Revd. John Gwinneth, c.1510 – c.1563

The Reverend John Gwinneth, or Gwinnett, has not been connected to my main tree as yet.  He first appears in Alumni Oxoniensis, on 9 December 1531 ‘for leave to practice in music and for D.Mus.’ The entry does not specify if he did become a Doctor of Music but suggests that he was a sinecure rector at Clynnog Fawr in 1541 and rector of St Peter Cheap in London in 1543.

The book states that he was the son of David ap Llewellyn ap Ithel of Llyn which suggests that he originated in Wales and that he, like the main group of Gwinnetts, was descended from the Princes of Wales.

The next reference found relating to the Reverend John Gwynneth appears in the Dictionary of National Biography, where he is described as a composer and polemicist.  The DNB confirms the origin of John as being the son of Dafydd ap Llewellyn ab Ithel of Castellmarch, Llyn, Caernarvonshire, according to his contemporary, Arthur Bulkeley, Bishop of Bangor.

It goes on to state that church music was John’s opportunity for advancement; that he was an acolyte in minor orders when he was admitted rector of Stuchbury in Northamptonshire in 1528.  Three years later, he supplicated for a degree in music at Oxford University.  John claimed that he had practised music for many years and had composed 3 five-part and 5 four-part masses as well as hymns and antiphons (a type of church music where two people respond to each other in chants).

John Gwynneth was closely associated with the Benedictine Abbey of St. Albans.  In 1522, John Gwynneth, clerk, was owed £18 by the Abbey, presumably for his role in the musical life of the house – Cardinal Wolsey had been granted the abbey the previous year and was keen to recruit musical talent.

Although he did not ‘take the tonsure’, John Gwynneth appears to have lived in close contact with the monks as a secular ecclesiastic; in 1535, he was described as a ‘chapelyn’ there.

Protestantism and dissolution began in the 1530s but the Abbey of St. Albans and John Gwinneth both resisted the change.  Such reform put Gwynneth’s career as a composer of sung masses in jeopardy.  His resistance came with the use of the Abbey’s printing press.  In 1536, Gwynneth used this press and the abbey printer to publish The Confutacyon of the Fyrst Parte of Frythes Boke.  His collaborators were the printer, John Herford, and Richard Boreman, spokesman for the monks.  St. Alban’s Abbey finally closed in December 1539. John Gwynneth had been vicar of Luton from 1537 and then acquired the living of the rector at St. Peter Westcheap in London in 1543.  During this time, he had become a chaplain to  King Henry VIII.

Also in this period, John Gwynneth went to law, over a period of 8 years, to assert his title to the living of Clynnog Fawr in Caernarvonshire, which was a prosperous collegiate church so well worth keeping. When the Chantries Act of 1545 threatened to take it away from him, he asked his brother-in-law, Stephen Vaughan, to write to William Paget to seek his protection.

Gwynneth’s sympathy for traditional religion can be found in his writing: A Briefe Declaration of the Victory of Queene Marye in her Accession to the Throne, which was delivered as a sermon by John Gwynneth in Luton church on 23rd July 1553, just four days after Mary was proclaimed Queen in London and later published by the royal printer, John Cawood. Only one copy of this still exists.  It was an attempt to defend a woman’s right to rule the country, that, despite being a weak woman, she had prevailed against the mighty power of the Duke of Northumberland, who had all the forces and treasures of the crown to support him.

Intriguingly, Gwynneth lists the many similarities between Queen Mary and the Blessed Virgin Mary; “both women, both maydens, both Maries, both descending of regal progenitours, both persecuted with malice of men, both delivered by thonely marvellous worke of God”.  He lambasts those who have dared to cut the Ave Maria from the liturgy.

John Gwynneth produced three further polemical tracts, two continuing an old feud with John Frith, A manifeste detection of the notable flashed of that part of John Frithes boke whiche he calleth his foundacion (1554) and A Playne Demonstration of John Frithes Lack of Witte and Learnynge (1557). His third tract A Declaracion of the State, wherein All Heretickes Dooe Leade their Lives (1554) discussed his disputes with Catholicus and Hereticus.In challenging the heretics strategy of subverting order in the church, Gwynneth states “Where there is no order, there is continual fear, trembling, astonishment, adversitee or thraldom”.  He comments that reformers had undermined the sacraments and ancient ceremonies of the church to the extent that “the communion table would have travelled so far from the chancel into the body of the church that it would have ended up outside the door”!

