The Gospels of the fower Euangelistes translated in the olde Saxons tyme out of Latin into the vulgare toung of the Saxons

Matthew Parker accepted his election and was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1559. He was once chaplain to Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother, and survived Queen Mary’s reign by remaining out of sight. William Cecil was a close friend. A tolerant, married Protestant cleric, Parker had to manage a Church with Puritans on one side and on other, Catholic-leaning clerics forced to acknowledge the Queen’s supremacy. The archbishop loyally served Elizabeth until his death in 1575. And he bequeathed to Cambridge University a priceless collection of manuscripts.  

Parker was a scholar and bibliophile. He took on the task—with the help of others with similar inclinations—of finding, gathering, and securing for posterity ancient English manuscripts. Parker revived interest in the Saxon language and Anglo-Saxon studies. In part, his motivation was to demonstrate (in the words of John Foxe) “how the religion presently tought & professed in the Church at thys present, is no new reformation of thinges lately begonne, which were not before, but rather the reduction of the Church to the Pristine state of olde conformitie, which it once had.” The Archbishop’s scholarly efforts led to publication of the earliest editions of the works of Aelfric (his Homelies and grammar), Asser’s Life of King Alfred, and Matthew Paris’s Historia major. He also directed John Day to print The Gospels of the fower Euangelistes, which featured Day’s recently cast type set of “Saxon Caracters or letters, that be most strange.”

The Gospels is based on a late (ca. 1175) manuscript in a West Saxon dialect of Old English. The oldest fragments of the West Saxon Gospels date from the 10th century; seven manuscripts survive. Although corrupted over time, Old English literature survived the Norman conquest and continued to be read into the fourteenth century. The Four Gospels includes an introductory dedication to Queen Elizabeth wherein martyrologist John Foxe explains the importance of the book. The handsomely-set gospels in Saxon type are tracked with a marginal printing of Bishops’ Bible text. Parker led the preparation of the Bishops’ Bible, which replaced the Great Bible as the Church’s authorized text. 

The present copy is best described as being “The Two Gospels.” It includes all preface materials but only the gospels of Matthew and Mark. The copy is interleaved. The notes of an 18th-century student/scholar appear on roughly the first one-third of these leaves.

Chrzanowski 1571g *

STC 2961

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675