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16 January 2007

Devon Book 33

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
33. The Reformation in Devon

In Europe the printing press came of age with the reformation. Martin Luther had posted his 96 theses on indulgences on the door of the church in Wittenberg on the eve of All Saints' Day 1517 and they were soon widely circulated in printed form. The local press of Hans Lufft soon became one of the most important printing offices in Germany as a deluge of polemical tracts issued forth in editions larger than ever before. And Luther's translation of the Bible into German became a best seller with 5,000 copies of the new Testament selling within a few weeks of its appearance in September 1522.

The reformation made itself felt in Exeter in the autumn of 1531, with controversial religious papers attacking the Pope as Antichrist being fixed to the Cathedral doors. Unlike in Germany, no flood of locally printed literature followed this assault on the Catholic church. The unknown heretic was solemnly excommunicated and the Bishop and clergy, assisted somewhat less zealously by the Mayor and Corporation, conducted a search of several houses. A week later an early riser on his way to mass saw a boy fixing a paper to a gate known as Little Stile at the north end of South Street. The boy proved to be one of the pupils of Thomas Bennet who ran a private school. Bennet was examined by the Bishop and defiantly maintained his Lutheran ideas. A writ commanding his execution arrived from London and he was burned at the stake at Livery Dole in the parish of Heavitree just outside the City on 10 January 1532.

John Hooker, the fervent Protestant, writing at the end of the century, admitted that at that time few people "knew anything of God's matters". When Hugh Latimer visited Exeter in 1534 to preach Henry VIII's reforming ideas he met with hostility and was termed a "heretick knave". Nevertheless the monastic houses in Exeter were dissolved between 1534 and 1538. In 1537 too Simon Heynes, a Cambridge man with radical ideas, was imposed as Dean on the Cathedral chapter and immediately entered into dispute over various of the cathedral's customs. In 1539 Heynes implemented Thomas Cromwell's measures against pilgrimages and the cult of St Thomas a Becket by defacing images in the Cathedral. This included the mutilation of books in the choir to the value of twenty marks, perhaps by obliterating references to Becket and the Pope. In 1540 he drew up a scheme for the reform of the Cathedral which proposed less emphasis on prayer and ritual observances by reducing the number of the clergy. He proposed the introduction of a theology lecturer, a free song school and a free grammar school with endowments to maintain 100 children at the schools and 24 scholars at the universities. With the fall of Cromwell in 1540 and the rise of a more conservative policy Heyne's fortunes waned and in 1543 he was even imprisoned for heresy. (Orme 1986, 91-8). Nothing came of Heyne's proposals and in 1540 St John's Hospital, with its nine students of grammar was dissolved.

In 1547 with the accession of the young Edward VI reform was again in favour. In October commissioners arrived in Exeter to reform the Cathedral. Some of these reforms affected education. The twelve secondaries were to become scholars of the city grammar school in the High Street, which was now brought under the control of the Chapter, an arrangement which lapsed after a few years (orme 1986, 98-9).

Many service books held in the chapels must have disappeared in this period together with the relics and vestments, especially in 1549 when the medieval Latin service books were abolished and the Book of Common Prayer introduced. This was a change which affected every parish church in Devon. Previous changes, affecting the monastic houses and the Cathedral had not touched most of the people. But now a new book became a hated symbol for many of the common folk who opposed the changes being forced on them. When on Whitsunday 1549 the incumbent of Sampford Courtenay on the edge of Dartmoor read the service from the new Book of Common Prayer the parishioners likened it to "a Christmas game" and compelled him to return to the old ritual. After a scuffle with the justices the protesters gathered supporters as they marched toward Crediton and besieged Exeter on 2 July, demanding the withdrawal of all English scriptures. Although there were many sympathisers within the walls the City barred its gates. Protector Somerset had sent Sir Peter and Sir Gawen Carew, two radical Protestants, to pacify the rebels but to little effect. The delay during the siege of Exeter allowed John Lord Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, one of the chief beneficiaries of the dissolution of the monasteries, to arrive with mercenary troops to defeat the rebels at Fenny Bridges in July and at Clyst Heath on 3 and 4 August. Exeter was relieved on 6 August and the final resistance squashed at Sampford Courtenay eleven days later (Hoskins 1954, 233-4).

