The thirty-three sermons collected here were first published in smaller volumes in 1547, 1562 and 1571. Attributed largely to Thomas Cranmer and John Jewell, the sermons were intended to be read by parish priests perhaps unfamiliar with the reformed doctrines of the Church of England and in any case more used to preaching in Latin than in English. The topics include salvation, good works and obedience; there is also a 120-page sermon on the peril of idolatry. The 1623 edition was authorised by James I and printed by John Bill, one of three men who held the powerful and lucrative office of King’s Printer under the Stuart king.
The copy in the Senior Library has an interesting provenance. Above the preface is an inscription: “This book of homilies belong unto the church & parish of Wivenhoe in the County o f Essex,” signed and dated Thomas Cawton, July 4th, 1637. Thomas Cawton (1605-1659) was a presbyterian and royalist who was rector of Wivenhoe from 1637 until 1644. In 1651 he was involved in a plot to restore Charles II to the throne; while the leader of the plot, Christopher Love, was executed, Cawton managed to escape to Rotterdam where he became pastor of the English church. He must have taken this copy of the Sermons with him, as the flyleaf contains the following inscription: “Emi Roterodami in pub auctione libro[rum] D. Cawtoni p.m.” [I bought this book in Rotterdam in the public auction of D. Cawton’s books after his death]. While the first English book auction was not held until 1676, auctions were common in the Netherlands by 1659, the year of Cawton’s death (and indeed the printed auction catalogue was a Dutch innovation). Sadly we have no record of who bought this book at the auction and how it came to be in the Senior Library at Lincoln.