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Bullokar, Johnfree

(bap. 1574, d. 1627)
  • Janet Bately

Bullokar, John (bap. 1574, d. 1627), physician and lexicographer, was born in St Andrew's parish, Chichester, Sussex, and was baptized there on 8 November 1574, the third of four known children of William Bullokar (c. 1531–1609) and his wife, Elizabeth, née Diggons (d. 1608). He initially continued to live, with his wife, Ellinor (d. in or after 1631), in the parish of his birth: at least two of their children, Thomas Bullaker (bap. 2 November 1598) and Ellinor (bap. 29 October 1601), were born there. There is no record of the birthplace, in 1602 or 1604, of a second Thomas, but it may have been Midhurst, Sussex, where John held freehold property. Subsequently, the family moved from parish to parish in Chichester, possibly to avoid regular presentment for non-attendance at church.

The Bullokars were staunch Roman Catholics. In Elizabeth's reign female members of the Hampshire branch were sent to the house of correction at Winchester for harbouring priests. The Chichester branch too persisted in that faith, as a series of documents in the West Sussex Record Office and archives of Chichester council shows. John Bullokar and his wife were not only presented for recusancy but also excommunicated on a number of occasions. Between 1599 and 1604, John was also several times presented for being an unlicensed schoolmaster. His second son Thomas (also known as John Baptist Martyr) studied at the English colleges at St Omer, Flanders, and Valladolid, Spain, became a Franciscan, and, in 1642, was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, having been arrested at the home of a member of the Montague family, where he was celebrating mass, and charged with high treason. It was presumably because of his religion that John himself obtained his MD degree overseas, at Caen, on 16 October 1612.

Bullokar was author of two publications, An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the Hardest Words Used in our Language (dedicated to Jane, Viscountess Mountague, and entered in the Stationers' register on 25 May 1610, but not published until 1616), and A True Description of the Passion of our Saviour Jesus Christ, a poem in six-line stanzas (dated by its author 2 November 1618, but not published until 1622). It is for the contribution to the development of the English dictionary made by the first of these that John Bullokar became known. The work of his 'younger yeares', a 'little Pamphlet' originally intended only for private use (J. Bullokar, English Expositor, 1616, epistle dedicatory), and written 'at the request of a worthy gentleman, one whose loue preuailed much with me' (possibly his father, who had himself planned to produce a dictionary), but subsequently put aside (English Expositor, To the courteous reader), it has nevertheless over a thousand more lemmas than the 1613 edition of its immediate predecessor, Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall, including a number of encyclopaedic entries and even a personal reference to a visit to London, where Bullokar reports having seen a crocodile 'brought thither dead, but in perfect forme, of about three yards long' (English Expositor, Crocodile). A significant innovation is the marking of 'old words now grown out of use'.

Like other monolingual English dictionaries of the seventeenth century the Expositor was a 'hard-word dictionary' (dealing in large part with the Latin and Greek loanwords of Renaissance English). Its materials were taken from a wide variety of sources, ranging from Cawdrey's monolingual and Thomas's Latin–English dictionaries to specialist glossaries. It was not only drawn on freely by its competitors, from Cockeram onwards, but continued to be published in many editions (and after 1641 with constant enlargement) up to 1775. The most significant of the revisions, by ‘A Lover of the Arts’ (1663), adds both a 'reverse' dictionary, with the 'ordinary' equivalents set before the hard-word lemmas of the first part, and a nomenclature, 'containing a summary of the most memorable Things and famous Persons, whether Inventors and Improvers of rare Arts and Ingenuities, or others'. However, Bullokar lived to see only the second of these editions (1621): he died in 1627 and was buried in St Andrew's parish on 2 January 1628.


  • T. J. McCann, ‘The Catholic recusancy of Dr. John Bullaker of Chichester, 1574–1627’, Recusant History, 11 (1971–2), 75–86
  • The works of William Bullokar, ed. B. Danielsson and R. C. Alston, facs. edn, 1 (1966)
  • J. Schäfer, Early modern English lexicography, 1 (1989)
  • De W. T. Starnes and G. E. Noyes, The English dictionary from Cawdrey to Johnson, 1604–1755, new edn, ed. G. Stein (1991)
  • R. C. Alston, A bibliography of the English language from the invention of printing to the year 1800, 5 (1966)
  • RCP Lond., Innes-Smith MS 286a
  • parish register, Chichester, St Andrew, 8 Nov 1574 [baptism]