Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017
Sir Thomas More, Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer , in Tudor English
Sir Thomas More, Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer , in Tudor English, manuscript on paper [England, mid-sixteenth century (probably 1530s)]
Single leaf, with single column of 36 lines of a notably fine and small English vernacular bookhand, single letters set in upright margin, running title “The confutation / of frere Barnes church” at head of pages and catchword “persons” at outer corner of foot, slight bumps to corner and tiny chips from edges of leaf, discolouration to edge of inner border, slightly trimmed at top with loss of tops of ascenders of one running title, else outstanding condition, 247 by 175mm.
This newly discovered leaf is evidently the only manuscript of this fundamental Tudor Reformation text to survive that is not copied from a printed exemplar. It may well have once been part of the author’s own copy
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was an English humanist and one of the most powerful statesmen in the court of King Henry VIII. Moreover, as a staunch Catholic, he was a rare voice defending the traditional Church at the head of the Tudor government. He opposed the Protestant Reformation, and with particular ferocity the works of Martin Luther and William Tyndale (both cited frequently here). His early anti-Protestant actions were bookish, and included helping Cardinal Wolsey in preventing the importation of Lutheran works into England, championing the arrest of those selling or disseminating such works, and spying on suspected Protestant publishers. He vigorously suppressed the publication of Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament. In the 1530s his war against the ‘heretics’ continued to be one of words, with him publishing a treatise Dialogue Concerning Heresies , Tyndale responding with An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue , and the present work, More’s vast half-million word treatise, the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer . However, he had ultimately placed himself on the wrong side of Tudor royal opinion, and after refusing to attend Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533, he quickly fell from grace and was needled with legal cases until accused of treason and imprisoned one year later. He was convicted, protesting all the while at Henry VIII’s self-appointment as the head of the Church, and was beheaded on 6 July 1535.
This work, the Confutation of frere Barnes church , was produced as part of the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer , but deals specifically with the question of the religious movement started by Robert Barnes, an Augustinian friar from Cambridge, who had received a protestant education in Leuven. In 1526, Barnes was summoned before the University for preaching reforming sermons, and having drawn the attention of Wolsey was incarcerated in Fleet Prison (but managing to continue the dissemination of vernacular Bibles during this time). He escaped in 1528, and went to Wittenberg to meet Martin Luther, returning to England in 1531 to further his cause. He attracted legal problems over preaching, recanted, then reverted to Lutheranism and was burnt in 1540. The whole of the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer was published in 1532-33, and probably due to its rapid route from the author’s hand to the printing press, manuscript witnesses to it are of extreme rarity. The Yale edition of his works published between 1963 and 1997 and the comprehensive online Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 list only three such witnesses (Oxford, Bodleian, MS Ballard 72, fols. 51v-81r and Ampleforth Abbey, MS 31, no. 1, both containing only parts of the preface and apparently copied from the 1557 edition of More’s collected works; and some extracts in the compendium volume copied by members of More’s circle, now British Library, Royal MS 17 D.XIV). The present manuscript is not a fugitive leaf from Royal MS 17 D.XIV, and nor is it a replacement leaf from the 1533 edition or the collected works of the author printed in 1537. The variant readings here are in part substantial, and this leaf would appear to be all that remains of a lost manuscript of the text, perhaps produced under the author’s own supervision.
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