John Strype at the Edward Worth Library

Although the Worth Library is dominated by scientific and medical material, it contains almost all the works of the English clergyman and ecclesiastical historian John Strype (1643-1737). The presence of these volumes, mainly in folio format and many elaborately bound, testifies to Edward Worth’s appreciation of Strype’s scholarly reputation. By the 1720s, when Worth seems to have embarked on his most fruitful period of acquisitions, Strype had established himself as the leading historian of the English Reformation.


Portrait of John Strype.


Worth’s ownership of these works also points to the strong political, cultural, and literary connections between Irish and English Protestants in the early eighteenth century. As a member of a Church of Ireland clerical dynasty, grandson of a bishop and son of a cathedral dean, Worth well understood these links. Worth was interested in the lives of Tudor Protestant bishops because the history of the English Reformation effectively was the history of Irish Protestantism. Religious reform had been introduced to Ireland in the sixteenth century through the mechanism of English rule and only English support could preserve the ascendency of a Protestant establishment in Worth’s own time. Worth was far from alone among Irish Protestants in this interest and the subscription lists for John Strype’s prestigious folio works include substantial numbers of Church of Ireland clergy: bishops, cathedral deans and dignitaries, fellows of Trinity College, and officers of the ecclesiastical courts. In 1725, towards the end of his literary career, Strype himself particularly acknowledged ‘the good Opinion I have obtained from the Prelates, Dignified and Learned Men in the other Kingdom of Ireland’. [1]


Understanding Strype’s background helps to explain how he became a chronicler of the English Reformation, fiercely antagonistic to Catholicism and devoted to the peculiarities of the Church of England. The son of a Flemish silk merchant, Strype was born in London into a family with strong connections to the wider world of European Protestantism. His father Jan van Strijp had left Brabant during the Protestant Dutch Republic’s long struggle for independence from Catholic Spain. Strype’s mother Hester Bonnel was a descendent of a French-speaking Protestant who had likewise left the Low Countries to escape religious persecution from Catholic authorities. [2] A strong antipathy to Catholicism would understandably mark Strype’s worldview and influence his career, but he would distance himself from this international Calvinist heritage and craft a largely insular account of the English Reformation.


Strype’s family also had close links to those Protestant ‘Dissenters’ estranged from the worship and government of the Church of England, at least in the form it had been re-established following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Strype’s brother-in-law John Johnson was a clergyman who was forced out of the Church for conscientious reasons, unable to accommodate himself to the return of the bishops and the Book of Common Prayer. Despite this puritan background, however, Strype soon orientated himself towards the establishment. After studying at Cambridge, he received ordination into the clergy of the Church of England in 1666. By 1669 he was settled as vicar of the Essex parish of Low Leyton, near to London, where he would remain for the rest of his life. [3]


Strype continued in many ways the methodology demonstrated in the History of the Reformation of the Church of England by Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury. The first two volumes of this seminal work were published in 1679 and 1681, after Strype had entered the clergy and begun his parish ministry. Burnet’s History was a pioneering attempt to give an account of England’s sixteenth-century religious changes using authentic contemporary sources. Although it understandably told a triumphal story of the victory of Protestantism over Catholicism, the work set new standards in its incorporation of manuscript transcriptions, which Strype sought to emulate. [4] Strype’s biographies of Tudor Protestant bishops and lay politicians, along with his chronological histories of religious change from the 1530s to the 1560s, aimed to present a coherent interpretation of the English Reformation. In order to strengthen the Church of England in his own day, he sought to explain the development of its distinctive elements: the bishops, dioceses, cathedrals, and Book of Common Prayer. In shaping his overall narrative Strype smoothed over the complexities and potential alternative paths of the English Reformation, focusing solely upon the form which the Church of England had eventually taken. Although he was keen to draw upon original manuscript material wherever possible, many of his transcriptions and paraphrases have been shown to be silently abridged or otherwise edited. [5]


Memorials of the Most Reverend Father in God, Thomas Cranmer, Sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London: Richard Chiswell, 1694). Folio.


