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Strype, Johnlocked

  • G. H. Martin
  •  and Anita McConnell

John Strype (1643–1737)

by George Vertue, pubd 1733

Strype, John (1643–1737), historian and biographer, the youngest son of John Strype or Jan van Strijp (d. 1648) and his wife, Hester (d. 1665), daughter of Daniel Bonnel, was born in November 1643 at his father's house in Strype's Yard (now Stripe Street), off Petticoat Lane, London. In a letter to Dr Knight of 19 January 1729 Strype explained that his father and his ancestors had been 'great sufferers for religion' in their home town of 's-Hertogenbosch, Brabant, and had found it necessary to 'fly for shelter to England' (GM, 61/1, 1791, 223). In London the elder Strype had been apprenticed to his uncle Abraham in the Drapers' Company, took his freedom, was naturalized, and set up his own business as a silk throwster, becoming master of the short-lived Silk Throwsters' Company. Hester's grandfather had also fled from Brabant and had settled in Norwich. The Flemish and English branches of the Strype family kept in touch over the years.

Young John grew up in a family with strong nonconformist links on both sides, and after his father's death he came under the influence of his brother-in-law, the presbyterian minister John Johnson. He went to St Paul's School in 1657. On 29 March 1662 he was admitted as a pensioner to Jesus College, Cambridge, holding a Pauline scholarship of £10 p.a. until 1666. However, when in the autumn of 1662 his tutor Edmund Hough refused to subscribe the Act of Uniformity and was ejected from his fellowship, Strype's family thought it best to remove him. With Johnson's help he migrated to St Catharine's College, from where he graduated BA early in 1666. That autumn, in accordance with his late father's wish, he was ordained in London. He proceeded MA in 1669.

Parish duties

In 1669, after a brief period as curate of the poor parish of Theydon Bois, he was licensed in November as priest and curate of Low Leyton, Essex, and instituted as vicar in 1674, a position which he held for the rest of his life. In 1678 he moved into a new house erected at vestry expense and in 1681 married Susannah, daughter of Edward Lowe of Oxfordshire. Two of their four daughters survived infancy: Susannah (b. 1686), who later married James Crawforth, and Hester (1687–1711). In later years he contributed to and oversaw substantial repairs to the church.

Strype had welcomed the Restoration, but like many clergymen he found his loyalty to a Roman Catholic monarch tested too far when James II issued his declaration of indulgence in April 1687. After consulting local colleagues Strype disobeyed the instruction to read it in his church. After the revolution of 1688 he was rewarded for his loyalty to the protestant establishment and to the new regime by a lectureship at Hackney, held from 1689 to 1724. His earlier support for Henry Compton, bishop of London, led to his institution as rural dean of Barking, and in 1711 Archbishop Tenison added the sinecure rectory of West Tarring, Sussex, to which Strype journeyed annually to preach. Strype's income derived from rents of the property inherited from his father, from his own writing, and from boarding and educating children. He was instrumental in establishing a free school in Low Leyton using money from a local benefactor; the first students arrived in 1711 and Strype, as one of the trustees, kept a close eye on progress.

As rural dean Strype was expected to acquaint clergymen with the bishop's orders and to supervise enforcement of his directives. Before parliamentary elections he had to instruct clergymen to exert their influence in favour of the designated candidates for Essex; in this role, and to a lesser extent as minister, he moved among whig churchmen and other influential figures, thus becoming involved in contemporary political and ecclesiastical controversies.

Biographical works

Strype's principal pursuits were the collection of sixteenth-century family papers and other documents, and the writing of histories. At the start of his Life of … Sir John Cheke he wrote 'my inclinations (I know not how) have carried me now for many years to search more curiously into the Affairs of that Age' (p. 3) but it seems probable that he had been inspired ever since his college years, his first scholarly work being an edition of the works of John Lightfoot (1684), who had been master while he was at St Catharine's, prefaced by a biography derived from papers given to him by Lightfoot's son-in-law. In 1700 he published Some Genuine Remains of John Lightfoot. His other study outside the sixteenth century was a biography of his cousin James Bonnell, accountant-general of Ireland, in 1703.

Throughout his life at Low Leyton, Strype crossed the River Lea into London each week to meet and converse with his antiquarian friends and to call on his contacts in the book trade. He drew on sources in the state paper office, the pre-fire Cotton Library, the Petyt manuscripts now in the Inner Temple, Lambeth Palace Library, and Archbishop Parker's papers at Corpus Christi, Cambridge. More valuable documents and records came from the descendants of his subjects, others from fellow antiquarians who assisted him by visiting distant libraries and transcribing documents for him. He was generous in return, but declined to share his information with those whose views displeased him.

