Bodley, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Bodley, Laurence||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05
BODLEY, Sir THOMAS (1545–1613), diplomatist and scholar, is chiefly remembered as the founder at the close of his life of the library at Oxford to which his name is attached, and is little known for the many state embassies which gave him earlier importance in the eyes of his contemporaries. For our knowledge of his early life and education we are indebted to a short autobiographical sketch written in 1609, of which the original manuscript remains in the library he refounded (copies are of common occurrence), and which was first printed in 1647, an afterwards by Thomas Hearne in 1703. We learn from this that he was born at Exeter 2 March 1544-5; his parents were (John) Bodleigh or Bodley, ‘descended from an ancient family of Bodleigh or Bud1eigh, of Dunscomb-by-Crediton, and (Joan) Hone, daughter of Robert Hone, of Ottery St. Mary. His father, who after Wards became noted as the recipient from Queen Elizabeth, in 1562, of a patent for seven years for the exclusive printing of the Geneva Bible, was, in the reign of Queen Mary, compelled, on account of his known protestantism, to seek safety in Germany, whither his wife and children followed him, finally at Geneva, in all which places there were congregations of English refugees settling first at Wesel, next at Frankfort, and at Geneva, at the age of twelve, young Bodley became an auditor of Ant. Chevallier in Hebrew, of Phil. Beroald in Greek, and of Calvin and Beza in divinity, besides having Robert Constantine, the author of a Greek lexicon, to read Homer with him privately in the house of a physician with whom he boarded. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth the family returned to England and settled at London, and Thomas was sent to Magdalen College at Oxford, entering there as a commoner under the tuition of Laurence Humphrey, D.D., afterwards president, whose religious teaching would be very much in accordance with that which had been inculcated at Geneva. In 1563 he took the degree of B.A., and in the same year was elected a probationer-fellow of Merton College, being admitted actual fellow in the year following. In 1565 he tells us that he commenced a Greek lecture in the college hall without stipend, encouraging thereby the still comparatively new study of which the early years of that century had seen the revival. His lecture gave such satisfaction that the society afterwards granted him an annual fee of four marks, and made the lectureship a permanent institution. He took the degree of M.A., in 1566, and then undertook in addition a public lecture in natural philosophy in the university school. Three years later, in 1569, he was elected (under the system of open choice which commenced in that year, and continued until the better system of rotation was introduced by the Laudian statutes) one of the university proctors, and afterwards, to use his own words, * supplied the place of the university orator,' that is, acted as deputy for one of his co-fellows of Merton, Arthur Atye, the actual public orator and principal of Alban Hall. With this his public employment in the university ceased, but not his own private study. He seems then to have specially devoted himself to Hebrew (probably under the eminent scholar, J. Drusms, who at that time lived for some few years in Merton College, and became intimate with Bodley and his brothers), and is said to have equalled, or even surpassed, most of his contemporaries in his knowledge of that language. Then, for the sake of acquiring modern languages and political knowledge, he obtained from his college and the crown in 1570 a license to travel, which was extended in 1578. By spending nearly four years in Italy, France, and Germany, he became a proficient in various languages, and particularly in Italian, French, and Spanish. Shortly after his return he was appointed a gentleman usher to the queen, but how he had gained her notice does not appear. His first attempt to enter into public life seems to have been unsuccessfully made in 1584, when he was recommended by Sir Francis Cobham for election to parliament as member for Hythe (Fourth Report of Hist, MSS. Commission, p. 430). In April of the next year, however, he received hisnrst diplomatic commission, being then despatched to Denmark, chiefly with the view of engaging King Frederick II in a league with the Duke of Brunswick, the Landgrave of Hesse, and other protestant German princes (to whom he was next sent), to help Henry, king of Navarre, and the French Huguenots. A confidential mission to Henry III of France followed, when that sovereign fled from Paris to escape from the Duke of Guise in May 1588; upon this errand Bodley went in great secrecy, entirely unaccompanied, and having only autograph letters from the queen, the purport of which does not seem to be known, save only that the effect of the message 'tended greatly