Stype was already fifty when he published his first historical work. Its subject was Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the leading clerical figure in the early stages of the English Reformation. In the preface Strype explained how he had been ‘for a long time not a little addicted to read whatsoever I could of the Reformation of this famous Church’, and that he aimed to explain ‘for what Reasons it was first attempted; in what Methods it proceeded; by what Men it was chiefly managed and carried’. [6] Strype’s account to some extent overlapped with Gilbert Burnet’s more general History of the Reformation and continued its methodology of utilising original manuscripts and including transcriptions in an appendix. In his preface Strype cited Burnet ‘especially’ among the ‘few Learned Men’ who had recently ‘employed themselves in Collecting and Publishing what Memorials of Religion and the Church they could retrieve’. [7] Thomas Cranmer was the natural subject for a biographical approach to the English Reformation. Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, he was instrumental in effecting Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 1530s and 1540s. In the short reign of Henry’s son Edward VI, the Protestant boy-king, Cranmer accelerated the pace of religious reform. In 1549 the Protestant Book of Common Prayer, whose literary qualities are largely Cranmer’s handiwork, replaced the Catholic Latin liturgy. Only three years later a second edition of the Book of Common Prayer moved even more decisively in a Protestant direction. Following the succession in 1553 of Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary I, however, Cranmer was condemned as a heretic and executed by burning.


Portraits of Pietro Martire Vermigli and Martin Bucer.


Strype covered Cranmer’s extensive interactions with leading Continental Reformers, many of whom were invited to England during Edward VI’s reign. The work included portraits of the Italian Pietro Martire Vermigli, the Pole Jan Łaski, and the Germans Martin Bucer and Philipp Melanchton. This emphasis on the international element in the English Reformation would, however, become far less pronounced in Strype’s later historical works. Strype wrote the first stand-alone biography of Cranmer, but in contrast with previous Protestant treatments of the archbishop Strype emphasised Cranmer’s administrative skills and intellectual weight as much as his dramatic martyrdom for conscience. [8] This celebration of the orderly, methodical aspect to the English Reformation would become a key theme for Strype.


The forged coronation speech.


Given his insistence on the value of original manuscripts, it is ironic that Strype was responsible for perpetuating a remarkable literary forgery. When describing the coronation by Cranmer of Edward VI, Strype printed in its entirety a forgery recently created by the Irish Protestant gentleman Robert Ware. Disguising his invention as a manuscript acquired earlier in the century by the famed Irish Protestant bishop James Ussher, Ware had in 1681 published a speech supposedly given by Cranmer at the coronation. Strype was evidently uncomfortable at the recent provenance of the document, acknowledging that it was only ‘published of late Years’, but could not resist including something which so conveniently mirrored his own anti-Catholic beliefs. It was largely thanks to this republication of Ware’s forgery that it acquired a lasting authority, surviving in some academic circles until the early twenty-first century. [9]


The Life of the Learned Sir Thomas Smith Kt. Doctor of the Civil Law; Principal Secretary of State to King Edward the Sixth, and Queen Elizabeth (London: Abel Roper and Richard Basset, 1698). Octavo.


Though renowned as a biographer of bishops, Strype also authored two lives of Tudor lay politicians. The first of these was Strype’s second historical work, a 1698 biography of the lawyer and humanist scholar Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577). Having served as secretary of state to the Protestant boy-king Edward VI, Smith was a survivor who weathered the reign of the Catholic Mary I to resume his political role under Elizabeth I. Strype dedicated the work to Smith’s collateral descendent Sir Edward Smith of Hill Hall, Essex, who had granted Strype access to ‘divers of Sir Thomas’s Papers’. Strype described Smith as one of those who ‘however useful they were in their Times, and made a great Figure to the World, are now in effect quite forgotten’, but his attempt to represent Smith as a ‘constant Embracer’ of Protestantism with a ‘great hand’ in the Reformation stretched reality. [10] Modern historians see Smith as someone with a contemporary reputation for lukewarmness, to some degree removed from the process of the Elizabethan religious settlement and preoccupied with economic reform, Greek scholarship, and a disastrous project to establish an English settlement on the Ards peninsula in the north-east of Ireland. [11] After the bold beginning of Cranmer, the shift down to octavo format and the change of publishers perhaps indicate that Strype was struggling with the commercial realities of the book trade. The smaller format would notably not allow Strype to buttress his narrative with appendices of transcribed documents.


Historical Collections of the Life and Acts of the Right Reverend Father in God, John Aylmer, Lord Bishop of London in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London: Brabazon Aylmer, 1701). Octavo.


