Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 144. SCHOLARS AND POETS


Doctor John Colet, dean of St. Paul's.

Much about this time, or not past two years before, died Dr. John Colet, to whose sermons these "known men," about Buckinghamshire, had a great mind to resort. After he came from Italy and Paris, he first began to read the Epistles of St. Paul openly in Oxford, instead of Scotus and Thomas. From thence he was called by the king, and made dean of Paul's; where he accustomed much to preach, not without a great auditory, as well of the king's court, as of the citizens and others. His diet was frugal, his life upright; in discipline he was severe, insomuch that his canons, because of their straiter rule, complained that they were made like monks. The honest and honourable state of matrimony he ever preferred before the unchaste singleness of priests. At his dinner commonly was read either some chapter of St. Paul, or of Solomon's Proverbs. He never used to sup. And although the blindness of that time carried him away after the common error of popery, yet in ripeness of judgment he seemed something to incline from the vulgar trade of that age. The religious order of monks and friars he fantasied not; as neither he could greatly favour the barbarous divinity of the school-doctors, as of Scotus, but least of all of Thomas Aquinas: insomuch that when Erasmus, speaking in the praise of Thomas Aquinas, did commend him, that he had read many old authors, and had written many new works, as Catena Aurea, and such like, to prove and to know his judgment: Colet, first supposing that Erasmus had spoken in jest, but after supposing that he meant good faith, bursteth out in great vehemency, saying, "What tell you me," quoth he, "of the commendation of that man, who, except he had been of an arrogant and presumptuous spirit, would not define and discuss all things so boldly and rashly; and also, except he had been rather worldly-minded than heavenly, would never have so polluted Christ's whole doctrine with man's profane doctrine, in such sort as he hath done?"

The bishop of London at that time was Fitzjames, of age no less than eighty; who, (bearing long grudge and displeasure against Colet,) with other two bishops taking his part, like to himself, entered action of complaint against Colet to the archbishop of Canterbury, being then William Warham. The matter of his complaint was divided into three articles: the first was for speaking against worshipping of images. The second was about hospitality, for that he, treating upon the place of the gospel, "Feed, feed, feed;" when he had expounded the two first, for feeding with example of life, and with doctrine; in the third, which the schoolmen do expound for feeding with hospitality, he left out the outward feeding of the belly, and applied it another way. The third crime wherewith they charged him, was for speaking against such as used to preach only by bosom sermons, declaring nothing else to the people, but as they bring in their prayers with them; which, because the bishop of London used then much to do for his age, he took it as spoken against him, and therefore bare him this displeasure. The archbishop, more wisely weighing the matter, and being well acquainted with Colet, so took his part against his accusers, that he at that time was rid out of trouble.

William Tyndall, in his book answering Master More, addeth moreover, and testifieth, that the bishop of London would have made the said Colet, dean of Paul's, a heretic, for translating the Paternoster into English, had not the bishop of Canterbury holpen the dean.

But yet the malice of Fitzjames the bishop so ceased not; who, being thus repulsed by the archbishop, practised by another train how to accuse him unto the king. The occasion thus fell. It happened the same time, that the king was in preparation of war against France; whereupon the bishop with his coadjutors, taking occasion upon certain words of Colet, wherein he seemed to prefer peace before any kind of war, were it never so just; accused him therefore in their sermons, and also before the king.

Furthermore it so befell at the same time, that upon Good Friday Dr. Colet, preaching before the king, entreated of the victory of Christ, exhorting all Christians to fight under the standard of Christ, against the devil; adding, moreover, what a hard thing it was to fight under Christ's banner, and that all they which upon private hatred or ambition took weapon against their enemy, (one Christian to slay another,) such did not fight under the banner of Christ, but rather of Satan: and therefore concluding his matter, he exhorted that Christian men, in their wars, would follow Christ their prince and captain, in fighting against their enemies, rather than the examples of Julius or Alexander, &c. The king, hearing Colet thus speak, and fearing lest by his words the hearts of his soldiers might be withdrawn from his wars which he had then in hand, took him aside and talked with him in secret conference, in his garden walking. Bishop Fitzjames, Bricot, and Standish, who were his enemies, thought now none other, but that Colet must needs be committed to the Tower; and waited for his coming out. But the king, with great gentleness entertaining Dr. Colet, and bidding him familiarly to put on his cap, in long courteous talk had with him in the garden, much commended him for his learning and integrity of life; agreeing with him in all points, but that only he required him (for that the rude soldiers should not rashly mistake that which he had said) more plainly to explain his words and mind in that behalf; which after he did. And so, after long communication and great promises, the king dismissed Colet with these words, saying: "Let every man have his doctor as him liketh, this shall be my doctor;" and so departed. Whereby none of his adversaries durst ever trouble him after that time.

Among many other memorable acts left behind him, he erected the worthy foundation of the school of Paul's, (I pray God the fruits of the school may answer the foundation,) for the cherishing up of youth in good letters, providing a sufficient stipend as well for the master, as for the usher; whom he willed rather to be appointed out of the number of married men, than of single priests with their suspected chastity. The first moderator of this school was William Lily, a man no less notable for his learning, than was Colet for his foundation. This Colet died the year of our Lord 1519.

