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Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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purporting to be corrected by the Rev. Josiah Pratt, the younger,
appearing in 1853. But the Life and Vindication had been so greatly
discredited in the attack made upon it by Dr. S. R. Maitland, that when
the Religious Tract Society published an edition of the Acts and
Monuments in 1877, mainly from the stereotype plates of that of 1853,
they thought it prudent to omit that part altogether, Dr. Stoughton,
one of the honorary secretaries of the Society, substituting an
Introduction, a work which is, however, as much open to criticism as
Townsend's.

A cheap edition had already appeared in 1868 with a preface by the
Bishop of Carlisle in which his lordship said that: -

"The Convocation of the English clergy did wisely, when in the days of
Elizabeth, they enacted that every parish Church [sic] in this land
should be furnished with a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs."

There is also an illustrated edition published by Messrs Cassell; and
the Religious Tract Society still continues to make the Acts and
Monuments the subject of a quiet but active propaganda in evangelical
interests, offering the book at a reduced price to students, teachers,
and public libraries, sometimes even presenting it as a free gift.


IV. THE SPOILS OF THE MONASTERIES

The great, perhaps the sole repositories of the early historical and
topographical records of England, Scotland, and Ireland, from the
introduction of Christianity until the introduction of printing, were
the monasteries. Throughout the middle ages these libraries were the
homes, in many instances the birthplaces of treasures which would have
been hopelessly lost or destroyed in those rough times but for the
shelter thus afforded them. The monks were constantly employed in
writing, copying, and ornamenting manuscripts, while State papers and
parliamentary rolls were deposited in their archives for safety.
Moreover, as they were known to be rich, and to care for such things,
books were brought to them from time to time for sale by those in need
of money. There was scarcely any religious house but had a library, and
many of them were very good ones. Some data have come down to us by
which we can form an estimate of their bulk and value.

The books which St. Augustine brought with him from Rome, together with
those of Theodore, formed the nucleus of the well-known monastic
library at Canterbury. In the library at Peterborough there were no
fewer than 1700 MSS. That of the Grey Friars in London was 129 feet
long by 31 feet broad, and was well filled with books. That the Abbey
of Leicester and the Priory of Dover had no mean libraries appears from
the catalogues of their books yet remaining in the Bodleian. Ingulf
tells us that when the library at Croyland was burned in 1091, the
monks lost 700 books. The great library at Wells had twenty-five
windows on each side, a fact which gives us some notion of the space
required to contain all the volumes possessed by this monastery.*

* Tanner, Nolitia Monastica, preface, p. xl., edited 1744.


In the English preface to Dugdale's Monasticon mention is made of the
"incredible number of books written by the monks," and it would be easy
to multiply illustrations of this kind, and to collect notes of the
indiscriminate destruction that took place at the dissolution of the
monasteries under Henry VIII., when the contents of these libraries
were sold as waste paper.

"I know a merchant man," wrote Bale, Bishop of Ossory as quoted by
Leland, "which at this time shall be nameless, that bought the contents
of two noble libraries for forty shillings apiece. A shame it is to be
spoken. This stuff hath he occupied, instead of grey paper, by the
space of more than these ten years, and yet he hath store enough for as
many years to come. A prodigious example is this, and to be abhorred of
all men which love their nation as they should do. Yea, what may bring
our realm to more shame and rebuke than to have it noised abroad that
we are despisers of learning? I judge this to be true, and utter it
with heaviness, that neither the Britons under the Romans, nor yet the
English people under the Danes and Normans had ever such damage of
their learned monuments as we have seen in our time. Our posterity may
well curse this wicked fact of our age, this unreasonable spoil of
England's most noble antiquities."

Centuries had been spent in collecting that which a few short months
had sufficed to scatter abroad, and Bishop Tanner also mentions with
sorrow the loss of a great number of excellent books, to the
unspeakable detriment of the learned world.

For a time, this havoc of the monastic libraries went on unchecked, but
during the reign of Elizabeth a reaction set in, and there arose a
little knot of men who had the good sense to recognise the value of
these memorials of the past, and to treasure up what still remained;
and the next generation produced such men as Thomas Bodley, and Robert
Cotton. These were followed by others of kindred tastes, to whom more
golden opportunities of acquiring valuable treasure-trove were afforded.

