George Joye was born c.1492 at Salpho Bury, Renhold, Bedfordshire, the son of John Joye, Yeoman of Renhold. George’s brother, Henry, became Attorney in the Common Plea to the Newnham Priory, Bedford. By his will of 1503, George’s grandfather, William Joye of Bedford and a lawyer, established “Joye’s Charity” in the Parish of St Paul’s, Bedford; this provided for a priest to sing mass daily for the souls of Henry VII and his Queen.
He entered Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1509, the year of Henry VIII’s accession, and graduated BA 1513/14. On 3rd March 1515 he was ordained Subdeacon at Newnham Priory, Bedford and in 1517 he obtained MA and was elected Fellow of Peterhouse on 27th April 1517 until 1528. In 1518 the Tomb of Edmund Wayte was erected in Renhold Church – having been brought up in Renhold, the two well off families must have known each other.
In 1521 John Joye, the father of George was buried in Renhold churchyard.
George became Bachelor of Divinity in 1525.
In 1527, while still at Cambridge, John Ashwell, Prior of Newnam informed the Diocesan Bishop of Lincoln, John Longland, that Joye was guilty of the four heretical opinions that
Priests had as great power to bynde and to lose as Bishops or the Pope
Faith is sufficient without works
Priests may marry
Every layman may hear confessions
He was also charged with having derided pilgrimages to holy shrines and relics. Joye was consequently cited to appear, with Thomas Bilney and Thomas Arthur, before Cardinal Wolsey at Westminster. Joye, however, fled to Strasbourg, where on 10th June 1527, he published a defence of his views on scriptural grounds, in English, to Ashwell’s four charges, which had been in Latin.
While at Strasbourg, Joye published the first English Primer in 1529 – now lost; the first English translation of the Psalms in 1530, based on the Latin of Bucer; the first of many English versions of Books of the Old Testament. The series began with “The Prophet Isaye” on 10th May 1531.
Joye’s friend & fellow reformer Thomas Bilney was martyred at Norwich on 19th August 1531 and, in November, Richard Bayfield, who was an importer of books by Joye, Tyndale and others, was martyred at Smithfield in London. Around this time Joye married, for More, in his “Confutation” of 1532, calls him “the priest that is wedded now”.
In 1532 Joye left Strasbourg and went to Bergen-op-Zoom (then known in English as Barrow) and at Candlemas printed “two leaves of Genesis in a great form”. In 1533 he sent one copy to Henry VIII and another to Queen Anne Boleyn, with a letter asking for licence to translate and print the whole Bible – nothing immediately came of the proposal. Also in 1533 Joye published a translation of Proverbs (including for the first time “Pride goeth before a fall” and “a mess of pottage”) and Ecclesiastes.
In May 1534 Joye moved to Antwerp and there published a translation of the Book of Jeremiah under the title of “Jeremye the Prophete translated into Englishe, with the songs of Moses added in the ende to magnifye our Lorde for the fall of our Pharoe, the Bishop of Rome” Also in Antwerp, he published in August a translation of David’s Psalter based on the Latin text of Zwingli; there is no doubt that the Psalter was completed some years before publication, because Stokesley, the Bishop of London, included the “Psalter in English by Joye” among the books meriting censure in 1531. Joye also, in the summer of 1534, edited Tyndale’s new Edition of the “New Testament” anonymously and without consulting Tyndale. Tyndale was very irritated by Joye’s presumption, particularly the alteration to his resurrection to the life after death and, in November, published again his New Testament, taunting Joye with the anonymity of his effort and with his ignorance of Greek and Hebrew. A few weeks later Joye replied to what he called “Tyndale’s uncharitable and unsober pystle”. Tyndale’s attack and Joye’s reply made a reconciliation impossible.
In 1534 King Henry VIII broke with Rome.
Tyndale was betrayed to Phillipes, the Agent of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and arrested in Antwerp on 21st May 1535. Joye narrowly avoided capture himself and escaped to Calais. On 4th June 1535, Edward Foxe wrote to Cromwell that Joye was lodging with him in Calais and that he would not “hereafter attack the present belief concerning the sacrament, that he was conformable on all points as a Christian man should be” and that, therefore, Cromwell should reasonably permit his return to England. Joye was wrongly suspected by Tyndale’s friends of betraying him, but Phillipes reported a few weeks later that “Joye was falsely credited with aiding in Tyndale’s capture, and was consequently greatly abused”.
Soon afterwards Joye was able to return to England.
In 1541 Joye was in possession of a Printing Press in London and issued a pamphlet, which he had written, with the title “A Contrarye to a Cortayne Manis Consultacion: that Adulterers ought to be punyshed wyth deathe. With the solucions of his argumentes for the contrarye. Made by George Joye”.
In 1542, with persecution rising again, Joye left England for the second time and around 1543 his son, George, was born.
Also in June 1543, while in Wesel, Joye printed an attack on Bishop Gardiner of Winchester, following the execution of Robert Barnes at Smithfield. The Bishop responded and Joye hit back in 1546. Meanwhile, in September 1544, Joye prepared for his English friends “A Present Consultation for the Sufferers of Persecution for Ryght Wyseness”.
In 1545 Joye moved to Geneva and, in August, published his “Exposicion of Daniel the Prophete”.
On 7th July 1546, a proclamation was issued in London directing that Joye’s works, among others, should be publicly burnt and Joye’s books were burnt at Paul’s Cross on 28th September.
On 20th January 1547 Henry VIII died and his son, Edward VI came to the throne which enabled Joye to return to England in 1548. In May 1548 he published an English version of “The Coniectures of the ende of the Worlde and of that godly and learned man, Andrew Ostander” in which readers are informed that the world will end between 1585 and 1625 – needless to say, it did not.
On 21st January 1549 the Book of Common Prayer was introduced. Joye quarrelled in print with John Foxe and in September of that year Joye was presented to the Rectory of Blunham, Bedfordshire by Sir Henry Grey of Flitton.
On 21st March 1550 Joye was appointed Rector of Ashwell, Hertfordshire by Bishop Ridley (later martyred).
George Joye died in 1553.
George Joye’s son, George, who was born about 1543, was the youngest of five sons and three daughters. He graduated BA from St John’s College, Cambridge in 1563/64 and MA in 1567, having been created a Fellow in 1565. He further graduated BD in 1575 and was ordained Deacon at Ely on 21st December 1569, aged 26. He became Rector of St Peter’s, Sandwich, Kent from 1570 to 1574 and Vicar of Higham from 1573 to 1575. In 1574, he became Vicar of St Clement’s, Sandwich until 1600 and, in plurality he was Priest in Charge of St Mary’s, Dover from 1574 and Rector of Elmstone from 1580. He died in 1600 and was buried at Elmstone.
Joye’s Psalters of 1530 and 1534 were superseded by Miles’ Coverdale’s translation, which remains the basis of the sung Psalters in use today. Some words and phrases, which he originated, are still in common use, and his Primers were one of the sources used by Thomas Cranmer in compiling the Book of Common Prayer.
Dictionary of National Biography
Papers in Bedfordshire County Record Office
Original research by Neil Hickman