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Title page of The Interpreter

The Old Library at Trinity Hall is home to many law texts including an unprepossessing book written by John Cowell. It is known as The Interpreter (1607); or to give it its pithy title, The interpreter: Or Booke containing the signification of words : Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the lawe vvriters, or statutes of this victorious and renowned kingdome, requiring any exposition or interpretation. A worke not onely profitable, but necessary for such as desire throughly to be instructed in the knowledge of our lawes, statutes, or other antiquities (Yes I’ll stick to The Interpreter). It was one of the first English law dictionaries, so while you may think this would be an safely dull publication, it was to cause a scandal which would lead to the book’s suppression and public burning, and almost earnt the author the death penalty.

John Cowell was born in Landkey, Devon in 1552. He was educated at Eton on a scholarship, before going up to King’s College, Cambridge in 1570, aged 18. He was a Fellow of King’s from 1573 until 1595, and was appointed to the Regius Professorship of Civil Law in 1594. Two years later he became Master of Trinity Hall – a post he was to hold until his death in 1611. He was also vice-chancellor of Cambridge University between 1603 and 1604. The pinnacle of his career came in 1608 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, who was his friend and mentor, made him his vicar-general. This important position meant that he was judge of the ecclesiastic court.

Cowell’s dedication to Bancroft

Now on to the main story. The Interpreter was published in 1607 by university printer, John Legate (he rented a shop at the west end of Great St Mary’s Church), and it was dedicated to Bancroft.

As it says in Cowell’s preface, the book was intended as an academic work for the ‘advancement of knowledge’, and was unlikely to have been written with any political motivation. In fact, any controversy appeared to go unnoticed for more than two years.

Cowell’s definition of ‘prerogative’

The thing that landed Cowell in hot water was a handful of definitions contained in his dictionary, in particular ‘King’, ‘Parliament,’ ‘Prerogative’, ‘Recoveries’, and ‘Subsidies’.

So why were these so controversial? Cowell’s definitions appeared to support the idea of an absolute monarchy, which was above the law. This was controversial in a difficult political climate where the Crown and Parliament were vying for power. When the parliament met on 24 February 1609 James I’s attention was drawn towards The Interpreter. Sir Edwin Sandys described the book as “very ill-advised and indiscreet, tending to the disreputaton of the House, and the power of the common laws”. A committee was then formed later that month to consider the book and report to the House of Lords.

The Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke was one of a group of lawyers on this committee who attacked Cowell’s book. Coke perhaps felt some hostility or jealousy towards Cowell and disparagingly referred to him in letters as ‘Cow-heel’. The background to his antagonism was complex, but was rooted in Cowell’s criticism of Thomas Littleton’s scholarship, whom Coke greatly admired and had based his own work. It was also a battle between the common law courts and civil law courts, with Coke and Cowell on opposing sides.

The Interpreter was investigated and it looked for a time that Cowell would be executed. The indictment read:

Dr. Cowell, Professor of the Civil Law at Cambridge, writ a book called The Interpreter, rashly, dangerously and perniciously asserting certain heads to the overthrow and destruction of Parliaments, and the fundamental laws and government of the Kingdom.

There was much discussion of the book and of Cowell’s punishment in the Commons and Lords. While they debated the matter, James I asked Cowell to explain himself.   The King then stepped in to denounce the book with a Royal proclamation. This in effect, took the matter out of the hands of parliament.

The proclamation order read:

When Men goe out of their Element, and meddle with Things above their Capacitie, themselves shall not onely goe astray and stumble in Darknesse, but will mislead also divers others with themselves into many Mistakings and Errours.. the Proofe whereof wee have lately had by a Booke written by Docteur Cowell.. by medling in Matters above his reach, he hath fallen in many Things to mistake and deceive himselfe.. in some Poynts very derogatory to the supreme Power of this Crowne; In other Cases mistaking the true State of the Parliament of this Kingdome.

People were prohibited from buying or reading The Interpreter and Cowell’s book is said to have been publicly burnt by the hangman on 26 March 1610. It was one of only around fifteen books that were consigned to the flames during the whole of the 59 year reign of James I.

Cowell was imprisoned for a while, but the case against him was soon dropped. James I apparently let it be known that Cowell was not to be prosecuted or harmed. He resigned his professorship on 25 May 1610 and died on 11 October 1611. He was buried in Trinity Hall Chapel and left bequests in his Will to Trinity Hall, King’s College, and to Cambridge University. These included his books and manuscripts which are held in the Old Library (possibly even his own copy of The Interpreter!).

