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The Anglorum Praelia

The school is thrilled to have received a copy of Christopher Ocland's book 'Anglorum Praelia' from Andrew Lyall, an alumnus of CGS. He has written the following informative article on its history.
4 Jan 2021
Written by Andrew Lyall
The Anglorum Praelia
The Anglorum Praelia

Christopher Ocland (died c. 1590) was the first headmaster of Richard Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham, taking up his post in about 1574.  In 1580 he published, at his own expense, his principal work, Anglorum Praelia (“The Battles of the English”), a lengthy poem of almost 3500 Latin hexameters dealing with English military history from Edward III to Mary I.

It seems he wrote it as a text to be used to teach Latin to boys in the school and, like many teachers, he wanted to make the subject interesting and even exciting for his pupils.  He chose gory descriptions of battles and stirring speeches glorifying war to imbue them with a sense of patriotism and martial spirit. He was so proud of his efforts that he sent a copy to Queen Elizabeth, who was herself a Latin scholar. The Queen was clearly impressed by his work and she discussed it with her Privy Council, which included Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Francis Walsingham, the head of her secret service.

War with Spain seemed imminent and so Ocland’s book was timely.  When Anglorum Praelia was reissued in 1582 it was prefixed by letters, signed by members of the Privy Council and the ecclesiastical high commission, commanding that bishops should be instructed that the book should be taught in “all the grammar and free schools” within their dioceses.  The copy in the possession of Pate’s Grammar School’s Archives contains these letters, together with Ocland’s poem praising the Queen and her leading councillors, Elizabetha, and also an account in Latin of Kett’s rebellion, an uprising in Norfolk protesting against the enclosure of common land. 

The Privy Council specifically noted that Ocland’s poem was more suitable for study than the “lascivious poets” usually the subject of Latin classes.  A contemporary document makes it clear that this is a reference to the Latin poet Ovid’s work, such as Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love).  History does not record whether the boys preferred Ocland or Ovid. 

A transcription of Anglorum Praelia and an English translation prepared by Prof. Dana F. Sutton of the University of California at Irvine is available online: and is part of the collection of neo-Latin texts in the University of Birmingham’s Philological Museum.

John Sharrock’s English translation of both Anglorum Praelia and Elizabetha, under the title The Valiant Actes and Victorious Battailes of the English Nation was published in about 1582.  Ocland’s work also became part of the Elizabethan literary canon.  The second edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) has many references to it, and Joshua Barnes, composing his Anglo-Latin epic on Edward III, the Franciad, a century later, cites Ocland several times.  Ocland’s account of Anne Boleyn's vision, an anti-Catholic poem, was to be translated anonymously in 1680 as The Pope's Farewell, or, Queen Ann's Dream.

In February 1570, Pope Pius V issued a Papal Bull (order) declaring that Elizabeth was a heretic.  As such, she was excommunicated and her subjects were absolved from any allegiance to her.  It also excommunicated any that obeyed her orders.  Mary I had returned the Church of England and the Church of Ireland to Catholicism, but after Mary’s death in November 1558, Elizabeth's Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy of 1559, which re-established the Church of England and Church of Ireland's independence from papal authority.  In fact, the evidence is that English Catholics with few exceptions were loyal and did not want a change of political authority.  They merely wished to practice their religion in peace.  However, a number of assassination attempts were made on the Queen’s life, all without success and foiled by Walsingham and his network of spies.  However, relations with Spain deteriorated to the point where war seemed imminent.  Anglorum Praelia was thus timely and can be seen as a means of instilling a martial spirit in young men who might in a few years be called upon to fight.  That indeed happened in 1588 with the Spanish Armada and its defeat.


A. E. Bell, Tudor foundation (1974). (Dr Arthur Bell was headmaster of Cheltenham Grammar School from 1953 to 1970). 
Dana F. Sutton, Transcription and Translation of Anglorum Praelia, University of Birmingham, The Philological Museum online.
Ross Kennedy , “Ocland, Christopher (d. in or after 1590), writer” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


The Anglorum Praelia was obtained by our donor with the assistance of K Books Ltd, Antiquarian Booksellers, Waplington Hall, York, YO42 4RS.  A wonderful solander box has been made to house it to ensure it's well protected.

The measurements of the book are:

Height:  15.9 cms

Width:   11.1 cms

Depth:   2.1 cms


We were much saddened to hear that Andrew Lyall passed away on 11th February 2021 aged 78. His funeral took place on 9th March at Kingston Crematorium, London,

Andrew's brother David, has given us permission to announce that Andrew was the anonymous donor of the Anglorum Praelia.  Andrew felt that it was fitting that Pate's have a copy and that it be shown to students, alumni and interested visitors.  We are hugely grateful to Andrew for his wonderful gift to the school.

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