Strype's major source was, however, Sir William Hickes of Ruckholt, Essex, great-grandson of Sir Michael Hickes, secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Sir William had inherited the majority of the family manuscripts and, 'through a combination of circumstance and chicanery' (Zinberg, 126–7) Strype obtained and kept the entire collection. An arrangement was made that Hickes would give part of these manuscripts to Strype and lend the remainder to the publisher Richard Chiswell, to be transcribed and edited by Strype for publication and ultimately returned to Hickes. Strype duly sent his annotated manuscripts to Chiswell, who then decided that the project would be too costly. He cancelled the publication and refused the £50 commission agreed to Strype. But in 1699 Hickes was declared insane and as the Hickes relatives were unaware of the agreement Strype kept everything, seeking later to justify his actions in his will. The papers of the martyrologist John Foxe were lent to Strype in the 1680s by William Willys of Hackney, executor to one of Foxe's descendants, and Strype retained them after the death in 1701 of Foxe's last descendant. They were included when Robert Harley bought some of Strype's collection, paying what he regarded as an exorbitant price.

Strype was fifty when his first biography, Memorials of Thomas Cranmer (1694), appeared, to be followed by The Life of the Learned Sir Thomas Smith (1698), Historical Collections of the Life and Acts of John Aylmer, Lord Bishop of London (1701), and other narratives and biographies of the Tudor period. His Life of the Learned Sir John Cheke (1705) was a major study, demonstrating a deep appreciation of Cheke's life and his importance, based on a commanding knowledge of a wide range of original sources.

Strype's History of the Life and Acts of Edmund Grindal, published in 1710, achieved excellent sales, having been brought forward to take advantage of the controversary stirred up the previous year by Henry Sacheverell, who had published a sermon fiercely denouncing the prelates of his own day under cover of an attack on Grindal. It was followed by Strype's best-known work, The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1711). These ecclesiastical biographies were didactic in purpose and intended to defend the reputation of the Church of England against criticism from those who denied that it was a true church and others who objected to its relationship to the state.

Meanwhile, in the three volumes of his Ecclesiastical Memorials (1721) he covered the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tudor; in the four volumes of Annals of the Reformation (1709–31) the reign of Elizabeth. The Memorials are probably his most important work because subsequent historians have focused their attention on those documents which Strype chose to include. His chronological range is remarkable, and the quality of his transcriptions generally good for its day. Strype also annotated the section on Mary Tudor for White Kennet's Complete History of England, and published six of his own sermons delivered between 1689 and 1729.

The Survey of London

Strype was approached by the publishers Richard Chiswell and Thomas Horne to provide yet another revised version of John Stow's much admired Survey of London (1598). An agreement was drawn up whereby Strype would receive 43 guineas, his expenses, and six bound copies of the finished work. The Survey had been repeatedly revised and enlarged in order to keep up with the changing aspect of the post-fire city, now much expanded and altered in its religion and other ways. Strype immediately set about transcribing documents from the London archives and in 1703 Awnsham Churchill joined the agreement as senior partner, and Strype's payment was increased to £103. There was co-operation from the city livery companies and the clergy, urged on by Bishop Henry Compton, and also from the librarians of Lambeth Palace and the Tower. Among the many private individuals who offered help were the Yorkshire antiquary Ralph Thoresby, who had been in correspondence for some years before his first visit to Strype on 22 January 1709, and Humphrey Wanley, librarian to the Harleian collection in which Stow's manuscript now reposed. Although Strype had arranged most of the work by 1707, and the engravings had been prepared, it was set aside after the publication of Edward Hatton's New View of London in 1708, which seemed to cover much the same ground and was considerably smaller and cheaper. Strype forfeited £71 of his fee, and perhaps had no one to blame but himself as he had allowed work on his biographies to take up much of his time. Finally, once the defects of Hatton's book were acknowledged another agreement in November 1716 led to the Survey's publication at the end of 1720. Strype made no changes beyond inserting some current information on titled people, lord mayors, and city charities.

Unlike its predecessors Strype's Survey did not aim to be a pocket guide, with its listings and tables of figures (although he included the obligatory and now outdated list of carriers), but rather an updated edition of a celebrated Elizabethan text. It filled two folio volumes, embellished with high quality engravings and ward maps, and cost 6 guineas. The print run was probably more than 500 copies; it was reprinted in 1754. Strype included what he believed to have been Stow's entire original text, which had by this time been conflated with the 1618 and 1633 additions of Anthony Munday. His own additions, where he had identified gaps in Stow's narrative and where the passage of time demanded them, were clearly identified as such in the margins. Inevitably his own protestant convictions and his abhorrence of popery led him to be selective and even emphatic in the space allocated to the provision of almshouses and other charitable donations, and in the details of sermons and services held within the city. Political events, such as the defeat of the Armada, the civil war, the Jacobite period, and the return to an assured protestantism all called for judgemental comment. Strype was however one of three editorial voices writing in the first person and the present tense. To quote Merritt, 'By this stage the Survey has a multiple personality, switching with little warning from nostalgic Elizabethan antiquary [Stow] to triumphalist Jacobean pageant-master [Munday] to diligent post-Restoration recorder of events [Strype] and back again' (Merritt, 87).

