Wednesday, 25 May 2022

‘My Doubts and scruples in Religion’: The Recantation of John Gibbs in the GEMMS Database (GEMMS Sermon #25000)


But ’tis no matter, let what will, befall,

                               A Recantation Sermon payes for all.[1]

Sermon#25000 in the GEMMS database is a recantation sermon delivered by John Gibbs, rector of Gissing, Suffolk, on 2 December 1688 at his own church. This entry represents an extremely rare example of a full transcription of a recantation sermon in manuscript dating from the post-Restoration period.[2] This blogpost considers briefly this significant genre of sermon before discussing Gibbs and the circumstances surrounding his recantation.

Recantation sermons were prevalent in 1530–1715, the period covered by the GEMMS project.[3] If a preacher had been tried and convicted of heresy, he was required to recant and to make a public penance, frequently reading a confession at the event and sometimes delivering a sermon. On some occasions, the sermon would be preached by another clergyman in the presence of the guilty party. In the early years of the Reformation, refusal to recant would often result in execution by burning (see Figure 1).[4] Recantation sermons therefore constitute valuable sources for scholars researching religio-political censorship, the activities of wayward clergy, and the consequences of heresy in the long English Reformation.


Figure 1: ‘The death and burning of the most constant Martyrs of Christ, Doctor Robert Barns, Thomas Garret, and William Hierome, in Smithfield, an. 1541.’ From John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments
(exact edition unknown). British Museum, 1880,1113.4120.

Within the GEMMS database, there are three examples of inflammatory sermons which caused their authors to be condemned and subsequently to recant.[5] However, full handwritten transcriptions of recantation sermons appear to be scarce. This is somewhat surprising as recantation sermons could prove extremely popular in print; Mary Morrissey notes that Theophilus Higgons’s recantation sermon, preached at Paul’s Cross on 3 March 1611, ‘went through three editions in the year of its delivery, something that few sermons achieved’.[6]

Dating from a somewhat later period than Higgons’s sermon, one full transcription of a recantation sermon within the GEMMS database can be found within the commonplace book of William Lloyd, bishop of Norwich (British Library, Add MS 40160 / GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001583). Lloyd was later to be deprived himself, on account of being a nonjuror, on 1 February 1690.[7] The scribe has not been identified; however, at the top of the first page of the sermon transcription, a title has been provided in Lloyd’s own hand: ‘Mr Gibbs his recantation sermon preached by my order att his parish church att Gissing’ (see Figure 2).[8]


Figure 2: The first page of John Gibbs’ recantation sermon. British Library, Add MS 40160, f. 49r.

‘Mr Gibbs of Gissing’ was John Gibbs, who was admitted pensioner at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1660, graduating B.A. in 1663/4 and proceeding M.A. in 1667. From 1668 until 1690, he was rector of Gissing, Norfolk; in 1671, he also became rector of Banham, Norfolk.[9] According to Francis Blomefield, he had been presented to Gissing by King Charles II and was ejected, like Lloyd, as a nonjuror in 1690. Moreover, he was ‘an odd but harmless man, both in life and conversation’. After his ejection, he lived in the north porch chamber at the church at Gissing, positioning his bed in order that he could see the altar; when he died, he was buried at Frenze, Norfolk.[10] In his short account of Gibbs, Blomefield fails to mention one crucial detail; namely, that Gibbs had apparently considered converting to Catholicism in 1687 before returning to the Church of England.[11]

Gibbs’s temptation to convert must be understood within the religio-political setting of the late 1680s. The position of the High Church, led by bishops such as William Lloyd, was becoming increasingly undermined by the Catholic James II.[12] However, the question of whether Gibbs was directly motivated to join the Catholic Church owing to James II’s Catholicism and its impact upon the clergy is difficult to answer without concrete evidence.[13] The events leading up to Gibbs’ recantation remain obscure; it is not certain whether Gibbs confessed to Lloyd himself or if Lloyd had received information about Gibbs from another source. Furthermore, the exact timing of Lloyd’s condemnation and order for Gibbs’s recantation is nebulous; we cannot be sure whether Lloyd had to wait for some time before he was able to carry out his censure of Gibbs. James II eventually fled England for France at the end of December 1688, arriving on Christmas Day. Gibbs’s recantation sermon was preached, in any case, at an opportune moment, a time when the fall of James was imminent.

Within the commonplace book, the recantation sermon is preceded by a list of John Gibbs’s ‘Considerations moveing to the Church of Rome with Answers thereunto’.[14] There are seven principal reasons why Catholicism appealed to Gibbs; to provide just a couple of examples, he argued that ‘Protestants seem to imitate ancient Hereticks seeking Religion in the way of Science and reason, to the Contempt of Church Authority.’ Besides, the invocation of Saints was ‘a splendid, and magnificent way of worshipping of God’.[15]

The biblical text for Gibbs’ recantation sermon, chosen by Lloyd, was an extract from Luke 22:32 (‘[…] and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’).[16] Gibbs opened his sermon by referring to Peter as ‘a Great instance of humane frailty, and Infirmity in thrice denying his Lord and Master’. He proposed in the first instance to speak of Peter’s ‘State and Condition before his Fall’, his Fall itself, and of his repentance and conversion.[17] Referring to Peter’s denial of Christ, Gibbs argued that one of the causes of his Fall was ‘his Pride and Confidence of himselfe, and in the power of his own will’; what is more, ‘[h]is faith was not strong enough, nor his contempt of the world great enough’. Gibbs posited that Peter’s Fall was ‘not a Totall Apostacy’, but rather ‘a timerous Negation of the Faith’.[18] Once the sermon had drawn to a close, Gibbs continued by admitting that he had been ‘makeing Adventures in Religion, to find out the safest way to Heaven’. ‘One great mistake in this Adventure’ was his lack of communication with William Lloyd regarding his ‘Doubts and scruples in Religion’; his transgressions may otherwise have been thwarted. He proceeded to denounce ‘the Pompe and Ceremony’ of Catholicism with its ‘great inconvenience of haveing all performed in an unknown tongue’, concluding that he had erroneously admired ‘the things of Strangers, to the prejudice of those of his own Country’.[19] The names of ten churchwardens, witnesses to the sermon, follow this statement.