This was not the end of the story for Cowell’s dictionary. Many copies have survived and it was reissued in unexpurgated form 27 years later, in 1658. Fresh editions were also published in the 17th century.

Further reading

Boucher, Harold, King James’s suppression of The Interpreter and denouncement of Dr. Cowell (Harold I. Boucher, 1998).

Chrimes, S. B., ‘The Constitutional Ideas of Dr. John Cowell.’ The English Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 253, (1949): 461–487. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/556038

Hessayon, A., ‘Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660′, Cromohs, 12 (2007): 1-25.
http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/12_2007/hessayon_incendtexts.html

Levack, Brian P., ‘Cowell, John (1554–1611), civil lawyer.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. (2004). Oxford University Press. Accessed 16 May 2018 at: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6490

Simon, J., ‘Dr. Cowell’. The Cambridge Law Journal, vol. 26, no. 2 (1968): 260-272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008197300088528

Wright, Nancy E., ‘John Cowell and the Interpreter: Law, Authority, and Attribution in Seventeenth-Century England,’ Australian Journal of Legal History vol. 1, no. 1 (1995): 11-36. https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/ausleghis1&div=7&id=&page=

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This post continues our celebration of the THwomen40 anniversary and looks at the importance of two women in the life of Thomas Preston, a former Master of Trinity Hall.

The ante-chapel of Trinity Hall contains two monumental brasses, situated just a few feet apart, of Walter Hewke (Master 1512-1517/18) and Thomas Preston (Master 1585-1598). Preston’s brass is particularly interesting for the Latin inscription which contains the names of two women, Alicia and Elizabeth. Who were they and what role did they play in his life?

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Alicia’s inscription on Preston’s brass (from Warren’s Book)

Alicia

Thomas Preston has the distinction of being the first married Master of Trinity Hall! He was educated at Eton and King’s College Cambridge (1556-81) and it seems likely that he resigned his fellowship at King’s in order to marry Alicia. By this time Heads of Houses, unlike fellows, were allowed to marry but it is not clear whether Preston lived with his wife in College. According to Crawley, “The fact that Preston was buried in the ante-chapel does not prove that he resided in College, but his widow at least ensured that she would not be forgotten, for the inscription on his monument begins with her name ALICIA, alone on the first line.” In her inscription Alicia leaves us in no doubt about her importance in Preston’s life!

brass-of-woman-in-bruges

Might Alicia have looked like this ?

We know little about Alicia and do not have an image of her. However, we can speculate that as a woman of some standing she might have looked something like the wealthy woman depicted in this brass in a church in Bruges (above).

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth, the other woman mentioned in the inscription, was in fact the Queen of England! Preston first came to the Queen’s attention as young fellow of King’s at the time of her stay in Cambridge in August 1564. This was a gala occasion for both town and gown, with speeches, disputations, religious services, banquets and plays.  Preston impressed Elizabeth I with his “gracefull gesture” and “propernesse of person” in his role in the play of “Dido” which was put on for her entertainment at King’s College. He also excelled in a disputation before the Queen on the subject “monarchy is the best form for a state” (and he had the delicate task of speaking against the motion!) and in his oration at her departure from Cambridge. Elizabeth I was so taken with him that she called him “her scholar” and gave him a pension of £20 a year, a substantial sum in those days.

trh_elizabeth-1st-crop

Elizabeth I, detail from the charter re-confirming Trinity Hall’s foundation (1559)

And she did not forget him! Many years later in 1585, when the Mastership of Trinity Hall fell vacant, Lord Burghley wrote to the fellows of Trinity Hall staying the election of a new Master. A few days later the fellows were instructed by royal mandate to elect Thomas Preston. The brass, which records that Elizabeth I called him “her scholar”, pays tribute to the importance of the Queen’s patronage in Preston’s fortunes.

Postscript

As Master, Preston set to work to sort out a number of problems including the College’s parlous finances which were burdened with debts “desperate to be remedied”. He was Vice-Chancellor, 1589-90, and was admitted an advocate in the Court of Arches in 1591. Perhaps he is best known today as the author of the play “Cambises King of Persia” which was lampooned by Shakespeare through the words of Falstaff in Henry IV, part I. His name lived on in Trinity Hall’s drama group, the Preston Society.

Over time the memory of Preston’s achievements may fade, but the inscription on his brass ensures that the importance of Alicia and Elizabeth in his life is recorded for posterity!

References

This post is an extended version of an article published in Front Court, Issue 21, Spring 2015.

For more about the visit of Queen Elizabeth I to Cambridge see the related post Vivat Regina!

