Reading Practices of a Tudor Educator: Nicholas Udall's Annotated Copy of Thomas Linacre's De Emendata Structura Latini Sermonis Libri Sex

By Juhasz-Ormsby, Agnes | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Reading Practices of a Tudor Educator: Nicholas Udall's Annotated Copy of Thomas Linacre's De Emendata Structura Latini Sermonis Libri Sex


Juhasz-Ormsby, Agnes, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


One of the few direct sources of information about the implementation of the changing canon of readings and the new methods of note-taking advocated in theoretical treatises by humanists are teachers' and students' notes. These notes, preserved in the miscellaneous marginalia of annotated books, are particularly valuable when they can be linked to specific educational institutions and identifiable readers. (1) One such volume, the Folger Shakespeare Library's heavily marked copy of De emendata structura Latini sermonis libri sex (London: Richard Pynson, 1524) by Thomas Linacre (ca. 1460-1524), the English humanist scholar and physician, demonstrates the practices of readers at Corpus Christi College, one of the leading humanistic institutions of Oxford in the 1520s and 1530s. (2) Bound in an unadorned contemporary calf binding, the Latin grammar of Linacre, who himself started his distinguished career in Oxford, is copiously annotated by a reader identified as the Oxford scholar, translator, educator, and playwright Nicholas Udall (1504-1556). (3)

Udall's characteristic Latin ownership mark (Sum Nicolai Vdalli) and motto (Magnes amoris modestia), dated 1525, are found at the top of the title page. (4) Udall claimed further ownership of the book in a metrical inscription inserted below the title: "Sum liber Vdalli, dominum non muto libenter / Inuentor domino me rogo redde meo" (fig. 1). As indicated by Udall's autograph note, he purchased his copy of Linacre's De emendata structura for three shillings (prec. iij s) shortly after its first publication, at a time when he was known to be teaching at Corpus Christi. As the only extant book with extensive marginalia in Udall's hand, Linacre's grammar provides rare traces of Udall's reading practices as a scholar and educator in Oxford in the 1520s. While the annotations, made primarily for Udall's own reference and edification, do not necessarily contain personal reflections or illuminating clues to his religious and political affiliations, they nonetheless yield information about his method of note-taking.5 They also record books Udall used for compiling notes, many of which deteriorated from frequent usage and may never be recovered. (6) Udall's annotations furthermore offer a fresh source for the intellectual life of Corpus Christi in the early sixteenth century. (7)

As one of the most important figures of English dramatic literature in the first half of the sixteenth century, Udall is best known for the comedy Ralph Roister Doister, the comic interlude Thersytes, the allegorical morality play Respublica, and the Versis and Dities Made at the Coronation of Quene Anne [Boleyn], written in collaboration with John Leland. (8) Yet in his own time he was respected by his contemporaries primarily as a humanist scholar, educator, and translator. In John Bale's catalogue of prominent English writers, Udall is flatteringly described as master of all good letters and most felicitous interpreter of them (omnium bonarum litterarum magister et earum foelicisssimus interpres) and an admirably learned man (laudabili eruditione praeditus). (9)

Throughout his life he was involved in education, first at his alma mater, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (1520-1529), then as headmaster of Eton College (1534-1541), and later of Westminster School (1555-1556). He translated Erasmus's Apophthegmes (London: Richard Grafton, 1542) and served as the general editor for the translation project of The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the New Testamente (London: Edward Whitchurch, 1548) under the patronage of Henry VIII's last wife, Catherine Parr. (10) In close association with members of Edward VI's court, he produced English versions of the reformer Pietro Martire Vermiglio's influential theological treatise A Discourse or Traictise Concernynge the Sacrament of the Lordes Supper (London: R. Stoughton, 1550) (11) and of Andreas Vesalius's anatomy, which was first published under the title of Compendiosa totius Anatomie delineation, aere exarata: per Thomam Geminum (London: Nicholas Hyll, 1553).

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