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Dugdale, Sir Williamlocked

  • Graham Parry

Sir William Dugdale (1605–1686)

by Wenceslaus Hollar, pubd 1656

Dugdale, Sir William (1605–1686), antiquary and herald, was born on 12 September 1605 at Shustoke rectory, north Warwickshire, the son of John Dugdale (1552–1624), the rector, a native of Clitheroe, Lancashire, and his wife, Elizabeth Swynfen, from a Staffordshire gentry family. According to William Lilly, 'the famous Figure-flinger' or astrologer, his birth was marked by a swarm of bees in his father's garden, a sure sign that William 'should in time prove a prodigy of industry'—though it should be remarked that Lilly made this observation with the benefit of hindsight (Wood, Ath. Oxon.: Fasti, 693). Until the age of ten he was educated by Thomas Sibley, the curate at the nearby village of Nether Whitacre; then he was sent to the free school at Coventry, where his master was James Cranford. After leaving school at fifteen, he was set by his father on a course of reading in history and law. Dugdale never attended university. His father, being elderly, wanted to see his son married, and so at the age of seventeen, on 17 March 1623, William Dugdale was married to Margery Huntbach (d. 1681), the daughter of a Staffordshire gentleman. It was a companionable marriage that produced nineteen children in twenty-four years. When his father died William purchased in 1625 the manor of Blyth in the parish of Shustoke, and Blyth Hall remained the family home for the rest of his life.

Early career and friendships, c.1630–1640

Dugdale's life can be reconstructed in some detail, because he left a brief autobiography that was later enlarged by Anthony Wood and printed in Fasti Oxonienses (1692). From this work we learn that Dugdale's antiquarian interests developed as a result of a series of felicitous encounters that brought him into contact with a network of historically minded gentlemen in his native Warwickshire and further afield. His kinsman Samuel Roper, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, seems first to have aroused his curiosity about antiquities, and this curiosity was given a distinct direction by his reading William Burton's Description of Leicester Shire (1622). William Burton was the brother of Robert Burton, the anatomist of melancholy, and a near neighbour of Dugdale's; they met, and Burton encouraged Dugdale to make collections of material relating to the history of Warwickshire, a project that had already taken shape in Dugdale's mind. Towards this end, Burton about the year 1630 introduced Dugdale to Sir Simon Archer of Umberslade near Tamworth, who had already gathered together a large amount of information about the history of Warwickshire families, intending himself to compile a record of the county gentry. Archer was happy to make his collections available to Dugdale, and also introduced him to most of the gentlemen of note in Warwickshire, who seem to have been remarkably favourable to Dugdale's design, as tending to the honour of their own families and of the county at large; they proved very willing to give him sight of their ancient deeds and papers.

In 1638 Archer took Dugdale to London to introduce him to Sir Henry Spelman, the learned lawyer and antiquary who had been a founder member of the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries and who was then in his eightieth year. Impressed by Dugdale's skill as a collector and organizer of antiquarian material, Spelman determined to advance his fortunes and used his own great influence and reputation to draw Dugdale away from the county arena and to push him onto the national scene. He recommended him to Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, the earl marshal, as a person worthy to serve in the office of arms as a herald, and he also brought about the connection that would ensure Dugdale's lasting reputation by suggesting that he engage in research into the monastic foundations of England. Anthony Wood recorded that Spelman:

told him that one Roger Dodsworth a Gent. of Yorkshire had taken indefatigable pains in searching of Records and other ancient Memorials relating to the Antiquities of that County, but especially touching the foundations of Monasteries there, and in the northern parts of the Realm … much importuning Mr Dugdale to joyn with Dodsworth in that most commendable work.

Wood, Ath. Oxon.: Fasti, 694

Dugdale met Dodsworth shortly thereafter, and they agreed to co-operate, with the understanding that the Warwickshire project should not be neglected.

During this same stay in London in 1638 Dugdale was introduced to Sir Christopher Hatton, cousin of Elizabeth's lord chancellor and the future comptroller of Charles I's household, who was 'a person highly affected to Antiquities'. He arranged for Dugdale to have access to the records in the exchequer and in the Tower of London, two of the major repositories of ancient documents in the country. The plea rolls and ledger books that he found there were indispensable to an understanding of land ownership, tenure, and finance in the middle ages. Another antiquarian sanctuary, the library of Sir Robert Cotton, was opened to him by an introduction to Cotton's son Thomas brought about by his kinsman Samuel Roper. Roper also arranged for him to have special access to the Domesday Book in the exchequer, with its invaluable accounts of land tenure at the conquest. This astonishing transformation in Dugdale's prospects was completed when Sir Christopher Hatton reinforced Spelman's appeal to Arundel to make Dugdale a herald. He was created blanch lyon pursuivant in 1638, and was advanced to rouge croix pursuivant the next year. These appointments gave him a lodging at the office of heralds in London, and a modest income, augmented by funeral fees.