Strype’s third biography dealt with the Elizabethan Bishop of London, John Aylmer (1520/21-1594). The work’s publisher Brabazon Aylmer was a direct descendent of the bishop. [12] With Aylmer Strype began a series of studies of how Protestantism was firmly established in England in the decades after 1558, during the long reign of Elizabeth I. The decision to narrate the later stages of the Reformation through biographies of senior clergy says much about Strype’s view of English Protestantism: he identified true religion with the institution of the Church and its clerical personnel. Having spent the reign of the Catholic Mary I in exile in Zurich, Aylmer returned to England in 1559 to implement religious reform under a Protestant queen. From 1577 he occupied the key bishopric of London, overseeing the religious life of the nation’s political and commercial centre. Though also concerned to suppress Catholicism, Aylmer earned a reputation as a hammer of puritans, those radical Protestants who wished reform to continue beyond the limits imposed by Elizabeth I. Strype promised to explain to his readers ‘what Methods were then taken to preserve [the Church of England], with respect both to the Papist and Puritan’. [13] Modern historians generally agree that Aylmer was an ambitious and antagonistic administrator, whose difficulties with politicians and clerical colleagues were largely of his own making. However, Strype omitted Aylmer’s more inflammatory and obnoxious language when paraphrasing his letters, crafting the image of a selfless public servant dedicated to completing the English Reformation. [14] Strype’s heroes were competent administrators, building up the structures of the institution which Strype was proud to serve in his own time.


The History of the Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, Edmund Grindal, the First Bishop of London, and the Second Archbishop of York and Canterbury Successively, in the Reign of Q. Elizabeth (London: John Hartley, 1710). Folio.


From 1710 to 1718 Strype produced a trilogy of works dealing with the three Archbishops of Canterbury during the reign of Elizabeth I. Strype began out of chronological order with a biography of Elizabeth’s second Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Grindal (1516×20–1583). Having established his scholarly reputation, Strype was finally able to publish a biography by subscription. The subscribers included bishops, cathedral deans, university professors, peers, knights, parliamentarians, government ministers, and London merchants. [15] However, Archbishop Grindal was a potentially difficult biographical subject, a giant of sixteenth-century English Protestantism whose reputation had been largely eclipsed. Grindal occupied the most senior English bishoprics under Elizabeth I, spending time at London and York, but as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1576 he declined to enforce the relatively conservative religious preferences of his queen. After conscientiously refusing to suppress the innovative ‘prophesyings’, local meetings at which Protestant clergy practiced their preaching, Grindal was suspended from office. He spent the last six years of his life in enforced retirement, disgraced and ignored. Grindal was idolised by later generations of English puritans, just as he was disregarded or demonised by anti-puritan Protestants attached to ceremonial worship and government by bishops. Though Grindal was obviously the fruit of many years of research, Strype was likely spurred into print in 1710 by a sensationally controversial sermon the previous year. From the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral Henry Sacheverell had lambasted the contemporary bishops of the Church of England, supposedly too moderate in their relations with Protestant Dissenters, under cover of denouncing Grindal as a ‘false brother’, a ‘false son’, and a ‘perfidious prelate’. The printed sermon was a bestseller and brought Grindal back into popular consciousness. Though no puritan himself, Strype sought to rehabilitate Grindal by emphasising his loyalty to the enduring peculiarities of the Church of England, namely the bishops and the Book of Common Prayer. However, Strype did so by downplaying Grindal’s problematic Protestant zeal and suggesting, incorrectly, that he was reconciled with Elizabeth before his death. [16]


The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker, the First Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London: John Wyat, 1711). Folio.


Grindal was followed by a biography of Elizabeth I’s first Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker (1504-1575). Strype boasted that ‘many particulars of the ecclesiastical history of those times, hitherto Unknown, or very Obscure’ were ‘discovered and brought to Light’ through his use of ‘Records, Registers, State-Papers, Orders of Council, Authentic Letters’. [17] Like Grindal, it was a prestigious folio volume published by subscription. The same mix of senior clergy, aristocracy, politicians, and merchants subscribed, but now copies were explicitly ordered for the libraries of University College, Oxford and Jesus and Corpus Christi Colleges in Cambridge. [18] Unlike Grindal, Aylmer, and many other leading Protestant clergy, Parker had remained in England during the reign of Mary I and had necessarily offered at least some signs of submission to Catholicism. Though a convinced Protestant, he was willing for reform to proceed gradually under Elizabeth I, hoping to hold together a coalition of moderate and radical reformers. Strype interpreted this, however, as a conscious decision to halt the English Reformation in the form in which it had endured into the early eighteenth century. He described how under Parker’s leadership the Church of England was ‘Established upon the Principles whereon it stands to this Day’. [19] Strype in fact largely originated the anachronistic image of Parker as a founding father of a Church carefully navigating between Catholicism and puritanism. History was made to serve present needs and Strype made Parker a far less zealous Protestant than he had been in life. [20]


The Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, John Whitgift, D.D. the Third and Last Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London, 1718). Folio.


