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George Leo Haydock (1774-1849), scion of an ancient English Catholic Recusant family, was a priest, pastor and Bible scholar. His edition of the Douay Bible with extended commentary, originally published in 1811, became the most popular English Catholic Bible of the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic. It remains in print and is still regarded for its apologetic value.

His eventful early years included a narrow scrape with the French Revolution and a struggle to complete his priestly studies in the years before Catholic Emancipation. He would go on to serve poor Catholic missions in rural England.

Father George Leo Haydock (1774-1849) c. 1800


Early years

Mowbreck Hall (Destroyed by fire ca. 2000)

George Leo Haydock was born on April 11, 1774 in Cottam, in the Fylde area of Lancashire, the heart of Catholic resistance to the Penal Laws that the English government used to enforce Anglicanism. His parents were George Haydock and second wife, Anne (née Cottam), who produced a generation that would become outstanding in Catholic service. Their eldest son, James (1765-1809), became a priest who died caring for the sick of his congregation during an epidemic; the next, Thomas Haydock (1772-1859), became a prominent publisher of Catholic books. Among three daughters, Margaret (1767? - 1854), joined the Augustinian nuns, taking the name Sister Stanislaus. George was the youngest son. He and his father were namesakes of an illustrious ancestor, Blessed George Haydock (1556-1584), a martyred "seminary priest" during the Elizabethan persecution, beatified in 1987. While attending a school established for Catholic students at Mowbreck Hall, Wesham, George received Confirmation, taking the name Leo, after the fifth-century saint, Pope Leo I, whose liturgical feast was at that time celebrated on Haydock's birthday (see General Roman Calendar as in 1954). In 1785, at eleven years of age, he was sent to further his education at the English College, Douai, France, established in the 16th century for Catholic exiles, where provision was made for secondary education.

1895 photos of building that housed Douay College (dismantled in 1920's)

George Haydock’s studies were interrupted in 1793, when authorities of the French revolutionary government suppressed the English College and imprisoned some of its students. He managed to avoid capture and escaped back to England in the company of his brother and fellow student, Thomas. There was an unsettled period while English Catholic bishops made hasty provision for the continuing education in England of the many refugees from Douai (or Douay as it is spelled in English-speaking countries). After a stay at Old Hall Green Academy in Hertfordshire, Haydock was able in 1796 to resume his studies in earnest at a seminary established at Crook Hall in County Durham (not to be confused with present day Crook Hall & Gardens in Durham City). He was ordained a priest there in 1798, and remained as a professor until 1803, when the pastoral phase of his career began.

During the period of Penal Laws there was no official Catholic hierarchy in England, so there were no Catholic dioceses or parishes. A Bishop was called a Vicar Apostolic and presided over "missions" in his jurisdiction. Haydock’s first assignment was at Ugthorpe, Yorkshire, a poor rural mission. It is interesting to note that despite the legal disabilities of Catholics during this time, the Haydock family had retained a measure of local influence and wealth, providing Haydock with an independent source of income. This he often used to subsidize the missions he served.

The Haydock Bible

Haydock's Folio Bible

While at Ugthorpe, Father Haydock completed the work for which he would be best remembered: commentary for a new edition of the English Catholic Bible. That Bible was called the Douay Version, originally translated from the Latin Vulgate in the 16th century chiefly by Gregory Martin, one of the first professors at the English Catholic College. It was revised and newly annotated in the 18th century by Richard Challoner (1691-1781), Vicar Apostolic of the London District, and later by Father Bernard MacMahon (1736?-1816). Haydock took his text from the Challoner-MacMahon revision, but added a substantially extended commentary. This commentary was partly original and partly compiled from Patristic writings and the writings of later Bible scholars. The Bible had long been used to advance the Protestant cause. However, Catholics used it effectively in their counteroffensive. As Haydock states in his Preface, "To obviate the misinterpretations of the many heretical works which disgrace the Scripture, and deluge this unhappy country, has been one main design of the present undertaking."

First Edition of the Haydock Bible

George's brother, Thomas, was the Bible’s publisher. Production began in 1811 and was completed in 1814, in a large, folio edition. As were many editions of the Bible at the time, Haydock’s was published and sold by subscription, a few leaves at a time. Subscribers would accumulate the sets of leaves over the years and ultimately have the completed Bible bound. Different copies have general title pages dated 1811, 1812, or 1813, showing variously Thomas Haydock’s Manchester or Dublin locations. Given the enormous scope of annotating the entire Bible, Father Haydock was unable to maintain his brother’s demanding production schedule in addition to his pastoral duties at Ugthorpe. Therefore, another Douay alumnus, Father Benedict Rayment (1764-1842), was called on for assistance. He and a group of colleagues compiled the New Testament portion of the commentary. There was contemporary criticism that haste in preparation of the commentary resulted in some errors. However, given the spartan resources available for Catholic publishing in England at the time, the Haydock Bible must be considered a remarkable achievement. English Catholics enthusiastically welcomed this impressive volume that symbolized a reinvigorated Catholicism on the verge of winning its long fight to repeal the Penal Laws. At least 1,500 copies of the first edition were sold.