We shall confine ourselves here to the most illustrious of these
collectors, Sir Robert Cotton, whose library now forms the basis of the
national collection in the British Museum.

The era of English libraries began with Matthew Parker's gift to Corpus
Christi College, Cambridge, a collection of books which has preserved
from destruction more materials relating to the civil and
ecclesiastical history of this country than had ever before been
gathered into one library. Fuller styled this munificent bequest "the
Sun of English antiquity, before it was eclipsed by that of Sir Robert
Cotton."

Sir Thomas Bodley was one of the first men in Europe to conceive the
notion of a great public library, and the rich collection of books
which he made at Oxford on the ruins of Duke Humphrey's library, and
which he bequeathed to the University, is not merely of European, but
of world-wide celebrity. Living as he did at Oxford in a learned
atmosphere, he naturally turned his chief attention to Latin
manuscripts, while Cotton made English history his special study, and
was ever on the alert for material to throw fresh light upon its
annals. Hence the numerous Anglo-Saxon MSS. in his library, and the
splendid collection of State papers, relating to England, Scotland, and
France, contained in the dress marked Caligula, and in many other
places.

Cotton and Bodley were good friends, and not only shared the same
tastes, but sympathised actively with each other's work. In 1595 Bodley
wrote to Cotton, asking him whether he held to his "old intention for
helping to furnish the Universitie librarie," and in 1601 he
acknowledges having received from Cotton a contribution of manuscripts
for that purpose. These manuscripts were eleven in number, the titles
of which may be seen in Smith's manuscript notes to his catalogue in
the Bodleian library.

Bodley on his part was no less generous. A folio volume on vellum,
containing the four Gospels, the four Dialogues of St. Gregory, and
some other articles, the whole in Saxon, and consisting of 290 leaves,
was a part of his contribution to the Cottonian collection.* The
contents of this volume, as described by Wanley, show it to have been
of exceeding great value, but since his time twenty-five folios have
been lost. When Planta compiled his catalogue he affixed a note to the
effect that the manuscript was so burnt and contracted as to render the
binding of it impracticable, and that it was preserved in a case. Later
on it passed through the restoring hands of Sir Frederick Madden.

* Otho, C. i. The notes furnished by Smith also prove the identity of
the Cotton MS. Otho, C. ix. with Bodley's gift.


Cotton was neither a great scholar, nor did he produce any original
work of special value, but he seems to have possessed the tact and the
taste to divine, and also encourage talents superior to his own,
thereby deserving no less well of his country than those who served her
with higher gifts. His friend Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, once
called him an "engrosser of antiquities." If we add that he did not
merely "engross," but that he liberally shared his acquisitions with
others, we shall perhaps best describe his special place and work in
the world of letters. To judge by his correspondence it would seem that
all the learned men in the kingdom applied to him for the loan of some
rare manuscript or other, and that hardly a scientific, political,
historical, or heraldic work was produced in the early part of the
seventeenth century, but owed something to his labours as an antiquary.

Selden asks for a sight of his Peterborough books, his Book of Monies
his Historic Jorwallensis. Camden writes for a treatise on Heraldry,
and for a ledger of the Abbey of Meaux. George Carew, afterwards Earl
of Totness, needs his Chronicle of Peter the Cruel. Crashaw, the poet,
sends for volumes treating of the Council of Florence, and of the
excommunication of the emperor at the Council of Lyons. Sir John
Dodderidge, judge and antiquary, asks leave to keep Cotton's maps
(perhaps for his work "Of the Dimensions of the Land of England").
Speed requires a note of all the monasteries in the realm, as well as
the Book of Henry IV., and craves help in his Life of Henry V., signing
himself "Your loving friend, troublesome and troubled."

All these demands on Cotton's library and Cotton's liberality, together
with many more, may be seen in the collection of letters contained in
the volume, the press-mark of which is Julius C 3.

The fame of the Cottonian library was great among the learned at the
beginning of the seventeenth century; in 1612 it was spoken of with
enthusiasm. The following letter from Edmund Bolton, poet and
antiquary, is, despite its somewhat florid and inflated style, a proof
of the high estimation in which the collection was held.