John Gibbs was swiftly forgiven. A letter from William Lloyd, addressed to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, and dated 4 December 1688, describes Lloyd’s impression of Gibbs as a ‘melancholy pious man’ (see Figure 3).[20] Tantalisingly, Lloyd’s letter also outlines his reaction to Gibbs’s recantation sermon, which was apparently satisfactory to the extent that he recommended its publication. Whether Sancroft approved of Lloyd’s suggestion to publish the sermon is not known; there are no surviving records relating to the sermon’s publication.[21]


Figure 3: Letter from William Lloyd to Archbishop William Sancroft, 4 December 1688. Bodleian Library, MS. Tanner 28, fol. 274.

Recantation sermons continued to be preached later in the period and beyond until 1779 when the genre ceased, and many of these were never published.[22] It remains to be seen whether further manuscript witnesses, or reports, of these fascinating sermons dating from the years 1530 until 1715 will be uncovered as the GEMMS Team resume on-site visits to archives in 2022.



[1] Anonymous, [A] Pulpit To Be [Let] (London, 1665). English Broadside Ballad Archive, EBBA 36352.

[2] For the scarcity of extant recantation sermons in manuscript dating from post-Restoration England, see Simon Lewis, ‘“The Scum of Controversy”: Recantation Sermons in the Churches of England and Ireland, 1673–1779’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 55.2 (2022), 215–33 (p. 216).

[3] Early modern recantation sermons, particularly those preached in the late seventeenth century, have received comparatively little scholarly attention. See Michael C. Questier, ‘English Clerical Converts to Protestantism 1580–1596’, Recusant History, 20.4 (1991), 455–77 (pp. 470–71); Susan Wabuda, ‘Equivocation and Recantation During the English Reformation: The ‘Subtle Shadows’ of Dr Edward Crome’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44.2 (1993), 224–42; Michael C. Questier, Conversion, Politics and Religion in England, 1580–1625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), ch. 6; Mary Morrissey, Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons, 1558–1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 113–20; Kate Roddy, ‘Recasting Recantation in 1540s England: Thomas Becon, Robert Wisdom, and Robert Crowley’, Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, 39.1 (2016), 63–90. Note that Morrissey focuses on recantation sermons principally preached by clergy converting from Catholicism until the 1640s, while Kate Roddy conducts close readings of recantation texts from the early years of the English Reformation.

 [4] Wabuda, pp. 226–27.

 [5] The three controversial sermons were preached by Samuel Harsnett at Paul’s Cross in 1584; Thomas Lushington at St Mary’s, Oxford, on 29 March 1624 (Easter Monday); and Richard Spinke on 19 May 1632, also at Oxford. Witnesses of Harsnett’s sermon appear in Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. th. e. 57 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001472) and Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson D 1349 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000145). Lushington’s sermon appears in Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. th. f. 14 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001469), Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson E 21 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000133) and Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson E 95 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000135). There are three witnesses of Spinke’s sermon: Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. th. e. 57 (appearing directly before Harsnett’s sermon); Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson E. 148 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000523); Trinity College Dublin, MS 232 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001076). For Harsnett’s anti-Calvinist sermon, see Nicholas Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590–1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 164, 252–53. See Frank L. Huntley for the notoriety of Lushington’s sermon (‘Dr. Thomas Lushington (1590–1661), Sir Thomas Browne’s Oxford Tutor’, Modern Philology, 81.1 (1983), 14–23). For Spinke’s sermon, see Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought 1600–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 71; Jeanne Shami, ‘The Love-sick Spouse: John Stoughton’s 1624 Paul’s Cross Sermon in Context’, in Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520–1640, ed. by Torrance Kirby and P. G. Stanwood (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2014), pp. 389–409. 

[6] Theophilus Higgons, A Sermon Preached at Pauls Crosse the third of March, 1610 (London, 1611); Morrissey, p. 118. See also Alec Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 82; Lewis, p. 216.

[7] Stuart Handley, ‘Lloyd, William (1636/7–1710)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (2004), <> [accessed 3 March 2022]. For a summary of the contents of Lloyd’s commonplace book up to f. 171v, see Peter Smith, ‘Bishop William Lloyd of Norwich and his Commonplace Book’, Norfolk Archaeology, 44.4 (2005), 702–11.

[8] British Library, Add MS 40160 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001583; GEMMS-SERMON-025000), f. 49r.

[9] Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500–1714, 4 vols (Oxford: Parker, 1891), Vol. II, p. 561; John Venn and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part I, 4 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922–27), Vol. II, p. 209. See also John Gibbs (CCEd Person ID 12516)The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835 <> [accessed 4 February 2022].

[10] Francis Blomefield, ‘Hundred of Diss: Gissing’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 1 (London, 1805), pp. 162–81. British History Online, <> [accessed 4 February 2022]. For Gibbs’ ejection, see also ‘A Catalogue of the English Clergie and other Schollars, who haue refused to take the New Oaths’, British Library, Add MS 40160, ff. 74r–78r (f. 74r).

[11] Letter from William Lloyd to Archbishop William Sancroft, 14 November 1688, Bodleian Library, MS. Tanner 28, fol. 248.

[12] John Spurr, The Restoration Church of England, 1646–1689 (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1991), ch. 2; Smith, p. 706.

[13] For the promotion of Catholicism in Jacobite sermons, see William Gibson, ‘Engines of Tyranny: The Court Sermons of James II’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 97.1 (2021), 11–24.

[14] British Library, Add MS 40160, ff. 45r–46r.

[15] British Library, Add MS 40160, f. 45r.

[16] Letter from William Lloyd to Archbishop William Sancroft, 4 December 1688, Bodleian Library, MS. Tanner 28, fol. 274 (GEMMS-REPORT-000378).

[17] British Library, Add MS 40160, f. 49r.

[18] British Library, Add MS 40160, f. 49v.

[19] British Library, Add MS 40160, f. 52r.

[20] Smith, p. 706.

[21] Letter from William Lloyd to Archbishop William Sancroft, 4 December 1688, Bodleian Library, MS. Tanner 28, fol. 274.

[22] Lewis, p. 216.


~ Hannah Yip

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Free Virtual Event: GEMMS Roundtable on Digital Collections of Sermons

Please join us next week on Friday, Oct. 15 at 2 pm EDT, when members of the GEMMS team (Mary Morrissey, Brent Nelson, Jeanne Shami, Jennifer Farooq and Hannah Yip) will be participating in a virtual roundtable on Digital Collections of Sermons for the 2021 Sermon Studies Conference. Attendance is free. If you aren't able to join us live, a recording will be available for all registered participants.

