The history of the Church of Englande
Bede (673–735), a monk at the sister monasteries in Wearmouth and Jarrow (in Northumbria), was England’s greatest historian in the Middle Ages. His principal work is Historia Ecclesiastica, an ecclesiastical history of the English people. He begins with Caesar’s invasion in 55 BCE and St. Alban’s martyrdom in Roman Britain, tracks the spread of Christianity following St. Augustine’s mission to England in 597, and provides an account of critical events such as the Council of Whitby, which decided that Roman rather than Celtic Christian customs would be followed in Britain.
Bede drew on the many manuscripts in the Jarrow monastery’s outstanding library and correspondents provided him materials. He was a diligent scholar and properly credited his sources. To the benefit of historical scholarship, Historia Ecclesiastica spread widely throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, with some 160 manuscripts still surviving. Not long after his death, he became known as the Venerable Bede. His was one of the first printed history books, published (in Latin) in Strasbourg about 1475. Highly popular on the Continent and in Britain, it was reprinted in 1500, 1506, and 1514.
Translated by Thomas Stapleton, the first edition of Historia Ecclesiatica in English was published in Antwerp in 1565. Stapleton was educated in Oxford, where he became a fellow in 1553. On Queen Elizabeth’s accession, he left England to study theology in Louvain and Paris. His translation of Bede was his first of many works. Stapleton used Bede’s history to remind the reader that “we Englishmen also these many hundred of years kept and preserved sound and whole the precious perle of right faith and belefe,” and he admonished that “after we forsooke the first paterne off the Christen faith delievered to us, we have fallen in to plenty of heresies.” He added that the Venerable Bede, a most reliable source, describes many miracles that occurred in Britain under the true faith. By comparison, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments was a “dunghell heaped [with] a number of miserable miracles to sette forth the glory of their stinking Martyrs.” In 1568 Stapleton joined William Allen at Douai, where he helped found the English college that was the source of the first Catholic Bible in English.
In the present copy of Stapleton’s translation, the title page is a pen-and-ink facsimile and other leaves prior to “To the Reader” are missing, two leaves of subsequent introductory material are supplied in facsimile, and a third leaf may be supplied from another copy.
Chrzanowski 1565b *