Review: The Life of Bernard Gilpin (1629)

Rating: ★★★★

Author: George Carleton (1559-1628), was a pupil of Bernard Gilpin at Houghton-le-Spring. He became Bishop of Llandaff from 1618 to 1619 and Bishop of Chichester from 1619 to 1628.

Full title: The life of Bernard Gilpin a man most holy and renowned among the northerne English. Faithfully written by the Right Reverend Father in God George Carleton Lord Bishop of Chichester, and published for the sake of his common auditors, by whom it was long since earnestly desired. The book was first published in Latin in 1628, under the title Vita Bernardi Gilpini, viri sanctissimi, famaque apud Anglos aquolinares [sic: aquilonares] celeberrimi.


The Life of Bernard Gilpin (1629) is a brief but interesting account of a bold and compassionate English minister of the early Reformation days, written by one who knew him well. Bernard Gilpin (1517-1583) was well regarded by the English poor, whom he greatly assisted in both evangelism and advocacy work. He became known to many as “the apostle of the north” because he ministered across a large and rural area.

This book includes several of Gilpin’s personal letters, and has pointed stories about how he helped the poor of northern England.

Gilpin had a very independent mind, leading him sometimes to side with Catholics (as, at first, in the Marian persecutions of 1557), other times with Protestants (on the denial of purgatory and indulgences), and other times Gilpin abstains from stating a fast opinion (in the case of transubstantiation, which he believed to lack a clear answer from Scripture and reason). He gives lucid and accessible summaries of several of these Reformation issues in the course of this biography.

The most famous story about Bernard Gilpin is probably how his life was saved by the death of Queen Mary. In 1558, Gilpin was arrested, with a royal warrant secured by the bishop of London. In some versions of the story, Gilpin broke his leg and was thus late to meet his executioner (see page 100 of William Gilpin’s biography, and ch. 7 of All for the Best). In any case, when he was arrested and on the way to be executed, the queen died; the royal warrant against him was dropped as a result, and he preached for 25 more years!

This little book does give a few fine details about Gilpin’s life through his letters and anecdotes. A better sense of how he was “renowned by the northerne English” may be found in the historical novel All for the Best, or Bernard Gilpin’s Motto (c. 1890) by Emily Sarah Holt, which was a very interesting read with some difficult English vernacular. For a longer biography, you can also get a copy of The Life of Bernard Gilpin (1753) by his descendant, William Gilpin.

Read for free: You can read this title on the University of Michigan’s digital collection, here.

1 thought on “Review: The Life of Bernard Gilpin (1629)

  1. Pingback: The Blue Flame and other new releases | Pioneer Library

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