Along with reflecting on the development and future of GEMMS, we will be using our experience with GEMMS to discuss how the use of digital sermon collections has contributed to Sermon Studies, how researchers might use such collections to open up new avenues of scholarship in the future, and how to make digital collections more sustainable.

You also may be interested in Hannah Yip's presentation on early modern sermons: "Manuscript Sermons in the Twenty-First Century and Beyond" on Oct. 16 at 10:30 am EDT as part of the Publishing Sermons session.

To register, visit:

Monday, 18 January 2021

The Department of Rare Books (and Twitter): Another Source for Early Modern Manuscript Sermons

Six years ago, William Sherman, pioneer of early modern marginalia studies, and Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts and Archivist at the Folger Shakespeare Library, lamented in a joint article published in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies that not only are manuscripts and printed books treated as distinct categories, but it is also necessary to examine them in separate rooms in the Cambridge University Library.[1] Sherman and Wolfe argued that for scholars such as themselves, looking at manuscript notes in printed books, or studying authors whose written legacy is divided between published and unpublished texts, such an arrangement is impractical. They find themselves ‘dreaming of a special reading room […] devoted to books that sit somewhere between script and print […] for scholars working at the interface between the oral and the written’.[2]

Scholars of early modern sermons certainly fall into this category of researchers examining the relationship between oral and written culture, and this blogpost centres on the discovery of manuscript sermons within printed books which are not listed in manuscript catalogues. While previous GEMMS blogposts have concentrated principally upon the content of intriguing sermons catalogued in our database and the prominent figures who created these texts and owned these manuscripts, this contribution joins a growing literature which scrutinises the book-historical and material aspects of early modern sermons.[3] Indeed, in the current scholarship focusing on early modern English manuscript sermons, printed books have seldom been cited as a potential place in which they can be found.[4] It will also be argued that, in an unprecedented time which has necessitated an increasing reliance on virtual collaboration, Twitter is a medium via which more of these rare printed books containing manuscript sermons can be shared and subsequently studied.

Investigation of these particular sermons prompts important questions regarding the cataloguing of rare books and manuscripts. Should manuscripts bound with printed books be provided with a shelfmark reflecting its scribal status, as is the case with an exquisite manuscript witness of the First Book of Official Homilies, bound with a partial copy of Sternhold and Hopkins’ Psalms, or a compilation of late seventeenth-century sermon notes by a minister based in Buckinghamshire, similarly attached to a 1638 edition of the same work?[5] Alternatively, if found within a substantial collection of printed material, should the manuscript work be given a ‘printed books’ shelfmark?

Figure 1: ‘A Sermon Preached att ye Funerall of Ms Lee, att Threekingham, Aprill ye 4. Anno Dom. i682’. British Library, General Reference Collection C.175.i.16.(4).

Moreover, how do we find manuscripts if they are hidden away within rare printed books? Such discoveries may be entirely serendipitous. In July 2018, when ordering up a printed sermon for my own research, I found two handwritten funeral sermons dating from the 1680s, in addition to other manuscript material within this unassuming octavo Sammelband, which were uncatalogued on the British Library Main Catalogue.[6] These items were also not discoverable on the Manuscripts Catalogue. The two sermons represent significant contributions to our source bank of sermons preached in the parishes and for women. The first sermon, delivered at the funeral of a Ms Lee (d. 1682) in Threekingham, Lincolnshire, can be linked to a monumental slab in the middle aisle of Threekingham Church, and may therefore be of value to genealogists and local historians studying this particular village (see Figure 1).[7] The second text is a rare example of a surviving manuscript sermon by theologian and nonjuring clergyman Richard Brocklesby (1634/5–1714), also based in Lincolnshire, remembered today for a monumental theological treatise of over 1,000 pages concerning the Trinity (see Figure 2).[8]

Figure 2: ‘A Sermon Preached att ye Funerall of our Deceased Friend, and Neighbour, Mr Longlands, att Walcott; By Mr. Brocklesby, January the 30. 1684/5’. British Library, General Reference Collection C.175.i.16.(5).

These two sermons, along with the other manuscripts within this volume, were recently added to the British Library Main Catalogue, but not the Manuscripts Catalogue. Under ‘Physical Description’, the cataloguers have added a note stating that the sermons are ‘manuscript’ and ‘manuscript (transcript, handwritten)’, respectively. By using these specific search terms in the British Library Main Catalogue, I was able to find several manuscripts which would otherwise have been overlooked, and which are all available for consultation in the ‘Rare Books and Music’ reading room only. One full transcript of a printed sermon by John Tillotson (1630–1694) appears within a volume of theological tracts and treatises all published in the years 1687–1689.[9] Most interestingly, the scribe of the sermon has identified ‘C: Alston’ as the licenser of this sermon, whereas only the initials are specified on the title page of the printed copy (see Figure 3).[10] Therefore, this manuscript witness is not only suggestive of Tillotson’s wide-ranging influence in print, but also connects the text with Charles Alston (d. 1714), a prebendary of St Paul’s who licensed texts on behalf of his ecclesiastical patron, Henry Compton, Bishop of London (1631/2–1713), and is of potential interest to researchers studying ecclesiastical press censorship after the Restoration.

Figure 3: Manuscript witness of a printed sermon by John Tillotson. British Library, General Reference Collection 222.e.5.(9).

While these examples illustrate the possibility for unearthing manuscripts within Sammelbände which comprise miscellaneous material, it is important to note that manuscript sermons can also appear as companion pieces to the printed works with which they are bound. A manuscript witness of a printed sermon by John King (d. 1621), bound with other published sermons by the bishop, adopts the specific mise-en-page as the printed texts, indicating the aesthetic sensibilities of the anonymous scribe.[11] An anonymous manuscript sermon commemorating Charles I, entitled ‘In nomine Crucifixi’ and dated 1648, is bound in a copy of the Eikon Basilike. It is conjectured by Helen W. Randall that this presentation volume, stamped with a royal crest and a death’s head, was intended as a gift for Charles II.[12] However, it was not necessarily the case that such companion pieces were always written with a view for presentation. In a folio volume of sermons by Jeremy Taylor (bap. 1613, d. 1667), the last, uncatalogued item is a plain transcription of Taylor’s sermon preached at the funeral of the Royalist, Sir George Dalston (c. 1581–1657).[13] All of these items exhibit the varied contexts in which manuscript sermons could complement, and co-exist with, printed material.