Pastoral Troubles

In 1816, Father Haydock was given a new assignment at nearby Whitby. He moved to that mission, but continued also to serve Ugthorpe for most of the period until 1827 when a permanent successor was assigned. At this point, a series of problems ensued, beginning with a dispute between Haydock and the new Ugthorpe pastor, Father Nicholas Rigby (1800-1886), regarding responsibility for a debt owed by the mission. In addition, Haydock disputed the transfer of a donation originally intended for his Whitby mission to the recently established Ushaw College, Durham. Given the generosity Haydock had shown in providing financial support from his own funds to his assigned missions, he felt ill used by these actions. His objections, not always tactfully expressed, irritated his superiors, Thomas Smith (1763-1831), Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Vicariate, and Smith’s Coadjutor Thomas Penswick (1772-1836), a former classmate of Haydock’s at Douay. As a result Smith transferred Haydock to a private chaplaincy at Westby Hall, Lancashire, in 1830. Smith died in 1831 and was succeeded by the sterner disciplinarian Penswick, who immediately interdicted Haydock from saying Mass.

While these events were unfolding, English Catholics finally won passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Ironically, just after this victory so long sought after by him and his ancestors, Father Haydock was forced into retirement by his own Catholic superior. In 1831 he dutifully settled at The Tagg, a Haydock family dower-house in Cottam. He remained there for eight years, "devoting himself to study, with his books all around him, lining the walls, and piled in heaps on the floors." He made an unsuccessful appeal to Rome of his interdiction. Penswick appears to have conspired to prevent Haydock’s case from being heard. Another appeal after Penswick’s death was successful, resulting in restoration of Haydock’s priestly faculties in 1839.

Final Assignment and Death

Immediately upon his reinstatement, Haydock was given a new assignment at Penrith, Cumbria (then known as Cumberland), another poor mission with discouraging prospects. His meticulous records give an idea of the contemporary Catholic population, consisting primarily of laborers and peddlers, plus two "beggars" and one "pauper." His letters during this period indicate a lengthy history of suffering from an apparent heart ailment. Haydock nonetheless worked zealously at the mission and began work on a new church, a red sandstone gothic structure named for St. Catherine. He died November 29, 1849, just a few months before its completion, and is believed buried in an unmarked grave on church grounds. St. Catherine's still exists, its congregation now part of the Lancaster Diocese. The church at one time featured a memorial tablet erected in Father Haydock's memory with his family motto: (Latin: "Tristitia vestra vertetur in gaudium," meaning "Your sorrow shall be turned to joy") from St John 16:20.

Haydock’s Enduring Legacy

The Haydock Bible is approaching its bicentennial anniversary in 2011. Its substantial and continuing popularity is reflected in its long history of varied editions. It would remain continuously in print until at least 1910 with a long series of publishers in England and America, and would enjoy a renewal of interest at the end of the 20th century, spurring a new series of reprints and modern digital reproductions. Present day Traditional Roman Catholics who see uncertainty of purpose in the post-Conciliar Church have found inspiration in the English Catholic Recusant movement and in Father Haydock’s confident expression of Faith. The following history of editions shows how the Haydock Bible with its changes over the years has made a continuing contribution to Catholic apologetics:

