Tag Archives: English

Puritans & Pilgrims

Some English people wanted to reform Henry’s Church of England. They wanted to get back to the Church’s roots. They wanted to get closer to what Saint Peter founded and Saint Paul mapped out. They wanted a more pure stripped-down no-frills version of worship, so those guys were called ‘Puritans.’


Other English people threw up their hands and said ‘It can’t be fixed. Gotta start from scratch.’ They wanted what the Puritans wanted but decided to start over in a different country. Those guys were called ‘Pilgrims’ and they moved to Holland (the Netherlands)—a country tolerant of other people’s religions.

There’s a hair salon in the village of Scrooby famous for their signature ‘do. http://www.finedictionary.com/Pilgrim.html

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The Church of England

I know—you’re sick of hearing about it. My mailman complains because he has to deliver enormous bags of angry letters and postcards from you guys. But I need to talk about the Reformation some more.



In England, King Henry VIII was butting heads with the Pope because the Pope refused to bless Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. So with all this Reformation going on, Henry said ‘Dash it—why don’t I start up my own bally church?’* and created the Church of England. Of course he put himself in charge of it. Henry kicked the Catholic nuns & monks out of nunneries and monasteries and destroyed Latin bibles and holy relics.

“Here you are, lads. Hot off the press, what?”

This wasn’t any big improvement on the corrupt mediæval Church. Henry cleverly inserted himself in between the regular shmos and God, so power descended from heaven, to Henry, to you. It was still the same old top-down power that got distributed through earthly government. Henry VIII had the Bible translated into English.** The title page has a picture of Henry in the middle of the universe with G-d above filtering His might through him. This picture is telling you that Henry gets his authority to rule directly from G-d. It’s the divine right of kings.

* I asked P G Wodehouse to write Henry’s dialogue.
** From the Oops-I-Changed-My-Mind file: Henry’s Great Bible has big chunks of Tyndale’s translation in it. I mean, Woolsey has Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible, then Henry’s team uses the translation Tyndale was executed for?

https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item101943.html
http://textusreceptusbibles.com/Great
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Divine_Right_of_Kings
Good article but it’s manner not manor:
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/henry-viii-the-reformation-and-the-first-authorized-bible/

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William Tyndale



The Reformation was a bloody, violent business because there was so much power at stake. The people in charge faced losing their jobs. If regular shmos understood that they had a direct line to G-d through prayer, maybe they wouldn’t need the priests so much.

The Bible was THE book everybody in western culture was familiar with. It seems natural to want to translate into your own language and publish it, as Martin Luther had done. More than the prospect of making a few samolians from a bestseller, if you take Saint Paul’s words to heart, you understand that faith in Christ is its own justification. That is: if you accept Christ as your Savior, your sins are forgiven. That’s it. No paying for indulgences. Jesus’ sacrifice was a gift freely given to get us into heaven. William Tyndale wanted everybody to know that.

William Tyndale was an English scholar-priest and really good at languages. He wanted to publish the New Testament in English. It isn’t a surprise that no Church bigshot would underwrite Tyndale’s project. In fact, it became dangerous for Tyndale to even occupy space in England—so he moved around different continental cities until he settled in Worms (vorms), Saxony. There he translated the New Testament from Erasmus’ Greek edition and published it in 1525. Copies were enthusiastically smuggled into England. This didn’t go over so well with the Church or King Henry VIII (Henry was busy starting up a new church with himself replacing the pope). The Church did not want people reading the Bible for themselves. Whenever they found Tyndale’s bibles, they burned ’em.

He moved to Antwerp and even though Tyndale was hiding out, he spent his free time helping poor people. Eventually someone he trusted betrayed him to Church authorities. Tyndale was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. They were that afraid of him.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/scholarsandscientists/william-tyndale.html
Look at this gorgeous woodcut from Tyndale’s Bible—
https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/archives/picture-this/william-tyndale-the-newe-testament-of-oure-sauiour-iesus-christe-faythfully-translated-oute-of-the-greke-with-the-notes-and-expositions-of-the-darke-places-therein-london-rycharde-jugge-1553-c/
Almost all Tyndale’s bibles were destroyed; there are only a few in existence—
https://evangelicalfocus.com/culture/4029/tyndale-bible-from-persecuted-to-becoming-a-treasure
https://thepilgrimsnews.wordpress.com/tag/william-tyndale/
https://bishopmike.com/2012/11/03/tyndale-luther-and-hus/

The Canterbury Tales

Assembling the pilgrims at the Tabard Inn

Who doesn’t love reading Middle English poetry?

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Here’s the Modern English version:

When that April with his showers sweet
The drought of March has pierced to the root
And bathed every (plant’s) vein in such liquor/liquid
From whose potency is created the flower

It’s the first four lines of The Canterbury Tales http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/gp-aloud.htm

The English author Geoffrey (sounds like the American name Jeffrey) Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in Middle English over the years from 1387 to 1400. It’s a frame narrative—it’s a story made up of stories. The frame, the set-up, is that a group of people are gathered at an inn, about to start their pilgrimage to Saint Thomas á Becket’s shrine in Canterbury (pilgrimage is something devout believers do, a way of connecting with God. You travel, but also pray. Today, Christians and Jews make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; Muslims make a hajj to Mecca). It’s a longish trip so the innkeeper says, “Let’s have a storytelling contest along the way. The prize for best story will be a free dinner when we get back.” So off they go.

People of every social class—nobility, clergy and peasantry—went on pilgrimages. A pilgrimage was an ideal situation for a writer doing social commentary. The story each character tells reflects an aspect of life in England at the time. The upper-class knight tells a story about chivalry and romance; the peasants tell bawdy stories and take verbal swipes at each other; the narrator tells a boring story in rhyme; the pardoner tells a moralizing story about how greed kills. 

The Canterbury Tales wasn’t the first book written in English rather than Latin, but it was a bestseller—especially when William Caxton printed it in 1483.

I ought to point out that as authors like Chaucer pioneered writing in their own language, they also shaped their language. Choices the authors made about spelling, grammar and syntax became established standards because they were being written down. Likewise, the early printers like William Caxton were establishing standards for books: size of paper and typeface design. I’ll get back to that in a few posts.

There are 24 (?) individual tales. I don’t think I’ll do my usual patented Western-Lit-In-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment of The Canterbury Tales because there’s some adult stuff in there that I can’t avoid since the adult stuff is the central part of some of these stories. As a Sunday school teacher who specialized in the Old Testament I got pretty good at covering those awkward family relationship moments in the Bible without actually—you know—saying what was going on but Chaucer taxes my poor powers of, uh—dissembling. I want you to enjoy your carefree middle-school-aged childhood innocence unfettered by the concerns of carpenters whose wives might be stepping out on them. You can read summaries of The Tales in the links below.

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/c/the-canterbury-tales/summary
https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-canterbury-tales/summary
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Canterbury_Tales
https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/the-canterbury-tales
https://www.britannica.com/video/73102/dramatization-Middle-English-lines-Geoffrey-Chaucer-The
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernacular_literature
https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/The-growth-of-vernacular-literature
https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/Renaissance-science-and-technology
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/103090278954408620/
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pilgrimage

Of course the matrons of River City had Chaucer’s number. How I adore this—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvhFs2bdRpE

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.