Thomas Preston, The lamentable tragedie, mixed full of pleasant mirth containing the life of Cambyses king of Percia, Tudor Facsimile texts (London, 1910)

Charles Crawley, Trinity Hall. The History of a Cambridge College (Cambridge, 1976)

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The Master of Trinity Hall is a major player in the new BBC2 series “Wolf Hall”! The “Sherlock” actor Mark Gatiss plays Stephen Gardiner (Master of Trinity Hall from 1525-51 and 1553-55) in the TV drama based on Hilary Mantel’s historical novels about career of Thomas Cromwell.

The first volume of Hilary Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell

The first volume of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell

Stephen Gardiner came up to Cambridge at the age of 14 (which was not unusual in those days). He obtained his Bachelor degree from Trinity Hall in 1518 and became Doctor of Civil Law in 1521 and Doctor of Canon Law in 1522. Crawley tells us that Gardiner “was in residence at Trinity Hall, and almost certainly a fellow, in the early 1520s, and was not at that time reputed to be a rigid or intolerant man”. He lectured in civil and canon law during the years 1521-24 and was appointed in 1523/4 to examine in both subjects for four years.

In 1523 he was engaged by the University on business with Cardinal Wolsey. The Cardinal was so impressed by Gardiner that he took him into his employ in 1524. It was probably through Wolsey’s influence that Gardiner was elected Master of Trinity Hall in 1525. Gardiner was an absentee Master. However, he clung to his Mastership until his death, despite the fact that he held other more important offices.

Trinity Hall's portrait of Stephen Gardiner

Trinity Hall’s portrait of Stephen Gardiner. For a colour version go to BBC’s “Your Paintings”

Gardiner was to rise to become Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1540-47 and 1553-56) and eventually Lord Chancellor. He seems to have valued Trinity Hall as a potential bolt-hole if things went wrong in his public life and Crawley quotes a report that “if all his [Gardiner’s] palaces were blown down by iniquity, he would creep honestly into that shell”.

However, when Gardiner’s fortunes WERE reversed, during the reign of Edward VI, he did not have a chance to retreat to Trinity Hall! Instead he was imprisoned in the Tower and put on trial. In February 1551 he was deprived of his bishopric and sometime later that year he was deprived of the Mastership of Trinity Hall (to be replaced by Walter Haddon in 1552). During the turmoil after the death of Edward VI, Crawley tells us that Gardiner “cautiously chose to stay in the Tower until Queen Mary came in person to release him and reinstate him.”

Gardiner's dedication to Mary Tudor in his book against the marriage of priests.

Gardiner’s dedication to Mary Tudor in his book against the marriage of priests (1554)

His time in the wilderness was over! Gardiner was once again Bishop of Winchester, Privy Councillor, Master of Trinity Hall, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and, from August 1553, Lord Chancellor of England.

You can follow Stephen Gardiner’s career at the centre of Tudor power in BBC Two’s series “Wolf Hall” broadcast on Wednesday evenings.

Postscript:

Trinity Hall has a portrait of Stephen Gardiner by the school of Hans Holbein the younger. In the library’s Trinity Hall Collection, we have three books by Gardiner: ‘A detection of the devil’s sophistrie’ (1546), ‘De vera obedientia’ (1553) and ‘A traictise declaryng … that the pretensed marriage of priestes … is no mariage’ (1554).

The heavilly annotated titel page of "A detection of the devil's sophistrie"

Annotated title page of Trinity hall’s copy of “A detection of the devil’s sophistrie”

For an insight into the religious controversies of the time, take a look at an earlier blog post “Thomas Morgan of Minety”. In the post Dunstan Roberts, our guest blogger and graduate of Trinity Hall, looks at the extensive contemporary annotations to our copy of ‘A detection of the devil’s sophistrie’.References

Trinity Hall : the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975  / Charles Crawley. Cambridge: Trinity Hall, 1992

Wolf Hall / by Hilary Mantel. London: Fourth Estate, 2009

Bring up the bodies / by Hilary Mantel. London: Fourth Estate, 2012

BBC Two Wolf Hall (first episode on iplayer)

BBC’s Your Paintings: Stephen Gardiner

Radio Times Wolf Hall in pictures

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Some thirty nine years after his first candidacy, Sir William Wynne (1729-1815), was finally elected unanimously as Master of Trinity Hall in 1803. At the age of thirty-five Wynne had contested the election of 1764 with Sir James Marriott, also a fellow of the College and civil lawyer. Crawley tells us that the outcome was close and Marriott was elected by a slim margin (5 votes versus 3), with both men voting for themselves!

Trinity Hall’s “Back Court” showing the Master’s Lodge on the right and the Old Library on the left.

