Crypto-Lollards?: The Acts and Monuments

Many readers today are familiar with a 16th century classic of British literature which is now generally known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. As read today, this generally takes the form of an abridgement of part of a larger monumental work by John Foxe titled Actes and Monuments (Acts and Monuments).

This was one of the most influential literary works of the early Protestant movement in England. The book presented an account of persecution – including torture and death – inflicted on Protestant believers by the Catholic church and by the government.

Actes and Monuments was first published in English in 1563. Modern editions, which are available in paperback or as ebooks, leave out vast amounts of detail present in the original work. Some modern editions add additional accounts of Christian martyrs which postdate Foxe. Today’s readers generally have no idea they are typically reading just a portion of what Foxe originally wrote.

An earlier post in this blog discussed Bishop John Longland who was Dean of Salisbury from 1514 to 1521. He also served as Bishop of Lincoln from 1521 to 1547. Longland played a major role in making sure that, to the extent possible, religious dissenters were hounded out, identified, and made to identify their companions.

He was particularly incensed against the Lollards, a group which should appear in any good book on the various dissenter groups which stood for Protestant reformation and restoration in defiance of the Catholic church as Europe left the Middle Ages and entered the Reformation. The Lollard movement was not only a religious movement, but a political movement as well. The movement appears to have begun with John Wycliffe in the late 14th century (about 1381).

The term “Lollard” was an insult, a nickname which suggested that its adherents were not sufficiently learned. The implication was that only the highly-trained official priesthood was qualified to read and teach the word of God, the scriptures. The masses, they were told, had no business attempting to do so.

The fact that some Phips (variously spelled) family members appear to have been Lollards, and later on, Quakers, while others adhered to the Catholic Church and, later (beginning in the 1530s), the Church of England, suggests the type of rifts that must have irrevocably separated one part of the family from another.

The family in England cannot be necessarily separated so much on geographical grounds; even many centuries ago in England the family seems to have been often characterized by mobility, as was the case later in America. Barristers in the family who were based in Reading spent lots of time in London, and nobility in Reading spent time in the Caribbean.

Pit a Lollard or Quaker Phips against a Catholic or Church of England Phips, however, and it was a different matter. In that case, we can assume that father disowned son, and that brother turned against brother, even if in the same city.

We can likely extend this to America, and can assume that it was likely the case that one Phips or Fips or Phipps etc. branch in America was aware of another branch, but that where one was Quaker and another Anglican (Church of England), there was little or no public recognition of the other.

This presumably extended to American political life as well: Some Phips family members were fiercely loyal to England just before the Revolution, while others were the opposite. This doubtless resulted in social rifts but could also have resulted in geographical moves. It could even account – potentially – for surname variations, even extreme surname variations, a fact of life that genealogists have not wanted to face.

The original version of John Foxe’s account includes mentions of several Phip or Phips individuals. They appear to have been living in or near Hichenden, and they appear to have been Lollards. Hichenden is an archaic name that today is rendered as Hughenden. The location is in a parish of that name in Desborough Hundred in Buckinghamshire.

This is northwest of London as one goes toward Oxford, north of Reading. Hughenden shows up on modern maps as a bit north of High Wycombe (north on Hughenden Road, or the A4128). Using the Big Ben reference (London) introduced in the last post, this would be about 35 miles, or about an hour’s drive.

A comprehensive website known as John Foxe’s The Acts and Monuments Online features the text as found in several early editions. Phip or Phips or Phyppe, etc. references are found. The language is archaic, especially depending on the edition. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be possible to search for partial or similar names.

Several relevant references can easily be found, however, some of which were discussed in the earlier post on the subject. In addition, later printed editions echo the earlier text, although without the archaicisms.

The references tend to appear in sections headed by three columns. Those columns list, first of all, “accusers.” This is followed by “parties accused,” and finally “crimes objected.”

In the 1570 edition, one “Iohn phyppe” (John Phyppe) appears among the accused. “Hee was a reader or rehearser to the other,” it says. This was a reference to John Phyppe reading or telling what he had read to someone else. What he had read could have been the scriptures in his native tongue, or some Protestant writing.

A couple lines above, we are told of “Iohn Phippes,” as spelled this time, that “Hee was very rype in Scriptures.” One would think that these are likely two references to the same person, and that what John Phyppe had read was the scriptures, in which he was “very rype.” The word ripe, of course, can mean advanced, or fully developed.

One reference (1570 edition) mentions “Iohn phyppes” in the middle (accused) column. His name is immediately followed by “Elyzab. Hamon” and then “A Chanon of Missenden.” “Chanon” is an archaic English term later rendered as “canon.” This is a clergy member in a cathedral or collegiate church. Who does the term chanon refer to here?

At another point in the same edition, a daughter of “Ioh. phyppe” (John Phyppe) and a daughter of “William phyppe” (William Phyppe) are mentioned as among the accused, but the names of the daughters are not supplied.