Not long before the death of this Colet and Lily, lived William Grocine and William Latimer, both Englishmen also, and famously learned. This Grocine, as he began to read in his open lecture, in the church of St. Paul, the book of Dionysius Areopagita, commonly called Hierarchia Ecclesiastica, (for the reading of the Holy Scriptures in Paul's was not in use,) in the first entry of his preface cried out with great vehemency against them, whosoever they were, who either denied or stood in doubt of the authority of that book: in the number of whom he noted Laurence Valla, and divers others of the like approved judgment and learning. But afterwards the same Grocine, when he had continued a few weeks in his reading thereof, and did consider further in him, he utterly altered and recanted his former sentence, protesting openly, that the afore-named book, to his judgment, was never written by that author whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles to be called Dionysius Areopagita.

The tractation of these two couples above rehearsed, do occasion me to adjoin also the remembrance of another couple of like learned men: the names of whom, not unworthy to be remembered, were Thomas Linacre, and Richard Pace; which two followed much upon the time of Colet and William Lily. But of Richard Pace, who was dean next after the aforesaid John Colet, more convenient place shall serve us hereafter to speak, coming to the story of Cardinal Wolsey.


Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower

Moreover, to these two I thought it not out of season, to couple also some mention of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower; which, although being much discrepant from these in course of years, yet may seem not unworthy to be matched with these forenamed persons, in commendation of their study and learning. Albeit concerning the full certainty of the time and death of these two, we cannot find; yet it appeareth in the prologue of Gower's work, entitled Confessio Amantis, that he finished it in the sixteenth year of King Richard the Second. And in the end of the eighth book of his said treatise, he declareth that he was both sick and old when he wrote it; whereby it may appear that he lived not long after. Notwithstanding, by certain verses of the said Master Gower, placed in the latter end of Chaucer's works both in Latin and English, it may seem that he was alive at the beginning of the reign of King Henry the Fourth, and also by a book which he wrote to the same King Henry. By his sepulture within the chapel of the church of St. Mary Overy's, which was then a monastery, where he and his wife lie buried, it appeareth by his chain and his garland of laurel, that he was both a knight, and flourishing then in poetry; in the which place of his sepulture were made in his grave-stone three books: the first bearing the title, Speculum Meditantis; the second, Vox Clamantis; the third, Confessio Amantis. Besides these, divers chronicles and other works more he compiled.

Likewise, as touching the time of Chaucer, by his own words in the end of his first book of Troilus and Cressida, it is manifest that he and Gower were both of one time, although it seemeth that Gower was a great deal his ancient; both notably learned, as the barbarous rudeness of that time did give; both great friends together, and both in like kind of study together occupied; so endeavouring themselves, and employing their time, that they, excelling many others in study and exercise of good letters, did pass forth their lives here right worshipfully and godly, to the worthy fame and commendation of their name. Chaucer's works be all printed in one volume, and therefore known to all men.

This I marvel, to see the idle life of the priests and clergymen of that time, seeing these lay-persons showed themselves in these kinds of liberal studies so industrious and fruitfully occupied. But much more I marvel to consider this, how that the bishops, condemning and abolishing all manner of English books and treatises which might bring the people to any light of knowledge, did yet authorize the works of Chaucer to remain still and to be occupied; who, no doubt, saw into religion as much almost as even we do now, and uttereth in his works no less, and seemeth to be a right Wicklevian, or else there was never any. And that all his works almost, if they be thoroughly advised, will testify (albeit it be done in mirth, and covertly); and especially the latter end of his third book of the Testament of Love, for there purely he toucheth the highest matter, that is, the communion. Wherein, except a man be altogether blind, he may espy him at the full: although in the same book, (as in all others he useth to do,) under shadows covertly, as under a visor, he suborneth truth in such sort, as both privily she may profit the godly-minded, and yet not be espied of the crafty adversary. And therefore the bishops, belike, taking his works but for jests and toys, in condemning other books, yet permitted his books to be read.

So it pleased God to blind then the eyes of them, for the more commodity of his people, to the intent that through the reading of his treatises, some fruit might redound thereof to his church; as no doubt it did to many. As also I am partly informed, of certain who knew the parties, who to them reported, that by reading of Chaucer's works they were brought to the true knowledge of religion. And not unlike to be true: for, to omit other parts of his volume, whereof some are more fabulous than other, what tale can be more plainly told than the Tale of the Ploughman? or what finger can point out more directly the pope with his prelates to be antichrist, than doth the poor pelican reasoning against the greedy griffon? Under which hypotyposis, or poesy, who is so blind that seeth not by the pelican, the doctrine of Christ and of the Lollards to be defended against the Church of Rome? or who is so impudent that can deny that to be true which the pelican there affirmeth, in describing the presumptuous pride of that pretended church? Again, what egg can be more like, or fig, unto another, than the words, properties, and conditions of that ravening griffon resembleth the true image, that is, the nature and qualities, of that which we call the Church of Rome, in every point and degree? And therefore no great marvel if that narration was exempted out of the copies of Chaucer's works; which notwithstanding now is restored again, and is extant for every man to read that is disposed. This Geoffrey Chaucer, being born, as is thought, in Oxfordshire, and dwelling in Woodstock, lieth buried in the church of the minster of St. Peter at Westminster, in an aisle on the south side of the said church, not far from the door leading to the cloister; and upon his grave-stone first were written these two old verses:


Galfridus Chaucer Vates, et fama Poësis
Maternæ, hac sacra sum tumulatus humo.

Afterwards, about A.D. 1556, one Master Brickham, bestowing more cost upon his tomb, did add thereunto these verses following:


Qui fuit Anglorum Vates ter maximus olim,
Galfridus Chaucer conditur hoc tumulo.
Annum si quæras Domini, si tempora mortis,
Ecce notæ subsunt, quæ tibi cuncta notent.
25 Octob. Anno 1400.


Previous Next