The reformers again had the upper hand. Miles Coverdale, who had been chaplain of Lord Russell during the suppression of the Prayerbook rebellion was made Bishop of Exeter in 1551. Like Dean Heynes he was a Cambridge man, and had translated the Bible which had been published in 1535 with a dedication to Henry VIII. In 1538 he had been in Paris superintending another edition of the scriptures when François I issued an edict banning the work. The presses and types were transferred to London where Grafton and Whitchurch brought out the "Great Bible" which was presented to Henry VIII by Cromwell. On Cromwell's fall in 1540 Coverdale felt it expedient to leave England, returning in March 1548 when he was well received through Cranmer's influence.

This scholarly reformer was not destined to retain the see of Exeter for long. In July 1553 the accession of Mary was announced when Coverdale was preaching in the Cathedral. The majority of the congregation promptly left the Cathedral and soon after Coverdale was deprived of his see and allowed to leave the country in 1555. He was replaced by John Veysey, who had been deprived of the see in 1551 and was now restored as bishop of Exeter in September 1553.

During the reign of Mary many leading English scholars found refuge abroad, and notably with the Protestant leaders in Geneva, a city which had thrown out its ruling bishop in 1534 and had declared its adherence to the Reformed Church in 1536. The city attracted not only theologians but also scholars and learned presses, such as those of the Etiennes which helped to spread the word of the new doctrine. It also offered refuge to a number of Devonians. During his time on the continent Coverdale visited Geneva. Among those who helped to raise money to pay for Russell's troops was the Exeter merchant John Bodley. Bodley's son Thomas, later the founder of the Bodleian Library was born in Exeter in 1545 and fled with his parents, first to Germany and early in 1557 to Geneva where, as at the age of twelve he became "an Auditour of Chevalerus in Hebrew, of Beraldus in Greek, of Calvin and Beza in Divinity". Another noted Exonian recorded in Bodley's household in Geneva on 8 May 1557 is the young Nicholas Hilliard, son of Richard Hilliard, an Exeter goldsmith, later to become the noted miniature painter. He was two years younger than Thomas Bodley. His father remained in Exeter during the reign of Mary.

In Geneva John Bodley was associated with the scholar William Whittingham and others in the printing of their English translation of the Bible, known as the Geneva or, less respectfully, the Breeches Bible. This was printed by Rowland Hall on a press set up by the English refugees. Bodley seems to have had an early interest in the undertaking. In the archives of Geneva there is a record dated 2 December 1558 containing a petition which formed part of a dispute between John Bodley and William Williams on the one part and Jacques Chappellez and the widow of Jean Girard on the other over the wish of Bodley and Williams to have a stove in the printing office they operated in the house of the late Jean Girard (Rose-Troup 17). This may have been to cast types or, more likely, to warm compositors' fingers in the cold Swiss winter.

According to "The life of Sr Thomas Bodley ... written by himself" (Oxford: Henry Hall, 1647) p. 2-3 news of the "death of Queene Mary, & succession of Elizabeth, with the change of Religion ... caused my Father to hasten into England, where he came with my Mother, and with all their family, within the first [year] of the Queene, and setled their dwelling in the City of London. It was not long after that I was sent away from thence to the Vniversity of Oxford ..." John Bodley was granted permission to leave Geneva on 5 September 1559, about three weeks after Miles Coverdale had received similar permission, and Thomas was entered at Magdalen Hall the same year. Others stayed behind to complete the translation which appeared with a prefatory epistle dated from Geneva 10 April 1560 (STC 2093). It bore all the hallmarks of humanist printing. It was in a smaller quarto format than most previous Bibles, was the first English version to use Roman type and to be divided into verses. On 8 January 1561 the Patent Rolls (3 Eliz. part 13 (no. 975) m. 34 record the "Licence for seven years to John Bodeleigh to print the English Bible with annotations faithfully translated and finished in the present year AD 1560 and dedicated to the Queen". A second edition appeared in 1562 (STC 2095). In reality Bodley acted as importer and publisher rather than printer as the Bibles distributed by John Bodley were printed in Geneva. Editions are known printed by M.Blanchier in 1557 Rowland Hall in 1559 and 1560, John Crispin in 1569 and 1570. More details can be found in the English Short Title Catalogue website.