This, along with the other references above, was evidently in the diocese of “Lincolne,” or Lincoln. This was, according to one source, at “Chiltern Hills, Eastern Berkshire, and Middlesex.” Also in the same diocese, a list appears of those who were “abjured” there in 1521. Henry Phyppe appears in the accuser column, with “VVilliam phyppe” (William Phyppe) and “Iohn Phpype” (John Phpype, or Phyppe) in the accused column.

Interestingly, the 1576 edition changes “Iohn Phippes,” the one who was “very ripe in Scriptures,” to “Ioh. Phips.”  The reference just below that to the “Iohn phyppe” who read or rehearsed to someone else now appears as “Iohn Phip.” In the 1583 edition, the “Iohn phyppes” who appears just above the “Chanon” reference is listed as “Iohn phips.”

The 1570 edition has W. Phippes “forced by his othe” (oath) to “detect” one Thomas Afryke. This was for “asking how his cosine [cousin] Wydmore Clerke, the elder, and John Fippe did at Hychenden; Whether they kept the lawes of God as they were wont.”

In the 1576 edition, Bishop Longland decides to personally focus his attention on “I. phip.” Can we assume that this was “Iohn,” or John? Reference is made to Longland trying to find a way to convict “I. Phip” of perjury.

This was because Phip did not “aunswere affirmatiuely” to “such suspicions as were layd vunto him” by his accusers. In other words, since Phip did not confess (“answer affirmatively”) to the charges (“such suspicions as were laid unto him”), Bishop Longland now wanted to convict Phip of perjury, perjury of course being defined as telling an untruth in court.

Longland examined “Sibill Affrike” (Sybil Afrike), described as his (Phip’s) own sister. This would explain the reference above to “W. Phippes” being forced to “detect” Thomas Afryke. He “forced by his othe,” in other words his oath, which indicates that W. Phippes swore to tell the truth.

Longland examined Sibill Affrike in order to “detecte I. phip her brother of relapse.” Her answers, however, were such that Longland “coulde take by her no great holde of relapse agynst hym.” Foxe noted the hypocrisy on the part of the Catholic church in this matter, that the church would use the “vertue of othe” (virtue of oath) to cause the sister “to procure the brothers blood.”

Does this mean two brothers, hence W. Phippes and I. Phip? Or does it simply refer to her brother’s blood, with no punctuation? The latter seems more likely. “The lyke,” apparently referring to the brothers’ blood, was then said to be also sought by Thomas Affrike, “his sisters husband,” apparently meaning the husband of the sister of (in other words, the brother in law of) I. Phip. No advantage (“vantage”) against Phip was obtained from Thomas Affrike, however.

This I. Phip would presumably be the same “Iohn Phip” who appears in the 1576 edition as accused of saying that “Images are not to be worshipped, because they are made and carued [carved] with mans hand, and that such ought not to be worshipped.” That reference appears just after referring to W. Phippes being forced by “his othe” to detect Thomas Afrike (as spelled this time).

The charge was for “askyng how his cosin Widmore clerk, the elder, and I. Fip did at Hichende: who ther they kept ye laws of God as they were wont.” Of course, “Hichende” was Hughenden, and the name Fip should be taken as synonymous with Phippes, Phip, and Phyppe. Was “Widmore clerk” a person with the surname of Clerk, hence Widmore Clerk?

In the 1583 edition, looking at the original page (since the formatting of the abstract is, at this point, a bit confusing), we find “John Phip compelled by his othe to detect,” apparently, a group of people. That same edition also lists Henry Phip as an accuser and William Phip and Ioh. Phip as among the accused.

Putting all this together, of course it’s impossible to tell where different individuals may have shared the same name. It would appear likely, however, that William and John Phip were closely related, and that a sister of John named Sibill married Thomas Afrike.

A much later printed edition refers to Thomas Halfeaker, who swore on his oath and then detected several persons, including “Thomas Afrike and his wife.” Who were the Afrike family?

Much of Longland’s efforts were directed against the religious group known as the Lollards. A book by Shannon McSheffrey titled Gender & Heresy: Women and Men in Lollard Communities, 1420-1530 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995) refers to various individuals surnamed Littlepage but with, in the index, the reference “alias Afrike” following each name.

One of those names is Sybil (Sibill) Littlepage, “alias Afrike.” (Most relevant pages are not included in Google Books’s preview.) An appendix, which looks (with limited preview) as though it is derived from a 1500-1530 list of prosecutions in the Lincoln diocense, refers to “Sybil Littlepage als. Africke of Amersham” and “Thomas Littlepage als. Africke of Amersham.”

This would seem to suggest a high likelihood of a Lollard identification for John and William Phip. Evidently that was the orientation of John’s sister Sibill/Sybil who married Thomas Afrike.

Why would the Littlepage family also be known as the Afrike family? Why does virtually nothing about this family turn up in Internet searches, other than McSheffrey’s book and references to Foxe? This appears to be yet another situation in which surname variations play a role.

