Gascoigne, Thomas (1403-1458) (DNB00)

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GASCOIGNE, THOMAS (1403–1458), theologian, son and heir of Richard Gascoigne and Beatrix his wife (Dict. Theol. i. 352 a), was born in 1403 (ib. ii. 516 a)—Bale says (Bodl. Libr. Selden MS. supra 64, f. 173 b) on the vigil of the Epiphany, i.e. 5 Jan. 1403–4—at Hunslet (Magd. Coll. Oxf. MS. 103 sub fin., ap. Coxe, Catal. of Oxford MSS., Magd. Coll. 55), near Leeds, of which manor his father was the possessor (Dict. Theol. ii. 592 b; Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 671, ed. Anstey). Gascoigne's own mention of his parents' names disproves the correctness of the pedigree attested early in the seventeenth century and printed by Thoresby (Ducat. Leod. p. 177), according to which he was the son of Richard and Ann Gascoigne. This genealogy further makes Richard the brother of Sir William Gascoigne [q. v.], the chief justice; but had so near a relationship existed it is difficult to believe that Thomas, whose self-conceit was notorious, would have omitted to inform us of the fact. It is, however, most likely that he belonged to the same family.

Gascoigne seems to have lost his father in his youth (Dict. Theol. ii. 539 a), but he was left well provided for and able to live on his own means for the whole of his lifetime (ib.; cf. i. 352 a). He entered Oxford at a date which, computing backwards from his degree of doctor of divinity in 1434, and taking into account the periods required for that and his previous degrees, Mr. J. E. Thorold Rogers fixes as ‘not later than 1416’ (Loci, intr. xviii); but since we know that Gascoigne obtained a dispensation as to time with respect to his degree in 1434 (Magd. Coll. MS. 103, l. c.), it is probable that he matriculated some time after 1416, though hardly, as Tanner implies (Bibl. Brit. p. 311), so late as 1420. From his lifelong residence in Oriel College it may be inferred that he was a member of it from the first, though the circumstance that he was a benefactor of Balliol College has led to the unproved and improbable supposition that he once belonged to that society (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, Colleges and Halls, ed. Gutch, p. 90). His private fortune made him ineligible to a fellowship at Oriel College, but he rented rooms there until 1449, when, in acknowledgment of his liberality in contributing towards the college buildings and giving books to the library, the provost and scholars granted him the use of his rooms rent free for the rest of his life (Rogers, l. c.).

The respect in which Gascoigne was held at Oxford is shown by the frequency with which he was called upon to fill the offices of chancellor of the university, of commissary (or vice-chancellor), and of ‘cancellarius natus.’ Mr. Rogers's suggestion (intr. lxxxiii) that this last title, which designates simply the senior doctor of divinity acting as chancellor during a vacancy (cf. Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 553), was an ‘exceptional title’ conferred on Gascoigne, is put forth in ignorance of the university system of the time. Gascoigne was first chancellor in 1434 (Dict. Theol. i. 550 a), when Wood (Fasti, p. 45), though aware of Gascoigne's own statement, describes him as commissary, adding (p. 47) that he filled this post again in 1439. According to the same authority (p. 48) he was again chancellor in the summer of 1442, during the interval between the resignation of William Grey and the election, about Michaelmas, of Henry Sever, the first provost of Eton College and afterwards warden of Merton College. The presumption would be that Gascoigne was on this occasion ‘cancellarius natus,’ were not a doubt cast upon the record by the appearance of another person, John Kexby, as chancellor in July of this year (Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 526). Probably Wood has transferred to 1442 a notice which really belongs to the following year, when there is evidence that Gascoigne was ‘cancellarius natus’ on 13 March 1443–4 (ib. p. 533; Wood, Fasti, p. 49). On the day following this notice, the university having sought in vain the acceptance of the post by Richard Praty, bishop of Chichester, Gascoigne was elected to the full dignity of chancellor. He resigned at the beginning of Easter term 1445 and was re-elected, but apparently was unwilling to continue in office. He remained, however, ‘cancellarius natus’ (Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 547 f.), and, Wood says (p. 50), ultimately consented to hold the chancellorship, but before the end of the year was succeeded by Robert Burton. Here again Wood is seemingly in error, since Gascoigne more than once says that he was only twice chancellor, though thrice elected (Dict. Theol. i. 311 a, ii. 567 a).

