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By Hannah Smith, Graduate Library Trainee

In the previous post, we discovered that Queens’ Old Library holds books from the dispersed library of William Cecil Lord Burghley, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I and Secretary of State. An annotation within one of these books, the bindings of which are stamped with the Cecil family arms, confirms that at one time they belonged to Humphrey Tindall, President of Queens’ from 1579 to 1614, who subsequently donated them to the College. These books, and in particular their remarkable and rare bindings, provide evidence of the relationship between these two men.

However, that Cecil, a man with power and responsibility second only to the Queen, should secure this position for Tindall despite outcry among the Fellows begs the questions: why did Cecil arrange Tindall’s appointment, and what ideas was he attempting to propagate by the donation of these books?

William Cecil had intervened in matters of Queens’ College appointments before. That the Queen’s chief advisor would do so did so speaks of the influence that the University’s teaching had on the political and intellectual life of the nation. In an era of class immobility, men who had the opportunity of receiving an education at Oxford or Cambridge often did so with the guarantee of a political career on the other side; very soon, ideas taught and stances taken in the universities would filter through the upper strata of government.


Portrait of William Cecil. Thomas Birch, The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (1743)

However, in 1576, the year of Tindall’s appointment, Cecil was responding to both national and personal crises: at the beginning of the year he had backed an unsuccessful marriage suit between the Queen and François, Duke of Alençon and Anjou.

It was imperative that the Queen produced an heir to the throne; the Elizabethan religious settlement, created to provide a middle way under which Catholic and Protestant traditions could coalesce, was precarious, and was unlikely to survive the political instability of a contested throne. The match between Elizabeth and Anjou had for a short time developed into a relationship sufficiently romantic for the pair to exchange betrothal rings (although these were removed the next day, at the urging of the Privy Council). Eventually, though, the problem of Anjou’s Catholic faith was deemed insurmountable.

By the time that this match had been abandoned Cecil, himself a passionate reformer, had left himself vulnerable to suggestions that he was a papist sympathiser, or, at the very least, a lukewarm and changeable believer; either charge was damning. It was now more pressing than ever that he promoted the religious settlement and its moderate reform.

It was not unusual for Cecil, as well as his co-Secretary of State and close friend, Queens’ alumnus Thomas Smith, to require Cambridge preachers to support the monarch’s agenda in their sermons; indeed, after deviating from their instructions the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, was confined to the Tower of London for five years.

The vacancy at Queens’ College afforded Cecil an opportunity. By appointing the right candidate, he could ensure that the College continued to teach the next generation of politicians and bishops to uphold the Elizabethan religious settlement.

Tindall was well known as a defender of religious orthodoxy, and found no theological objection to the Queen’s religious agenda. Licensed as a preacher of the University of Cambridge in 1576, as well as a parish priest and the chaplain of Robert Dudley, his influence in matters of theology was far-reaching. He was young, too, and presumably could hold the role of President for several decades, advocating for the religious settlement even after the death of the Queen.


Girolamo Zanchi, De Tribus Elohim (On the Trinity, Eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Book XIII), 1572. Note the dedication to Edmund Grindal.

Among Cecil’s books given to Tindall was this, written by Girolamo Zanchi, an Italian priest and supporter of the Protestant Reformation. Zanchi’s books, some of which are still in print, were sufficiently controversial that he spent the latter half of his life in exile, moving from city to city in Western Europe. This book on the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed to Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London and later of Canterbury. Grindal, like Tindall, benefited from the patronage of William Cecil, who urged him to use his position to promote the “middle way” between the vying Puritans and Catholics. His efforts in this area were by and large successful, and he was well respected; perhaps the gift of this particular book was a reminder to Tindall of the success he might enjoy if he followed Grindal’s example.


Johannes Gunther, Postillae Sive Conciones Reverendi Patris D. Ioannis Feri (Sermons of Johann Ferus),

Unsurprisingly, most of Cecil’s books at Queens’ are works of theology, written by Protestant theologians. A notable exception, though, is a collection of sermons by Johann Ferus,  the endpaper of which bears Tindall’s signature. Ferus, also known as Johann Wild, was a German Catholic preacher of the Franciscan Order, born at the turn of the fifteenth century. Wild was famed for the eloquence and zeal of his sermons, which won him the respect of Protestants as well as Catholics in a nation divided by the Reformation. His Evangelical preaching style and his promotion of a German middle way resulted in the inclusion of many of his published works in the Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books). Tindall must have appreciated the significance of the gift: a guide to persuasive preaching, and an example of another figure who, like Grindal, had earned respect within both denominations by promoting a middle way.


Until the eighteenth century it was usual for books to be shelved with the fore-edge outwards. The Old Library was no exception. Here someone, possibly Cecil or Tindall, has added the title in ink.

Unlike the majority of his predecessors Humphrey Tindall was never promoted to the bishopric, and remained at Queens’ until his death in 1614. Oral tradition has it that he was offered the throne of Bohemia but refused it, saying that “he had rather be Queen Elizabeth’s subject than a foreign prince”. These words, inscribed on his memorial in Ely Cathedral, are all the more remarkable because his presidency was beset by complaints and rebellions. However, by retaining the presidency of Queens’ College for the remainder of Elizabeth I’s reign and well into that of James I, he ensured that the College, and the University, remained committed to the Elizabeth religious settlement and to the Anglican Church that arose from it.

These remarkable books and their bindings shed light not only on Tindall’s path to the presidency of the College, but also on the University’s political and religious importance during the English Reformation. Stances that were taken in the University would soon spread to the leaders and lawmakers of the nation at large; William Cecil ensured that these ideas, like his books, travelled from Cambridge to Parliament and back again.