A helpful source is Summers’s 1906 book The Lollards of the Chiltern Hills. Even so, the book seems limited in that it doesn’t appear to connect the Littlepage family with the Afrike/Africke family. This may have been because such dissociation was intended by the family, back in the days when divergent opinions about spiritual matters could cause one to lose one’s life.

According to Summers, Africke is a surname sort of still appearing locally in his day (1906), although he noted (p. 107) it was “now Affleck.” Summers is especially illuminating on pages 126-128:

The little village of Hitchenden, well known under its modern name of Hughenden as the abode of Lord Beaconsfield, gave shelter to several Lollards at this time. Their leader was John Phip, described as a physician, who had done penance in 1506. He is said to have been ‘very ripe in the Scriptures,’ and had a valuable collection of books, which he burned when he found himself in danger. His neighbour Roger Parker told him that he was ‘foul to blame’ for this, as they were worth a hundred marks (£600 or £700 of present value). ‘I had rather burn my books,’ sagely answered Phip, ‘than that my books should burn me.’ [See also Summers’s other book, p. 103, and Griffiths, p. 136.] He was now called before the Bishop [presumably Longland], but was so cautious in his replies that no relapse could be proved against him by his own evidence [note that this is, in essence, a paraphrase from Foxe]. All that could be elicited from him was a story about one Thomas Stilman, who, when imprisoned in the Lollards’ Tower at St. Paul’s, had managed to climb into the belfry, where he cut the bell-ropes, tied two of them together, let himself down into the churchyard, and so made his escape. Phip’s sister Sybil, and her husband Thomas Africk (who lived somewhere in the county, but not at Hughenden), were also examined against him, but with no better results. This name survives in the district in the form Affleck, but the original spelling is preserved in Africk’s Farm, Little Missenden. William Phip, another member of the family, testified that John had spoken against image-worship, and other witnesses had heard him read the Gospels and a treatise in English on the Lord’s Prayer. His daughter, too, had been heard to say that ‘she was as well learned in all things as the parish priest, save only the saying of mass.’ [See also Jewell, p. 177.] But William Phip, with his daughter, and his son Henry, were under suspicion too. William had spoken to one Roger Dods about image-worship, and then told him ‘it was good to be merry and wise,’ meaning ‘he should keep close that was told him, or else strait punishment would follow.’ Roger said that once, in 1515, he had asked young Henry Phip whether he was going to Wycombe. Henry had just been chosen ‘keeper of the rood-loft,’ and carelessly answered, ‘I must needs go and tend a candle before my Block Almighty.’ It does not very clearly appear from this whether the crucifix he referred to was at Wycombe or Hughenden. Mr. Parker (History and Antiquities of Wycombe, p. 136) says it was in the old Guild Chapel of St. Mary. Henry was now cited and compelled to own his words; and both he and John Phip afterwards abjured.

The rood loft was a loft or gallery above the rood screen. This was where typically statues of Mary or St. John were displayed. Regarding this, Stokes (1838) notes that ” . . . William Phip accused Henry Phip, his own son, of conversing with Roger Dods against pilgrimages and adoration of images.”

Summers immediately continues to tell more about the Phip and Africk connection (pp. 128-129):

One little point in William Phip’s evidence ought not to be passed by without notice. He stated that Thomas Africk, in asking for his relations at Hughenden, enquired ‘How do my cousin Widmore, and Clerk the elder, and John Phip do at Hichenden? Do they keep the laws of God, as they were wont?’ Now this is a way of speaking thoroughly characteristic of the Lollards. In all the remains we have of them the word ‘gospel’ scarcely ever occurs, though it was so constantly on the lips of the first Protestants a few years later. With the Lollards, the Old and New Testaments were ‘the Old and New Law.’ More than a hundred years before, Knyghton tells us (col. 1664) that they were constantly speaking of ‘Goddislawe,’ and asserting that no one was acceptable to God who did not keep it as they set it forth.

Africk’s cousin Widmore (the name is also spelled ‘Widemore’ and ‘Wigmer’) was a farmer, living perhaps at the hamlet now called Widmer End. Thomas Widmore had married another sister of John Phip, so that he was really Africk’s brother-in-law. His son Thomas and his wife also came under suspicion. ‘Clerk the elder’ is Thomas Clerke, who, with his son of the same name, is several times named. . . . “

Summers’s statements can be compared with the following, which appeared in a later printed version of Foxe. Foxe refers to “him,” meaning apparently to Thomas Tredway:

Also he detected W. Africke or Littlepage, John Africke or Littlepage, Emme Harding or Africke, and John Phip, physician.

Of course, none of this explains why Littlepage was also known as Africke or Afrike. Plumb writing in The World of Rural Dissenters, 1520-1725 (p. 155), notes perhaps a bit cryptically in describing various families that “the Harding family . . . often surfaced using the name Africke, or Littlepage, or Page.” That source refers to a Thomas Harding eventually being burned to death once “the authorities . . . caught up with him.” Was the use of the name Afrike or Africke designed to hide this family’s identity?

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