After a patient wait, Sir William Wynne, now aged seventy-three, finally succeeded Marriott in 1803. The Mastership of Trinity Hall was a prize worth waiting for and once he was installed as Master the floodgates of his generosity opened. He spent £1,500 on improvements to the Master’s Lodge and also turned his attention to improving the College Library.

Wynne’s catalogue housed in the Archives

His donations are recorded in the “Catalogue of books presented to the Library by the Right Hon: Sir Wm. Wynne, Master” (THAR/7/1/2/1). The new Master gave us an amazing 252 volumes in the space of just nine years, starting in 1804 (with the gift of 101 volumes) and ending in 1813, just two years before his death. Surprisingly there are very few dusty volumes on the law! Instead Wynne broadened the Library’s scope from that of an academic library specialising in the law to a gentleman’s ‘country house’ library.

Chaucer

There are books on English literature (Chaucer, Dryden and Milton), history, travel (Barrow’s Travels in Africa, Coxe’s Travels in Russia), the classics (Virgil, Thucydides), European literature (Racine in French and Boccaccio in Italian), oriental languages (Carlyle’s Specimens of Arabian poetry and Parkhurst’s Hebrew Lexicon), and above all the sciences: a magnificent 18 volume set of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London was donated to the Library over several years.

Boccaccio

So what of the man who gave so generously to the Library? William Wynne came from a well-to-do Welsh family. His father, John Wynne (1677-1743) was a clergyman and Principal of Jesus College Oxford from 1812 until his marriage in 1820. In 1715 he was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph where he spent money freely on repairs to the cathedral and palace. As we have seen above, William was to follow his father’s example in becoming a Head of House (Cambridge instead of Oxford) and in spending on improvements (but this time to his College).

Bishop John Wynne was subsequently translated to Bath and Wells in 1727 and William was born a couple of years later. William did not go into the church, instead he followed his elder brother John (1724-1801) into the law and the Middle Temple. He came up to Trinity Hall in 1746, graduated in law in 1751 (LL.D. 1757) and was a Fellow of the College from 1755 onwards.

Poem in translation from ‘Specimens of Arabian Poetry’ given to the Library by Wynne

He practiced in the field of ecclesiastical law as a pleader in the Court of Arches (1757-1788) dealing chiefly with cases relating to marriage and probate. His career prospered steadily until it took off dramatically in 1788! In that year he was knighted, he became Dean of the Court of Arches (1788-1809) and a judge in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Prerogative Court (1788-1809).  He continued to move upwards becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1789 and one of the Lords of the Treasury in 1790.

Captain Cook’s last voyage: the map of Hawaii from Cook’s posthumous “A voyage to the Pacific Ocean” (London, 1784)

As Dean of the Court of Arches his name turns up constantly in the wills of the time. Perhaps the most interesting is that of a former member of Captain Cook’s crew, Alexander Mouat, which was proved before Sir William Wynne in London in 1794. Mouat was on Cooks’ last voyage, entering the crew of the Discovery as a midshipman at the age of 15. However, his will (in which he left everything to his wife Jane) was not written until 1790, by which time he had reached the rank of Lieutenant. The occasion of his will was probably his imminent departure on HMS Marlborough. Unfortunately, Mouat died just three years later on 11 October 1793.

Trinity Hall (in 1799) as it would have looked in 1803 when Wynne became Master.

Wynne was a gentleman, a wealthy lawyer and a pillar of society. His successful public career indicates a man with excellent social skills who was not afraid of hard work. An interesting glimpse is offered by the silhouette of Wynne in the National Portrait Gallery which depicts a portly gentleman of rather modest and solid demeanour. The inscription below the silhouette reveals: “There is no Portrait taken of him, he always resisting all application to sit to an Artist. Mr. Bockton the Proctor took this resemblance of him as he sat giving Judgement.” This is a man who lacked vanity, preferring instead to devote his precious time to his work!

Snapshot of Trinity Hall in 1812 during Wynne’s time as Master. College was not populous!

Sir William Wynne became Master of Trinity Hall in the autumn of his life. He passed away in 1815 at the age of eighty-six and is buried at Northop (Flints.) where his father, Bishop John, had purchased the Soughton estate (now a luxury hotel!) in 1732. Wynne’s was a life in which his devotion to his College remained constant. As Master, his generosity enriched the holdings of College Library with a lasting legacy of fine publications from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

It could be argued that Wynne had the patience and Trinity Hall reaped the rewards!

References

Trinity Hall : the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975 / by Charles Crawley.

Captain Cook Society

National Portrait Gallery

Welsh Biography Online

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