15031552), poet and antiquary
, was born in London on 13 September in an unspecified year. Most of the surviving information about his early life, including the day of his birth, comes from his own poetry. Slightly older than his friend William Paget, the future royal secretary, he must have been born shortly before 15056. He had an elder brother, also called John, who became a physician, and they were orphaned when the antiquary was a young boy. Presumably they were related to Sir William Leyland of Morleys Hall, near Leigh in Lancashire, whose estate Leland described in one of his peregrinations and to whom he wrote an unpublished encomium. After his parents' deaths Leland was adopted by one Thomas Myles, who sent him to St Paul's School where, according to his own account, he studied under the headmaster William Lily and made the acquaintance of many of the figures who would become his later patrons: Paget, Antony Denny, Thomas Wriothesley, and Edward North.
Cambridge and Paris
From St Paul's, Leland went to Cambridge where he was a member of Christ's Collegeut qui Grantae, in Collegio Christi nomini sacro, bonis artibus operam dederim (I was one who took pains with the liberal arts at Cambridge, in the college dedicated to Christ's name; De scriptoribus
, 84)by approximately 1519. He was admitted BA in 1522. Soon afterwards he was a prisoner of the king's bench. According to his petition to Thomas Wolsey he was arrested after having reported the treasonous activities of an unnamed knight who was in contact with Richard de la Pole in France. (Most scholars have dated this petition to 1529, but this is impossible since Pole died in 1525.) After Cambridge, Leland entered the Lambeth household of Thomas Howard, second duke of Norfolk, and acted as tutor to the latter's ill-fated sixth son, Thomas, later to die in the Tower under sentence of death. He went to Oxford after the death of the duke in 1524 and according to Anthony Wood was associated with All Souls College. (Wood's source for this information was the sure tradition passed from Leland's friend Thomas Caius of All Souls to Thomas Allen of Gloucester Hall.) In the dedicatory letter to Henry VIII prefacing his Cygnea cantio
Leland stated that it was the king who sent him to Oxford. He quickly became dissatisfied with the conservative attitude to education at Oxford, however, and later complained to Paget that Sors vel ad obstreperos me duxit iniqua sophistas (An unfavourable fortune led me to noisy sophists; Carley, John Leland in Paris, 30, 32). A verse encomium to Thomas Lupset, in which he requested to be made a member of his household, probably dates from approximately this period. In spite of his dissatisfaction he must still have been in Oxford in 1526, when he congratulated his friend Edward Wotton on the latter's return from Italy.
From Oxford, Leland set out for the continent with the stated intention of studying in France and Italy, but there is no evidence that he ever got as far as Italy. In 1528 the treasurer of the chamber's accounts record a quarterly payment of 25s
. for Sir John Leylonde's exhibition (LP Henry VIII
, 5.305). Basing himself in Paris he presumably lived a kind of freelance student life with the EnglishGerman nation, perfecting, as he would later relate, his skill at poetry. He cultivated the great continental scholars, singling out for his admiration Guillaume Budé, Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, Paolo Emilio, and Jean Ruel. He also wrote flattering verses to Janus Lascaris. Particularly influential on him was François du Bois, professor of rhetoric and principal of the Collège de Tournai. From Bois Leland seems first to have developed his passion for the Latin poet Ausonius, who would become the inspiration for his own river poem, and for the study of ancient texts. Bois, for example, introduced him to a manuscript of the late twelfth-century poet Joseph of Exeter, the corpus of whose works he would spend many years attempting to track down. This antiquarian bias, which shaped his future work, is described in his verse epistles, and he observed to his friend Robert Severs at Cambridge that he was making it his task to dig out from obscurity manuscripts of the ancients.
While in France, Leland kept up contact with his English friends and benefactors, sending, for example, verses to Lord Mountjoy to accompany a small gift, quite possibly a book. His friend Richard Hyrde, who had been one of the masters in More's household, came to visit him in Paris before going to Italy as physician to Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe in 1528. There is some evidence that Wolsey was Leland's chief advocate during these years. Leland addressed at least one encomium to Wolsey and John Bale lists a lost Panegyricon ad cardinalem
among Leland's works. By his own account, moreover, it was Wolsey who collated him to the rectorship of Laverstoke, Hampshire, although it is not clear when precisely this occurred.