Moreover, it is not only full sermons which are discoverable alongside printed texts, but also sermon notes and reports, which can be found either interleaved or as marginalia within printed books. Three Bibles, held at the Bodleian Library and categorised as part of the Rawlinson Manuscripts collection, are interspersed with manuscript sermon notes dating from the second half of the seventeenth century. All three contain valuable documentations of sermons preached at funerals and occasions such as the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.[14] Looking ahead to an even later period, Katherine Acheson gives a detailed analysis of the so-called Newby Bible held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, in which it is possible to uncover a woman’s experience of the world of Methodism in the late eighteenth century.[15] Within the Bible, there are over 600 annotations made by one Elizabeth Boggis (fl. 1780s), recording the dates of each sermon, the speakers, the biblical texts and occasionally the locations in which the sermons were delivered.

In addition to Bibles, copies of printed sermons could also carry substantial marginal annotations providing details of preached texts. Opposite the title page in a folio volume of sermons by John Frost (1625/6–1656), pastor of St Olave, Hart Street, London, John Rippon records a sermon on Exodus 17:7 delivered by ‘Mr Evins’ at ‘the Association at Prescott’ in 1746 (see Figure 4).[16] The most likely candidate for ‘Mr Evins’ is Hugh Evans (c. 1713–1781), a Particular Baptist minister connected with Bristol Baptist Academy. The genealogical notes within the volume indicate that ‘John Rippon’ was the grandfather of John Rippon (1751–1836), who published the first Baptist hymnbook to gain widespread acceptance in England.[17] As the scrawled notes on the title page indicate, this copy of Frost’s sermons was kept within this Baptist dynasty. Further research may expose the extent to which Baptists consumed the teachings of Church of England clergymen which had been published almost a century beforehand. Although the reports within the Newby Bible and the Frost sermons fall outside the remit of the GEMMS database as they date from the mid-1700s and beyond, all of these specimens pave the way for yet more discoveries of earlier sermon reports which can subsequently be catalogued.[18]

Figure 4: Eighteenth-century sermon report in Henry E. Huntington Library, Call # 432609.

And it is towards Twitter that we might turn for help. Sjoerd Levelt has shown us the ways in which Twitter creates and solidifies a community of scholarly sharing, in the manner of ‘a virtual chat at the coffee machine’.[19] After a Tweet about my aforementioned discovery at the British Library was published, Anna-Lujz Gilbert informed the GEMMS team about an incunable which originally formed part of the parish library at Marlborough, Wiltshire. According to the Bodleian Library SOLO Catalogue, this rare incunable, which appears to be represented in only three libraries in Britain and Ireland, is bound in Oxford blind-tooled calf dating from c. 1570 and features thirty-nine leaves of manuscript sermons in Latin and English, written in a single sixteenth-century secretary hand.[20]

To revisit Sherman and Wolfe’s article in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars of early modern literature and history find themselves dreaming, in fact, of any reading room whatsoever, grateful for any opportunity to handle rare books and manuscripts, however they are catalogued. For much of the past year, the GEMMS team has had to work remotely, cataloguing sermons from digitised manuscripts; for example, making use of the Cambridge Digital Library Scriptorium, in addition to lesser-known sources for digitised manuscripts such as the Wellcome Library in London. One of the primary objectives of GEMMS is to foster an online community of sermon scholars with our open access, group-sourced bibliographic database, supplemented with our presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. With the rise of remote working, the GEMMS database has the potential to serve a greater range and number of researchers than previously imagined, as scholars are required to become more and more efficient when choosing which items to order up to reading rooms within extremely restricted timeframes. Virtually, we remain open to suggestions, discoveries and discussions regarding early modern manuscript sermons and sermon reports, whether found in printed books as full texts or as marginal annotations, and would welcome further opinions on their categorisation within the libraries and archives which are, at present, inaccessible to us.


[1] William Sherman and Heather Wolfe, ‘The Department of Hybrid Books: Thomas Milles between Manuscript and Print’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 45.3 (2015), 457–85.

[2] Sherman and Wolfe, ‘The Department of Hybrid Books’, p. 457.

[3] Catherine Evans, ‘Early Modern Sermons and Annotations’, <> [accessed 27 December 2020].

[4] See, for example, Ian M. Green, Continuity and Change in Protestant Preaching in Early Modern England (London: Dr Williams’s Trust, 2009).

[5] See Christ Church Library, University of Oxford, MS 150 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001340); William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, MS.1952.004 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001308). See also Hannibal Hamlin, ‘“Very Mete to be Used of All Sortes of People”: The Remarkable Popularity of the “Sternhold and Hopkins” Psalter’, The Yale University Library Gazette, 75.1/2 (2000), 37–51.

[6] British Library, General Reference Collection C.175.i.16 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000880, <[accessed 11 January 2021]).

[7] W. A. Cragg, A History of Threekingham with Stow, in Lincolnshire (Sleaford: W. K. Morton & Sons, 1913), p. 105.

[8] Richard Brocklesby, An Explication of the Gospel-Theism and the Divinity of the Christian Religion (London, 1706).

[9] British Library, General Reference Collection 222.e.5.(9) (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001285, <[accessed 11 January 2021]).

[10] John Tillotson, The Indispensable Necessity of the Knowledge of the Holy Scripture, &c. (London, 1687).

[11] British Library, General Reference Collection (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001284, <[accessed 11 January 2021]).

[12] Henry E. Huntington Library, Call # 102338 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001198, <[accessed 11 January 2021]); Helen W. Randall, ‘The Rise and Fall of a Martyrology: Sermons on Charles I’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 10.2 (1947), 135–67 (p. 141 n. 5).

[13] British Library, General Reference Collection 479.e.6.(3.) (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001286, <> [accessed 11 January 2021]). This manuscript is described in the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450–1700 (CELM), <> [accessed 28 December 2020]. The sermon was first published individually as J[eremy]. T[aylor]., A Sermon Preached at the Funerall of that worthy Knight Sr. George Dalston, &c. (London, 1658).

[14] Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. C. 1 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000468, <[accessed 11 January 2021]); MS. Rawl. C. 2 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000333, <[accessed 11 January 2021]); MS. Rawl. C. 3 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000334, <[accessed 11 January 2021]).

