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Twyne, Johnlocked

(c. 1505–1581)
  • G. H. Martin

Twyne, John (c. 1505–1581), schoolmaster and antiquary, was born at Bullington, Hampshire, the son of William Twyne. He matriculated at Oxford; his college is unknown, but in 1523–4 he heard Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist, lecture in Corpus Christi College, and saw Bishop Richard Fox, the founder of the college, there. In January 1525 he graduated BCL. In the same year he married Alice (1507–1567), daughter of William Peper, freeman of Canterbury.

In 1526 Twyne was resident, probably as a schoolmaster, in St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. After the dissolution of the monastery in 1538 he bought a house in St Paul's parish, and in 1541 he became the first headmaster of the King's School, Canterbury, which he ran with notable success for twenty years. His labours were said to have made him rich. He certainly acquired property and held civic offices in Canterbury, becoming an alderman in 1553, and serving as sheriff in 1544–5. In spring 1553 he gave some offence to the duke of Northumberland, and was summoned before the privy council. He was mayor in 1554, when the city refused to support Sir Thomas Wyatt's rebellion, and an MP for Canterbury in 1553–4. He may have held the prebend of Llandygwydd in Christ Church, Brecon, from 1558, and may also have been the John Twyne admitted to Gray's Inn in 1566. For a time he was keeper of Rivingwood Forest in Littlebourne, Kent. On relinquishing his headmastership in 1560 he leased the rectory of Preston, Kent, and lived there for some years, though he died in Canterbury.

Twyne was denounced in 1534 by a monk of St Augustine's for having twice ridden to Sandwich at Archbishop Cranmer's behest 'to read a lecture of heresy' (LP Henry VIII, 7, no. 1608), but in Elizabeth's reign he was suspected of Roman sympathies. No doubt these suspicions lay behind his being charged in Canterbury consistory court in 1560 with harbouring a familiar spirit, described as 'a black thing, like a great rugged dog, which would dance about the house and hurl fire about the house' (Canterbury Cathedral Library, MS Y.2.24, fol. 69v), and his being eased out of his headmastership during that year in favour of Anthony Rush, a committed protestant who later became dean of Chichester. In the same year the archdeacon of Canterbury forbade him to hold public office; he was also subsequently expelled from the aldermanry. As late as 1596 it was noted of the Catholic priest Thomas Bramston that he had been taught by Twyne. Bramston was seen as having owed his learning rather than his doctrine to his master, though Twyne had also taught the Catholic controversialist Thomas Stapleton (1535–1598) of New College and Douai. After Matthew Parker's death in 1575 Twyne claimed that the archbishop's disfavour had cost him his forest keepership, but he seems to have escaped further sanction for recusancy, and there were probably other discordances between him and Parker. Thomas Tanner observed in his Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica (1748) that Twyne had on occasion reprobated Henry VIII, John Foxe, and Matthew Parker. Twyne's scholarship and antiquarian tastes may have made him critical of a variety of received opinions. What is certain is that he was a well-read classicist and a learned student of antiquity. His interests matched some of those of the archbishop and his household, and he was manifestly useful to Parker as a knowledgeable collector of manuscripts.

Twyne wrote several historical and biographical studies, but most remained unpublished and have been lost. In the 1530s he contributed an introduction to The History of Kyng Boccus and Sydracke, an exhaustive and largely fanciful compendium of general knowledge, translated into English verse from French about 1450. It is an odd text for one of Twyne's learning and general acumen to have publicized, but it was printed at the expense of Robert Saltwood, a monk of St Augustine's, and it seems likely that Twyne was obliging Saltwood. If so, his introductory remark that 'things of open goodness need no praising' may have been as much as he cared to say on that score, though he observes that the book's doctrine is sound.

Twyne's best-known work is of a very different kind. De rebus Albionicis, Britannicis, atque Anglicis commentariorum libri duo (1590) was published after his death by his son Thomas. It is a review of the early history of Britain, based on an after-dinner conversation at Sturry, in the summer lodgings of John Foche, the last abbot of St Augustine's. The time is about 1530. The company includes the composer John Dygon, who became prior of the house in 1535, and Nicholas Wotton, later secretary of state and dean of Canterbury. The text seems to have been revised before 1550, but after that Twyne probably did not alter it greatly. Indeed, although the symposium is a familiar literary device, there is reason to accept it as a sample of learned conversation in the abbey's last decade.

Both the setting and the opinions expressed are interesting. Foche and Twyne are robustly sceptical of the mythical history of Britain, derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth, which had prevailed in medieval England. Instead of the feudal armies and accoutrements of Brute and his Trojans, they envisage a simple society of cave dwellers, which progressed only slowly to metallurgy and other skills. The images probably came from Lucretius and Varro, but it was humanism that now made them intelligible and useful. Twyne, however, went much further. He collected Roman coins, glass, and other artefacts, pondered the Rollright Stones and Stonehenge, and noted earthworks. He made the ingenious suggestion that the Phoenicians had come to Britain in search of tin, and among other things had brought the coracle with them: a notion that beguiled much later generations. What matters about such views is not their accuracy, but the quality of Twyne's thought, his historical sense of perspective, and his use of evidence. It was characteristic of him that he also strove to save manuscripts from the monastic libraries. He owned at least ten manuscripts from the library of Canterbury Cathedral priory, including the B manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and a similar number from the library of St Augustine's. The manuscript of the Itinerarium regis Ricardi in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is inscribed 'Sent from Mr Twyne'.

John and Alice Twyne had four sons and three daughters. Of the sons, Lawrence Twyne was a civilian and fellow of All Souls, and Thomas Twyne (1543–1613), who published De rebus Albionicis, was an MD and a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Brian Twyne (1581–1644), registrar and historian of Oxford, was Thomas's son, and left some of his grandfather's papers and manuscripts to Corpus Christi. After Alice's death Twyne married Margaret Carpenter of Canterbury on 14 November 1568. He died at Canterbury on 24 November 1581, and was buried on 30 November in the chancel of St Paul's Church, where his epitaph survives.


  • Emden, Oxf., 4.582–3
  • T. D. Kendrick, British antiquity (1950)
  • M. R. James, A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 2 vols. (1912)
  • T. L. Burton, ed., Sidrak and Bokkus, EETS, 311 (1998)
  • M. McKisack, Medieval history in the Tudor age (1971)
  • Joannis Twini Bolingdunensis, Angli, De rebus Albionicis, ed. T. Twyne (1590)
  • P. Collinson, P. N. Ramsay, and M. Sparks, eds., A history of Canterbury Cathedral (1995)
  • memorial, St Paul's Church, Canterbury
  • LP Henry VIII, 7, no. 1608
  • will (draft?), CCC Oxf., MS CCLVIII
  • private information (2004) [M. Zell]
  • Canterbury Cathedral Library, MS Y.2.24


  • CCC Cam., notes, some MSS
  • CCC Oxf., MSS
A. B. Emden, , 3 vols. (1957–9); also (1974)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Early English Text Society
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
T. Tanner, , ed. D. Wilkins (1748); repr. (1963)
J. S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, & R. H. Brodie, eds., , 23 vols. in 38 (1862–1932); repr. (1965)
S. T. Bindoff, ed., , 3 vols. (1982)