The Beggar’s Bible
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: The Beggar’s Bible
Author: Louise A. Vernon
Major Themes: John Wycliffe, Bible Translation, Serfs, Feudal System, England
Synopsis: When the estate on which he has lived his entire life is sold to the local monastery, young Arnold escapes to Oxford to find freedom.
I remember reading The Beggar’s Bible many years ago, when I was probably only seven or eight years old. I have always loved books by Louise A. Vernon, and now I get to read them to my children, who love them as well. She has a way of bringing the past to life.
In The Beggar’s Bible, we watch events unfold through the eyes of 13-year-old Arnold Hutton, a former serf on a manor in England. His life as a bondman is not much improved from serfdom, except that, for a reason he cannot understand, he has been chosen to be educated with Sir Malcolm’s son Timothy.
Sir John Wycliffe, a friend of Sir Malcolm, turns out to be the reason for Arnold’s education—he wanted to prove that a serf was capable of learning. He is making himself very unpopular by speaking against the friars and abbots, pointing out their greed and selfishness. He goes back to Oxford, where he is a professor at Oxford University, and Timothy also goes there, to continue his education. After Arnold finds himself in trouble, and learns that his parents have run away, he remembers the law that if a serf can hide in a city, without being found by his owner, for a year and a day, he becomes a freedman. He runs away, too, to Oxford. Will he and Timothy be able to keep Sir John from being killed by rioting students? Will he and his parents be caught and sent back to the manor? Find out in this exciting story of the first man who attempted to translate the Bible into English.
One question I do have about the historical accuracy of the story: On page 77, a Poor Priest (one of Wycliffe’s followers) pulls out a scroll to read a story from the Bible to the people. Books replaced scrolls, I believe, about a thousand years before this story takes place.