Strype’s trilogy on the Elizabethan Archbishops of Canterbury was completed by his final biography, a study of John Whitgift (1530-1604). Again, copies were ordered in advance for the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge colleges, while subscriptions were also collected from German and French Protestant clergy in London. [21] Strype was by now effectively the official biographer of the Tudor Church of England, and the title page described him as ‘the Author of the Lives of the Three former Protestant Archbishops’. As with Strype’s other works, Whitgift was declared to be ‘Digested, Compiled and Attested from Records, Registers, Original Letters, and other Authentick Mss. taken from the Choicest Libraries and Collections of the Kingdom’. [22] If Archbishop Grindal’s career had presented Strype with difficulties, Whitgift was far more congenial subject. Whitgift succeeded the unfortunate Grindal at Canterbury in 1583, when the attention of the government and bishops was turning from the suppression of Catholicism to the restraining of puritan agitation for further reform. Though firm in his own Protestant beliefs, Whitgift was merciless in prosecuting those radicals who wished to move beyond bishops, cathedrals, and the Book of Common Prayer. Derided by contemporary pamphleteers as ‘the Pope of Lambeth’, the authoritarian and uncompromising Whitgift was for precisely these qualities a hero to Strype. [23] From the perspective of the early eighteenth century, with English Protestantism fragmented into denominations of Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and more, Whitgift represented a lost certainty of purpose. With contemporary resonance, Strype celebrated his subject’s opposition to ‘The Endeavours of those they called Puritans, to set up a New Church-Discipline’. [24]


Ecclesiastical Memorials; Relating Chiefly to Religion, and the Reformation of It, and the Emergencies of the Church of England, under King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. and Queen Mary the First (3 vols., London: John Wyat, 1721). Folio.


Although chiefly famous for his biographies of Tudor bishops, Strype also composed chronological histories of the English Reformation, which Edward Worth also acquired. Like all of Strype’s scholarship, the Ecclesiastical Memorials drew heavily on original manuscript material. Strype boasted that he had located documents ‘Such as have hitherto Escaped our Writers and Historians’ and so could better explain the series of religious revolutions and counter-revolutions from the 1530s to the 1550s. [25] The Memorials were published by subscription and the opening illustration gave visual expression to the status which Strype had achieved. Whereas his biographies had included portraits of their subjects, the Memorials were illustrated with an elaborate portrait of Strype himself. The author is pictured in his clerical dress, surrounded by the books which had brought him fame and some degree of financial security. The folio and octavo biographies stand on the shelves of the bookcase, while Strype’s hand rests on the folio volumes of the Memorials on the table. Beneath the portrait are Strype’s coat of arms and a Latin description of him as ‘Philalethes’ and ‘Philarchæus’, a lover of truth and history.


Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion, and other Various Occurrences in the Church of England; During the First Twelve Years of Queen Elizabeth’s Happy Reign (2nd edn, 4 volumes, London: Thomas Edlin and Edward Symon, 1725-31). Folio.


Edward Worth also acquired Strype’s other chronological history, the Annals of the Reformation. Focusing on the first years of Elizabeth I’s long reign, the Annals provided an account of ‘the Restoring of religion from its Corruptions introduced under Queen Mary’: the ejection from office of Catholic bishops and clergy, the appointment of Protestant replacements, and the passage of reforming legislation by Parliament. The emphasis was on the orderly, controlled nature of religious change. Strype boasted of how his work was ‘Compiled faithfully out of Papers of State, Authentick Records, Publick Registers, Private Letters, and other Original Manuscripts’, which were as usual included in an appendix. [26] The Annals were originally published in a single folio volume in 1709, but Edward Worth owned the first three volumes of a four-volume edition ‘with large Additions’ published between 1725 and 1731.


Provenance of the Strype works


Title page of the 1725 sale catalogue of the Killigrew and Beale auction.


