English author of devotional books; place and date of birth unknown; d. before the end of Queen Mary's reign (1559). He was of an ancient Flintshire family, was admitted to Queen's College, Cambridge, in 1498, held various offices (dean of the chapel, bursar) there, and was appointed chaplain to Bp. Richard Foxe of Winchester c. 1504. About 1507 he entered the Bridgittine monastery of Syon at Isleworth, Middlesex (see brigittine sisters), remaining there until its dissolution in 1539, when he retired on a pension to the household of the Mountjoys. He had accompanied William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, on a five–year study period in Europe, where he made the acquaintance of Erasmus. He was a friend of Thomas more, whom he is reputed to have encouraged in resisting Henry VIII's demands. Whitford bravely withstood the suppressive activities of T. Bedyll when that royal agent visited the monastery in 1535.
No less than 19 works have been attributed to Whitford. These, which he often refers to as being written by "the Wretch of Syon," run from The fruyte of redempscion (1514) to Of Detraction (1541), and include the famous Jesus Psalter (see prayer books; psalter). His most famous work, however, is his translation (c. 1531) of the imitation of christ, under the title The folowyng of Cryste. This is the earliest English version and in many ways the most stylistically beautiful of all versions. Its edition by E. J. Klein (New York 1943) marked a new epoch in studies of the great book and its authorship.
Bibliography: a. b. emden, Biographical Register of the Scholars of the University of Cambridge before 1500 635. j. gillow, A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present Time 5:581–582. thomas À kempis, The Imitation of Christ, ed. h. c. gardiner (New York 1955), modernized version of Whitford's tr. with introd. treating Kempis and Whitford.
[h. c. gardiner]