[15] Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 2129; Katherine Acheson, ‘The Occupation of the Margins: Writing, Space, and Early Modern Women’, in Early Modern English Marginalia, ed. by Katherine Acheson (Abingdon and New York, NY: Routledge, 2019), pp. 70–89 (pp. 80–82). See also Peter Stallybrass, ‘Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible’, in Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies, ed. by Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (Pennsylvania, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 42–79 (pp. 61–63).

[16] John Frost, Select Sermons Preached upon special occasions, &c. (Cambridge, 1658) (Henry E. Huntington Library, Call # 432609).

[17] Ken R. Manley, ‘Rippon, John (1751–1836)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (2008), <> [accessed 27 December 2020].

[18] As a teenager, John Winthrop the Younger (1606–1676), future Governor of Massachusetts, made notes of sermons preached in Suffolk, England, in his copy of a 1620 almanac by Richard Allestree (d. 1643). See Karl Josef Höltgen, ‘Two Francis Quarleses: The Emblem Poet and the Suffolk Parson’, English Manuscript Studies 1100–1700, 7 (1998), 131–61 (p. 154); Richard Calis and others, ‘Passing the Book: Cultures of Reading in the Winthrop Family, 1580–1730’, Past & Present, 241.1 (2018), 69–141 (p. 86).

[19] Sjoerd Levelt, ‘Early Modern Marginalia and #earlymoderntwitter’, in Early Modern English Marginalia, ed. by Katherine Acheson (Abingdon and New York, NY: Routledge, 2019), pp. 234–56 (p. 239).

[20] Pope Gregory, Incipit prefatio Gregorii pape in omeliis super ezechielem prophetam (Paris: Georg Wolf, [c. 1489–91]). See also National Library of Scotland, Inc.252.3; Marsh’s Library, Dublin, <> [accessed 23 December 2020]. I have not investigated its representation in other parts of the world. We are grateful to Anna-Lujz Gilbert, PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, for drawing our attention to this incunable via Twitter.

~ Hannah Yip

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Friday, 23 October 2020

English Preachers in the Dutch Republic: Tracing Confessional Mobility in the GEMMS Database

In 1638 Thomas Goodwin and his wife Elizabeth Prescott arrived in Arnhem in the Dutch Republic. Goodwin’s Congregationalist views had caused him to become increasingly concerned about the direction of the Church of England, leading him first to resign his post as vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, in 1633, and then his fellowship at St. Catherine’s College in 1638. In Arnhem, he became teacher of a congregation of 100 English exiles, who left England over objections to Laudian reforms. Alongside fellow teachers John Archer and Philip Nye, Goodwin put into practice the Congregationalist ideals that he espoused in England: a congregation of the visible saints, bound by adherence to a covenant, with discipline enforced by elders and lay members. He preached a series of sermons on Revelation 11 to this congregation in 1639, in which he argued that Laud would return the Church of England to Rome, but a second Reformation would return the Church to a pure congregational state. It was with these millenarian expectations and practical experience of congregationalism that Goodwin and his congregation returned to London in 1640. Goodwin would then play a prominent role during the Civil War and Interregnum as a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, Chaplain of the Council of State, and President of Magdalen College.[1]

Goodwin was one of many English and Scottish preachers who spent formative years in the Netherlands as students, temporary exiles, or long-term leaders of English-speaking communities there. Indeed, the reformations of both countries were closely intertwined from the earliest days. As scholars increasingly turn to transnational approaches in studying religious developments in early modern Europe, GEMMS database offers a useful source to trace the movement of English-speaking preachers across the Channel and observe the influence of migration to and from the Netherlands on religious developments in Britain. While GEMMS has focused on sermons preached within Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies, a survey of the fifteen preachers with connections to the Dutch Republic in the database reveals the important role the Dutch Republic played as a space for education, experimentation in church polity, and the establishment of new religious communities.

British Churches in the Netherlands

Britain and the Low Countries have a long history of close connections. As Keith L. Sprunger, historian of the English-language churches in the Netherlands, put it, “[t]he waters separating England from the Continent, although a barrier, could serve just as well as a bridge for frequent intercourse.”[2] The Netherlands offered a haven for Protestants during the reign of Mary Tudor, while Elizabethan England was home to a growing community of Dutch rebels and refugees from the Dutch Revolt (1566-1648). It was during the Elizabethan era that English religious communities in the Netherlands really expanded. Thousands of English and Scottish soldiers were under the employ of the Dutch States General and some towns such as Brielle and Flushing were actually under English governance from 1585 to 1616. English and Scottish communities could be found in every major city in the burgeoning Dutch Republic.[3]

The religious character of these communities began to take shape in the mid-sixteenth century. One of the first English-language congregations in the Netherlands was the chaplaincy of the Company of Merchant Adventurers in Antwerp. In the 1550s it was staffed by a number of dissenters such as John Lambert, John Rogers, Bernard Gilpin, and William Cole.[4] Already in the 1550s, the English and Scottish churches in the Netherlands were dominated by dissenters. This continued to be the case throughout the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, and became even more pronounced in the 1620s and '30s as Presbyterian and Congregationalist-minded Puritans, like Goodwin, who previously conformed to the Church of England, now established new Reformed congregations in the Netherlands in opposition to Archbishop Laud’s church reforms. Many of these ministers returned to England and Scotland during the Civil Wars and Interregnum. During this time, the English communities welcomed Anglican refugees, but, with the Restoration in 1660, the communities once again became largely dissenting and Reformed. With the accession of William of Orange to the English throne in 1688 and the subsequent Toleration Act, the size of the English and Scottish communities diminished, but many congregations remain even down to the present day.

A helpful way to understand the activities of these preachers throughout the period is Liesbeth Corens’s concept of Confessional Mobility. Corens develops this concept as a way to understand the back and forth mobility of English Catholics between Britain and the Low Countries. This concept encompasses not only the more permanent term “exile,” but also the “the circular mobility of leaving and returning,” which allows her to demonstrate that English Catholics “fostered a community without borders which bridged the Channel.”[5] This concept can be usefully applied to English and Scottish Protestants in the Dutch Republic as well. In a similar way to their Catholic compatriots, they were part of a religious community that flowed seamlessly across borders. The activities of the fifteen preachers in GEMMS can be categorized in three ways: travellers for education; temporary exile and religious experimentation; and longer term settlement in the Netherlands.


