An Introduction to John Penry


John Penry

John Penry has traditionally been thought to have been born in 1563 in the farm of Cefn Brith, Llangammarch, Powys although the historical evidence is not strong. Studying at Cambridge and Oxford he became a Puritan and in a number of pamphlets called for the reform of the church in Wales and for preachers able to communicate to the people in their own Welsh language. This criticism was seen as seditious by the Archbishop of Canterbury and he was pursued by his agents, fleeing to Scotland. He then returned to London, by this time he had become an Independent believing that churches should be independent of the state, but he was arrested and executed in 1593. At the time he had little influence, the tiny independent congregation of which he was a member dispersed, some of them joining the Pilgrim Fathers, but his name was kept alive by Puritan followers such as Vavasour Powell who was an important post-Civil War Puritan in Wales. With the Restoration Penry was almost forgotten but as the Welsh chapels began to grow in importance in the 19th century he was rediscovered by a series of Congregational minister-historians such as John Waddington and William Pierce and he was adopted as a Welsh martyr. Monuments were erected in his memory and numerous books and pamphlets published by the likes of Pennar Davies, and Cefn Brith became a place of pilgrimage. More recently historians such as J Gwynfor Jones have challenged the Congregationalist histories and sought to reinterpret him in the context of English Puritanism, but he is still recognized as a significant early Welsh Puritan in Welsh history books and held dear by groups such as the Union of Welsh Independents whose offices are located in Ty John Penri, Swansea. He is also  remembered in the village of Llangammarch Wells and the surrounding area.

Finding out more about John Penry

A recent blog supplies a helpful biography based on the traditional sources and numerous photographs:

For a modern historian’s perspective see the work of J Gwynfor Jones. His lecture to the Brecknock Society: John Penry the early Brecknockshire Puritan Firebrand can be found in Brechiniog 2004. He has recently (2014) published a new book in Welsh Crefydd, Cenedlgarwch a’r Wladwriaeth about John Penry and his contribution to the growth of Puritanism in England in the Sixteenth Century. 

I would also recommend John Penry a heritage biography by Pennar Davies Independent Press 1961

Much other information on John Penry is available on the net, including his own writings, but some is unreliable!