Leland must have been back in England before 10 November 1529 when he resigned the Laverstoke living. He was made a royal chaplain and on 17 June 1530 rector of Pepeling in the marches of Calais, where there is no evidence he ever set foot, and on 12 July 1536 he was granted a licence of non-residence for the living. After Wolsey's fall Leland no doubt began cultivating Cromwell as a potential patron. On 12 July 1533 he was granted a papal dispensation to hold up to four benefices, the income from which was not to exceed 1000 ducats, provided that he take subdeacon's orders within two years and priest's orders within seven. Earlier that year, with Nicholas Udall, who had lent him money while he was a poor student in Oxford, he prepared verses for the pageants celebrating the royal entry of Anne Boleyn into London, whereof some were set up, and some other were spoken and pronounced (LP Henry VIII
, 6.564); these were probably commissioned by the duke of Norfolk and Cromwell. What is possibly the presentation copy (BL, Royal MS 18 A. lxiv) was retained in Henry's collection and was published by John Nichols in the first volume of The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth
(London, 1788), pages ixx. In 15334 Leland composed liminary verses for Udall's Floures for Latine Spekynge: Selected and Gathered out of Terence
(STC 23899). In 1534 Layland, priest, described as one of the royal chaplains, gave the king two books of stories at the new year and received in turn a gilt vessel with a cover. In 1535 he was made a prebendary of Wilton Abbey, Wiltshire, with the livings of North Newnton and West Knoyle, near Mere, attached.
Collecting and cataloguing books
According to his later new year's gift to Henry, published in 1549 as The Laboryouse Journey
, in 1533 Leland received some sort of commission from the king, of which no record survives, to peruse and dylygentlye to searche all the lybraryes of monasteryes and collegies of thys your noble realme (Itinerary
, ed. Toulmin Smith, 1.xxxvii). Elsewhere in his writings he refers to a diploma which he carried with him as he travelled from establishment to establishment. The surviving book-lists in his so-called Collectanea
were almost all completed before the dissolutions of the houses that he visited, although he did on occasion return to religious establishments after their fall. During this phase of his activities, when he was normally on good terms with the religious, he rarely removed books from their ecclesiastical homes and his primary motivation in examining libraries was to compile lists of works by British authors and de viris illustribus in general. His first extended journey took place c
.1533 when he made a tour of the west country. In 1534 he was at York, where with Sir George Lawson he defaced a tabula
containing a reference to the pope's authority in England. Citing a now lost document among the Papers of State, Anthony Wood claims that Leland wrote to Cromwell on 16 July 1536, only a matter of months after the passage of the bill for the suppression of all religious houses with an annual income of less than £200, requesting assistance in preserving books that were fast being dispersed: whereas now the Germanes perceiving our desidiousness and negligence, do send dayly young Scholars hither, that spoileth them, and cutteth them out of Libraries, returning home and putting them abroad as Monuments of their own Country (Wood, Ath. Oxon.
By the mid-1530s Leland had made the acquaintance of John Bale and in 1536 Bale wrote a letter to him, praising his antiquarian efforts and offering to be of assistance in any way he could. He also dedicated his unpublished history of the Carmelite order in England, Anglorum Heliades
, to Leland. In 1537 Leland wrote to Cromwell requesting Bale's release from prison where the latter had been confined on account of his preaching. Much later, in a revised version of Kynge Johan
, Bale held him up as a witness for the British cause against the papists, Verity pleading with the (by then) mad Leland to awake from his slumbre to wytnesse a trewthe for thyne owne contrayes sake (Bale, 84).