Research and royal service 1641–1654

In 1641, conscious that the political climate was deteriorating and that the anti-episcopal party was becoming dominant, Dugdale undertook a heroic antiquarian mission to the cathedrals and major churches of London, the midlands, and the north in order to record the monuments, inscriptions, and coats of arms in these places. Such memorials were the working stock of antiquarians, with their records of kinship lines and regional history, and Dugdale rightly feared that the cathedrals, as the seats of bishops, would become the particular targets of the iconoclastic fervour that was now becoming apparent. He took a draughtsman with him named William Sedgwick, whose drawings would become a valuable repository of pre-civil war memorials.

In June 1642 Dugdale was summoned by the king to York in his capacity as herald, and then sent into Warwickshire to demand the submission of the garrisons at Banbury, Warwick, and later Coventry. Banbury submitted to the king's authority, but the other two garrisons resisted. Dugdale's listing of the seventy-eight gentlemen and two peers who appeared at royalist musters is an important guide to local allegiances at this date. Dugdale was present at the battle of Edgehill in October 1642, as a herald not as a combatant, and then followed the king to Oxford, where he remained until the surrender of the city in June 1646, residing for the most part at Hart Hall. His estate was sequestrated, and he supplemented his reduced income during his Oxford years by overseeing the conduct of royalist funerals. He was advanced to the position of Chester herald in April 1644 and continued to take an active interest in the course of the conflict: in 1645 he published anonymously A Full Relation of the Passages Concerning the Late Treaty for a Peace, describing the negotiations which had taken place at Uxbridge on 30 January that year.

During his time in Oxford, Dugdale was busy in the libraries studying some of the monastic charters and deeds which had been scattered everywhere after the Reformation, and also collecting information about the history of the nobility that he would eventually put to use in his Baronage of England. In the summer of 1646 he went to London to compound for his estate, thereafter enjoying the free use of it, and at this time renewed his acquaintance with Roger Dodsworth; the two men discussed the prospects for the book on monastic foundations, so much delayed by the wars. Dugdale made his sole visit abroad in May 1648, when he accompanied Lord Hatton to Paris, where he stayed for about three months, improving the time by gathering information about the outposts of French religious houses in England.

On his return to London, Dugdale joined up with Dodsworth once more, and together they combed through the Tower of London and the Cottonian library for monastic records that had escaped their earlier researches. By August 1651 they had material enough to make two folio volumes, but Dugdale had to spend several months ordering Dodsworth's collections before the books were ready for the press. Then, however, no bookseller could be found who was willing to bear the costs of publication, so the two authors decided to borrow money to finance their project. In order to meet the additional expenses of the illustrations, large engraved plates with views of the great abbeys executed by Wenceslaus Hollar and Daniel King, Dugdale instituted a system of subscription whereby well-wishers contributed the cost of a plate, usually £5, and had their name, arms, and an appropriate phrase included on the plate. Dodsworth inconveniently died in August 1654, leaving Dugdale to see the work through the press.

Monasticon, Antiquities of Warwickshire, and History of St Paul's

The first volume of Monasticon Anglicanum appeared in 1655 (with Dodsworth and Dugdale named as joint authors) and was purchased by a small but appreciative audience; Dugdale himself sold the copies on to booksellers. It gave the history of the various orders in England, and an account of all the individual monasteries. The surviving foundation charters, and charters relating to the growth of the monastery, were printed in full, and all known benefactions of land made to the monastery were set down. Monasticon Anglicanum established for the first time the importance of charters as a primary source for the writing of medieval history, and as a source for understanding the legal practice of earlier centuries and aspects of the feudal system relating to conditions of tenure. Equally it established for the first time since the Reformation the importance of monasteries and the scale of their territorial possessions. In Elizabethan and Jacobean times monasteries had been a reviled institution, associated only with superstition, idleness, and all the faults of the old religion. William Camden admitted that it was difficult to discuss their role in the life of the middle ages in his Britannia of 1586, or in its enlarged edition of 1607, for it was hard to consider the subject objectively. At first Monasticon evoked protests that it was a covert plea for the revival of Catholicism, and also that it might provide a basis for the recovery of former church lands that had been sold into private hands at the Reformation. But overall Dugdale established monastic history as a legitimate subject of study.