"Sir, - The world sees that worthy monument of witt and learning* come
forth, but with honourable acknowledgements of special' helps from you.
But we that are somewhat privie to the truth of things, do also knowe
that without your assistance, it is in vain to pretende to weightie
works in the antiquities of
this kingdom. For your studie, if we respect the glories of saints
there carefully preserved in authentic registers, it is a Pantheon and
all Hallowes. If the memorials of the honourable deceased, it is a
mausolae. If the tables and written instruments of Empire, it is a
Capitol. If the whole furniture of Cyclopxdia, it is a mart. If matters
marine, it is an arsenal - if martial, a camp and magazine. Briefly it
is the Arck, where all noble things which the deluges of impious
vastitic and sacriligious furie have not devoured, are kept to bee the
seminaries of better plantations."

* Probably a reference to Bacon's History of Great Britain under the
Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, published in 1611.


He goes on to compare Cotton's library with that of Paulus Jovius, the
pride and glory of Italy, which, he declares, "will seem perhaps little
better than a beauteous charnel-house, filled with skeletons, and the
rotten timbers of clay-built tenements dissolved into dust, by the side
of this exquisitely instructed studie."

Exaggerated as this praise may seem, the fact remains that the
Cottonian collection was unique, and that scholars owed more to it than
to any other sources of information. There is no account of any visit
of Cotton's to the Continent, although in one of his early pamphlets
mention is made of his having visited Italy; but people were busy in
different parts of Europe seeking for what was valuable in the shape of
parchments and old coins, to add to his treasures.

England was, however, at that time the best hunting-ground for
manuscripts, so short a time having elapsed since our great monastic
libraries had been scattered to the winds. Chronicles, chartularies,
State Papers, treaties, family pedigrees, documents of every kind were
floating about the country, often in the possession of strange owners,
almost always to be had for gold. To acquire these was Cotton's chief
delight from the age of eighteen; and as a natural consequence, this
taste surrounded him with learned friends. At his house at Westminster
the literati of the day were wont to meet. Josceline, Camden, Noel,
Speed, Sir John Davis, and others formed, together with himself, the
then Society of Antiquaries, which Matthew Parker had founded.

But James I., although so great an amateur of antiquities, did not
regard the society with a favourable eye. He was eminently cautious,
and fancied that these meetings might lead to a political association,
and he accordingly suppressed them.

In recognition, however, of Cotton's merit the king knighted him at his
coronation honours; he called him "cousin," and acknowledged his claim
to be descended from the Scottish family of Bruce. From that time
Cotton quartered the royal arms of Scotland with his own, and adopted
the name of Bruce, "not," says Collins in his Baronetage, "in arrogance
and ostentation, but in distinction to those of the name of Cotton of
other families . . . and in a grateful sense of the divine favour for
that extraction, and to excite an emulation in his issue to follow the
virtues of such glorious ancestors." His descent is clearly traced in
the history of Connington Castle in Huntingdonshire, which had been the
home of his family for centuries. The house had been rebuilt at various
times. When it came into Sir Robert Cotton's hands he completely
restored it, embellishing the north front with richly moulded arches
which he had purchased and brought from Fotheringhay Castle, together
with the room in which Queen Mary had been executed.*

* Neale. Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, vol. ii, for
Cotton's pedigree, see Julius F 8, f. 58b.


Cotton's friendship with Camden began at Westminster School, where
Cotton was educated - Camden being at that time second master. In the
last year of the century, the two friends made an antiquarian journey
into the North, where they explored the old Roman wall, built to keep
out the marauding Picts, and returned to Connington laden with
trophies. These were afterwards presented to Trinity College,
Cambridge, where they are still preserved. Camden's Britannia contains
more than one allusion to this journey. His History of Queen Elizabeth
was long supposed to be their joint work; and it is probable that,
although he only acknowledged the loan of autograph letters, the part
relating to Mary Queen of Scots was at least inspired by Cotton. It is
certain that Camden obtained nearly all his materials from his friend's
library. In one of his letters he speaks of Cotton as "the dearest of
all my friends"; and in this profession he was constant till his death,
directing in his will that Sir Robert should have the first view of his
books and manuscripts; "that he may take such as I borrowed of him;"
and then he goes on to bequeath to him his entire collection, except
his heraldic and ancient seals, which he left to the Herald's College.