Leland's precise role in the re-formation of the royal library in the 1530s and 1540s is difficult to unravel. Based on his use of the term antiquarius, generations of scholars assumed that he had some sort of official position as king's antiquary. This is not the case, and Leland seems to have appropriated the term in analogy with continental humanist practices. Nor is there any indication in household accounts, admittedly incomplete, that he received any payment as librarian. He was not, as has been widely maintained, the author of a list of books treating history and divinity drawn up from a visitation of Lincolnshire houses c
.1530. In his Antiphilarchia
Leland did, however, relate that Henry had the libraries in three palacesGreenwich, Hampton Court, and Westminsterrefitted for the reception of monastic books. According to the new year's gift, moreover, Leland conserved books in goodly number for the Royal Collection as well as for himself. Yet, although he made select lists of books from about 140 foundations, less than a dozen of the hundreds of monastic books in the Royal Collection can be shown to have arrived there through his agency. Possibly he was responsible for the rescue of a number of the others, but no record remains; perhaps many of the items he acquired were later deaccessioned.
Travelling in England
There is some evidence that Leland kept on searching out books after the fall of the monasteries and his copy of a letter authorizing him to use any books in the late monastery at Bury St Edmunds that might forder hym yn setting forth such matiers as he writith for the King's Majeste still survives (Itinerary
, ed. Toulmin Smith, 2.148). By about 1539, nevertheless, his chief concerns had shifted to topography and local history. Inflamed by a patriotic desire to see the places he had read about in ancient histories and chronicles, he spent by his own account some six years in travelling throughout Henry's dominions, so that:
there is almost neyther cape nor baye, haven, creke or pere, ryver or confluence of ryvers, breches, washes, lakes, meres, fenny waters, mountaynes, valleys, mores, hethes, forestes, woodes, cyties, burges, castels, pryncypall manor places, monasteryes and colleges, but I have seane them and noted in so doynge a whole worlde of thynges verye memorable. (Laboryouse Journey, ed. J. Bale, 1549, sig. D.iiiiv)
The precise chronology of Leland's journeys, of which there seem to have been about five, is impossible to determine and only once did he give a date for his setting out: on 5 May 1542 he began an extensive tour of the west country. An earlier journey began in Wales and brought him to Shropshire, up to Chester and across to Yorkshire, down to the east midlands, Worksop and Bedford, and home again. Other trips included the west midlands, Yorkshire again, and places further north. The accounts of more than one trip have been lost. His notebooks suggest his procedure: sometimes he made maps and measured distances, he asked information from local inhabitants, and he also examined books and charters. He compared sources and noted when there were disparities or when information seemed to be unreliable. During the travels themselves he took rough notes, which he later amplified; normally he kept both rough and fair copies. Although he never managed to produce the many works he envisaged, his undertaking was an extraordinarily ambitious one and marks the beginning of English topographical studies.
On 31 March 1542 Leland was presented to the rectory of Great Haseley, near Thame in Oxfordshire. He was made a canon and prebendary of King Henry VIII College, Oxford, on 26 March 1543 and was one of the signatories of its surrender in 1545. (When an inquisition post mortem was taken in 1551 he still occupied the rectories of Pepeling and Great Haseley, and the prebends of North Newnton (called in this document East Knowle) and West Knoyle in the dissolved abbey of Wilton, and had an annuity of £26 13s
. from the dissolved King Henry VIII College.) According to the 1541 subsidy roll, in which he was assessed for £100 and required to pay £2 10s
., he was living in Cornhill ward. He was later discharged on the grounds that he was liable to the clerical tenth and the clerical subsidy. (His brother, John Leland, who was listed in the parish of St Michael-le-Querne, was assessed at £50.) On 13 August 1546 his house in the site of the former Charterhouse was alienated to one Joan Wilkinson. Presumably the undated letter he wrote to his friend Mr Bane in Louvain, requesting the services of a toward young man, learned in Latin and Greek, relates to this final phase of his activities. A number of his short encomia can also be dated to the 1540s; no doubt he was trying to consolidate his position and drum up increased financial patronage. In an undated poem to Thomas Cranmer he described the mass of wonderful material he had brought together at his house which would never see the light of day without the archbishop's generous support; possibly it was this poem that led to ecclesiastical appointments of 1542 and 1543, or possibly it was written later. Some time in 1546, no doubt after the treaty of Campe or Ardres of 8 June 1546, Leland was sent by Henry to obtain trees, grafts, and seeds in France, including 100 pear and apple trees from Rouen.
