Alexander Nowell

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File:Alexander Nowell.jpg
Portrait of Alexander Nowell, with an inscription recording his death on 13 February 1601 (Collection of Brasenose College, Oxford)

Alexander Nowell (c. 1507 – 13 February 1602) was a Protestant, Reformed, Calvinistic and Anglican theologian and clergyman. He served as dean of St Paul's during much of Elizabeth I's reign. He was also the uncle and sponsor of another Reformed theological luminary in England, William Whitaker.


He was the eldest son of John Nowell of Read Hall, Read, Lancashire, by his second wife Elizabeth Kay of Rochdale, and was the brother of Laurence Nowell. He was twice married but left no children.

Nowell was educated at Middleton, near Rochdale, Lancashire and at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he is said to have shared rooms with the Reformed Churchman, John Foxe the martyrologist. He was elected fellow of Brasenose in 1526. In 1543 he was appointed master of Westminster School, and, in December 1551, prebendary of Westminster.

He was elected in September 1553 as Member of Parliament for West Looe in Cornwall in Queen Mary's first parliament. In October of that year, however, a committee of the house reported that he could not sit in the House of Commons because as prebendary of Westminster he had a seat in Convocation.

Nowell was also deprived of his prebend. While this may have been because he, like other Reformed men, were married, much larger theological issues were brewing: issues of life and death. Sir William Cecil, former Secretary of State, set in motion a program for emigration due to anticipated hostilities by Anglo-Italian bishops against Reformers. Cardinal Pole, out of the country for thirty-four years, was recalled to England to do Mary's bidding. Pole advocated the revival of the 1401 Act of De Haeretico Comburendo. Close to three hundred people would be burned at the stake. Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer would be caught in the dragoons' nets and they too, luminaries, would be torched. However, eight hundred Churchmen would flee England. Nowell sought refuge at Strasbourg and Frankfurt. He submitted, however, to the Elizabethan effort at a settlement of religion. He was given the archdeaconry of Middlesex, a canonry at Canterbury and in 1560 the deanery of St Paul's. In 1594 he was appointed Canon of the eleventh stall at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, a position he held until 1602.[1]

His sermons occasionally created some stir. On one occasion Elizabeth interrupted his sermon, telling him to stick to his text and cease slighting the crucifix. On another occasion she rebuked him in the vestry for having given her a prayer book with pictures of saints and angels that smacked of the Church of Rome.[2] In 1563 he gave great offence to the Queen by preaching a sermon before her castigating her for refusing to marry.[3] It was said that she never spoke a friendly word to him again, even though he was simply echoing the unanimous view of Parliament, and had almost certainly been prompted to choose that subject for his sermon.[4]

He held the deanery of St Paul's as a Protestant, Reformed and Calvinistic Churchman for forty-two years, surviving until the 13th of February 1602.

Written works

Nowell is believed to have composed the Catechism inserted before the Order of Confirmation in the Prayer Book of 1549, which was supplemented in 1604 and is still in use; but the evidence is not conclusive.

Early in Elizabeth's reign, however, he wrote a larger catechism, to serve as a statement of Protestant principles; it was printed in 1570, and in the same year appeared his "middle" catechism, designed it would seem for the instruction of "simple curates." Nowell also established a free school at Middleton and made other benefactions for educational purposes.


  1. Fasti Wyndesorienses, May 1950. S.L. Ollard. Published by the Dean and Canons of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
  2. Greenwood, Walter (1951) Lancashire. London: Robert Hale; pp. 171-72
  3. Alison Weir Elizabeth the Queen Pimlico edition 1999 p.137
  4. Weir p.137


  • the Works of John Strype;
  • the Publications of the Parker Society;
  • the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic;
  •  [ "Nowell, Alexander" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard Harris
Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Thomas Singleton