About the year 1614 it began to be whispered that Sir Robert Cotton had
unlawfully come by some of the State Papers in his library, and the low
murmurs soon grew into a loud argument to the effect that the Public
Record Office was injured " by his having such things as he hath
cunningly scraped together."* The general feeling of jealousy and
suspicion is expressed in the following extract from a contemporary
letter which was prompted by the fact that Arthur Agard, keeper of the
Public Records, had left his private collection to Cotton:

* J. Wilson to Ambrose; Randolph State Papers, Dom. James I., 1615; R.O.


"The late Mr. Agard has left some manuscripts, the labour of most of
his life, including a book on the exemption of the Kings of England
from the power of the Pope, abstracts of treaties, and other State
matters, which Sir Robert Cotton claims, on pretext that they were left
to him by will; but he eras at the making of the will. It is important
that such things be kept in possession of the King's officers, as
otherwise they may be suppressed when most wanted."*

* Dom. James I., vol. lxxxiii., 69; R.O,


After this, charge after charge was brought against Cotton, till the
life, that had so usefully been spent in the service of learning,
closed in sadness and gloom. James, however, whether he gave credence
to the accusations of enemies or not, never quite abandoned him. He
made him a member of the " new order of hereditary knights called
baronets," which Cotton had himself advised the king to create, as a
means of replenishing the State coffers, without burdening his subjects
with taxes. (The fee was fixed at 1000 pounds.)

Disraeli, in his Curiosities of Literature, quoting from a Lansdowne
MS., says that it appeared, "by the manuscript book of Sir Nicholas
Hyde, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, from the second to the third
year of Charles I., that Sir Robert Cotton had, in his library,
records, evidences, ledger-books, original letters, and other State
papers belonging to the King; for the Attorney-General of that time, to
prove this, showed a copy of the pardon which Sir Robert had obtained
from King James for embezzling records, etc."

James had the greatest regard for Cotton's historical acumen, and in
the last year of his reign he ordered that no more copies of the life
of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, should be published till Sir Robert
Cotton had enlarged it, and made it more authentic by the aid of two
ample histories which had lately come out.* The similarity of their
tastes always ensured a certain sympathy between the antiquary who was
also in some sense a Scotchman, being descended from the Bruces, and
the first Stuart King of England. But James's successor never took him
into favour, and henceforth there was little in his worldly prosperity
to divert him from his beloved library - a perennial source of joy to
him-till his enemies turned it into a weapon for his destruction. He
never ceased to add to it while he lived, and casual contributions
continued to flow in from various sources.

* Secretary Conway to the Wardens, etc., of the Stationer's Company,
25th June 1624, Dom. James 1.; R.O.


Thus, in 1627, Sir James Ware sent a manuscript register of St. Mary's
Abbey, Dublin; and the year after Archbishop Ussher presented a
Samaritan Pentateuch (Claudius, B 8). Already in 1625 he had mentioned
this book in a letter to Cotton:

"Touching the Samaritan Pentateuch, the copye which I have is (as I
guess) about three hundred years old, but the work itself commeth very
short of the tyme of Esdras and Malachy. I have compared the
testymonyes cited out of it by the ancient Fathers, Eusebius, Jerome,
Cyrill, and others, and find them precisely to agree with my booke,
which makes me highly to esteeme of it."

In 1628 he writes apologetically for his long silence and his delay in
returning books lent to him by Cotton:

"A farre longer time than good manners would well permitt, for which
fault yett I hope to make some kinde of expiation by sending you
shortlye, together with your own my ancient copye of the Samaritan
Pentateuch, which I have long since destinated unto that librarye of
yours, to which I have been beholden for so many good things no where
else to be found. I shall [God willing] ere long finish my collation of
it with the Hebrew text, and then hang it up ut votivam Tabulam at that
Sacrarium of yours."

A correspondent, signing his letter Jo Scudamore, gave him a whole
edition of Chaucer "in a fair ancient written hand." This manuscript
has unfortunately disappeared from the collection.

Nicholas Saunder sent a history by Helinandus, a Cistercian monk,
written in the time of William the Conqueror,* and many other donations
are recorded.

* Claudius, B 9. The donor of this MS. was not the Nicholas Saunders so
well-known in Elizabeth's reign.


Of the constant activity going on in the formation of this wonderful
library, and of the great generosity with which the books were lent the
following letters are eloquent. Archbishop Ussher writes thus:

"Worthy Sir, - I have received from you the history of the Bishops of
Durham, together with your ancient copies of the Psalmes, whereof that
which hath the Saxon interlineary translation inserted is the old
Romanum Psalterium, the other three are the same with that which is
called Gallicum Psalterium. But I have not yet received that which I
stand most in need of, to wit the Psalter in 8vo which is distinguished
with obeliskes and asteriskes. I pray you, therefore, send it unto me
by my servant, this bearer, as also the life of Wilfrid, written in
prose by a nameless author that lived about the time of Bede; the other
written in verse by Fredegodus I received from Mr. Burnett; together,
with William Malmsburiensis de vitis Pontificum Anglia et S. Aldhelmus.
Before you leave London I pray you do your best to get master Crashaw's
MS. Psalter conveyed unto me. I doubt not but before this time you have
dealt with Sir Peter Vanlore for obtaining Erpenius his Hebrew,
Syriach, Arabick, and Persian books, and the matrices of the letters of
the Oriental languages. If he interpose himself seriously herein, it is
not to be doubted, but he will prevayle before any other. But what he
doth he must do very speedilye, because the Jesuites of Antwerp are
already dealing for the Oriental presse, and others for the Arabick,
Syriac, Hebrew, and Persian bookes. It were good you took some order
before you went, how Sir Peter may signify unto you, when you are in
the countrye, what is done in this businesse. If he send to Mr. Burnett
at any time [who dwellith at the signe of the three swannes in Lombard
Streets he will finde some means or other to communicate what he
pleaseth unto me. I thank you very hartilye for the care which you have
taken in causing my Samaritan Bible to be so faire bound. I have given
order to Mr. Burnett to content the workman for his paynes, and so with
remembrance of my best affections unto yourself and the kinde ladye
your wife,* I committ both of you to God's blessed protection, and rest
your own most assured,

"Ja Armachanus."

* Sir Robert Cotton had married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of
William Brocas of Thedingworth, Leicestershire, by whom he had several
sons, the eldest Thomas, alone surviving him.


Sir Edward Dering writes in 1630:

"Sir; I received your very welcome letter, whereby I find you abundant
in courtesies of all natures. I am a great debtor to you, and those
obligations likely still to be multiplied. As I confess so much to you,
so I hope to witnesse it to posterity. I have sent up two of your
bookes which have much pleasured me. I have here the charter of King
John, dated at Running Meade.* By the first safe and sure messenger it
is yours, so are the Saxon charters, as fast as I can copy them, but in
the meantime I will enclose King John in a boxe and send him. I shall
much long to see you at this place, where you shall command the heart
of your affectionate friend and servant,

"E. Dering."
Dover Castle, May 10, 1630.

* There are two original drafts of Magna Charta in the Cottonian
Library.


It would be extremely interesting were Cotton's own letters extant, to
have some account from his pen of the manner in which he came by many
manuscripts, the history of which is a blank to us from the time of the
dissolution of the monasteries till they found a safe haven in his
library. But his letters are very rare; two only have been preserved in
the Record Office. They are addressed to his brother, Thomas, in the
years 1623 and 1624, and they begin "Loving David," and end "Thy
Jonathon." One is much stained, and difficult to read; both treat of
political matters.

In 1629 the origin of a seditious pamphlet, entitled, "How to bridle
the impertinency of Parliaments," which was handed about in London,
causing some commotion, was traced to the Cottonian library. In spite
of all that Cotton could put forward to exculpate himself, an order was
issued by the Privy Council for the sequestration of his books, on the
ground that they were not of a nature to be exposed for public
inspection. And this was not all. Once before he had been deprived of
access to them for a time, and now again he was himself debarred from
entering his own library, a privation which affected him so seriously,
that from the moment of sequestration his health visibly declined, and
he declared to his friends that they had broken his heart, who had


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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 22 of 28)