In 1549 John Bale published his annotated edition of the new year's gift as The Laboryouse Journey & Serche … for Englandes Antiquitees
(STC 15445), in which he testified that Leland had suddenly fallen mad some three years previously. Elsewhere in his commentary on the tract he dates Leland's collapse at 1547, the year of Henry's death. In 1551 Leland's elder brother, residing in the parish of St Michael-le-Querne and described as his heir, was granted custody of his person and his property. Various theories of the cause of his madness were propounded: his friends alleged grief over spiteful treatment by enemies; others suggested realization of his inability to produce the grandiose works he had promised, or divine retribution for heresy. Bale, who knew him well, states that he was vainglorious, and John Caius alleges that although learned he was a boaster. Later generations saw Leland's madness as a symbol of the fate of the scholar, a warning against over-application to abstruse studies. In a recent professional diagnosis it has been suggested that Leland suffered from manic-depressive illness which may well have been aggravated by Henry's death, as well as from a magpie complex, that is an obsession with collecting, from which insanity provided the only escape. He died on 18 April 1552 and was buried in his brother's parish church. John Stow mentioned a monument, but this was destroyed in the great fire of 1666. His brother, described as a citizen of London and minstrel, died early in 1558. Although married, the elder John was also childless.
Engravings of at least two likenesses survive, although the originals have disappeared. The better known is that of Charles Grignion (17171810), taken from a bust at All Souls now lost, which shows a clean-shaven individual attired in the Roman manner. The original was almost certainly the work of Louis François Roubiliac. In 1824 Thomas Charles Wageman published an engraving deriving from a portrait dated to 1546 and misattributed to Hans Holbein. By this time Leland was bearded and considerably heavier. An etching of what appears to be a different portrait was published in European Magazine
, 10 (1786), page 161; it was then in the possession of the heirs of Rowe Mores of Low Layton, Essex.
During his lifetime Leland published relatively few works, most of which were Latin poems. The first of these was his Naeniae in mortem T. Viati, equitis incomparabilis
, published by Reyner Wolfe (in whose house later tradition had him residing at the time of his death) in 1542 (STC 15446). It was dedicated to Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, described by Leland as Wyatt's literary heir. This elegy, written a matter of weeks after Wyatt's death on 11 October 1542, is based on classical models and contains references to nymphs, the phoenix, and the contest of the gods over the apotheosis of the dead poet. Three years later he wrote another lamentation, this one commemorating Sir Henry Dudley, eldest son and heir of John Dudley, Viscount Lisle and later duke of Northumberland, who died at Boulogne. Entitled Naenia in mortem splendidissimi equitis Henrici Duddelegi
, it was published by John Mayler (STC 15445.5). Leland's Genethliacon illustrissimi Eaduerdi principis Cambriae
, completed in 1543 and published by Reyner Wolfe (STC 15443), was a revised version of a poem begun at the time of Prince Edward's birth in 1537. The poem, rich in topographical allusions, is remarkable for the description of Elizabeth's accomplishmentsLeland met the queen at Ampthill when he was invited by John Cheke to see the young prince. The presentation copy, printed on vellum, survives as Clare College, Cambridge, MS O 6 26. There are three poems celebrating Henry's victories in France. The first, Fatum Bononiae Morinorum
, was published by Wolfe in 1544 (STC 15442.5). This was followed by Bononia Gallo-mastix in laudem felicissimi victoris Henrici VIII
in 1545, published by Mayler (STC 15441.7). Both of these celebrate the siege and capture of Boulogne in 1544. The Laudatio pacis
, published by Wolfe in August 1546 (STC 15442), was written almost immediately after the treaty of Campe or Ardres was concluded.