Later years

In 1720 Wanley was alerted by reports that Strype had suffered a stroke, and he arranged for John Wyat, a bookseller of St Paul's Churchyard, to keep a discreet eye on Strype's health and collections. Wanley's foresight was rewarded with a substantial collection of manuscripts now in the Harleian collection in the British Library; his own correspondence with Strype is in Cambridge University Library.

In the event Strype outlived his wife and daughters. A visitor to the Low Leyton parsonage in March 1733 found him busy in his study, 'turned ninety, yet very brisk and well, with only a decay of sight and memory' (letter, Samuel Knight to Zacharias Grey, 24 March 1733; Nichols, Illustrations, 4.327). He continued to collect and copy materials in the last years of his life, but by 1733 acknowledged that failing eyesight prevented him from bringing his projected lives of Lord Burghley and John Foxe to the press. In his later years Strype lived at Hackney, Middlesex, with his granddaughter Susannah, who was married to Thomas Harris, a surgeon. He died at Hackney on 11 December 1737 and was buried at Leyton, having composed his own Latin epitaph.

Strype had made money by his writings; he also had an income from his freehold property in and around Strype's Yard, which had come through his late wife's jointure, plus two houses near Well Close, his stock in the Bank of England, and his East India Company bonds. In his will, written in 1732, he left almost everything to Susannah and Thomas Harris, apart from several charitable donations to the poor of those parishes with which he had been connected. He also gave his version of why Sir William Hickes's papers were still in his keeping, explaining that the bookseller Richard Chiswell had passed them over to assess their suitability for printing, but that Chiswell had died before this had been accomplished and without having paid Strype the agreed £50 for his work. He identified bundles of papers that should now be passed to Chiswell's son.

Posthumous reputation

Writing in 1975 Cargill Thompson remarked that 'even today … the twenty-five volumes of his works in the Clarendon Press reissues of the 1820s are still a standard source for the study of English church history' (p. 237), and his biographies of Cheke, Cranmer, Parker, and Grindal are consulted both for what he has to say about his subjects and for his quotation or transcription of sources. Yet by providing valuable transcriptions of manuscripts now lost or never printed elsewhere Strype has inevitably channelled the interests of historians who in recent times have begun to remark on his neglect of chronology, his want of critical sense, and his transcriptions which were often silently abridged or poorly referenced. Strype followed the contemporary practice of arranging his materials by year, writing in the form of annals. His habit of gathering and including irrelevant material, together with his lack of critical analysis of his sources, were in keeping with the historiographical practice of his time.

Strype himself believed that his works had made a major contribution to existing historical knowledge, that they were in no way derivative, but filled the gaps in ecclesiastical histories of the sixteenth century. He intended that his readers would learn about the nature of the Reformation, how it had come about and its participating figures, thereby uniting protestants at home and abroad in a better understanding. He regularly protested his own honesty as a sincere lover of truth, preferring, as he often claimed, to go as near the fountainhead as possible to draw his material, and to leave the original wording of his sources, including original documents in his appendices, to convince his readers. But his claim to be unbiased was naïve in that he ignored the bias arising by his selection of sources.


  • C. Zinberg, ‘John Strype and the sixteenth-century portrait of an Anglican historian’, PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1968
  • J. F. Merritt, ‘The reshaping of Stow's Survey: Munday, Strype, and the protestant city’, Imagining early modern London, ed. J. F. Merritt (2001), 52–88
  • ‘Extracts from Mr John Strype's letters to the Rev. Tho. Baker’, GM, 1st ser., 61 (1791), 223
  • will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/686, sig. 287
  • J. J. Morrison, ‘Strype's Stow, the 1720 edition of “A survey of London”’, London Journal, 3 (1977), 40–54
  • [J. Hunter], ed., Letters of eminent men, addressed to Ralph Thoresby, 2 vols. (1832)
  • W. D. J. Cargill Thompson, ‘John Strype as a source for the study of sixteenth-century English church history’, The materials, sources and methods of ecclesiastical history, ed. D. Baker, SCH, 11 (1975), 237–47


  • BL, Harley MSS 416–426, 427–428, 431, 433–435, 590, 6202, 6995–6998, 7002
  • BL, collections and papers, Lansdowne MSS 93/28, 114–116, 119–122, 388–389, 446, 819, 1045, 1055, 1195–1197
  • BL, corresp., Add. MSS 5831, 5836, 5840, 5852–5853, 5866
  • CUL, corresp., Add. MSS 1–10, 2508
  • Essex RO, Chelmsford, corresp. with William Holman


  • G. Vertue, line engraving (after unknown artist), BM, NPG; repro. in Strype, Ecclesiastical memoirs (1733) [see illus.]
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Gentleman's Magazine