The DNB article concludes by saying that John Gwynneth’s views would not have endeared him to Queen Elizabeth when she came to the throne, that he was duly imprisoned in 1560 and that he was dead by March 1563. It names his niece as the recusant and priest-harbourer as Jane Wiseman who died in 1610.


The Dictionary of National Biography article states that John was imprisoned in 1560 and died in 1563 but, as can be seen from the following, this seems to be contradicted by a document found in the papers of the Common Pleas, Hilary 1 Elizabeth, held at the National Archives which implies that he had died before the end of 1559 and possibly a little earlier still.  It reads as follows:

Hilary 1559.  Westminster

Pl’ita apud Westmr coram Anthonio Broune et Socijs suis Justic’ d’ne Regine D Banco D Termino s’ci Hillarij Anno regni d’ne Elizabeth dei gr’a Anglie Francie & Hib’nie Regine fidei defensoris &c’ Primo

Pleas at Westminster before Anthony Broune and his fellows, justices of the lady queende Banco, for Hilary term in the 1st year of the reign of lady Elizabeth by the grace of God queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c.

London’: Edwardus Awpte Administrator bonor & Catallor que fuerunt Joh’is Gwinneth’ Cl’ici et Georgius Kensham’ & Elizabeth’ vxor eius coadministratrix bonor & catallor prd’cor nupd’ci Joh’is Gwyneth’ Cl’ici alias d’cus Edwardus Awparte et Elizabeth’ Awparte alias Kemsham’ vxor Georgij Kemsham’ px’i Consanguinei Joh’is Gwinneth’ Cl’ici nup vicarij de Luton’ diocess Lincoln’ puincieq’ Cant’ defunct’ p attorn’ suu’ op’ se iiijto die vrsus Thomam Rotheram’ nup de Luton’ in Com’ Bedd’ Militem alias d’cm Thomam Rotherham de So’mys in pochia de Luton’ in Com’ Bedf’ Militem de pl’ito q’d reddat eis quadraginta libras quas eis ibiuste detinent &c’  Et ip’i[1] non ven’  Et prec’ fuit vic’ q’d sum’ eum[2] &c’  Et vic’ modo mand’ q’d nichil h’ent[3] &c’  I’o Capiantr q’d sint hic in Octabis Purificac’ois b’te Marie[4]&c’  Ad quem diem hic ven’ prd’ci Edwardus  Georgius & Elizabeth p attorn’ suu’  Et op se iiijto die vrsus prfat’ Thomam de prd’co pl’ito  Et ip’e non ven’  Et prec’ fuit vic’ q’d capent eum &c’  Et vic’ modo mand’ q’d non est inuent’ &c’  I’o sicut prius Capiatr q’d sit hic a die Pasche in xv dies[5] &c’

London: Edward Awp’te administrator of the goods and chattels that were of John Gwinneth clerk, and George Kensham and Elizabeth his wife co-administratrix of the goods and chattels aforesaid of the late called John Gwyneth clerk; otherwise called Edward Awparte and Elizabeth Awparte alias Kemsham wife of George Kemsham, next of kin of John Gwinneth clerk late vicar of Luton in the diocese of Lincoln and the province of Canterbury deceased, appeared by their attorney for a fourth day against Thomas Rotheram late of Luton in county Bedford knight otherwise called Thomas Rotherham of Somys in the parish of Luton in county Bedford knight, in a plea that he render them £40 that he unjustly withholds from them &c. And (the defendant) has not come; and it had been ordered the sheriffs to summon him &c.; and the sheriffs now report that (the defendant) has nothing (in their bailiwick in lands or chattels whereby he might be attached) &c. Therefore let him be taken, to be here on the octaves of Candlemas &c. On which day the aforesaid Edward, George and Elizabeth come here by their attorney, and appear for a fourth day against the aforesaid Thomas in the plea aforesaid; and (the defendant) has not come; and it had been ordered the sheriffs to take him &c. And the sheriffs now report that he is not found &c. Therefore let him be taken, to be here on the quindene of Easter &c.


  • [1]sic: the clerk jumps to treating the defendant as a plural
  • [2]back to the singular
  • [3]sic: again the defendant is being treated as a plural. This confusion is unusual, and may indicate careless copying from an original writ in which was another defendant, whose case had meanwhile been dropped or settled.
  • [4]9 February 1559
  • [5]9 April 1559

National Archives Ref: CP 40/1178 m.902d.  Translated from the Latin by David Bethell.

Research into the final years of John Gwynneth is ongoing.  Any information as to his date of death is welcomed.