Dugdale waited for the money to come in from the sales of the first volume of Monasticon before he proceeded with the second, and in the meantime devoted himself to completing The Antiquities of Warwickshire. This appeared in 1656, the author bearing the entire costs of publication. Over twenty-five years in the making, it stood in the tradition pioneered by William Lambarde's Perambulation of Kent (1576). It is also indebted in its method to Camden's Britannia, following the rivers of the shire in order to progress from site to site. The history of the towns is briefly given, with speculations on the meanings of the placenames. Regional commodities are noted. But the main business is to record the families associated with each place, to record their notable deeds and to list their intermarryings and burials. The hundreds of coats of arms that fill the pages make it clear that genealogy is the prime concern of the book. Warwickshire was extensively illustrated with etchings by Hollar, including an authoritative frontispiece depicting Dugdale surrounded by manuscripts; his continued desire thus to enliven his books with illustrations was a commendable advance in the production of antiquarian works at this period.

Project followed project. Even as Warwickshire was being printed, an acquaintance drew Dugdale's attention to a collection of records relating to St Paul's Cathedral. Following this trail he was led to Scriveners' Hall, where he was lent 'ten porters' burthens' of charters and rolls and other manuscripts 'in bags and hampers'—unsorted like many legal and state documents at that time, and in mouldering neglect. With the spectacle close at hand of the great church slowly deteriorating from years of maltreatment and sacrilegious use, Dugdale rapidly compiled The History of St Paul's Cathedral, which was published in 1658. Not only did this book print the surviving documentary records of the cathedral, it also preserved the appearance of the building. Its Norman and Gothic details and the alterations made by Inigo Jones in the 1630s were recorded in extensive plates, once again prepared by Hollar, several of them based on drawings made by William Sedgwick in 1641. With the destruction of the cathedral in the great fire of 1666 Dugdale's book became the lasting memorial of old St Paul's.

Restoration scholar and herald, 1660–1686

The Restoration allowed Dugdale to re-enter the mainstream of public life. The new lord chancellor, the earl of Clarendon, was an admirer of his learning, and persuaded Charles II to advance him to Norroy king of arms. He received in 1662 a commission to carry out a visitation of his province, which comprised Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire. He took his duties seriously, and throughout the 1660s he made series of visitations to confirm the status of gentry families in these counties after a generation in which the authority of the College of Arms had not been exercised. He took a severe view of those who had falsely claimed arms or the title of esquire or gentleman, or intruded on heraldic functions, such as the marshalling of funerals, in his province.

His scholarly activities continued unabated; the second volume of Monasticon and a work on the knights of the Bath appeared in 1661, and in the next year he published The History of Imbanking and Drayning of Diverse Fenns and Marshes, an account of the great drainage schemes that had been carried out in the fens, mainly during the Commonwealth years, by the initiative of Lord Gorges and John Thurloe, secretary to the council of state. This book was effectively commissioned by Gorges to advertise the success of the project. His next enterprise combined personal piety with antiquarian scholarship, for it involved the completion of two works left unfinished by his old mentor Sir Henry Spelman, who had died in 1641: Concilia and the 'Glossary'. Concilia was a detailed account of the church councils of Saxon England, where much doctrine and discipline that would be relevant to the post-Reformation church had been decided. Spelman had published the first part in 1639, but now with the renewal of the Church of England a number of important members of the establishment wished to see the completion of this work which clarified the doctrinal inheritance of the church. Clarendon and the new archbishop of Canterbury, Gilbert Sheldon, were the most prominent figures who encouraged Dugdale to continue the work on the basis of Spelman's notes and new research of his own. The 'Glossary' or Archaeologus was an alphabetic series of definitions of and disquisitions on the obscure legal words and terms used in Anglo-Saxon and Norman documents. Spelman's enquiry into archaic terms resulted in a detailed reconstruction of the legal framework of Saxon and Norman societies, with an understanding of the workings of the feudal system, the hierarchy of ranks and the ties and obligations between them, and the structure of government in state and church. The work allowed scholars to make sense of the emergent society of the early medieval world. The first half of the 'Glossary' had been published in 1628, and no more had appeared, but Dugdale was able to bring it to completion from Spelman's notes and further research; the new volumes of Concilia and the 'Glossary' both appeared in 1664.

Dugdale's scholarly industry from the 1650s to the 1670s was prodigious. He brought out Origines juridiciales in 1666, a substantial history of the law, lawyers, and the inns of court. The work had only just reached the booksellers when most of the stock was destroyed in the great fire, a fate shared by the unsold copies of Concilia and the 'Glossary'. After thirty years of accumulating material towards a history of the nobility, Dugdale energetically applied himself to its completion in the later 1660s and the early seventies. Long delayed in the press, the first volume of The Baronage of England eventually appeared in 1676; the second and third were printed together in 1677. It is a history of the aristocracy and its deeds since Saxon times, an immense work of genealogical scholarship derived from sound sources that retains its value to the present day. In 1671 an enlarged edition of Origines juridiciales came out, and in 1673 Dugdale published a third and final volume of Monasticon Anglicanum, containing a great deal of new documentation that had come into his hands since the publication of the second volume in 1661, including some contributed by Wood.

