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The Tudor Society

4 March – William Bullokar and his 40-letter alphabet

On this day in history, 4th March 1609, Tudor spelling reformer and grammarian William Bullokar died at Chichester in West Sussex.

William Bullokar is known for writing the first grammar book of English, the "Pamphlet for Grammar", and for his work reforming the alphabet to improve literacy. Find out more about him and what he did in today's talk.

Link to read “Bullokar’s booke at large, for the amendment of orthographie for English speech” - https://archive.org/details/bullokarsbookeat00bull/page/n6/mode/2up

Also on this day in Tudor history, 4th March 1522, at the court of Henry VIII, the Chateau Vert pageant took place. Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn were two of the participants in this lavish pageant, and you can find out all about it in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1526 - Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, courtier and administrator, was born. He was the only son of William Carey, courtier and favourite of Henry VIII, and his wife, Mary (née Boleyn).
  • 1584 – Death of Bernard Gilpin, reformer, theologian, Church of England clergyman and preacher. He was known as the "Apostle of the North" due to him carrying out preaching tours in Northern England. Some say he died in 1583.
  • 1590 – Execution of Christopher Bales, Catholic Priest, in Fleet Street, London. He was found guilty of treason under the “Acts against Jesuits and Seminarists” (1585).
  • 1606 – Death of Sir Edward Fitton, member of Parliament and administrator, in London. He was buried in Gawsworth Church in Cheshire. Fitton served Elizabeth I as Receiver-General for Ireland, and was involved in the plantation of Ireland.
  • 1607 – Death of George Coryate, clergyman and Latin poet, at Odcombe in Somerset. He was Rector there and died in his parsonage. He was buried in the chancel of his church. His son, Thomas, published some of George's work, Posthuma fragmenta poematum Georgii Coryati Sarisburiensis, in his own book, “Crudities”.

Transcript:

On this day in history, 4th March 1609, Tudor spelling reformer and grammarian William Bullokar died at Chichester in West Sussex. Bullokar is known for writing the first grammar book of English, the Pamphlet for Grammar, which was published in 1586 and which was based on William Lily’s Latin grammar.

Bullokar’s other works include the 1580 book “A Short Introduction or Guiding to Print, Write, and Reade Inglish Speech”, “The Booke at Large”, and a translation of Aesop's Fables. He also reformed the alphabet.

Let me tell you a bit more about this man...

William Bullokar was born in around 1531 and was the son of William Bullokar and Elizabeth Bowyer, of Broadwater, Sussex.

His early life is obscure, but he was working as a schoolmaster in the 1550s. In 1570, he married Elizabeth Diggons. They lived in Chichester and had four children, including John, who was a physician and lexicographer who carried in his father’s work and published a dictionary.

It was William Bullokar’s experiences teaching children to read and write, and the problems children experiences when some of the letter names had nothing to do with how the letters sounded, that inspired his work. As his biographer Vivian Salmon explains, “A major problem was that there were, in Bullokar's reckoning, at least forty distinct 'divisions of the voice' but only twenty-four letters to represent them”. So Bullokar set about reforming the alphabet, settling on a 40-letter phonetic alphabet, and preparing a complete course for teaching literacy, which included grammar. Bullokar believed that with his reform of the alphabet, a child of 5 could become literate in just 6 weeks and that foreigners would find it easier to learn English, thus increasing sales of books in English. Bullokar wrote that his reforms would bring “no small profit and credit to this our nation.”

On 3rd March 1609, Bullokar made a verbal will, naming his daughter, Agnes, as his beneficiary, and he died on 4th March 1609.
I’ll give you a link to read “Bullokar’s booke at large, for the amendment of orthographie for English speech”, which is his work on the alphabet. It is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the English language.

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4 March – William Bullokar and his 40-letter alphabet