While most preachers in the GEMMS database received their education from Oxford or Cambridge, many chose to head to the continent for their formation. The chief destination for most was the universities of the Dutch Republic, especially Leiden, but also Utrecht and Franeker. These institutions were especially appealing to those who were wary of the established church and the universities that supplied it with preachers. Dutch universities were thus a critical training ground for English and Scottish dissenters.

Daniel Neal (GEMMS-PERSON-000354) is a good example of the kind of English students that Dutch universities would attract. He trained for ministry at Thomas Rowe’s dissenting academy at Newington Green, Middlesex, between 1696 and 1699. He then studied at Utrecht for two years under the tutelage of Reformed theologian Gerhardus de Vries and the philologist and historian Joannes Georgius Graevius. He studied another year at Leiden, before returning to England where he succeeded John Singleton as pastor of a Congregationalist chapel at Aldersgate Street in 1703, a position he maintained for the rest of his career as the congregation grew and relocated to Jewin Street. GEMMS contains eight sermons by Neal from this period, three of them on Isaiah 55:3, touching on the theme of a “covenant,” a central concept in much of Reformed theology.[6] In addition to his preaching, the influence of his years at Utrecht under the tutelage of Graevius are noticeable in his work as a historian, first in his History of New England (2 Vols., 1720), and then in his History of the Puritans (1723).[7]

Figure 1: Many English and Scottish preachers, including Daniel Neal, attended Leiden University. Hendrick van der Burch, The Conferring of a Degree at the University of Leiden, oil on canvas (ca. 1650-1660). Photo Credit: Rijksmuseum

Temporary Ministries

Many preachers in GEMMS had relatively brief sojourns in the Netherlands. While we do not currently have sermons from their brief time there, the experience there should not be discounted. Particularly in the 1630s and early '40s, the English and Scottish congregations in the Dutch Republic offered puritans a laboratory to put into practice theories of church governance and religious purity that they were unable to observe in England. When the political context became more favourable, these temporary exiles returned to England in large numbers, influencing policy in the halls of power and preaching their ideas from newly accessible pulpits.

The career of Thomas Goodwin fits this pattern, as does that of John Davenport, who was covered in a previous blog post. But perhaps no preacher better exemplifies the broad and borderless vision of reform of many Puritans than Hugh Peter (GEMMS-PERSON-000298). He was ordained priest in 1623, but was suspended in 1626 for praying that the queen would forsake her "idolatry and superstition" while preaching at Christ Church, London. He made a new career for himself in the Dutch Republic, first as a proctor at the University of Franeker, then as a chaplain in one of Stadtholder Frederick Henry’s English regiments, and finally as pastor of the Rotterdam English Church in 1633. He reformed the church along Congregationalist lines, requiring members to subscribe to a covenant. When the English Company of Merchant Adventurers relocated their headquarters to Rotterdam in 1635 and commandeered the English Church there, Peter left for New England where he became minister of Salem, MA in 1636. He implemented a covenant there as he did in Rotterdam and was a stringent opponent of Anne Hutchinson and her followers. He returned to England in 1641 and became an influential figure during the Civil Wars and Interregnum, preaching before Parliament and serving as chaplain to the Council of State. His support for the execution of Charles I returned to haunt him however, and he was executed on 16 October 1660.[8] For Peter and others, a temporary Dutch sojourn allowed them to practice ideas of church polity that would shape the religious landscape of England and New England for years to come.

Figure 2: Pauwels van Hillegaert, Prince Frederik Hendrik at the Siege of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, 1629, oil on canvas (1631). The Siege of 's-Hertogenbosch was a great victory for the forces of Stadtholder Frederick Henry. His besieging force included some 13,000 English and Scottish troops, including the regiment of Edward Harwood, where, according to Carla Gardina Pestana, Hugh Peter was chaplain. Peter published an account of the successful campaign in his Digitus Dei (1631). Photo Credit: Rijksmuseum

Long-term Ministries

A final group of English-language preachers in the Netherlands spent much longer portions of their careers in the Netherlands, sometimes setting down more permanent roots in the country, ministering to the many English and Scots that resided there throughout the early modern period. Robert Fleming the Younger (GEMMS-PERSON-000012) was one such preacher. He was born in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire in 1660 to Robert Fleming, the vicar there, and his wife Christian. His father was ejected for nonconformity in 1662, when he relocated to Edinburgh. Then the family moved to Rotterdam in 1677 where he was invited to become minister of the Scots Church there. The younger Robert was ordained by his father in 1688. After his ordination, he returned to England for a few years as a family chaplain at Soham, Cambridgeshire. However, he returned to the Netherlands in 1692, where he studied at Leiden University and became minister of the English Presbyterian Church there. Among his many sermons noted in GEMMS, two preparation for communion sermons were preached here in December 1692. He succeeded his father at Rotterdam in 1695, where he continued that church’s reputation as a bastion of Scottish Presbyterianism. He was a preacher of some renown as he returned to England in 1698 at the request of William III to minister at the Scots Church, Founders Hall, Lothbury, London, where he remained until his death on 21 May 1716.[9]

Figure 3: St Sebastian’s Chapel was home to Rotterdam’s Scots Church during the ministries of Robert Fleming the Elder and the Younger, from 1658-1697. From the Title page of William Steven, The History of the Scottish Church Rotterdam (1832). Photo Credit: Rijksmuseum

These examples offer a glimpse into the important role the Dutch Republic played in the careers of many English and Scottish preachers, particularly Puritans and Dissenters. By offering a repository of manuscript sermons of these preachers, GEMMS is a useful starting point for anyone wishing to examine the influence of the Netherlands on religious developments in Britain. While the number of sermons actually preached within the Dutch Republic is limited right now, this is a potential future area of expansion for the database. To that end, GEMMS welcomes contributions from sermon researchers across the globe. If you’d like to share data on English-language preachers and sermons in the Netherlands, consult our contributors page or send an e-mail to


[1] T. M. Lawrence, "Goodwin, Thomas (1600–1680), nonconformist minister," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online 23 Sep. 2004, https://doi-org/10.1093/ref:odnb/10996.

[2] Keith L. Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism: a History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1983), 3. This overview section is largely based on this work.

[3] Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism, pp. 5-6.

[4] Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism, p. 14.

[5] Liesbeth Corens, Confessional Mobility and English Catholics in Counter-Reformation Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 2-3.

