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Taverner's Use of Erasmus and the Protestantization of English Humanism

  • John K. Yost (a1)


It is of course now obvious that the execution of More and Fisher did not bring about the collapse of the humanist movement in England during the middle third of the sixteenth century. Little attention, however, has been given to the fact that the loss of the two outstanding leaders of the older generation of humanists was followed by a decline of Catholic and the substantial growth of Protestant humanism. The primary aim of recent studies has been, rather, to establish the continuity of English humanism in the period that was not long ago widely believed to be its dark age. These recent works, to be sure, have persuasively traced its continuity in the analytical and realistic discussion of social and economic problems, the ideological bases of Henrician policy, and the interaction of Erasmian religious thought and the political Reformation.



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1 These topics form, in order, the main subject matter dealt with in Arthur Ferguson, B., The Articulate Citizen and the English Renaissance (Durham, N.C., 1965); Gordon Zeeveld, W., Foundations of Tudor Policy (Cambridge, Mass., 1948); McConica, James K., English Humanists and Reformation Politics (Oxford, 1965). Among recent historical studies of English humanism, these books are by far the most important. For the older view of a cessation of the humanist movement during the middle third of the sixteenth century, see Chambers, R. W., Thomas More (New York, 1935), and Phillimore, J. S., ‘Blessed Thomas More and the Arrest of Humanism in England,’ Dublin Review, CLIII (1913), 126. Concerning formal education, Douglas Bush first persuasively refuted this interpretation in 'Tudor Humanism and Henry VIII,’ University of Toronto Quarterly (1938), 162-177.

2 On the extent of Taverner's Erasmian contribution to the English Renaissance, see Baskervill, C. R., ‘Taverner's Garden of Wisdom and the Apophthegmata of Erasmus,' Studies in Philology, XXIX (1932), 149159 ; Devereux, E.J., ‘Richard Taverner's Translaions of Erasmus,’ The Library, XIX (1964), 212214 , and McConica, pp. 116-118, 184-185, 192, 195.

3 Gordon Rupp, E., Studies in the Making of the English Protestant Tradition (Cambridge, Eng., 1947, 1966), p. 19.

4 Anthony à, Wood, Athenae oxiensis, 2nd ed. (London, 1721), II, 182.

5 A ryght fruteful Epystle in laude and praise of matrymony, trans. R.Tavernour (London, 1532), sig. A2. I have expanded abbreviations and contractions throughout and modernized i/j and u/v.

6 Cromwell commissioned Taverner in 1536 to translate the Augsburg Confession which he then entitled The Confessyon of the fayth of the Germaynes in the councell, together with the Apologie of Melanchthon, who defendeth with reasons invincible the aforesayde confession… . The immediate occasion was probably the negotiations with the Lutherans, but, as Taverner explained in the preface, his translation of Melanchthon was evidence of Cromwell's support and direction of the program of religious education in the early Reformation. His translation of Sarcerius’ Loci communes called Common places of scripture or drely and after a compendious forme of teachyng set forth… . was published in 1538 at the ‘impulsion and commaundement’ of Cromwell. The next year Cromwell had Taverner translate Wolfgang Capito's Epitome of the psalmes or briefe meditacions upon the same, with diverse other most christian prayers.

7 In the order of their publication, The garden of wysdom, The second booke of the Garden of wysedome, Proverbes or adagies, Mimi publiani, Flores aliquot sententiarum, and Catonis disticha moralia. See Devereux, pp. 212-214, and Baskervill, pp. 150-155, for detailed bibliographical discussions.

8 'An epistle to the Kynge’ in An Epitome of the psalmes.

9 Erasmus, Opera omnia, LeClerc, J., ed. 10 vols, in 11 (Leyden, 1703-1706), II, col. 264c.

10 Proverbes or adagies, sigs. B5-B6; Erasmus, Opera omnia, II, col. 114A-D.

11 The ‘Adages’ of Erasmus (Cambridge, Eng., 1964), p. 9.

12 Erasmus, Opera omnia, II, cols. 13A-14F.

13 Erasmus, Opera omnia, II, cols. 90F-91B.

14 Erasmus, Opera omnia, II, col. 23D.

15 Wood, II, 184.

16 The only discussions of Taverner's more explicitly religious writings and translations are the brief ones found in Charles C., Butterworth, The English Primers, 1529-1545 (Philadelphia, 1953). PP.194199 ; Knox, David B., The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII (London, 1961), pp. 180183, 212-214; and English Reformers, ed. T. H. L. Parker, The Library of Christian Classics, vol. XXVI (Philadelphia, 1966), pp. 223-226.

17 The Most Sacred Bible; Whiche is the holy scripture, ... newly recognised …by R.Taverner (1539), p. ii.

18 See especially Kristeller, Paul Oskar, ‘Humanism and Scholasticism in the Italian Renaissance,’ Byzantion, XVII (1944); Gray, Hanna H., ‘Renaissance Humanism: The Pursuit of Eloquence.'Journal of the History of Ideas, XXXIV (1963); Seigel, Jerrold E., Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism: The Union of Eloquence and Wisdom, Petrarch to Valla (Princeton, 1968).

19 The garden of wysedome, 1, sigs. A7, F6.

20 The Second booke of the Garden of wysedome, sigs. B8-C1v.

21 There are, for example, six editions of Proverbes or adagies listed in STC (1043610441) that range from 1539 to 1569.

Taverner's Use of Erasmus and the Protestantization of English Humanism

  • John K. Yost (a1)


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