It is possible to reconstruct the likely path of some of Strype’s works into the Worth Library, due to Edward Worth’s habit of keeping sale catalogues. One of these is for the 7 December 1725 auction in London of the libraries of the courtier and theatre manager Charles Killigrew and the Suffolk gentleman Bartholomew Beale. The books were sold by ‘Fletcher Gyles, Bookseller, over against Grey’s-Inn, in Holborn’ and included ‘near Eight Hundred relating to the History, Laws, Antiquities, and Parliamentary Affairs of Great Britain and Ireland’. [27] The catalogue includes Cranmer, Grindal, Parker, and Whitgift, along with the Ecclesiastical Memorials and the first two volumes of the expanded second edition of the Annals of the Reformation. Worth’s copy of the sale catalogue has a pencil marking next to these items, indicating his interest. [28]


Page of sale catalogue with Strypes and pencil marking.


In the Worth Library these nine folio volumes have elaborate and identical bindings, identified as the work of the London craftsman Christopher Chapman from some point in the 1720s. [29] This group of identical bindings, together with the pencil markings in the 1725 auction catalogue, would suggest that Worth acquired these Strype folio works together at the London sale.


Christopher Chapman bindings of Strype folios.


As is common in such auctions, the catalogue did not distinguish whether books had been owned by Charles Killigrew or Bartholomew Beale. However, it is Killigrew’s name which appears in the lists of subscribers to Parker, Whitgift, and the Ecclesiastical Memorials. Killigrew was known for his historical interests and literary patronage. The preface to John Stevens’s History of the Antient Abbeys (1722) thanked ‘Charles Killigrew of Somerset-House’ for access to his ‘most curious, valuable and numerous Library’, containing ‘one of the most compleat Collections of all that relates to the History of England, that may perhaps be found in the Possession of any private Person’. [30]


Text: Dr. Ralph Stevens, Worth Library Research Fellow (2017).




[1] John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion (2nd edn, 4 vols, London, 1725-31), vol. 2, ‘Preface’, no sig.

[2] G. H. Martin and Anita McConnell, ‘Strype, John (1643-1737)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Martin Greig, ‘Burnet, Gilbert (1643-1715)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[5] Martin and McConnell, ‘Strype, John, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[6] John Strype, Memorials of the Most Reverend Father in God, Thomas Cranmer (London, 1694), p. i.

[7] Ibid., p. iii

[8] Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Thomas Cranmer’s Biographers’, in idem, All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation (London, 2016), pp. 259-63, 267-8.

[9] Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Forging Reformation History: a cautionary tale’, in idem, All Things Made New, pp. 321, 337-8, 344-7.

[10] John Strype, The Life of the Learned Sir Thomas Smith (London, 1698), sigs. A2v, A3v.

[11] Ian W. Archer, ‘Smith, Sir Thomas (1513–1577)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[12] Brett Usher, ‘Aylmer, John (1520/21–1594)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[13] John Strype, Historical Collections of the Life and Acts of the Right Reverend Father in God, John Aylmer (London, 1701), title page.

[14] Usher, ‘Aylmer, John’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[15] John Strype, The History of the Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, Edmund Grindal (London, 1710), pp. xv-xviii.

[16] Patrick Collinson, ‘Grindal, Edmund (1516×20–1583)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[17] John Strype, The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker (London, 1711), title page.

[18] Ibid., pp. xxi-xxvi.

[19] Ibid., title page

[20] David J. Crankshaw and Alexandra Gillespie, ‘Parker, Matthew (1504–1575)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[21] John Strype, The Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, John Whitgift (London, 1718), pp. i to ‘vi’ [sic, iv] (new pagination for subscriber list).

[22] Ibid., title page.

[23] William Joseph Sheils, ‘Whitgift, John (1530/31?–1604)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed 28 March 2018).

[24] Strype, John Whitgift, title page.

[25] John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials (3 vols, London, 1721), title page.

[26] John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion, and other Various Occurrences in the Church of England (2nd edn, 4 vols, London, 1725-31), title page.

[27] [Fletcher Gyles], Catalogus Librorum in Omni Ferè Scientiâ & Facultate Præstantium; ex Bibliothecis Caroli Killigrew et Bartholomaei Beale ([London, 1725]), title page.

[28] Ibid., p. 5.

[29] For descriptions of the bindings, see the item records in the Worth Library’s online Modern Catalogue.

[30] John Stevens, The History of the Antient Abbeys, Monasteries, Hospitals, Cathedral and Collegiate Churches (2 vols, London, 1722-3), vol. 1, p. ii.

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