Search for Catholic books

Edward VI to the bishops, 8 June 1551 (SP 10/9/57, f.113r-114r)

Somerset’s fall prompted rumours that the Book of Common Prayer would be abolished and parishes would be allowed to return to using pre-Reformation liturgies and services. This letter directs the bishops to squash these rumours and call in all Catholic service books and make regular searches for them.


Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well,[1] and whereas the book entitled the book of common prayers and administration of the sacraments and other rights and ceremonies of the Church after the use of the Church in England was agreed upon and set forth by Act of Parliament and by the same Act commanded to be used of all Persons within this our Realm, yet nevertheless we are informed that divers unquiet and evil disposed persons since the apprehension of the Duke of Somerset have noised and bruted [bruited: spread a rumour] abroad that they should have again their old Latin service their conjured bread and water with such like vain and superstitious ceremony as though the setting forth of the said book has been the only act of the afore named Duke. We therefore by the advice of the body and state of our Privy Council, not only considering the said book to be our own Act, and that of the whole state of our realm assembled together in Parliament, but also the same to be grounded upon holy scripture agreeable to the order of the primitive Church, and much to the edifying of our Subjects to put away all such vain expectation of having the public service the administration of the sacraments, and other rights, and ceremonies again in the Latin tongue, which were but a preferring of Ignorance to Knowledge and darkness to light, and a preparation to bring in Papistry [the Roman Catholic Church] and superstition again: have thought good by the advice afore said to require and nevertheless straightly [directly] command and charge you that ye immediately upon the receipt here of do command the Dean and prebendaries [clergyman supported by the revenues from an estate or parish] of your cathedral church the parson, vicar or Curate and Church wardens of every Parish, within your Diocese to bring

and deliver to your or your Deputy every of them for their Church and Parish at such convenient place, as ye shall appoint, all antiphones [a verse or song to be chanted or sung in response] missalles [books containing all instructions and texts necessary for the celebration of Mass], grayles bressionalls [brevaries: books that contained daily psalms, prayers, hymns necessary for reciting the office]  manuals, Legends, pies, portasses, journals, and ordinalles [These are all different sorts of texts and books used for divine service in the pre-Reformation period] after the use of Sarum, Lincoln, York Bangor, Herford,[2] or any other private use and all other books of service, the keeping whereof should be a let to the using of the said Book of Common prayers, and that yet take the same books into your hands or into the hands of your deputy and then so deface and abolish that they never hereafter may serve either to any such use as they were first provided for, or be at any time & let to that godly and uniform order which by a common consent is now set forth. And if ye shall find any person stubborn or disobedient in not bringing in the said books according to the tenor of these our letters that then you commit the same person toward to such time as ye have certified us of his misbehaviour, and we will and command ye that ye also search or cause search to be made from time to time whether any book be withdrawn or hid contrary to the tenure of these our letters, and the same books to receive into your hands and to use as in these our letters we have appointed, and furthermore whereas it is come to our knowledge, that divers forward and obstinate persons do refuse to pay towards the finding of bread and wine for the holy communion according to the order prescribed in the said book by reason whereof the holy Communion is many times omitted upon the Sunday, These are to will, and command you to convey such obstinate persons before you and them to admonish and command to keep order prescribed in the said Book, and if any shall refuse so to do to punish them by suspension excommunication or other censures of the Church, fail ye not thus to do, as ye will avoid our displeasure given under our signet [one of the royal seals] at our Palace of Westminster the 25th of

December the third year of our Reign.

[Signed by Cranmer, St John, Russell, Rich, Dorset, Arundel, Warwick, and the bishop of Ely]

[1] This was the standard way of beginning a formal letter from the monarch, though the precise opening (‘Right reverend Father in God’) would change according to who the recipient was.

[2] Before the establishment of a universal divine service – the Book of Common Prayer – dioceses and parishes followed one of a number of different ‘uses’ (i.e. rites and services).  The most common was the Sarum – or Salisbury – use; Cranmer based the BCP on it.

Return to English Reformation c1527-1590