Leland describes his most ambitious poem, the Cygnea cantio
, published by Wolfe in 1545 (STC 15444), as his own swansong to the poetic arts. The poem relates a journey down the Thames from Oxford to Greenwich, and provides detailed topographical and historical information in the long accompanying commentary in prose. Some 250 of Leland's miscellaneous shorter poems were edited by Thomas Newton and published in 1589 (STC 15447). No autograph manuscript of these poems survives, but John Stow made a copy shortly after Leland's death, now MS Tanner 464.iv in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This manuscript, which was consulted by Newton but which was not his copy text, contains twenty-eight poems not printed by Newton and fuller versions of others. The earliest poems may date to Leland's time at Cambridge, but others seem to have been written shortly before his descent into madness. Some appear to be literary exercises, some were meant to accompany gifts, often books, and many were addressed to patrons, potential as well as those whose attention he had already secured. Some, such as the verses to John Barret and the tributes to Chaucer, were extracts from the three books of epigrams written, as he stated elsewhere, in his youth. With the exception of the verses to Anne Boleyn and the Fatum Bononiae Morinorum
, all the published poems were reprinted by Thomas Hearne in his editions of Leland's works.
During his lifetime Leland published only one work in prose, his Assertio inclytissimi Arturii regis Britanniae
(also by Wolfe; STC 15440); a translation was published by Richard Robinson in 1582 (STC 15441). The presentation copy to Henry VIII on vellum, now C.20.b.3 in the department of printed books of the British Library, contains a correction in Leland's own hand. Growing out of his Codrus, sive, Laus et defensio Gallofridi Arturii contra Polydorum Vergilium
(which was later published in abbreviated form in the accounts De viris illustribus
), the Assertio
attempted to establish the validity of Arthur's historical existence through a comprehensive analysis of ancient texts, place names, ancient artefacts, and landscape features. Another lengthy prose work, the Antiphilarchia
, was cast as a dialogue between a reformer and a Romanist over the Tu es Petrus
text. Completed after Henry assumed the kingship of Ireland in 1541, it has never been printed, but what was no doubt the presentation copy survives in Cambridge University Library as MS Ee.5.14.
By 1545 Leland had a clear idea of the works he wished to produce and he provided detailed lists in the Cygnea cantio
and in his new year's gift. He planned a dictionary of British writers, De viris illustribus
. This work, published under the title of Commentarii de scriptoribus Britannicis
by Anthony Hall in 1709, was divided into four books and contained almost 600 entries arranged in chronological order. Although he had still been revising it as late as 1545, it was nearing completion when he became insane. Leland also envisaged a table, presumably some sort of map of Britain, to be engraved in silver or brass. This was to be accompanied by a descriptive text or Liber de topographia Britanniae primae
, giving ancient names of places and peoples. Next was to come a work to be entitled De antiquitate Britannica
or Civilis historia
, which would be arranged shire by shire and would include as well adjacent islands. Following this there was to be a study of noble families in three books, De nobilitate Britannica
. In the new year's gift Leland emphasized that the data for these latter three projects was in hand and no doubt he was referring to the materials that were later published by Thomas Hearne as The Itinerary of John Leland the Antiquary
(Oxford, 171012; etc.) and Joannis Lelandi antiquarii de rebus Britannicis collectanea
(Oxford, 1715; etc.). Three further works were mentioned in the Cygnea cantio
and all three figure in Bale's commentary to the new year's gift. The first was a Vita Sigeberti regis
, portions of which no doubt survive in the fifty-seventh chapter of De scriptoribus
. Materials pertaining to the other two, De academiis Britannicis
and De pontificibus Britanniae
, are scattered throughout Leland's notes, but it seems unlikely that the plans were very far advanced.