[6] I do not mean to say here that covenant theology came to England via the Dutch Republic. Rather, a Reformed education in the Netherlands could reinforce that theological bent. For a very brief (if a little dated) overview on some of the literature on covenant theology, see Lyle D. Bierma, “The Role of Covenant Theology in Early Reformed Orthodoxy,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 21:3 (Autumn 1990), pp. 453-462. For a more recent analysis of the use of the concept in seventeenth-century England, see Naomi Tadmor, “People of the Covenant and the English Bible,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth Series, Vol. 22 (2012), pp. 95-110.

[7] Laird Okie, "Neal, Daniel (1678–1743), Independent minister and historian," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online 23 Sep. 2004, https://doi-org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19817. Other preachers that fit in this category in GEMMS database include John Burgess (GEMMS-PERSON-000226), William Wishart (GEMMS-PERSON-002066), Francis Rous (GEMMS-PERSON-002637). 

[8] Carla Gardina Pestana, "Peter [Peters], Hugh (bap. 1598, d. 1660), Independent minister," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online 23 Sep. 2004, https://doi-org/10.1093/ref:odnb/22024. Apart from Goodwin and Davenport, preachers with similar careers in the Netherlands include John Shower (GEMMS-PERSON-000008), Thomas Gouge (GEMMS-PERSON-000413), and Sidrach Simpson (GEMMS-PERSON-002867).

[9] M. J. Mercer, "Fleming, Robert (c. 1660–1716), Presbyterian minister and religious writer," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online 23 Sep. 2004, https://doi-org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9711. Other preachers who had long-term ministries in the Netherlands include John Spademan (GEMMS-PERSON-000058), Henry Hickman (GEMMS-PERSON-001517), John Herring (GEMMS-PERSON-000490), Thomas Marshall (GEMMS-PERSON-002071).

~ David Robinson

Monday, 14 September 2020

A Commemorative Royalist Fast Sermon for Archbishop Laud: Celebrating GEMMS Sermon #20000

 GEMMS’s 20,000th sermon record is a remarkable manuscript, an anonymous Royalist fast day sermon allegedly delivered before the court of Charles I at St. Mary’s Church, Oxford, in commemoration of Archbishop William Laud’s execution which took place on 10 January 1645.[1] Modern scholarship has tended to focus on the overwhelming number of Parliamentary fast sermons in print and manuscript, as records relating to Royalist fast sermons in this era are scarce by comparison.[2] No printed Royalist fast sermons from the first two months of 1645 are extant; however, to date, GEMMS has uncovered manuscripts of three Royalist fast sermons, all of which were delivered in February 1645.

Figure 1: Image of Lauds execution in John Vicars, A Sight of ye Trans=actions of these latter yeares, &c. (London, 1646), p. 25.

Two of these Royalist fast sermons can be attributed to Jeffery Sharpe (c. 1612–1675).[3] The status of these two sermons is debatable, owing to the inconsistencies in Sharpe’s ecclesiastical career and personal life during the Civil Wars and Interregnum. Although he was ejected from several posts during the 1640s, he became rector of Colmworth, Bedfordshire and private chaplain to the newly converted Parliamentarian William Cecil (1591–1668), second earl of Salisbury, in 1650. Furthermore, he was married to the daughter of John Whincopp (d. 1647), one of the Assembly of Divines. Nonetheless, other sermons by Sharpe within this manuscript, on the subject of the proscribed Christmas and Easter feasts, testify to his Royalist allegiances during the 1640s. Choosing Amos 4.12 as his text for these two fast sermons (‘Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel’), Sharpe expounded on the providential nature of God’s punishments, with the intention to promote both personal and national reform. These two sermons by Sharpe present many of the typical characteristics of fast day sermons in both the Parliamentary and Royalist traditions.[4]

Figure 2: A Fast daies Sermon preached upon the Fast day in February 1644 by Jeffery Sharpe, Bodleian Library, MS Rawl. E. 157, pp. 13536.

The 20,000th sermon within the GEMMS database, on the other hand, is a fascinating piece of prose contained within its original limp vellum gilt-tooled binding. This manuscript (MS 261) is housed at St John’s College, Oxford, which also holds Archbishop Laud’s diary and correspondence. Written in a single seventeenth-century cursive hand, it is a witty and sustained attack on foes within and without the Church of England, peppered with vivid bestial imagery which relates to these enemies and the nation as a whole. Most significantly, it is a sermon preached ‘to the deare Memory’ of Laud, who is described as the ‘only Martyr wch ever the Protestant was Formally guilty of’ (f. 2r). As a rare survival of a Royalist perspective upon the execution of Laud and the keeping of fasts more generally, this sermon is a crucial archival discovery which has not, thus far, featured in the current historiography of this critical event in the English Civil Wars.

Figure 3: A sermon preach’d in St Maries Oxon. Feb 10. 1644,
St John’s College Library, Oxford, MS 261, f. 1r.

Why has this valuable document been ignored by scholars? This sermon is not included in the most recent published catalogue of St John’s College manuscripts.[5] The manuscript’s provenance remains a mystery, and the specified date of the sermon on the title page appears to contradict its occasion. The sermon was apparently preached on ‘Feb: 10: 1644 [old-style dating]: being the Monethly ffast Day’; however, 10 February 1645 was a Monday, which was neither a regular preaching day nor a fast day. Further clues are offered within the sermon itself, with the preacher’s mention of the Treaty of Uxbridge which had been ongoing for twenty-one days. From this, it is possible to attach a tentative date of Thursday 19 February to the sermon, which still conflicts with the specified occasion as fast days did not tend to fall on Thursdays either. Moreover, the preacher’s chosen text of 1 Corinthians 15:32 seems curiously at odds with an event which advocated abstinence (‘If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die’).

Figure 4: A sermon preach’d in St Maries Oxon. Feb 10. 1644,
St John’s College Library, Oxford, MS 261, f. 2r.

Further contradictions occur within the body of the sermon itself. Pointing towards the builders of idols in his congregation, the preacher condemns the worshipping of the golden calf in the King’s chapel in a criticism of Laudian ceremonial, which would appear to counter the memorial purpose of the occasion (f. 30v). According to the preacher, such ‘Intestine Vipers’ (f. 31v) hinder any chances of peace being restored to the Church. It is clear, however, that the preacher is ultimately arguing that the act of idolatry constitutes inappropriate behaviour for a fast day. Earlier in the sermon, the preacher had lamented the destruction of this ‘faire Living temple’, expressing the following sentiments: 

What hopes can the Branches have when the Axe is layd to the Root of the Tree? The Axe wch struck off his Head, had long before been Cutting downe ye Carved works of Gods House […] (f. 14r).

