Udall, Nicholas (DNB00)

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UDALL or UVEDALE, NICHOLAS (1505–1556), dramatist and scholar, born in 1505, was a native of Hampshire. His relationship with the Uvedale family of Wickham in Hampshire, one member of which, living in 1449, bore the christian name of Nicholas, is undetermined (cf. Surrey Archæological Collections, iii. 185). Nicholas was elected a scholar of Winchester College in 1517, when he was described as being twelve years old (Kirby, Winchester Scholars, p. 108). Proceeding to Oxford, he was admitted a scholar of Corpus Christi College on 18 June 1520. He graduated B.A. on 30 May 1524, and became a probationer-fellow of his college on 30 May 1524. He took some part in the college tuition (Fowler, Hist. Corpus Christi Coll. Oxford, Oxf. Hist. Soc. pp. 86, 89, 370–1). In 1526 and the following years he purchased books of a Lutheran tendency of Thomas Garret, an Oxford bookseller, who personally sympathised with Lutheran doctrines. Udall thus gained the reputation of being one of the earliest adherents of the protestant movement among Oxford tutors (Foxe, Actes, ed. Townsend, v. 421 seq.). As a consequence, it is said, he was not permitted to take the degree of M.A. until 1534—ten years after his graduation. Meanwhile he made some reputation in the university as a writer of Latin verse. He became the intimate friend of John Leland [q. v.] the antiquary, and Leland acknowledged with enthusiasm Udall's liberality and attainments in two Latin epigrams (Collectanea, v. 89, 105). The friends combined in May 1533 to write verses in both Latin and English for the pageants with which the lord mayor and citizens of London celebrated the entry of Anne Boleyn into the city after her marriage to Henry VIII. Udall apostrophised Apollo and the Muses in Latin verse, and offered extravagant adulation to the new queen in English poems of very varied metres, some of which imitated Skelton's. The whole collection is preserved in manuscript at the British Museum among the Royal manuscripts (18. A. lxiv.). It was printed in Nichols's ‘Progresses of Queen Elizabeth’ and in Dr. Furnivall's ‘Ballads from Manuscripts’ (Ballad Society, 1870, i. 379–401). Most of the English poems by Udall appear in Arber's ‘English Garner’ (ii. 52–60).

About 1534 Udall became headmaster of Eton College, and he held the office for nearly eight years. Before taking up the appointment he published for the use of his pupils a selection from Terence, which was entitled ‘Flovres for Latine Spekynge selected and gathered oute of Terence and the same translated into Englysshe.’ A Latin dedication addressed by Udall to his pupils was dated from the ‘Augustinian Monastery,’ London, 28 Feb. Leland and Edmund Jonson contributed prefatory eulogies in Latin. The work was printed by Thomas Berthelet, and the first edition, which is of great rarity, is dated 1533. Other editions followed in 1538, 1544, and 1560; an edition of 1575, which was enlarged by John Higgins [q. v.], reappeared in 1581.

According to an early ‘Consuetudinary’ of Eton, plays of Terence and Plautus were acted annually by the boys under the headmaster's direction ‘about the feast of St. Andrew,’ i.e. 30 Nov., and occasionally English pieces were suffered to take the place of the Latin. It is possible that Udall's English comedy or interlude of ‘Ralph Roister Doister’ was first prepared by him to be acted by his pupils at Eton. As a schoolmaster Udall had the reputation of severely enforcing corporal punishment. Thomas Tusser [q. v.] was one of his pupils, and he states in his autobiography, prefixed to his ‘Five Hundreth Points of Good Husbandrie’ (1575), that he received from Udall on one occasion fifty-three stripes for ‘fault but small or none at all.’ Tusser exclaims, ‘See, Udall, see the mercy of thee to mee, poor lad!’ Udall's connection with Eton was terminated under disgraceful and somewhat mysterious circumstances. Early in 1541 two of his scholars, Thomas Cheney and John Horde, were, along with his servant Gregory, charged with stealing silver images and other plate belonging to the college. Their statement not merely threw on Udall the suspicion that he was cognisant of the theft, but led to an accusation against him of unnatural crime. He was summoned before the privy council for examination on 14 March 1540–1, and he then confessed that he was guilty of the second charge. He was committed to the Marshalsea prison (Proceedings of the Privy Council, vii. 153). Dismissal from the head-mastership of Eton followed immediately, but Udall's imprisonment was of short duration, and his reputation was not permanently injured. On gaining his liberty he piteously petitioned an unnamed patron probably at court to procure his restitution to Eton, while he professed a wish to pay off his debts and to amend his way of life (printed from Cotton. MS. Titus B. viii. 371, in Letters of Eminent Literary Men, Camden Soc. pp. 1 sqq.). A year after his dismissal the bursars of Eton paid him the full arrears of his salary (Lyte, Hist. of Eton, p. 114).

