Prynne, William°

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PRYNNE, WILLIAM ° (1600–1669), Puritan barrister and pamphleteer. Prynne first came to notice through his vehement opposition to the theater. A fierce tirade against the stage coincided, unfortunately for him, with Queen Henrietta Maria's appearance in a court play. After he had been imprisoned in the tower for one year, his ears were struck off.

While in the tower Prynne wrote an essay, published in 1654, entitled A Briefe Polemical Dissertation, concerning the "true time of the Inchoation and determination of the Lordsday – Sabbath… that the Lordsday begins and ends in evenings and ought to be solemnized from evening to evening: against the novel errors of such who groundlessly assert that it begins and ends at midnight or daybreaking…" At that time the question of the observance of Sunday was a highly controversial issue between Catholics and Protestants. The Church of England inclined toward the Catholic view, maintaining that Sunday, being essentially the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus, had no connection with the Jewish Sabbath. This infuriated the Puritans, who insisted that Sunday had taken over the characteristics of the Jewish Sabbath. Prynne contended that all days in Scripture begin and end at evening, the Sabbath being no exception. Furthermore, the beginning and termination of days is perpetual and was not altered by the resurrection of Jesus in the morning. These points were proved by a wealth of citations from the Bible, the Church Fathers, and subsequent medieval writers, among whom was the Franciscan *Nicholas of Lyra, whom Prynne declared to be a convert from Judaism, possibly because of his knowledge of Hebrew and his use of Rashi. But, as Prynne amply demonstrates, Puritans could admire Judaism while still hating Jews. At the time the sabbatical pamphlet was published, the question of the official readmission of the Jews into England was being discussed, and during the following year Prynne produced yet another pamphlet entitled A Short Demurrer to the Jewes Long Discontinued Remitter into England, Comprising an Exact Chronological Relation of Their First Admission into, Their Ill Deportment, Misdemeanours, Condition, Sufferings, Oppressions, Slaughters, Plunders… With a Brief Collection of Such English Laws, Scriptures, as seem strongly to plead and conclude against their Readmission into England, especially at this Season. The Demurrer is an important source for the study of medieval Anglo-Jewish history.


A. Saltman, in: Jewish Academy, 4 (1947), 35–39; Roth, Mag Bibl, index; D. Bush, English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century 1600–1660 (19622), index. add. bibliography: odnb online; W. Lamont, Marginal Prynne (1963).