Throughout the sermon, emphasis is placed upon similarly damning accounts of the ‘beasts’ which posed a danger to the fate of the nation. Laud is likened to the figure of Paul, as it is described that, just as Paul fought beasts in Ephesus, so Laud had battled with ‘Unreasonable and yett Humane Beasts’ (f. 4v). Rebellion itself, collectively represented by all of the competing Reformed factions, is styled the ‘Reformed Antichrist’ (f. 10v). There is even a reference to ‘Satyres’ (f. 11v), a pun on the flurry of printed graphic satires which heralded the downfall of the archbishop.[6] Accordingly, the preacher does not shy away from graphic imagery. After having offered the three ‘heads’ of the sermon, the preacher completes his introduction by stating that it is fitting to ‘mourne and lament the 4th’ (f. 6v); that is, the lost head of Laud. The preacher’s considerable rhetorical skill is also worthy of mention. Which auditor could remain neutral after hearing the plosive alliteration of ‘Satan’s black & Bloody Banner shatter’d to pieces and torne to shivers’ (f. 30r)?

In addition, the preacher takes this opportunity, in the midst of his censure of an array of figures, to provide an appraisal of the negotiations at the Treaty of Uxbridge. He advises the negotiators to proceed peacefully, using their ‘skill to string and Tune a Commonwealth to a right key’ (f. 15v) as the sweet singers of Israel. On the other hand, if the likes of the ‘Caledonian Boare’ (i.e. the Scottish Covenanters, f. 15r) will not listen to these harmonious instruments, then the negotiators must show no mercy in their fight for righteousness. After all, ‘[t]he English Breed have been good hunters of the Boar’ (f. 15v). In a trope commonly used within both Parliamentarian and Royalist fast sermons, Israel and England are thus aligned as counterparts.[7] Such rhetorical parallels, along with Paul and Ephesus/Laud and London, are sustained through to the sermon’s application, which in its culmination of a litany of cutting gibes against both nation and state would certainly have stirred up an emotional response. Whether the effect would have been a positive one is another question.

There are a number of manuscripts in the GEMMS database which never made their way to the printing press, most likely because they were too radical and provocative in their condemnation of the religious politics of the day.[8] Standing apart from the more conventional Royalist productions, which commonly argued for the necessity and lawfulness of kings and bishops, or in favour of tithes and subsidies for their support, this memorial sermon for Archbishop Laud falls into this incendiary category. Owing to its dubious dating, and the fact that no contemporary commentary or reception history seems to survive even for such a controversial sermon based at a significant pulpit in the centre of Oxford, it is quite possible that this text was a ‘phantom sermon’ that was never actually delivered.[9] During a time in which such a figure of authority as Laud could be abandoned by the King, there was no guarantee that this anonymous preacher would be protected by Royalist forces, a fact which was underscored bitterly within the sermon itself.[10] This manuscript, which may therefore only have circulated amongst a very restricted readership, stands as a legacy to the religious writing culture of the Royalist underground. This discovery paves the way for further research into the uncensored voices which may have never materialised in the pulpit.



[1] St John’s College Library, Oxford, MS 261 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001324), is discussed in more detail in Anne James and Jeanne Shami, Remembering the Dead: The Role of Manuscript Sermons & Sermon Notes in Researching Early Modern Memorial Practice (London: The Congregational Memorial Hall Trust, 2019).

[2] A highly selective list of scholars’ contributions would include Hugh Trevor-Roper, ‘The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament’, in Hugh Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (London: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 294–344; Tom Webster, ‘Preaching and Parliament, 1640–1659’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. by Peter McCullough, Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 404–20; Ann Hughes, ‘Preachers and Hearers in Revolutionary London: Contextualising Parliamentary Fast Sermons’, Transactions of the RHS, 24 (2014), 57–77; Ann Hughes, ‘Preaching the “Long Reformation” in the English Revolution’, Reformation, 24.2 (2019), 151–64.

[3] Bodleian Library, MS Rawl. E. 157 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-000138). See James and Shami, Remembering the Dead, pp. 16–17.

[4] Alec Ryrie, ‘The Fall and Rise of Fasting in the British Reformations’, in Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern Britain, ed. by Natalie Mears and Alec Ryrie (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 89–108.

[5] Ralph Hanna, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Medieval Manuscripts of St John’s College Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Thanks to Debora Shuger for alerting Jeanne to the existence of this manuscript sermon related to the death of William Laud.

[6] Helen Pierce, ‘Anti-Episcopacy and Graphic Satire in England, 1640–1645’, The Historical Journal, 47.4 (2004), 809–48; Rachel Willie, ‘Sensing the Visual (Mis)representation of William Laud’, in What is an Image in Medieval and Early Modern England?, ed. by Antoinina Bevan Zlatar and Olga Timofeeva (Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto, 2017), pp. 183–210.

[7] Achsah Guibbory, ‘Israel and English Protestant Nationalism: ‘Fast Sermons’ during the English Revolution’, in Early Modern Nationalism and Milton’s England, ed. by David Loewenstein and Paul Stevens (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 115–38.

[8] A much later example is an autograph anti-Catholic manuscript sermon on the Hanoverian succession, preached at Horninghold Church, Leicestershire, by the ardent Tory Humfrey Michel (c. 1650–1722) (The National Archives, SP 35/2/45 (GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001034)). This sermon may have been seized at the time of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.

[9] Anne James and Jeanne Shami, Remembering the Dead: The Role of Manuscript Sermons & Sermon Notes in Researching Early Modern Memorial Practice’, International Congregational Journal, 18.2 (forthcoming, 2020) [reprinted with some additions and revisions]. For the term ‘phantom sermon’, see Keith A. Francis, ‘Sermon Studies: Major Issues and Future Directions’, in The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689–1901, ed. by Keith A. Francis and William Gibson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 611–30 (pp. 620–21). See also Rosemary Dixon, ‘Sermons in Print, 1660–1700’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. by Peter McCullough, Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 460–79 (p. 461); Hannah Yip, ‘Silent Preaching: Laypeoples Manuscript Sermons, c. 1530  c. 1700’, <> [accessed 30 August 2020].

[10] St John’s College Library, Oxford, MS 261, f. 9v.

~ Jeanne Shami and Hannah Yip