against John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury (1522–71), who only rose to real prominence after Gardiner's death. Furthermore, the ‘Apology’ describes its target as being around forty years of age, Jewel's exact age in 1562: Cooper, Thomas, An answer in defence of the truth against the Apology of private mass, ed. Goode, William, Cambridge 1850, 141 .

4 Letters of Stephen Gardiner, 366; MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The boy king: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation, Berkeley 2002, 67–9.

5 Muller, James Arthur, Stephen Gardiner and the Tudor reaction, London 1926, 170 .

6 Ibid. 367 n. 2.

7 Letters of Stephen Gardiners, nos 126–8.

8 Ibid. 369–70.

9 Ibid. 374.

10 Redworth, Glyn, In defence of the Church Catholic: the life of Stephen Gardiner, Oxford 1990 , ch. xi.

11 See, for example, ibid. 10, 28, 43.

12 Muller, Gardiner, 164, 170.

13 Redworth, Defence, 265–6.

14 Ibid. 264 n. 51.

15 MacCulloch, Boy king, 71–4.

16 Muller, Gardiner, 144.

17 Redworth, Defence, 248.

18 Letters of Stephen Gardiner, 367.

19 Ibid. no. 125.

20 Ibid. 362.

21 MacCulloch, Boy king, 76; Muller, Gardiner, 161.

22 Riordan, Michael and Ryrie, Alec, ‘Stephen Gardiner and the making of a Protestant villain’, Sixteenth Century Journal xxxiv (2003), 1039–63.

1 ‘Not that faithe also doth not exclude the justice of oure good workes necessarily to bee doen afterward of duetie towardes God (for wee are moste bounden to serve God in doyng good deedes, commaunded by hym in his Holy Scripture, all the daies of oure life), but it excludeth theim so that we maie not doo them to this intent: to be made good by doyng of them. For all the good workes that we can do bee unperfecte, and therfore not able to deserve our justification’: Certain sermons or homilies (1547) and a homily against disobedience and wilful rebellion (1570): a critical edition, ed. Bond, Ronald B., Toronto 1987, 81 .

2 Proverbs viii.17.

3 1 Corinthians iii.11.

4 In the homily on salvation Cranmer makes only a general reference to Chrysostom, as one of the Fathers whose writings support sola fide. It is in the homily on faith that he quotes De lege et fide: ‘And S. Chrisostome saith, “faith of it self is full of good workes: as sone as a man doth beleve, he shalbe garnished with them”’: Homilies, 82, 94.

5 Acts x. 34–5.

6 In veritate comperi quod non est personarum acceptor Deus: sed in omni gente, qui facit justitiam, ei acceptus est. Non dixit: in omni gente, qui facit justitiam salutem consequitur; sed, acceptus est: hoc est, dignus sit ut assumatur’: Pseudo-Chrysostom, De fide et lege naturae, PG xlviii.1082.

7 ‘Jollet’ generally indicates the dates of the authorities whom he cites. That this letter has nothing more specific than a century may indicate that ‘Jollet’ did not know the date – or simply that this detail, like much else in the manuscript, is unfinished.

8 On 23 August 1547 Gardiner's episcopal authority had been suspended in advance of the visitation: Muller, Gardiner, 367 n. 2.

9 Possibly ‘sparkeled,’ in the sense of ‘scattered, dispersed’: see sparkled, adj.2’, Oxford English dictionary, 2nd edn, Oxford 1989 .

10 Letters of Stephen Gardiner, nos 126–8.

11 This probably refers to the decrees of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, held on 13 January 1547, which discuss justification. Chapters 8 and 9 in particular attempt to clarify the role of faith in justification, in response to Lutheran assertions of sola fide: Canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, ed. Schroeder, H. J., St Louis 1941, 2946 . It is curious that Gardiner, whose nephew had been executed in 1544 for denying the royal supremacy (a debacle that nearly cost the bishop his life too), should have cited a papal council. Paradoxically, it may be an appeal to Mason's own conservatism: in 1538 Edmund Bonner (c. 1500–69) had remarked on Mason's blatant ‘popery’. Whatever the reason, it is a reminder that Edwardian England was never totally insulated from the goings-on of Catholic Europe, and striking evidence for the rapid dissemination of Tridentine decrees: Redworth, Defence, 84.

12 Above the word ‘after’, ‘stet’ has been inserted. Scoring on the page makes it appear as though ‘and after all’ had been struck through, and ‘stet’ has presumably been added to indicate that this was not the case.

13 In a complex double allusion, Gardiner alludes to Seneca (4 bcad 65) – ‘Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt’ – to illustrate the opinion of the humanist Rudolf Agricola (1444–85): L. Annaei Senecae ad Lucilium epistulae morales, ep. cvii.11, ed. Reynolds, L. D., Oxford 1965, ii. 448 . Bk ii.25 of Agricola's De inventione dialectica covers similitudines, which he describes as instructing the sympathetic and outfacing the antipathetic. The phrase ‘volentem ducit, invitum non trahit’ does not appear in Agricola, so far as I have been able to determine: Agricola, Rudolf, De inventione dialectica libri tres / Drei Bücher über die Inventio dialectica: auf der Grundlage der Edition von Alardus von Amsterdam (1539), ed. and trans. Mundt, Lothar, Tübingen 1992, 152–64, esp. pp. 152–3.