  • 1811-1814: the first edition, folio. Despite successful sales, this expensively produced edition was a financial loss to George's brother Thomas, whose enthusiasm for publishing Catholic books far exceeded his business acumen, and to George, who personally subsidized the project.
  • 1822-1824: an octavo edition. Undismayed by the above experience, Thomas took on several partners to produce this smaller edition. It states on its title page that it is revised and diligently compared with the Latin Vulgate by the Rev. Geo. Leo Haydock. However, it lacks the extended commentary and is poorly printed with many errors, including an egregious one in II Corinthians 10:4, where the word fornications appears in place of fortifications.
  • 1823-25: the first American edition, folio. The Haydock Bible’s popularity quickly spread across the Atlantic. Irish immigrant Eugene Cummiskey of Philadelphia published this edition that remains to this day the only folio Catholic Bible ever published in America.
English Quarto Haydock Bible in ornate custom binding
  • 1831: the New Testament portion of the original folio edition issued with a new title page by Thomas Haydock. It is unclear whether he reissued the entire Bible at this time.
  • 1845-48: a quarto edition begun by MacGregor, Polson & Company of Glasgow and Charles Dolman of London, and completed by A. Fullarton and Co. of Dublin, London, and Edinburgh. This series remained in print with a series of publishers into the 1870s. This was the last edition published during Father Haydock's lifetime.
  • 1852-54: a quarto edition by American publisher Edward Dunigan and Brother of New York. This edition includes a revised New Testament text. This revision was begun by Father James Bayley (1814-1877), who was appointed Bishop of Newark during publication, and completed by Father James McMahon (1814-1901), who was responsible for most of the work. This edition was frequently reissued by a series of publishers into the 1880’s.
Early American Haydock Quarto Bible
  • ca. 1853: a quarto edition by George Henry and Co. of London, and initially distributed in America by George Virtue of New York. In this edition the commentary was abridged by Canon F. C. Husenbeth (1796-1872). This was the probably the most successful of the Haydock editions, remaining in print at least through 1893. Circa 1880, The National Publishing Company of Philadelphia imported the stereotype plates from England and mass marketed editions over the imprints of wide range of local booksellers and printing companies, and got the recently established Montgomery Ward national mail order firm to include it in their catalogue. An extraordinarily large number of copies must have been printed, judging by how frequently surviving copies are met with in the second hand book trade. A copy of this edition was used in the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in 1961, coincidentally the 150th anniversary of Haydock’s first edition.
  • ca. 1868: a quarto edition by P. O'Shea of New York. Some copies appeared in large (Imperial) quarto. This obscure edition features an abridged version of the commentary.
  • ca. 1874-1878: a large (Imperial) quarto edition by Virtue and Company Limited, of London. In this edition, two converts from the Oxford Movement, Frs. Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880) and Thomas Law (1836-1904) thoroughly revised the commentary to incorporate advances in Biblical scholarship since Haydock's time. An American edition by P. F. Collier of New York, founder of Collier’s Weekly magazine, appeared ca. 1884. British editions remained in print until 1910.
  • 1988: a quarto reproduction of the New Testament portion of the ca. 1853 (George Henry) edition supra by Catholic Treasures, Monrovia, California.
  • 1992: a quarto reproduction of an 1859 reprint of the Edward Dunigan and Brother edition supra by Catholic Treasures, Monrovia, California. This edition has been reissued in 2000, 2006, and remains in print.
  • 1999: a CD entitled Douay Bible 99 issued by Catholic Software of Murray, KY, featuring text and commentary that can be displayed on a computer in a split-screen format.
  • 2007: On Line Edition; see link below.

Beginning with the ca. 1874-1878 (Virtue and Company) edition, title pages to the New Testament sections incorrectly credit Father Haydock with the New Testament commentary. Since the names of Father Rayment and his associates were never mentioned, even in the earliest editions, their contribution was forgotten over the years. This error also occurs on the later printings of the ca. 1853 (George Henry) edition.

The Haydock name became so popular and so closely associated with English Catholic Bibles in the 19th century that at least one publisher ca. 1886 "pirated" it for an edition that included only the standard Challoner annotations by adding the statement to the spine of his edition, Challoner’s Notes and Other Important Features of the Haydock Bible. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, some "pocket" editions of the Catholic New Testament (usually referred to as the Rheims Testament when published separately) appeared, erroneously crediting "Canon Haydock" with the annotations.

Other Published Works

Father Haydock's other published books are devotional:

  • Prayers before and after Mass, Proper for Country Congregations, 1822
  • A Key to the Roman Catholic Office, 1823
  • A Collection of Catholic Hymns, 1823
  • A New Collection of Catholic Psalms, Hymns, Motettos, Anthems, and Doxologies. 1823
  • The Method of Sanctifying the Sabbath Days at Whitby, Scarborough, &c., The Second Edition, with Various Additional Instructions, by the Rev. George Leo Haydock, 1824

In 1809 Haydock published a table entitled The Tree of Life, depicting a summary of Church history from Adam to the current time. He also authored a large body of works in manuscript form that were never published, including a paraphrase of the Psalms and Canticles in the Roman Office, and several volumes of Biblical Disquisitions intended as a supplement to the Bible.


Portrait is provided by Simon Nuttall, a descendant of the Gillow family of Catholic Recusants, who kindly gave permission for its reproduction.

See also


  • Brady, W. Maziere, "The Episcopal Succession in England, Scotland and Ireland 1400-1875," 3 vols., 1876-77
  • "The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907-1913
  • Cotton, Henry C., "Rhemes and Doway," 1855
  • Gillow, Joseph:
    • "The Haydock Papers," 1888
    • "A Literary and Biographical History, or Bibliographical Dictionary, of the English Catholics," 5 vols., 1895-1902
  • Harris, P. R. [ed.], "Douai College Documents 1639-1794," 1972
  • Herbert, A.S., "Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961," 1968
  • O’Callaghan, E. B., "A List of Editions of the Holy Scriptures and Parts Thereof, Printed in America Previous to 1860," Albany, 1861.
  • Ohlhausen, Sidney K.:
    • "The Last Haydock Bible," Recusant History, October 1995
    • "Folio Editions of Catholic Bibles and Testaments, A Comprehensive Bibliography," Recusant History, October 2002
    • "The American Catholic Bible in the 19th Century, A Catalog of English Language Editions," 2006
    • "Preface to the 2006 edition," Haydock Bible, Catholic Treasures
  • "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography," 2004
  • Walsh, Rev. Thomas, & Taylor, Ron, "The Haydock Registers: A Picture of Young Catholics in Penrith 1841-1851," North West Catholic History, 2005
  • Ward, Bernard, "The Dawn of the Catholic Revival in England 1781-1803," 2 vols., 1909

External links



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