Thomas Becon – Biographical Notice

The following is the account of Thomas’s life as given by John Ayre in “The Early Works of Thomas Becon, S.T.P. … being the treatises published by him in the reign of King Henry VIII.” This was published by the Parker Society in 1843, and was edited by the Rev. John Ayre.

I will be inserting extra information to indicate other findings, corrections (or alternative views) and to explain comments of Ayre’s, where appropriate.

A few of the footnotes are of the form “see below – p. N” – I will be adding more information about what this page contains, or a scan of or extract from it.


OF BECON’S personal history much less is known, than from the evident popularity of his works, and the estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries, we should have supposed would be recorded of him. It is true that memoirs of his life have frequently been written; but those of older date are peculiarly meagre in detail, and later biographers have been able to add but little[1]. Besides, he has frequently been confounded with another person of the same name and of the same university, and has therefore sometimes been represented as holding offices, or obtaining preferment, at a period when in truth he was no more. Hence it is
mainly from the incidental notices of himself which are scattered up and down in his writings[2] that we derive our most authentic, certainly our most interesting information.

Even the county in which he was born has been variously stated, by some as Norfolk, by others as Suffolk[3]. There can be little doubt, however, that it was the one first-named; as, in the general preface to the collected folio edition of his works, he speaks of “my country of Norfolk[4].” The year of his birth must have been 1511 or 1512; since we find his age inscribed upon the portrait which frequently accompanies his writings: for example, in “The Governance of Virtue,” 1566, we read, “Ætatis suæ 41, Anno Domini 1553;” and in the folio edition, “Anno Ætatis suæ 49, 1560.” It seems probable that he lost his father in early life; for his mother had married again and become a second time a widow, as he himself informs us, at the closeof Henry VIII’s reign. Of his elementary training we have no account; but it appears that before he was sixteen he was a member of St John’s College, Cambridge, where he proceededto his first degree of bachelor of arts, in 1530. It may be added here that he eventually graduated doctor of divinity.

It was during his residence in the university that Becon, who had been from his studious of the holy scripture, was a diligent hearer of Latimer, “to whom,” he says, “next to God, I am most especially bound to give most hearty thanks for the knowledge, if any I have, of God, and of his most blessed word.” He mentions also his obligations to George Stafford[5], fellow of Pembroke Hall, and reader of divinity, the saying which had passed into a proverb: “When Master Stafford read, and Master Latimer preached, then was Cambridge blessed.” Under such instructors
as these was God training up the youthful Becon for future extended usefulness. From these he imbibed the great doctrines of gospel truth; and though at that time even the most zealous and enlightened divines in England had not altogether emerged from the darkness of popish superstition, and Becon for several years after still held various tenets, which he ‘ultimately rejected, yet there can be no doubt that a solid basis was then laid, and that the good seed was sown in his heart, which yielded very soon the fruit of blessing and yet further promise.


[1] A life of Becon appears in Lupton’s “History of the Modem Protestant Divines.” Lond. 1637, Ritson, ranking him with tbe poets of the sixteenth century, gives a very brief inaccurate sketch of him in his “Bibliographia Poetica.” Biographies are prefixed to the late selections from his writings published by the Religious Tract Society (“British Reformers” Lond. 1828-31), and by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (“Selections from the Works of Thomas Becan,” Lond. 1839). Several particulars may also be gleaned from Fox and Strype. All these with some other works have been consulted by the writer of the present notice.
[2] By Philemon, the name of an interlocutor in his dialogues, Becon seems generally to mean himself: the chief particulars he has noted are in his treatise called the” Jewel of Joy.”
[3] Strype in his life of Cranmer calls him a Suffolk man; in that of Aylmer, says he was of Norfolk.
[4] See below, page 9.
[5] George Stavert, or Stafford, of Durbam, was the first who read lectures from the scriptures: previously only the Sentences were read. He was proctor of the University 1523, and University preacher. He died of the plague caught from a person whom he went to visit and instruct.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *