February 13 – John Fowler

February 13, 2023

John Fowler

Scholar and printer, b. at Bristol, England, 1537; d. at Namur, Flanders, 13 Feb., 1578-9. He studied at Winchester School from 1551 to 1553, when he proceeded to New College, Oxford where he remained till 1559. He became B.A. 23 Feb., 1556-7 and M.A. in 1560, though Antony a Wood adds that he did not complete his degree by standing in comitia. On Elizabeth’s accession he was one of the fifteen Fellows of New College who left of their own accord or were ejected rather than take the Oath of Supremacy (Rashdall, History of New College, 114). This disposes of the calumny circulated by Acworth in his answer to Sander, called “De visibili Romanarchia”, to the effect that Fowler took the oath to enable him to retain the living of Wonston in Hampshire. There is, indeed, no trace of any desire on his part to receive Holy orders and he subsequently married Alice Harris, daughter of Sir Thomas More’s secretary. On leaving Oxford he withdrew to Louvain, where like other scholars of his time he turned his attention to the craft of printing. His intellectual attainments were such as to enable him to take high rank among the scholar-printers of that age. Thus Antony a Wood says of him: “He was well skilled in the Greek and Latin tongues, a tolerable poet and orator, and a theologian not to be contemned. So learned he was also in criticisms and other polite learning, that he might have passed for another Robert or Henry Stephens. He did diligently peruse the Theological Summa of St. Thomas of Aquin, and with a most excellent method did reduce them into a Compendium.” To have a printing press abroad in the hands of a competent English printer was a great gain to the Catholic cause, and Fowler devoted the rest of his life to this work, winning from Cardinal Allen the praise of being catholicissimus et doctissimus librorum impressor.

The English Government kept an eye on his work, as we learn from the state papers (Domestic, Eliz. 1566-1579), where we read the evidence of one Henry Simpson at York in 1571, to the effect that Fowler printed all the English books at Louvain and that Dr. Harding’s Welsh servant, William Smith, used to bring the works to the press. He seems to have had a press at Antwerp as well as at Louvain, for his Antwerp books range from 1565 to 1575, whereas his Louvain books are dated 1566, 1567 and 1568; while one of his publications, Gregory Martin’s “Treatise of Schism” bears the impress, Douay, 1578. More thorough bibliographical research than has yet been made into the output of his presses will probably throw new light upon his activity as a printer. The original works or translations for which he was personally responsible are: “An Oration against the unlawful Insurrections of the Protestants of our time under pretence to reforme Religion” (Antwerp, 1566), translated from the Latin of Peter Frarinus, which provoked a reply from Fulke; “Ex universâ summâ Sacrae Theologiae Doctori os S. Thomae Aquinatis desumptae conclusiones” (Louvain, 1570); “M. Maruli dictorum factorumque memorabilium libri VI” (Antwerp, 1577); “Additiones in Chronica Genebrandi” (1578); “A Psalter for Catholics”, a controversial work answered by Sampson; epigrams and verses. The translation of the “Epistle of Orosius” (Antwerp, 1565), ascribed to him by Wood and Pitts, was really made by Richard Shacklock. Pitts also states that he wrote in English a work “Ad Ducissam Feriae confessionis forma”, Fowler also edited Sir Thomas More’s “Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation” (Antwerp, 1573).

Edwin Burton (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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