Archbishop Matthew Parker had his Testimonie of Antiquitie published using a special Anglo-Saxon font, developed by the printer John Day on his behalf (and through the archbishops own pocket).  The font was reused in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments and various other works designed to support the Protestant viewpoint of early medieval Britain.  Creating such a font was an expensive business.  Peter J. Lucas estimates these fonts to have cost Parker in the sum of £200.  It was a highly technical and complex job.  John Day was, however the appropriate printer to be approached as he already employed a large Dutch workforce, well-known for their technical skill as type-founders.  This has been discussed in detail by Elizabeth Evenden in an article about the ‘fleeing Dutchmen’.

The unpublished dictionary compiled by John Joscelyn with the help of Parker’s son, John similarly imitates Anglo-Saxon script both in use of characters (such as æsc, eth, thorn, and wynn) and in forms of letters (such as the long ‘s’ and dotted y).  Timothy Graham has noted that the definitions were usually written in Latin, but sometimes in English or both languages together.  An abbreviated reference was also included to note the source from which the term had been found and copied (Graham, 2000, p. 91).

Uncommonly for this period it is possible to put together some idea of Joscelyn’s working methods to compile what was – for the most part – the first attempt to write an Old English dictionary.  Although Laurence Nowell had initiated the work in his equally unpublished Vocabularium Saxonicum this was, for Joscelyn just one source amongst many.  Largely, Josecelyn focused on old monastic manuscripts that contained both Latin and Old English script.  In his article Joscelyn’s Old English Lexicography, Timothy Graham goes into some detail on how Joscelyn composed a list of words from the manuscripts gathered by his employer Archbishop Matthew Parker.  Lambeth Palace Library MS 692, whilst based upon now lost preliminary lists (as evidenced by Graham, 2000, p. 117), represents a stage (or several stages) in that process.  Produced sometime around the 1560s when Parker was heavily engaged in his manuscript enterprise, the list shows how he derived words from single manuscripts and where possible noted variant spellings from several manuscripts.

Correctly identifying the Old English alphabet and vocabulary was essential to unlocking the contents and hidden mysteries of original Anglo-Saxon texts and therefore essential to Parker’s mission to uncover evidence that suggested a religious belief and performance more in line with the reformed evangelical stance.  This work, whilst invaluable to a general understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period was, therefore, nonetheless a religiously-charged endeavour.  Such emphasis can not only be found in the purposes given for publishing certain Old English texts (such as Parker’s claim to Roman Catholic attempts to erase history in his Testimonie of Antiquitie) but also in emphasis and value attached to printing those original texts in their original form. Parker’s willingness to pay handsomely for an Old English font was steeped in propagandistic methodology.

John Foxe’s preface to Parker’s The Gospels of the fower Evangelistes (1571) argues for the need to have the Scriptures available in the vernacular but it also notes that knowledge of Old English had enabled them to show that ‘the religion taught and professed in this land at present, is no new reformation of thinges lately begonne, which were not before, but rather a reduction of the Church to the Pristine state of old conformitie, which onece it had’ (Evenden & Freeman, p. 239).  Foxe could not read Old English himself (as noted by Michael Murphy, ‘John Foxe, Martyrologist and “Editor” of Old English’, English Studies, 49 (1968), pp. 516-23) but he did agree with Parker’s belief that the translation of Old English documents was increasingly proving their point that the Roman Catholics had altered the past and deviated from the purity of Christian theology and belief.  Evenden and Freeman have argued that Foxe’s involvement in this preface involved several agendas including that the printer John Day was advertising more translations in the near future of manuscripts held in the hands of Archbishop Parker and that the weight of evidence discovered through these translations was beginning to tip the tide against Catholic arguments.


Further Reading

Peter J. Lucas, ‘Parker, Lambarde and the Provision of Special Sorts for Printing Anglo-Saxon in the Sixteenth Century’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 28 (1999), pp. 44-5

Elizabeth Evenden, ‘The Fleeing Dutchmen? The influence of Dutch immigrants upon the print shop of John Day’, in David Loades (ed.), John Foxe at Home and Abroad (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 63-77

Elizabeth Evenden and Thomas S. Freeman, Religion and the Book in Early Modern England: The making of Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 238-240

Timothy Graham, ‘John Joscelyn, pioneer of Old English lexicography’, in Timothy Graham (ed.), The Recovery of Old English: Anglo-Saxon studies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Medieval Institute Publications: Kalamazoo, 2000), pp. 83-140



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