John Bale, Bishop of Ossory



W. T. Davies, ‘A Bibliography of John Bale’, Proceedings & Papers of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, 5 (1936-9), 201-79; NS 1 (1947), 44-5.


Leslie P. Fairfield, John Bale: Mythmaker for the English Reformation (West Lafayette, Indiana, 1976).


Jesse W. Harris, John Bale: A Study in the Minor Literature of the Reformation (Urbana, 1940).

McCusker (1942)

Honor McCusker, John Bale: Dramatist and Antiquary (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, 1942).

McCusker, The Library (1936)

Honor McCusker, ‘Books and Manuscripts formerly in the possession of John Bale’, The Library, 4th Ser. 16 (1936-6), 144-65.

Monumenta historica Carmelitana

Monumenta historica Carmelitana, Vol. I, ed. R.P. Benedict Zimmerman (Lyons, 1907)


Autograph Manuscripts

There survive a substantial number of original manuscripts and compilations of the ecclesiastical polemicist and historian John Bale, although they must represent only a small part of the collections that he is known to have possessed. His extant autograph manuscripts recorded in the entries below include many of his compilations relating to the Carmelite order, various tracts, and a play by him, as well as his annotations in some printed books and manuscripts. The majority of his manuscripts — including his vigorous attack on James Canceller (*BaJ 26) — remain unpublished.


Besides his official answer to complaints made about his preaching (*BaJ 3), three of Bale's original autograph letters are also preserved (BaJ 42-43). In addition (not given entries below), Bale was one of ten signatories to a letter sent to Calvin from Frankfurt, 6 April 1555, the original of which was formerly preserved in the archives at Geneva (Cod. 113, fol. 1), although it cannot at present be located. This letter is printed in Original Letters relative to the English Reformation. The second portion, ed. Hastings Robinson, Parker Society 28 (Cambridge, 1847), pp. 753-5, and in Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, XV (Brunswick, 1876), 551-4. For other letters of Bale, originals of which are currently untraced, see John Strype, Historical Memorials of Events under the Reign of Queen Mary (London, 1731), pp. 107-9, and William Huddesford, Lives of those Eminent Antiquaries, John Leland, Thomas Hearne and Anthony à Wood (Oxford, 1772), I, 84-6. For an unpublished prefatory epistle by Bale to a work by Christopher Carlile, preserved in Carlile's own hand, see BaJ 25.

Bale's Library

In several of his works Bale incorporated lists of his own compositions and compilations. These lists are printed in Davies, pp. 231-6, and his list of the books and manuscripts in his library (nearly four hundred titles) is printed in McCusker, The Library (1936), and in McCusker (1942), pp. 32-50. The major part of Bale's library and collections was apparently abandoned, and subsequently dispersed, when he fled from Ireland after only seven months as Bishop of Ossory in September 1553. An interesting early note among the collections of Brian Twyne (1579?-1644) in Corpus Christi College, Oxford (MS 255, f. 136r) records: ‘Mr William Whitlock of Lichefeld prebendary of Curburrow told me that parson [William] Darrell of Kent [prebendary of Canterbury, 1554-80] had Thomas Rudborn his historie ab initio mundi ad sua tempora — which was somtyme Mr Bales bok — Also that Syr henry Sidney had all Bales bokes in Ireland’. If the last piece of information is true, Bale's books are no longer to be found in the Sidney family seat, Penshurst Place, in Kent; however, the writer may be confusing Sidney with Sir Anthony St Leger, of Ulcombe, Kent, who is alleged to have had ‘a great drye vessell full of those bokes’, a collection which Bale petitioned, unsuccessfully, to have returned to him (see McCusker, The Library (1936), pp. 146-7).

Altogether, about forty books from Bale's library are recorded in McCusker. McCusker's list can be supplemented by various other manuscripts owned, or possibly owned, by Bale, now in Trinity College, Dublin, and elsewhere, discussed in William O' Sullivan, ‘The Irish “remnaunt” of John Bale's manuscripts’, in New Science out of Old Books: Studies in Manuscripts and Early Modern Printed Books in Honour of A.I. Doyle, ed. Richard Beadle and A. J. Piper (Aldershot, 1995), pp. 374-87. The entries below include a few other additions to McCusker's list as well as a few located items that contain substantial annotations in Bale's hand. Some other manuscripts owned by him and containing only one or two minor notes in his hand are to be found at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MSS 264, 339, 414: McCusker Nos 11, 55, 1); in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. B. 486: McCusker No. 83),and in the British Library (Harley MS 1751: McCusker No. 30). In his published catalogue of manuscripts at Corpus Christi College (1912), M.R. James suggested, plausibly, that certain minor notes in MSS 130, 325, and 434 might also be in Bale's hand. However, the annotations in an exemplum of Bale's A Mysterye of Inyquyte (Geneva, 1545) in Cambridge University Library (Syn. 8. 58. 164), mentioned in McCusker, The Library (1936), p. 165, are not in Bale's hand. The question was asked in McCusker, The Library (1936), p. 148, whether any of Bale's manuscripts might be found in a large box of uncatalogued manuscripts from St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, in the custody of the Representative Church Body, Dublin. Unfortunately it can be affirmed that this collection, consisting of chapter records and visitation books mostly dating from the ninth century, contains nothing at all relating to Bale.


A few other miscellaneous items, not given entries, may be mentioned briefly. A printed exemplum of Bale's Scriptorum, Part I (Basle, 1557), in the British Library (598. i. 13), contains interesting manuscript notes (including anecdotes of John Foxe and Catherine Parr) written c.1604-39, probably by Richard Capel (1586-1656). This volume (one of a number of Bale's printed works, in the British Library and elsewhere, containing annotations by early readers) is discussed by J.R. Mozley in N&Q, 190 (29 December 1945), 276-7.

Also in the British Library (Stowe MS 957) is a sixteenth-century Latin play, David & Absalom, with a modern note on the first page ascribing it to Bale. It is, however, more properly assigned to Thomas Watson: see A humanists ‘trew imitation’: Thomas Watson's Absalom, ed. John Hazel Smith (Urbana, 1964).

Of Bale's own plays, the only authoritative manuscript recorded is that of King Johan (*BaJ 31). He is known to have written eleven mystery plays between 1536 and 1538 (see Peter Happé, ‘John Bale's Lost Mystery Cycle’, Cahiers Elisabéthains, 60 (October 2001), 1-12). Whether one of these was the anonymous play on the Resurrection now in the Folger (BaJ 32) is uncertain. Three of the plays were published at Wesel, Germany, in 1547. The rest are lost.

For Bale's MS corrections to his edition of Leland's Laboryouse Journey, see LeJ 94.5 and LeJ 94.8.

Peter Beal