In his Index Britanniae scriptorum
Bale lists other works by Leland, many with incipits, which he himself had seen. Antiquitates Britannie
is the title Bale gave to an unpublished notebook, now in the British Library (Cotton MS Julius C.vi, fols. 189), made up of extracts relating to Britain taken primarily from classical authors. Others, such as the Descriptiones Anglie
and Dictionarium Britannicolatinum
, are titles that Bale applied to extracts from Leland's notebooks. The lost De titulo regis ad Scotiam
, which Bale saw in the royal library and in the library of Thomas Caius, must have been based on the short text printed in Collectanea
(3.210). A copy of the Panegyricon ad cardinalem
was at Westminster Palace in 1542 and no doubt the encomium to Anne of Cleves also found its way into the Royal Collection. In a section of the itineraries dealing with Kent (Itinerary
, ed. Toulmin Smith, 4.57) Leland made a note Let this be the firste chapitre of the booke; the book to which he refers must be the Itinerarium Cantie
dedicated to Henry, which Bale saw in Caius's library.
According to tradition Leland's papers were assigned to his friend Sir John Cheke by Edward VI and there is some evidence to support this. In the letter he wrote to Matthew Parker in 1560 Bale describes seeing a copy of Sicardus of Cremona's now lost lives of the popes in Leland's study when Cheke had charge of it. According to John Foxe's Acts and Monuments
Bale borrowed a copy of Leland's De catalogo virorum illustrium
from Cheke when Bale and Foxe were dwelling together in the house of the duchess of Richmond (that is, in 1548). When Cheke left England in 1554 there appear to have been dispersals, and damage also occurred at an early stage. Cheke himself presented four volumes to Humphrey Purefoy, whose son Thomas gave them to a cousin, William Burton, the historian of Leicestershire, in 1612. Some papers passed to William, Lord Paget, and others to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was married to Cheke's sister. It is possible that the sale of Leland's library on 18 May 1556, from which John Dee obtained medieval manuscripts, was a result of Cheke's arrest in Brussels almost immediately beforehand. Ultimately most of Leland's own surviving papers got to Burton, who in 1632 and later gave to the Bodleian Library the Collectanea
and De scriptoribus
(now Bodl. Oxf., MSS top. gen. c.14) and seven of the eight volumes of the Itineraries
(now Bodl. Oxf., MSS top. gen. e.814). The eighth, made up of stray leaves from the other volumes, which he had lent to a friend and could not recover, was given by Charles King of Christ Church about 1677 (Bodl. Oxf., MS top. gen. e.15). Apart from the Antiquitates Britannie
acquired by Cotton there are stray fragments in other collections. Leland's papers were widely circulated after Leland's death and Stow's transcripts included three books of the itineraries which later went missing. John Bagford believed Stow possessed a volume on the antiquities of London, now lost, which he incorporated into his own Survey
, but this seems unlikely. Other missing material may have included an itinerary of East Anglia and accounts of some Warwickshire towns.
These vicissitudes notwithstanding, from the time of Bale onwards scholars voiced concern that Leland's papers should be preserved. In her early twentieth-century edition of the Itinerary
(1.xix) Lucy Toulmin Smith observes that The blessing of John Bale must have rested upon Thomas Hearne, who brought the Itinerary
and the Collectanea
into print. But even before Hearne's heroic enterprise the notes circulated, and copies in varying degrees of completeness were made by prominent scholars, to exert an immense influence. Few historians and antiquaries did not use Leland's work, and many acknowledged their debt, starting with Bale. In the following generation Leland's followers included both William Harrison and William Camden, ranging like him across the whole country, and local historians like William Lambarde, in his ground-breaking survey of Kent, and John Stow, who used Leland's notes for his great Survey of London
of 1598. In the following century not only did scholars of the eminence of Dugdale, and the less methodical John Aubrey, use Leland's work, but so too did the pioneering natural historian Robert Plot. For Anthony Wood, not always generous with praise, Leland was that singular light and ornament of Great Britain (Wood, Ath. Oxon.
, 1.197). In the eighteenth century, too, Leland's writings were influential; they were fundamental, for instance, to the Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica
(1748) of Thomas Tanner, who originally intended to do no more than reproduce Leland's De scriptoribus
. By more recent generations Leland's notes are valued particularly for the unique insight they provide into Tudor England, and for their witness to the final phase of English monasticism. They continue to be regularly cited in local histories, in scholarly editions of medieval British authors, and in such bio-bibliographical works as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
James P. Carley