Already in 1565 Bodley was applying for an extension of twelve years. Archbishop Parker and Bishop Grindall of London wrote to Sir William Cecil that they supported this. They wrote: "... we thinke so well of the first impression, and reviewe of those whiche have sitens travailed therin, that we wishe it wold please you to be a meane that twelve yeres longer terme maye by speciall privilege graunted him in consideracion of the charges by him and his associats in the first impression, and the reviewe sithens, susteyned." Nothing appear to have come of this, perhaps because some of the more extreme puritanical annotations had displeased the Queen. Not until Christopher Barker acquired the privilege in 1576 did a regular series of editions begin to appear (STC 2117 etc).

The effect of all these changes on the life of the typical parish church can be gleaned from an examination of sources such as churchwardens' accounts for the period. Those for the parish of Morebath on the Devon and Somerset border are especially interesting as they are very full and kept for the period 1520 to 1573 by one man, the vicar Christopher Trychay.

In 1538 there is a payment of 13/4d "for ye churche boke callyd ye bybyll" with a further 1/4d "for a cord to bynd ye boke wt all & for ye fetting of ys boke in Exeter". The parish funds were saved when the canvas in which the book was wrapped during transit was sold again. In the same year 4/- was paid for "ye boke of ye new testament in inglis & yn latyn ... ye wych we were commawndyd to by at Mychelmas laste paste by ye Kynggis iniuncion". Perhaps a note of objection can be read into that comment. Parish registers were introduced at the same time and 1/- was paid "for a boke to wrytt there namys yn yt be cristenyd & weddyd or buryed a cordyng to ye kynggis iniuncions". The register book was well cared for as in 1548 6d was spent for mending the two locks on the chest where it was stored (Morebath 103-4).

In 1544 Jone Chamberlayne bequeathed 3/4d to buy a processional and this sum was handed over to Master Trystram and the accounts for the following year show hat he had managed to acquire one for 2/11 including carriage (Morebath 136).

In 1548 the vestments were distributed among the principal inhabitants for safe keeping and in the following year 6/6 was paid for "ye bok of erassamus" and 4/4d for "ye furst communion boke" as well as 1/6 for skins for binding two volumes. It would appear that contributions of a shilling a head were received from individuals for the purchase of the communion book and a psalter in 1551 which were later reimbursed by the parish (Morebath 162-7).

After the accession of Mary Thomas Borrage gave the church a mass book valued at 6/- and William Hurley received 3/3d for "ye manuel boke & for caryge" in 1554. This had been paid for by the women of the parish. The following year pageants, books and other items were received back from the various people to whom they had been entrusted for safekeeping and 6d was paid "for carying of ye bybyll & erazamus to Exceter", presumably for burning. In 1556 a new book of homilies was purchased for 2/9d (Morebath 182-9).

The accession of Elizabeth meant that new service books had to be acquired. In 1559 6d was paid to John Skinner for fetching the new communion book and 2/1 for a "sawter boke and processional". In the following year further books were being acquired. James Calverley was paid 4d "for hys labor to send to Exceter for ye communion boke" 13/3d was paid for the Bible and carriage and 1/4d for "ye boke of ye omilis". In 1562 the Paraphrases of Erasmus were again acquired and in 1566 two books of prayers against the Turks at 6d each. Finally in 1573 10/4 was paid for "doctor iule ys boke & for caryge". This was the English translation of Jewel's Apologia pro ecclesia anglicana, which had first appeared in 1562. A chain was acquired to fix the book for 3d and the workman who fixed that chain also hammered home the final nail in the Reformation in that parish (Morebath 205-50).