Dugdale's career as a herald reached its height in 1677 when he was appointed Garter king of arms after the death of Sir Edward Walker, with a salary of £100 a year and a residence at Windsor. In accordance with the dignity of his office, he was knighted at this time. His last major production was A Short View of the Late Troubles in England (1681), another large folio, which traced the course of the dissensions that grew into civil war. It is a highly partisan chronicle of events which has never found much recognition among historians, although it is useful for its copiousness and the precision of its dates. He issued two further small compilations: The Ancient Usage in Bearing … Arms (1681), mainly composed of lists of knights of the Garter, of baronets to 1681, and of the shires and boroughs that returned members to parliament in England and Scotland, and A perfect copy of all summons of the nobility to the great councils and parliaments of this realm (1685), containing the peerage lists from the reign of Henry III onwards.

Family life and death

Little is known of Dugdale's large family. All his sons died young, except for Sir John Dugdale (1628–1700), who joined the household of the earl of Clarendon, and later followed a heraldic career, becoming Norroy herald and being knighted by James II. Dugdale had twelve daughters, of whom nine were living in 1655. Elizabeth (1632–1701) became in 1668 the third wife of Elias Ashmole, thus providing Dugdale with a congenial son-in-law with whom he shared extensive antiquarian interests, and whose career he forwarded.

A verse letter from Ashmole to Mistress Dugdale thanking her for hospitality at Christmas 1656 offers an extremely rare glimpse of Dugdale's family life at Blyth Hall: it describes the traditional celebrations that were being maintained through the Commonwealth years, with a seasonal feast, yule games, a masque of mummers, a bagpiper, and a tambour player (Josten, 1.115). This picture is compatible with another personal view offered by Anthony Wood when he and Dugdale were working on the records in the Tower in 1676 and used to dine together cheerfully there at a cook's house. These images of Dugdale as a good companion with a large capacity for enjoyment should be set against the serious and urbane tone of his correspondence.

Dugdale died on 10 February 1686 'in his chair' at Blyth Hall, having caught cold 'from tarrying too long in the moist meadows near his house' (Life, ed. Hamper, 30). Wood noted in his account of Dugdale that the day of his death was St Scholastica's day, a suitable time for the departure of so learned a man. He was buried on 12 February in the church at Shustoke, on the north side of the chancel, along with his wife, Margery, who had died on 18 December 1681.

Scholarship and legacy

Editions of Dugdale's work continued to appear after his death as scholars polished and quarried his researches. His place in the annals of historical scholarship is an honourable one. His speciality was the retrieval of factual information relating to the great institutions of the middle ages: the monasteries, the legal system, and the aristocracy. The scale of his operations was greater than any previous endeavour, and its achievements were astonishing, especially in view of the disorder of the records from which he worked. Monasticon Anglicanum opened up a new area of historical research, and provided the foundations for such future investigations as Henry Wharton's Anglia sacra (1691) and Thomas Tanner's Notitia monastica (1695), while The Antiquities of Warwickshire (of which the second edition of 1730 was republished in facsimile in the twentieth century) continues to be regarded as the finest of seventeenth-century county histories on account of its thoroughness of documentation and attractive presentation.

It is true that Dugdale benefited to some extent from other men's labours without giving them sufficient acknowledgement. This was a complaint lodged against him in the eighteenth century, but it is beside the point, and characteristic of an age more jealous of individual achievement in scholarship. In the seventeenth century antiquarian research was a co-operative activity, and scholars were desirous of having their protracted schemes brought to fulfilment by another if age or death curtailed their designs. Dugdale's relations with his fellow antiquaries were almost invariably cordial. Just as he benefited from the advice, encouragement, and the collections of older scholars such as Hatton, Burton, Archer, Spelman, and Dodsworth, so in turn he was able to help other antiquaries like Ashmole and Wood with their designs. As Spelman had been Dugdale's true patron, so the latter had an especial regard for Spelman's protégé William Somner, the Canterbury historian and the most proficient Anglo-Saxon scholar of the century. Somner had helped Dugdale to understand the Anglo-Saxon documents printed in Monasticon and instructed him in the rudiments of the language. They had a close working relationship, and Dugdale often turned to Somner for advice. When Somner had completed his great dictionary, which became the indispensable foundation of Anglo-Saxon linguistic studies, it was Dugdale who took the lead in recruiting subscribers who would ensure the publication of the volume. Somner's acknowledgement of this initiative was idiosyncratic, for hidden away in the text of Dictionarium Saxonico-Anglicum (1659), under the entry hlaeye: agger: tumulus, the reader comes across a sentence in English in praise of 'the great retriever of our English Antiquities, my noble friend Mr William Dugdale; one (to do him right) without whose most active and effectual assistance in the publication of it, this work had never seen the light'.