14 Matthew xxv. 29.

15 Luke xix.19.

16 Probably ‘stoic’.

17 ‘meat’ (or ‘mete’) is an archery term, meaning ‘to take aim at something’ (‘mete, v.1’, Oxford English dictionary). The sense seems to be that when Henry knew that he had lost the round, he yielded, urging his opponent to take the point; Gardiner is (ostensibly) yielding on the issue of his own learning, to establish a stronger ground for his next argument.

18 This is a sarcastic allusion to Nicholas Shaxton (c.1485–1556), former bishop of Salisbury, who in 1546 had been forced to recant as a heretic for denying the real presence. Shaxton's recantation was evidently painful (cf. the poem he wrote to his wife, whom he was forced to abandon). Gardiner seems to be insisting that his recantation would be equally unwilling: Robert Crowley, The confutation of the. xiii. articles, wherunto Nicolas Shaxton, late byshop of Salilburye subscribed and caused to be set forth in print the yere of our Lorde. M.C.xlvi. whe[n] he recanted in Smithfielde at London at the burning of Mestres Anne Askue, London 1548 (RSTC 6083), n.p.

19 This word does not appear in the Oxford English dictionary, but may be related to ‘frippery’, or to ‘thrip’ (‘to make a noise with thumb and finger’). In any event, the sense is plain: a waste of time, a meaningless diversion.

20 Hugh Weston (c. 1505–58), Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, 1542–51. Although hardly a leading figure, Weston was sufficiently well-known as a religious conservative to be arrested as such in 1549: C. S. Knighton, ‘Weston, Hugh (c.1510–1558)’, ODNB lviii. 290.

21 Richard Smyth (c.1499–1563), a conservative theologian and the first Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. Under pressure from the Edwardian authorities, Smyth made two public recantations in May 1547, a development that Gardiner deplores several times in his letters: J. Andreas Löwe, ‘Smyth [Smith], Richard (1499/1500–1563)’, ODNB li. 447; Letters of Stephen Gardiner, nos 120, 121, 124.

22 This word – b, e, four minims, c, e – is difficult to decipher. The most plausible suggestion has been ‘benuce’, as a form of ‘in nuce’ (‘in a nutshell’), although it must be acknowledged that it is not written in the hand used for Latin.

23 James ii.14–26.

24 ‘For even the devilles know and beleve that Christ was borne of a virgyn, that he fasted forty dayes and fortye nightes without meate and drynke, that he wroughte all kynde of myracles, declaryng hymself very God. They beleve also that Christe for our sakes suffered moste paynfull death to redeme us from eternal death, and that he rose agayn from death the thyrde daye. They beleve that he ascended into heaven, and that he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and at the laste ende of this world shal come agayne, and judge bothe the quicke and the deade. These articles of our faith the devilles beleve, and so they beleve all things that be written in the New and Old Testament to be true’: Homilies, 86.

25 James ii.19.

26 cf. Daniel xiii.23; Hebrews x.31.

27 Letters of Stephen Gardiner, no. 125.

28 dividimus muros et moenia pandimus urbis. / accingunt omnes’: Virgil, Aeneid I–VI, ed. Williams, R. Deryck, London 1996 , ii.234–5.

29 ‘funemque manu contingere gaudent’. ibid. ii.239.

30 The Edwardian Injunctions stipulate that the clergy ‘shall suffer from henceforth no torches nor candles, tapers or images of wax to be set afore any image or picture’. Another article banned any procession about the church or churchyard or other place’: Visitation articles and injunctions of the period of the Reformation, ed. Frere, Walter Howard and Kennedy, William McClure, London 1910, ii. 116 .

31 The Injunctions further require ‘every parson, vicar, clerk, or beneficed man … having yearly to dispend in benefices and other promotions of the church an 100£ shall give competent exhibition to one scholar’: ibid. ii. 121.

32 Henry viii's  Act of Proclamations provided that royal proclamations not contrary to parliamentary statutes or ‘any laufull or lawdable Customes of this Realme’ should have the force of law. The act's preamble describes how confusion arose from the absence of any statute compelling obedience to royal proclamations: The statutes of the realm: printed by command of His Majesty King George the Third: in pursuance of an address of the House of Commons of Great Britain, London 1817, iii. 726–8 at p. 726. The act was controversial, its passage torturous; it proved enduringly unpopular, particularly for its association with Thomas Cromwell. In raising the act here and elsewhere, Gardiner not only challenges the Injunctions as contrary to existing statute, but also cleverly tars the regime for their use of an unpopular law to give the Injunctions legal force; cf. Letters of Stephen Gardiner, 391. See also Elton, G. R., ‘Henry viii's Act of Proclamations’, EHR lxxv (1960), 208–22. The spectre of social disorder occasioned by evangelical challenges to hierarchy and tradition was a characteristic theme of Gardiner's writings: Muller, Gardiner, 17, 93.

A version of this note was presented at the Ertegun Seminar at the University of Oxford in November 2015. In addition to the seminar participants, the author wishes to thank John O'Malley for his kind assistance, Joey Goldman and Alec Ryrie for their insightful feedback, and Diarmaid MacCulloch for his guidance and encouragement.

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