While some Devonians had sought safety abroad during Mary's reign, there were other Protestants who fared well in Devon. John Hooker was born into a leading Exeter family in 1524. He read Roman law at Oxford and then spent a short period on the continent where he came into contact with leading Protestant theologians. He returned to Devon in 1549 where he experienced first-hand the siege of Exeter during the Prayer Book Rebellion, describing it vividly and with all the partisanship of his Protestantism in his manuscript "Description of the Citie of Excester". It was an unusual appointment for a Protestant in Mary's reign when he was created the first Chamberlain of Exeter in 1555, a post which he held until his death. He had a considerable literary talent which he employed in compiling a series of books on the history of Exeter and Devon as well as treatises on local government. Several of these still remain in manuscript, although they have been widely quarried by later writers. He was instrumental in getting published several items relating to Exeter, some of which he distributed as new year's gifts. In about 1575 he published The discription of the cittie of Excester, which was printed for him by John Allde. This work also appeared as the second part of a reissue of The order and vsage of keeping of a parlement in England which had first appeared in 1572. Also about 1575 Hooker published his Orders enacted for orphans and for their portions withing the citie of Excester, with sundry other instructions incident to the same.

In 1583 he again ventured into print with two new pamphlets: A pamphlet of the offices and duties of euerie particular sworne officer, of the citie of Excester and A catalogue of the Bishops of Excester. He turned to a different London printer for these, Henry Denham, who operated a large business with four presses at the sign of the Star in Paternoster Row. Five days before Christmas Denham paid 6d for a licence to publish from the wardens of the Stationers' Company, retained copies for sale and distribution in London but forwarded perhaps seventy of each title to Exeter for binding. Hooker intended them for distribution as New Year's gifts and his manuscript list of "The disposicion and guyfts of my phamphlett(es) of the Citie and Foll Catologue of the Bishopp(s) imprented and given for new yeres guyftes 1583" is preserved in Book 57 (fo. 7) of the Exeter City archives. There were 60 recipients of his Catalogue of the bishops, including the Bishop himself, the Chapter and the Vicars Choral. Of the pamphlet on the City 63 copies were distributed to the Mayor, Geffry Thomas, and a gallery of the great and the good of the Corporation and the church, as well as merchants and landowners. The bookbinder was not forgotten, receiving three copies of the city pamphlet. The custom of New Year gifts was well established and Hooker may well have been influenced by the antiquary John Leland, who presented his "Laboriouse journey" to Henry VIII in this way in 1546. Hooker was unique in Devon during the 16th century in using the printing press to cement his relationship with Exeter's secular and ecclesiatical oligarchy in this way (Snow).

In 1587 he again broke new ground by commissioning a bird's eye view of Exeter from the engraver Remigius Hogenberg. In this he must have been influenced by such London examples as the woodcut map of Ralph Agas, dating from about 1563, who had copied from the anonymous copperplate map of London produced in about 1559 and probably engraved by Franciscus Hogenberg.

He transcribed many of his works into a ledger (now book 52 of the City's archives) for the members of the Corporation in about 1600 when as he said, "my sight waxeth Dymme, my hyringe very thycke, my speache imperfecte and my memory very feeble". Conscious of his mortality he was putting his affairs in order for on 26 January 1601, a few months before his death, he passed over to the Chamber the results of his third attempt to sort the records of the City.

John Nosworthy, mayor in 1521-2, described by Hooker as "a very wise and a learned man" had made a great chest for the safekeeping of the city records which up to then had been very carelessly looked after (Hoskins 1960, 54). The list resulting from Hooker's rearrangement he entitled "The viewe and survey of all the recordes, Evidences, Charters and Writinges whatsoever appertaininge to the Chambre and Citie of Excester". The documents were placed in 43 boxes which appear to have been kept in three presses (HMC Exeter, vii, 232).

The distribution of information was achieved in a variety of ways in the 16th century. The summoner, an officer of the courts, was often instrumental in bringing information to remoter areas. There are several mentions in the churchwardens' accounts for Morebath. In 1548 he was paid 6d for a copy of the King's commandment "& for ye oration of ye pece". In 1554 he was paid 4d for bringing a proclamation by Queen Mary and in 1570 he was paid 1/2d for a"boke for the declaracions of rebellions" (Morebath 161, 183, 239).

