Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Marbeck, John

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MARBECK or MERBECK, JOHN (d. 1585?), musician and theologian, was a lay-clerk and afterwards, in 1541, organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. On 9 Sept. 1540 he wrote out the will of William Tate, canon of Windsor, and signed his name 'John Merbeck' (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. x. 55). From an early age he studied Calvin's writings and adopted Calvin's religious views. On 16 March 1542-3 (the Thursday before Palm Sunday) commissioners arrived at Windsor to search for heretical books. In Marbeck's house were found not only writings against the Six Articles but materials for a concordance of the Bible in English, upon which he had been engaged for six years. He was consequently sent in custody to London and lodged in the Marshalsea (cf. Acts of the Privy Seal, 1542-7, p. 98). Between the date of his arrest and Whitsuntide he was five times examined by Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, or his agents ; and Gardiner sharply reprimanded him for endeavouring to supersede the Latin language in religious worship by translating his concordance into English. His wife with difficulty obtained permission to visit him in prison. On 26 July 1544 he was sent to Windsor to be tried at 'a session specially procured to be holden.' The indictment charged Marbeck with having denounced the mass in writing, but Marbeck pointed out that the suspected paper was copied out of one of Calvin's epistles some years before the promulgation of the Six Articles, which, it was alleged, it controverted. The jury, composed of farmers who were tenants of the collegiate church at Windsor, at first disagreed respecting Marbeck's guilt, but finally declared against him. He was condemned to suffer at the stake on the following day, but Gardiner, on account, it is said, of his regard for Marbeck's musical talents, obtained a royal pardon for him, and he was set at liberty. Anthony Peirson, Robert Testwood, and Henry Filmer, three of Marbeck's Windsor friends and fellow-prisoners who were convicted at the same time, were duly executed. Marbeck supplied an account of his persecution to Foxe who described the proceedings at length in his 'Acts and Monuments,' but by a curious error in the first edition of 1563 Foxe omitted mention of Marbeck's pardon, and described him as dying in the company of Peirson and Testwood. Foxe made the needful correction of 'Filmer' for 'Marbeck' in a concluding list of 'Faultes and oversightes escaped.' The error, although it was removed in the second and later editions, long excited the ridicule of Foxe's enemies, and helped to diminish his reputation for historical accuracy (cf. Acts and Monuments, ed. Townsend, vi. 474-98, and see art. Foxe, John).

Marbeck cautiously abstained from any further display of his religious views till the accession of Edward VI. At length, in July 1550, appeared his 'Concordance : that is to saie, a worke wherein by the ordre of the letters of the A. B. C. ye maie redely finde any worde conteigned in the whole Bible so often as it is there expressed or mencioned.' It was printed by Richard Grafton, and was dedicated to Edward VI. Although Marbeck asserts that he had abbreviated his manuscript at the printer's request, the published volume reaches nearly nine hundred folio pages, and each page is divided into three columns. Every word is followed by its Latin equivalent, and the quotations are brief. It was the earliest concordance to the whole English Bible, although Thomas Gibson had produced in 1536 a concordance to the New Testament (cf. Towneley, Bibl. Illustrations, iii. 118-120).

There followed in the same year the book by which Marbeck is best known, 'The Boke of Common Praier noted' (Richard Grafton, 4to). It is an adaptation of the plain chant of the earlier rituals to the first liturgy of Edward VI, issued in 1549. Two copies are at Lambeth ; one is in the British Museum. Maskell noted in the church accounts of Stratton, Cornwall, the expenditure in 1549 of 16d. on 'new books notyd for matens and evensong yn ynglyssh,' and suggested that the 'new books notyd' formed an edition of Marbeck's work earlier than any now extant (Monumenta Ritualia Eccl. Angliæ, vol. i. p. xxv), but the conjecture cannot be substantiated. Marbeck's intention seems to have been to prevent 'the great diversity in saying and singing' of which the compilers of 'Edward VI's First Prayer Book' had expressed disapproval in their preface, and to follow out their suggestion that 'the whole realm' should 'have but one use.' But his book received no authorisation from the ecclesiastical authorities, and was not in sufficient demand in his day to render a second edition needful (Maskell, Ancient Liturgy of the Church of England, 1882, p. xi). It was reprinted by Whittingham for Pickering in 1844, in facsimile; by Rimbault in 1845; and in Jebb's 'Choral Responses for Litanies,' 1857.

About the date of the appearance of his 'Book of Common Prayer' Marbeck is said to have supplicated for the degree of Bachelor of Music at Oxford, but the university register of the time is defective, and the result of his supplication is not known. He continued his musical and theological studies for more than thirty years later, and was still organist in 1565. Foxe notes that he was alive in 1583, when the second English edition of the 'Actes and Monuments' appeared. He is said to have died at Windsor in 1585. Roger Marbeck [q. v.] was his son. A hymn for three voices by Marbeck is printed in Hawkins's 'History of Music.' Portions of a mass for five voices, 'Per arma Justitiæ,' are in Burney's 'Musical Extracts,' vol. vi. (Addit. MS. 11686), and in the Oxford Music School. Other musical manuscripts by him are at Peterhouse, Cambridge.

Besides the works already noted, Marbeck published:

  1. 'The Lyues of Holy Sainctes, Prophetes, Patriarches, and others contaynd in Holye Scripture,' dedicated to Lord Burghley, London (by Henry Denham and Richard Watkins), 1574, 4to (Brit. Mus.); 2nd edit. 1685, with addresses to 'Christian Reader,' (signed R. M.)
  2. 'The Holie Historie of King Dauid … Drawne into English Meetre for the Youth to reade,' London (by Henrie Middleton for John Harrison), 1579, 4to (a copy is at Britwell).
  3. 'A Ripping vp of the Popes Fardel,' London, 1581, 8vo.
  4. 'A Booke of Notes and Commonplaces with their Exposition collected and gathered out of the Workes of diuers singular Writers and brought Alphabetically into Order,' London (by Thomas East), 1581, 8vo, dedicated to the Earl of Huntingdon, about 1200 pp. (Brit. Mus.)
  5. 'Examples drawn out of Holy Scriptures with their Application: also a Brief Conference between the Pope and his Secretary, wherein is opened his great blasphemous pride,' London 1582, 8vo.
  6. 'A Dialogue between Youth and Olde Age, wherein is declared the Persecutions of Christ's Religion, since the Fall of Adam, hitherto,' London, 1584.

Marbeck spelt his name either thus, or with a final 'e' added.

[Information kindly supplied by W. Barclay Squire, esq.; Wood's Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 130; Bale's Scriptores; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Fuller's Worthies; Grove's Dict. of Musicians, s.v. 'Merbecke;' Notes and Queries, 4th ser. v. 293; authorities cited.]

S. L.