In his long life Dugdale had exchanged letters with many of the learned antiquaries of his day, including Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Francis Junius, Meric Casaubon, Gerard Langbaine, Sir Roger Twysden, Sir Thomas Browne, and Thomas Peck; his letters were collected and edited by William Hamper as The Life, Diary and Correspondence of Sir William Dugdale (1827). His papers were bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, established by his son-in-law, and transferred to the Bodleian Library in 1858. In the twentieth century the Dugdale Society began publishing sources for and occasional papers on Warwickshire history.


  • The life, diary, and correspondence of Sir William Dugdale, ed. W. Hamper (1827)
  • Wood, Ath. Oxon.: Fasti, 1st edn, vol. 2
  • E. Gibson, ‘The life of Sir Henry Spelman’, Reliquiae Spelmanniae (1698)
  • Elias Ashmole (1617–1692): his autobiographical and historical notes, ed. C. H. Josten, 5 vols. (1966 [i.e. 1967])
  • G. Parry, The trophies of time (1995)
  • D. C. Douglas, English scholars (1939)
  • S. A. E. Mendyk, Speculum Britanniae: regional study, antiquarianism and science in Britain to 1700 (1989)
  • The letters of Sir Thomas Browne, ed. G. Keynes (1931)
  • H. Ellis, ‘The life of Sir William Dugdale’, in W. Dugdale, History of St Paul's Cathedral (1818)
  • A. Hughes, Politics, society and civil war in Warwickshire, 1620–1660 (1987)


  • BL, annotated copy of plea rolls, Stowe MS 394
  • BL, Book of Monuments, Add. MS 71474
  • BL, journal of his itinerary through the fens, Lansdowne MS 722
  • BL, heraldic corresp., collections, and papers, Add. MSS 29570, 32116, 38017, 38140–38141
  • BL, visitations of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, etymological notes, papers relating to fen drainage, Harley MSS 1129, 5011, 6104
  • Bodl. Oxf., collections and papers, MSS Wood D 12, 20; F 32–33, 51
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp., collections, and papers
  • Bodl. Oxf., copy of Speed's catalogue of the religious houses of England and Wales, MS Eng. hist. c 485
  • Bodl. Oxf., heraldic papers, MSS Ashmole 818, 836, 840, 853–854, 857–858, 1118, 1131, 1134, 1137
  • Bodl. Oxf., notebooks and transcript of 1656 diary
  • JRL, arms of the gentry of Cheshire
  • JRL, history of the Mainwaring family, Eng. MS 923
  • Northants. RO, papers incl. indexes to Christopher Hatton's antiquarian collections
  • Shakespeare Birthplace Trust RO, Stratford upon Avon, autograph pedigree, DR 85
  • Staffs. RO, letters, D868/5
  • Staffs. RO, letters, D593, 868, 4092, 4401; D(W) 0/5–6
  • Warks. CRO, genealogical notes relating to the Newdegate family
  • Warks. CRO, papers and letters
  • Warks. CRO, working papers, diaries, pedigrees, and corresp., CR 721
  • BL, corresp. with Sir Simon Archer, Add. MS 28564 [copies]
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Simon Archer, MS Eng. lett. b 1
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Nathaniel Johnston and copies of MSS in his possession, MSS Top. Yorks. c 17–18, 27, 36; Top. gen. c 57
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Anthony Wood, MS Wood, fol. 41
  • Cumbria AS, Kendal, letters to Sir Daniel Fleming
  • Folger, Warwickshire collections
  • NRA, priv. coll., letters to Huntbach family
  • Warks. CRO, corresp. with Henry Firebrace, CR 2017


  • portrait, 1675, NPG; version, Bodl. Oxf.
  • W. Hollar, etching, BM, NPG; repro. in W. Dugdale, Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656) [see illus.]
  • H. Robinson, print (after P. Borsselaer), BM; repro. in Life, ed. Hamper
A. Wood, , 2 vols. (1691–2); 2nd edn (1721); new edn, ed. P. Bliss, 4 vols. (1813–20); repr. (1967) and (1969)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)