For many people in Devon the first direct contact with the printed word would have been though ballad-mongers. These people wandered around with their wares like Autolycus in The winter's tale (Act 4 scene 3) but they were seen by the authorities as potential spreaders of seditious and lewd ideas and were often classed as vagrants and hounded out of the area. The Elizabethan Vagrancy Acts of 1597 tidied up a range of earlier legislation under which vagrants could be branded, lose an ear, be whipped, imprisoned. Ballads were even banned completely for a short period in 1649 until the Commonwealth introduced a system of licensing in 1655. A royal proclamation of 1686 (Wing J328) reinforced the requirement for chapmen to be licensed, claiming that "many of them being of no religion, carry abroad and disperse without inspection, schismatical and scandalous books and libells, not onely to the prejudice of us, and the government in general, but to the wrong of many of our subjects in particular." The presence of such wandering sources of mischief was to cause worries for the authorities for a long time to come.

And people with unwelcome ideas did lurk in provincial town and cities like Exeter. On 4 December 1561 the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London wrote to the Mayor of Exeter "... we perceyve by your letters that Richard Argentine, clerke, hath of late spred abrode sondrie sedicious lybells within the Citie of Exeter and for the same is by you comyttyd to wards". They commanded that he be sent to them. On 5 January 1562 Hooker replied that the prisoner refused to be bound for his appearance on grounds of poverty and sickness. Argentine was a physician and schoolmaster who had moved from Ipswich to Exeter where he was a prebend and also rector of Stockleigh Pomeroy and Stoke Fleming. He changed his religious opinions on several occasions but did not escape eventual execution in 1568 (HMC Exeter 49).

But it was not just the common folk, the masterless men, or religious extremists who could land in trouble with the authorities. No less a personage than Exeter's first Chamberlain, John Hooker, fell foul of the censors when he edited Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, the major source for Shakespeare's historical plays. The first edition had appeared in 1577 and Holinshed had died in about 1580. It was intended to reissue it "newlie augmented and continued with manifold matters of singular note and within memorie to the yeare 1586". Hooker worked with the antiquaries John Stowe, Abraham Fleming and Francis Thynne, Hooker working on most of the history of Ireland. The work appeared in three volumes in 1586 and 1587 but Elizabeth was displeased by certain passages and the Privy Council ordered them to be cancelled. The pages affected were: in volume 2 421-4, 433-6 and 433-50, in volume 3 1328-31 and, largest of all, 1419-38, the 120 pages here being replaced by a gathering of only four leaves with obvious gaps in page numbering. The excised passages were only republished in 1722.

John Hooker was also the earliest antiquary to gather material towards a history of Devon. However his "Synopsis corographical, or an historical record of the province of Devon" still remains in manuscript, one copy being British Library Ms. Harley 5827 and the other a version in the Devon Record Office which in 1675 was in the hands of the historian John Prince. According to Prince it was prepared for the press by the Barnstaple born Sir John Doddridge, solicitor-general to James I who actually sent it to the printer Zachary Pasfeild. Only now is an edited text being prepared for publication by Professor Joyce Youings. This is in contrast to the historian of Cornwall, Richard Carew, whom Hooker knew and admired. His work, entitled The survey of Cornwall was published by John Jaggard in 1602. But this was unusual, and Carew's work was a finely polished piece of writing, clearly written with an eye to publication.

Hooker's compilation was more enumerative, nevertheless it reached many antiquaries in manuscript and was influential on other members of the gentry who were collecting antiquarian and topograpical data in the early years of the seventeenth century, often stealing unashamedly from each other as well as from the writings of Hooker. Such plagiarism was an established practice; Leland's work had been similarly plundered by William Harrison and William Camden.

