Winchester College, College St, Winchester SO23 9NA, Regno Unito
University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, Regno Unito
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, Regno Unito
St Margaret Churchyard Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England, Plot churchyard, unmarked
Nicholas Udall (or Uvedale Udal, Woodall, or other variations) (1504 – 23 December 1556) was an English playwright, cleric, and schoolmaster, the author of Ralph Roister Doister, generally regarded as the first comedy written in the English language. When the queen Elizabeth I paid her first visit to Cambridge in 1564, she was regaled with a play, Ezekias, now lost, written by Udall. Nicholas Udall, headmaster of Eton from 1534 to 1541, was called to London to be questioned on the rumours of scarlet sins. He was well known for inflicting severe corporal punishment on his boys and did indeed ‘confess that he did commit buggery’ several times with one of his pupils, Thomas Cheyne, who was accused of stealing silver. He had had sex with the boy on ‘the sixth day of this present month in the present year [March 1541] at London’. He spent a brief period in the Marshalsea prison, before eventually being appointed as headmaster of the school at Westminster in the reign of Mary.
Udall was born in Hampshire and educated at Winchester College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was tutored under the guidance of Thomas Cromwell, who mentions him in a letter to John Creke of 17 August 1523 as 'Maister Woodall' and he appears again in Cromwell's accounts for 1535 as 'Nicholas Woodall Master of Eton'.
After graduation from Oxford, he taught at a London grammar school in 1533. He taught Latin at Eton College, of which he was headmaster from about 1534 until 1541, when he was forced to leave after being convicted of offences against his pupils under the Buggery Act 1533. The felony of buggery, like all other felonies, carried a sentence of capital punishment by hanging, but Udall wrote an impassioned plea to his old friends from Cromwell's household Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Ralph Sadler, then joint king's Secretaries, and his sentence was commuted to just under a year, which he served in the Marshalsea prison. The pupils in question were not prosecuted. A former pupil, the poet Thomas Tusser, later claimed that Udall had flogged him without cause.
An adherent of the Reformed Church of England, Udall flourished under Edward VI and survived into the reign of the Roman Catholic Mary I. In 1547, he became Vicar of Braintree, in 1551 of Calborne, Isle of Wight, and in 1554 returned to teaching as headmaster of Westminster School.
Udall died in 1556 and was buried in the churchyard of St Margaret's, Westminster. No monumental inscription can now be traced.
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