Title-page of a work by Penry

John Penry (1559-1593)

JOHN PENRY, Welsh Puritan, was born in Brecknockshire in 1559; tradition points to Cefn Brith, a farm near Llangammarch, as his birthplace. He matriculated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in December 1580, being then almost certainly a Roman Catholic; but soon became a convinced Protestant, with strong Puritan leanings. Having graduated B.A., he migrated to St Alban's Hall, Oxford, and proceeded M.A. in July 1586.

He did not seek episcopal ordination, but was licensed as University Preacher. The tradition of his preaching tours in Wales is slenderly supported; they could only have been made during a few months of 1586 or the autumn of 1587. At this time ignorance and immorality abounded in Wales. In 1562 an act of parliament had made provision for translating the Bible into Welsh, and the New Testament was issued in 1567; but the number printed would barely supply a copy for each parish church. Indignant at this negligence, Penry published, early in 1587, The Equity of an Humble Supplication in the behalf of the country of Wales, that some order may be taken for the preaching of the Gospel among those people.

Archbishop Whitgift, angry at the implied rebuke, caused him to be brought before the High Commission and imprisoned for about a month. On his release Penry married a lady of Northampton, which town was his home for some years. With the assistance of Sir Richard Knightley and others, he set up a printing press, which for nearly a year from Michaelmas 1588 was in active operation. It was successively located at East Moulsey (Surrey), Fawsley (Northampton), Coventry and other places in Warwickshire, and finally at Manchester, where it was seized in August 1589. On it were printed Penry's Exhortation to the governours and people of Wales, and View of. .. such publike wants and disorders as are in the service of God. .. in Wales; as well as the celebrated Martin Marprelate tracts.

In January 1590 his house at Northampton was searched and his papers seized, but he succeeded in escaping to Scotland. There he published several tracts, as well as a translation of a learned theological work known as Theses Genevenses. Returning to England in September 1592, he joined the Separatist Church in London, in which he declined to take office, though after the arrest of the ministers, Francis Johnson and John Greenwood, he seems to have been the regular preacher. He was arrested in March 1593, and efforts were made to find some pretext for a capital charge. Failing this a charge of sedition was based on the rough draft of a petition to the Queen that had been found among his private papers; the language of which was indeed harsh and offensive, but had been neither presented nor published. He was convicted by the Queen's Bench on the 21st of May 1593, and hanged on the 29th at the unusual hour of 4 p.m., the signature of his old enemy Whitgift being the first of those affixed to the warrant.

      Excerpted from:

      Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XXI.
      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 117.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Arber, Edward. An Introductory Sketch to the Martin Marprelate Controversy.
           London: English Scholars Library, 1879.
            Available Free at Google Books

MacGinn, Donald J. John Penry and the Marprelate controversy.
           New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1965.

Pierce, William. An Historical Introduction to the Marprelate Tracts.
           London: Archibald Constable, 1908.
           Available Free at Google Books

Pierce, William, ed. Marprelate tracts, 1588, 1589.
           London: J. Clarke & Co., 1911. (repr. 1967).

Waddington, John. John Penry, Pilgrim Martyr.
           London: W & F. G. Cash, 1854.
           Available Free at Google Books

John Penry on the Web:

Backto Renaissance English Literature
Backto Luminarium Encyclopedia

Site copyright ©1996-2007 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created by Anniina Jokinen on January 26, 2007.