Thomas Westcote (c.1567-c1640), born in West Raddon, Shobrooke, finished his "View of Devonshire" in 1630. While he complained that he had been denied access to Hooker's manuscript, examination of the text shows time and again that he had consulted it. Not only does he borrow Hooker's introductory remarks where he divides contemporary society into gentlemen, yeomen, merchants and husbandmen, characterising the Devon miners as troglodytes who drank from their shovels, but the descriptions of many of the towns draw heavily on Hooker. He also obtained the cooperation of gentry families "meeting casually or purposely with some of the heirs of such families ... I have moved them to give me a sight of their pedigree" and some three hundred pedigrees are included, not always accurately. His style is the most elaborate of these early topographers. He arranged his account by the rivers of Devon, which are often anthropomorphised as in the case of Crediton's river: "Creedy here seems to vaunt of the fruitful soil he passeth through, which never proves ungrateful to the labourer for his pains ...". While taking great care over style and ensuring that he displayed the culture of a gentleman by quoting from classical authors, it is unclear whether he intended the work for publication.

Ironically the work of Tristram Risdon of Winscott near Great Torrington (c.1580-1640), which is a more tedious account, with several hundred pages of topographical detail, showing less of the polished style of Westcott, survives in many more copies. As with Westcott, we can read about the Devon tinners drinking from their shovels. He seems to have worked on his manuscript from about 1605 to the 1630s.

Risdon gratefully acknowledges the work of Sir William Pole (1561-1635) "from whose lamp I have received light in these my labours". Pole was perhaps the truest historian in the modern sense in so far as he sought to gather together a substantial corpus of original documents. Much of his work appears to have been destroyed during the Civil War but what survived was moved with the family papers to Anthony in Cornwall. A portion of this was eventually published by the learned antiquarian publisher and printer John Nichols in 1791 under the title Collections towards a description of the county of Devon. This is an honest title. Pole did not complete the history of the county but made a collection of materials that could be used by others. This is even more true with his main unpublished collection, known as "Pole's charters". This is the "vast manuscript volume in folio as big as a church Bible" described by the author of The worthies of Devon John Prince "containing copies of deeds, seals and grants ... in which also the several seals and coats of arms thereunto belonging are finely drawn with a pen, with the pedigrees of divers gentlemen of the county...". Pole and his friends visited and made extracts of deeds and charters in the possession of Devon gentry to a total of some 4,600 documents. This massive collection includes much that is otherwise lost, including cartularies of Tavistock and Newenham Abbeys. Pole is known to have been working on this material between 1608 and 1616. The work was copied and lent about. Ralph Brooke, York Herald made extracts from it in 1608 for a manuscript now in Queen's College Library and Prince had access to it in the late 17th century. In the early eighteenth century it seems to have gone missing. Reginald Pole reovered it by 1767 noting on the fly-leaf "it was with great trouble & difficulty I discovered and recovered it, after having gone thro' many hands and almost irretrievably lost to the family". It can be seen therefore that it was not necessary for a work to appear in print for its contents to circulate among scholars in this period.

The historians of Somerset and Dorset fared no better. Thomas Gerard's Survey of Dorsetshire, formerly attributed to John Coker, compiled in 1622 was only published in 1732 while the same author's Particular description of the county of Somerset, compiled in 1633 was only published by the Somerset Record Society in 1900.

Apart from historians there were other scholars active in Devon, although much of their scholarship was probably acquired during their visits to London, Oxford or on journeys abroad. One such was the learned bishop of Exeter and later of Norwich Joseph Hall. During his period in Exeter from 1627 to 1641 he published in 1630 his Occasional meditations, one of which was headed "On the sight of a great library". In it he writes: "What a world of wit is here packed up together! I know not, whether this sight doth more dismay, or comfort me: it dismays me to think that there is so much that I cannot know; it comforts me, to think that this variety yields so good helps, to know what I should. ... What a happiness is it, that, without all offence of necromancy, I may here call up any of the ancient worthies of learning, whether human or divine, and confer with them of all my doubts! that I can, at pleasure, summon whole synods of reverend fathers and acute doctors from all the coasts of the earth, to give their well-studied judgements, in all points of question, which I propose! Neither can I cast my eye casually upon any of these silent masters, but I must learn somewhat. It is a wantonness to complain of choice. No law binds us to read all: but the more we can take in and digest, the better-liking must the mind needs be." (Hall Works v. 11, 116)

It may be doubted that Bishop Hall was thinking of the Cathedral Library in Exeter, which seemed to experience little of the spirit of the Renaissance. Many, if not most, of the sixteenth century books at present in the library's collections are probably later acquisitions.