Other means of livelihood were at his command. He had on 27 Sept. 1537 become vicar of Braintree, and that benefice he retained on his departure from Eton. He held it for nearly seven years, resigning it on 14 Sept. 1544. His increased leisure he devoted to literary work. In September 1542 he published an English version of the third and fourth books of Erasmus's ‘Apophthegms.’ His literary capacity was noticed favourably by Henry VIII's new queen, Catherine Parr, whose theological views inclined, like his own, to Lutheranism. Under her patronage he assisted in translating into English the first volume of Erasmus's ‘Paraphrase of the New Testament.’ The work occupied him between 1543 and 1548. He himself translated the paraphrase of the gospel of St. Luke, which he finished in 1545, and he dedicated it to Queen Catherine. His rendering of the text of the gospel follows that of the Great Bible of 1539. He also superintended the publication of the work and wrote a general dedication addressed in terms of extravagant eulogy to Edward VI, and another to the reader, besides prefacing the translations of the gospel of St. John and of the Acts with dedications to Queen Catherine. The volume was first published in 1548; the title-page of the second edition of 1551 stated that Udall had ‘conferred’ the text with the Latin and ‘thoroughly corrected’ it. The second volume came out in 1549, but in that Udall had no hand.

Edward VI showed Udall much favour. When Gardiner preached before the young king on 29 June 1548, and he was expected to deny the authority of the king to make religious changes during his minority, Udall was directed to report the sermon by ‘a noble personage of this realm’ (Foxe). The ‘noble personage’ was doubtless Protector Somerset. Foxe printed Udall's report of Gardiner's sermon in his ‘Acts and Monuments.’ In 1549 a more responsible task was entrusted to him. He was ordered to reply to the catholic rebels of the west, who had put forward ‘certen artycles of us the comoners of Devonsheir and Cornwall in divers campes by Est and West of Exeter.’ The insurgents demanded the restoration of the mass, of the abbey lands, and of the Six Articles, together with the recall of Cardinal Pole from exile. Udall's answer bears the title ‘An answer to the articles of the comoners of Devonsheir and Cornewall, declaring to the same howe they haue been seduced by evell persons, and howe their consciences may be satysfyed and stayed, concerning the sayd artycles, sette forthe by a countryman of theirs, much tendering the welth, bothe of their bodyes and solles.’ Udall reasoned with great force against the catholic arguments, and defended the royal authority in matters of religion. His tract, which runs to eighty closely written folio pages, is preserved at the British Museum (Royal MS. 18, B. xi.). It was printed for the first time by the Camden Society in ‘Troubles connected with the Prayer Book of 1549,’ which was edited by Nicholas Pocock in 1884.

Further literary work of similar tendency followed. About 1550 he issued an English translation (from the Latin) of Peter Martyr's ‘Discourse or Traictise … concernynge the Sacrament of the Lordes Supper’ [see Vermigli]. Edward VI marked his approbation by issuing letters patent securing to Udall exclusive rights in the original Latin version of Peter Martyr's ‘Treatise of the Eucharist,’ as well as in the English translation; and at the same time gave Udall permission ‘to preynt the Bible in Englyshe as well in the large volume for the use of the churches wth in this our Realme and other Dominions as allso in any other convenient volume.’ Of this privilege Udall does not seem to have availed himself. He contributed Latin poems to the two collections of elegies published in 1551, respectively on Henry and Charles Brandon, dukes of Suffolk, and Martin Bucer. In 1552 he translated the ‘Compendiosa totius Anatomie delineatio’ of Thomas Gemini [q. v.], whose copperplate engravings give the work high artistic interest. The book was dedicated to the king.

Despite the circumstances attending Udall's dismissal from Eton, scholastic employment was also found for Udall by the ministers of his royal patron, and he was appointed ‘schoolmaster’ of the young Edward Courtenay, then a prisoner in the Tower (Trevelyan Papers, Camden Soc. ii. 31, 33). At the same time Edward VI bestowed new church preferment on Udall. In November 1551 he was nominated to a prebend at Windsor, but he failed to take up his residence there, and continued to preach elsewhere. He was consequently held in the following year to have forfeited his rights to the emoluments of the prebend. But in September 1552 a royal letter directed the dean and chapter of Windsor to pay Udall the income of the preferment ‘during the time of his absence.’ On 26 March 1553 he was presented to the rectory of Calborne in the Isle of Wight.

The accession of Queen Mary in no way injured his fortunes. She had taken part with him in the translation of Erasmus's paraphrase, and Udall knew how to adjust his sails to the passing breeze. In 1553 he endeavoured to extract from the protestant martyr Thomas Mountain [q. v.], while in prison, a recantation of protestantism (Nichols, Narratives of the Reformation, Camden Soc. p. 178). The lord chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, encouraged Udall's pusillanimity, and gave him the post of schoolmaster in his household, where several boys were brought up under the bishop's superintendence. Gardiner left forty marks to his ‘schoolmaster,’ Udall, in his will, dated 9 Nov. 1555 (Wills from Doctors' Commons, Camden Soc. 43, 44). Udall's repute as a dramatic writer was not exhausted. In 1554 a warrant from Queen Mary directed Udall to prepare ‘dialogues and interludes,’ to be performed in the royal presence; and ordered such dresses and apparel to be delivered to him from the office of the revels as from time to time he might require (Losely MSS. ed. Kempe, p. 63).