to the advantage . . . of all the protestants in France.' His marriage to a rich widow, named Ann Ball, daughter of a Mr. Carew of Bristol, appears to have taken place in the preceding year, 1587, since on the monument which he erected to her memory in the church of St. Bartholomew the Less, Smithfield, after her death in June 1611, he says that they had lived together for twenty-four years. This proves Anthony à Wood to be mistaken in saying that the marriage took place about 1585. That he had shown great ability in the conduct of these several embassies is proved by his being despatched to the Hague very soon after his return from France as the queen's permanent resident in the United Provinces, a mission then of paramount importance, when the Netherlands were the continental field in which the power of Spain was to be met and worsted. Here, according to stipulations made with the queen, he was admitted as a member of the council of state, taking place next to Count Maurice of Nassau, and having the right of voting on all questions — privileges which were retained, as Clarendon tells us (Hist Reb. bk. i.), until the commencement of the reign of Charles I, Sir Dudley Carleton being the last English representative to whom they were accorded. In this difficult post he remained for seven years, from 1589 to 1596, and in his autobiography he takes great credit to himself for the stdll and circumspection with which he composed dangerous jealousies and discontents, chiefly caused by ' the insolent demeanour of some of her highness's ministers' (amongst whom he, no doubt, specially refers to the Earl of Leicester), and he avers that, in consequence, he seldom afterwards received any set instructions, but was left to his own discretion in the management of affairs. But as early as 1592 he began to grow weary of the work, and begged to be recalled, only, however, obtaining a short respite in 1593. In 1594 his brother Miles, who had for five years conducted business for him in England (for his wife appears to have joined him abroad in 1589, when a ship was provided for her passage), died suddenly, and he renewed his application and obtained again a short leave of absence, returning in January 1595. In June and July he was again in England, and in August was back at his post. But it appears from several printed letters that the queen expressed dissatisfaction at some of his recommendations ; indeed, he heard one day, 'for his comfort,' that she had wished, in her wonted Tudor fashion, 'that he were hanged ; 'and abroad the Dutch were dilatory and difficult to persuade, and so he pressed again and again for a recall. Burghley and Essex both were urging at home that he should be made secretary of state, although their mutual ill will and opposition resulted in Burghley's at last hindering what he found Essex recommending. So at length Bodley obtained the welcome recall, and made his final return to England in the summer of 1596, weary of statecraft and diplomacy, which he never resumed. In 1598, indeed, it was proposed that he should accompany Lord Buckhurst in May to Abbeville, to conclude a truce between S ain and the United Provinces, and he was spoken of again fora like errand in October; but he did not consent to go, and the last attempt to draw him back to office was ma/de as late as January 1604-5, when, under a fresh sovereign, the second Cecil, the lord treasurer, pressed him to become secretary of state, but could not prevail. Sir Thomas, for such he had become by King James's knighting him soon after his accession, was then busied with that greater work which made the closing years of his life eclipse all that had gone before.
It was on 23 Feb. 1597-8 that he wrote his formal letter to the vice-chancellor at Oxford, offering to restore to its former use that room which was all that then remained of the old public library, to which Duke Humphrey of Gloucester had been a chief benefactor. But for some time before, when resolving to keep, as be himself says, ‘out of the throng of court contentions.' he had been considering how he could still best ‘ do the true part of a profitable member of the state,' and had concluded at last ‘to set up my stall' at the library door in Oxon . . . which then in every part lay mined and waste.’ His offer was gratefully accepted by the university, and only a fortnight afterwards Dudley Carleton writes (in one of his gossipping letters preserved in the State Paper Office) that the proposal met with great favour amongst Bodley’s countrymen of Devonshire, ‘ and every man hethinks himself how by some good book or other he may be written in the scroll of the benefactors.' We see by this how eamestly at once Bodley began to solicit help from his ‘great store of honourable friends' And the help came abundantly in the kind he most needed. As to money he had ‘some purse-ability to go through with the charge,' although in but one year’s time Carleton writes that the library had already cost him much more money than he expected, ‘because the timber works of the house were rotten, and had to be new made.' But books poured in from donors in all arts of England and abroad for some time. Bodley employed Bill, a London bookseller, to travel on the continent as his agent for purchases there ; while at home, in 1610, the Stationers’ company agreed to give a copy of every book which they published. This indefatigable industry which he displayed in the prosecution of his work, and the attention to matters of minute detail, as well as to the broad principles on which his library should be based (betokening one practised in schools of careful forethought and business habits), are largely shown in his draft of statutes and in his letters to his first librarian, Thomas James, which were published by Hearne in 1703 under the title of ‘Reliquiæ Bodleianæ.' The library was solemnly opened with full formality on 8 Nov. 1603, and in 1604 King James I granted letters patent, styling the library by Bodley‘s name (a distinction well deserved for him who had now founded the first practically public library in Europe; the second, that of Angelo Rocca at Rome, being opened only in this same year 1604), and giving license for the holding of lands in mortmain. In the following year the king himself visited the library, with a full appreciation alike of the founder and the foundation, and repeated his visit in 1614. The first catalogue, a small but thick qnarto volume of (655 pages, appeared in 1605, when already the old fifteenth-century room was beginning to be found too small; and consequently five years later the addition of an eastern wing was commenced, which was completed in 1612. In 1Gll Bodley began the permanent endowment of the library by attaching to it a farm in Berkshire and some houses in the city of London; the former is still the property of the library, but the latter were sold in 1853. After 1611 Bod1ey's health was failing fast. He had long been afflicted with the stone,aud complicated disorders (ague, dropsy, &c.) are spoken of as being now superadded. And so after a lingering decay e died at his London house on 28 Jan. 1612-3 (a year and a half after the death of his wife), aged, as he says in his will dated 2 Jan., ‘67 complete and more. ‘Having no children he made the university his chief heir, provoking, however, thereby sharp, and in some measnrejust, censure from his contemporaries for his neglect of relatives and friends. John Chamberlain, a friend to whom nothing was bequeathed, speaks with great bitterness in letters to Sir R. Winwood and Sir Dudley Carleton on the subject, saying ‘he was so carried away with the vanity an vainglory of his library that he forgat all other respects and duties almost' (Winwood, Memorials, iii. 429; Cal. Dom. Stale Papers, 1611-18, p. 169). But the will is full of legacies to his relatives, servants, and others, although probably not in the proportion that was expected. To his brothers, Laurence [q.v.] and Sir Josies [q.v.], bequests were made in money and houses. The four sons of his deceased brother Miles and the children of his sisters Prothasy Sparry, Alce Carter, and Sybill Culverwell, and his wife’s children by her first husband, are all remembered. But one sister is altogether ignored, who had offended her brothers by eloping with a poor minister named John Burnett, who afterwards lived at Standlake and Ducklington in Oxfordshire, and whose grandchildren in the next century petitioned the university for relief, as being very poor and infirm labouring people.
Bodley was buried on 29 March 1613 in the chapel of his college, Merton, as he had desired in his will, with great ceremony, having bequeathed 666l. 13s. 4d. for the purpose of providing mourning for many persons (including sixty-seven poor scholars) and a dinner. Two volumes of academic verses were printed in commemoration of him—the one written by members of his own college, the other by members of the university in general -as well as a funeral oration, delivered by Sir Isaue Wake, the public omtor. In 1615 a monument was erected in Merton chapel, executed by Nicholas Stone,a well-known sculptor, for which Bodlcy‘s executor, William Hakewill, paid 200l. The library contains a very fine full-length portrait (several times engraved), which has been assigned, but (as dates show) incorrectly, to Corn. Jansen, as well as one other very inferior portrait and a marble bust.
[Wood’s Athenæ Oxon.; Reliquiæ Bodleianæ. 1703; Lodges Portraits. where one of Bodley's despatches is printed from a Harl. MS.; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, 1868; Bodley’s will (a contemporary copy) in Bodl. MS. Addit. A. 186; Calendars of the Domestic State Papers; Notes and Queries. 6th series, ii. 423. Twenty-nine letters are printed in vol. i. of Collins’s Sidney Papers, 1746, and there are some in Murdin's Burghley State Papers, 1759; reports of his negotiations and several letters are among the Marquis of Bath's MSS. at Longleat.]