At the start of Elizabeth's reign the Cathedral was visited by commissioners headed by John Jewell, later bishop of Salisbury. They found fault with many things, including the library where they found insufficient copies of the early Greek and Latin church fathers.

Certainly the Cathedral authorities were none too anxious to hold on to the manuscripts in their collections. In 1556 the Dean and Chapter presented to Archbishop Matthew Parker the Old English gospels which Leofric had presented half a millennium ago. The presentation is said to have been made by the Dean-Elect, Gregory Dodds to induce him to look favourably on his request for installation to that office. Fortunately Parker transferred the gospel book to Cambridge University Library in 1574. (Lloyd 12) But the Dean and Chapter were not finished yet.

No less than 81 manuscripts, including eight which had been presented by Leofric, were presented to Sir Thomas Bodley by the Dean and Chapter in 1602 for the University Library which he had recently refounded in Oxford. Much criticism has been heaped on the Dean and Chapter for this casual disposal of the Cathedral's heritage, but at the time it was probably felt that they were furthering the cause of learning. There had been long institutional links between Exeter and the University of Oxford, and there were family links as well. Sir Thomas Bodley had been born in Exeter, his father had been a prominent merchant in the city and one of the canons, Lawrence Bodley, was Sir Thomas's brother. The proposed gift is mentioned in a letter of Thomas Bodley to his librarian Thomas James on 26 August 1601 "I haue heerewith sent yow a catalogue of certaine bookes manuscript, which I am told I shall haue from the Churche of Exon, by my brother's procurement." Most of the manuscripts dated from the eleventh and twelfth centuries and were texts of the church fathers, printed editions of which may well have been available. It has also been pointed out that many of the manuscripts bear signs of neglect and their presentation may have saved them from complete destruction. Certainly these 81 manuscripts form the largest proportion of surviving medieval manuscripts from Exeter and far outnumber those which survive in the Cathedral Library today. Certainly Bodley was very persistent in procuring gifts of books. In a letter dated 4 March 1602 he wrote "If the Bishop of Exon come to visit the Libr. I pray yow obserue his speeches, and liking or disliking, and in your next, lette me knowe it." But James seems to have alarmed Bodley by his responses to the Bishop as he took pains to point out in his letter of March 17: "If any should aske the like question as the B. of Exon, whether it be my purpose to fille the Librarie, it were not so good in my opinion to answear that all of any worth are almost bought already. For besides that there are infinit yet behind, it may happely occasion, that many, which now are desirous to contribut, will refraine altogether, when they shall be conceated that fewe or none are lefte vnbought." Fortunately Bodley's fears were ungrounded on this occasion as Bishop William Cotton gave manuscripts to the library in 1605 (Bodley 1926, 17, 31, 32).

So perhaps it was in his own study that Cotton's successor in the see of Exeter, Bishop Hall, found many of the books that underpinned his extensive writings. In a letter to Lord Denny, the first in decade six of his Epistles (1608-11) he paints a picture on the best way of spending one's days, implying that he had a good supply of books readily to hand: "After some while meditating, I walk up to my masters and companions, my books: and, sitting down amongst them, with the best contentment, I dare not reach forth my hand to salute any of them until I have first looked up to heaven and craved favour of Him to whom all my studies are duly referred, without whom I can neither profit nor labour. After this, out of no over-great variety, I call forth those which may best fit my occasions; wherein I am not too scrupulous of age: sometimes I put myself to school, to one of those ancients, whom the church hath honoured with the name of fathers, ... sometimes to those latter doctors, which want nothing but age to make them classical." (Hall Works vol. 6, 269). This rare picture of a scholar at work in his study shows the reverence with which learning, particularly theological learning was still held at this date.

This page last updated 10 Feb 2011
© Ian Maxted, 2001.