The English Reformation as reflected in the life and works of Thomas Becon 1512-1567
Bailey, Derrick Sherwin
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Few contemporary verdicts have been more completely reversed than that passed by his fellow reformers and protestant countrymen upon Thomas Becon. From the scant mention which his life and works now receive at the hands of historians it would hardly be inferred that he was, in his day, a prolific writer of religious tracts and treatises, some of which were for many years 'best -sellers'; a popular preacher whose vigorous sermons were greatly esteemed by those of his own persuasion; and a zealous, if occasionally somewhat uncertain, supporter of the Reformation in England.Nevertheless, the neglect into which Thomas Becon has been allowed to fall is undeserved and regrettable, and to attempt to redress it is no mere antiquarian labour. He has a claim upon our attention as a vigorous, effective, and influential protagonist of the protestant cause, as a typical English re- formed churchman of the period, and as a colourful personality in whose life and works the course and character of the English Reformation is mirrored. It is the object of this study to try to rescue his name from its unmerited oblivion, and to give some account of his part in the reformat- ion of the Church in England.At the outset it should be said that not least among the difficulties with which the biographer of Thomas Becon has to contend are the elusiveness of his subject and the paucity of the material at his disposal. The latter is not only meagre (which may partly account for the neglect Becon has suffered) but often confused or inaccurate. He appears, perhaps advisedly, to have been reticent about his activities at certain periods, and tells us little of his early life; he is silent upon family matters (apart from mentioning the names of his children) and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, made no will. To the comparatively few facts which can be gleaned from his writings, official and other contemporary records acid but little, and several periods of his life are particularly obscure. Although frequently involved in important events, he seems to have remained in the background; hence, as in the case of the Frankfort 'troubles', his precise views and actions cannot always be easily ascertained. Allowance has to be made for the anti -catholic prejudices of certain early memoir writers and historians, who tend to exaggerate his importance. Finally, the many different spellings of his name causes confusion, which is increased by his finding it necessary at one time in his career to adopt the pseudonym Theodore Basil[ le] . Some biographers have complicated this problem by mistaking Thomas Becon for a younger contemporary, John, who was a member of St. John' s College, Cambridge, and became Chancellor of Norwich.Not only has this study provided an opportunity to correct many of the errors which have thus arisen, and which have been perpetuated by uncritical copying, but information is also presented for the first time which throws new light upon the question of Becon's ordination. In addition, much material already accessible in printed records but hitherto unused has been included. Since they are now little known, I have taken the liberty of quoting somewhat freely from his works, and have described the contents of all of them; citations, wherever possible, are from the Parker Society edition, but for some works not included therein the folio or another early edition has been used. Where lack of data has compelled me, I have not hesitated to suggest what has seemed to me, after careful consideration, the most prob- able course of events; such reconstructions have served to bridge the many gaps in the story of Becon's life, and I hope that in every case it will be perfectly clear what is factual and what conjectural. I have tried, and I trust successfully, to avoid writing yet another account of the English. Reformation, and have confined myself simply to such events and ideas as are reflected in Becon's life and works.