At the close of his life Udall again filled the office of master of a great public school. He succeeded Alexander Nowell about 1554 as headmaster of Westminster school, which Henry VIII had established in 1540; and he held that post until the school was absorbed in the monastery of Westminster, which Queen Mary refounded in November 1556. Udall died next month, and was buried in the church of St. Margaret's, Westminster, on 23 Dec. 1556. Entries of the burial in the same place of ‘Katherin Woodall’ and of ‘Elizabeth Udall’ figure in the parish register under the respective dates 2 Dec. 1556 and 8 July 1559; but there is no means of determining the relationship of either of these persons to Nicholas Udall.

Udall owes his permanent fame to his work as a dramatist. Bale attributes to him not merely many comedies, but also a ‘Tragœdia de Papatu.’ Of the last nothing is known. Bale says that Udall translated it for Queen Catherine [Parr]. It is possible that Bale made a confused reference to ‘A Tragedie or Dialoge of the unjuste usurped Primacie of the Bishop of Rome’ (London, 1549, 8vo), which John Ponet translated from the Italian of Bernardino Ochino. Subsequent mention was made of another lost play by Udall. When Elizabeth visited Cambridge University in the autumn of 1564 on the night of 8 Aug. there was performed in her presence ‘an English play called “Ezekias,” made by Mr. Udall, and handled by King's College men only.’

The only extant play by Udall is ‘Ralph Roister Doister,’ a homely English comedy on the Latin model, which may have been originally written for performance by his pupils at Eton before 1541. A reference (act ii. sc. i.) to a ballad-monger, Jack Raker, who is more than once mentioned by Skelton and is noticed in Udall's play as a contemporary, and Ralph Roister Doister's favourite form of oath, ‘by the armes of Caleys,’ suggest that the piece was originally composed in Henry VIII's reign. It is in rhymed doggerel and is divided into five acts, each with numbered scenes varying from four to eight. Besides songs which are interspersed through the text, four songs to be sung ‘by those which shall use this comedy’ are collected in an appendix. The story, which is crudely developed, deals with the unsuccessful efforts of the swaggering hero, Ralph Roister Doister, to win the hand of a wealthy widow, Dame Christian Custance. It is doubtful if the piece were printed in Udall's lifetime.

A quotation of Ralph's letter to Dame Custance (Ralph Roister Doister, act iii. sc. iv.), which is shown to be capable of expressing two directly opposite significations by changes of punctuation, appeared in the third edition of Dr. Thomas Wilson's ‘Rule of Reason,’ 1553, with the note that the passage was quoted from ‘An Entrelude, made by Nicolas Vdal.’ In 1566 Thomas Hackett obtained a license ‘for pryntinge of a play intituled Rauf Ruyster Duster.’ The only early copy now known lacks a title-page; it was accidentally acquired by the Rev. Thomas Briggs, an Etonian, in 1818, and may be the edition printed by Hackett, which probably represents a revised version of the piece. The concluding verses plainly refer to Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, and were doubtless interpolated at a date subsequent to the composition of the play. In 1818 Briggs reprinted the comedy in London, in an edition of thirty copies, as an anonymous work, and at the same time presented the unique original to Eton College Library, in ignorance of the fact that the play was from the pen of an Eton headmaster. Another reprint followed in 1821; but the anonymous editor again had no information to give respecting the authorship of the play. John Payne Collier, in a note in Dodsley's ‘Old Plays’ (1825, ii. 3; cf. History of English Dramatic Poetry, 1831, ii. 445), was the first to recognise in ‘Ralph Roister Doister’ the interlude which Wilson assigned to Udall in 1551. The work has subsequently been four times reprinted—in Thomas White's ‘Old English Drama’ (1830, 3 vols. 18mo); in the publications of the Shakespeare Society, 1847; in Arber's ‘English Reprints,’ 1869; and in Dodsley's ‘Old Plays,’ ed. W. C. Hazlitt, 1874 (iii. 53–161). ‘Ralph Roister Doister’ enjoys the distinction of being the earliest English comedy known, and, in the capacity of its author, Udall is universally recognised as one of the most notable pioneers in the history of English dramatic literature [cf. art. STILL, JOHN]. Collier, in his ‘Bibliographical Catalogue’ (ii. 176), attributes to Udall, the first and last letters of whose surname figure on the undated title-page, a curious doggerel poem in which an old man gives the author much moral counsel. The poem bears the title: ‘The pleasaunt playne and pythye Pathewaye leadynge to a vertues and honest lyfe, no lesse profytable then delectable. U. L. Imprynted at London by Nicolas Hyll, for John Case,’ 4to.

[The fullest account of Udall is by William Durrant Cooper, and is prefixed to the Shakespeare Society's edition of ‘Ralph Roister Doister.’ See also Troubles connected with the Prayer Book of 1549, ed. Nicholas Pocock (Camden Soc.), pp. xx–xxv; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 211; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Strype's Works; Fleay's Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama; Collier's History of English Dramatic Poetry.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.269
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
9 ii 8f.e. Udall, Nicholas: for first edition read third edition
7f.e.  for 1550-1 read 1553