Of Gascoigne's activity as chancellor there are plentiful traces in the university registers. It is not indeed true, as stated by Mr. Rogers, that ‘in 1443 he procured from the king a charter, or letters patent, to the effect that the chancellor of Oxford should always be ex officio a justice of the peace, and in the same year carried a statute by which compurgation should be disallowed in the university court, except at the chancellor's discretion’ (intr. xix, xlv), since the document upon which this statement rests recites expressly that the former privilege was granted by kings Edward and Henry III, and refers generally to various enactments as to the latter, without a hint of their having been procured by Gascoigne, a further note showing them to date from the time of one of his predecessors (Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 535–8). These notices possess, however, the interest of having been written in the register Aaa. in Gascoigne's own hand for the guidance of future chancellors; and it was probably through his personal efforts (cf. Dict. Theol. i. 306 a, where he speaks of an interview with Henry VI) that the king in 1444 empowered the chancellor to expel all rebellious and contumacious persons from the precinct, extending twelve miles every way, of the university (Munim. Acad. Oxon. ii. 540). Some years later, in November 1452, Gascoigne was appointed with others to hear an appeal from the chancellor (Register of the Univ. of Oxford, i. 18, ed. C. W. Boase, 1885), and in the summer of the following year he once more acted as ‘cancellarius natus’ (Wood, Fasti, p. 54).

He had been ordained priest in the prebendal church of Thame by Bishop Fleming in 1427 (Dict. Theol. ii. 397 a), and afterwards became rector of Dighton, probably Kirk Deighton in the West Riding of Yorkshire; but resigned this benefice some time—probably long—before 1446 (ib. ii. 304 a). In 1432, on the death of John Kexby (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Anglic. iii. 164, ed. Hardy), Archbishop Kemp offered Gascoigne the chancellorship of the church of York; but he refused it, partly from a scruple to be enriched at the expense of two parish churches whose rents and tithes were appropriated to the office (Dict. Theol. ii. 517 a, cf. i. 432 b). Thirteen years later, in 1445, he was given the valuable living of St. Peter's-upon-Cornhill, in the city of London, but he resigned it within the year, 24 Feb. 1445–6, on the ground of feeble health (MS. ap. Rogers, 232). Three years later, 7 Feb. 1448–9, he was installed at the presentation of Bishop Beckington in the prebend of Combe the Tenth in the church of Wells (Dict. Theol. ii. 517 a; Wood ap. Tanner, l. c.)

Throughout his life Gascoigne was an active preacher, vehement in his hostility to the Wycliffite tradition, and as unsparing as Wycliffe himself of evils in the church wherever he found them. In 1436 he received the thanks of the university of Oxford for his sermons at Easter on the sacrament of the altar and in defence of the authority of holy scripture and of the king's prerogatives. It has been said (Rogers, intr. xix) that on this occasion he was given the ‘special title of “Doctor catholicus;”’ but this statement is unsupported by the register, which is our only evidence on the point: this merely describes Gascoigne as ‘doctorem hunc catholicum’ because he argued ‘egregie et catholice’ (Reg. F. ep. iii., ap. Tanner, l. c.). In the last year of his life he headed the thanksgiving service for the deliverance of Belgrade (22 July 1456), and preached before the university at St. Frideswide's in commemoration of the event (Dict. Theol. i. 111 b). He had his own opinions as to the form according to which sermons ought to be composed, and set it forth once in a discourse preached at St. Martin's in Carfax, Oxford (ib. i. 409 a). Still he expresses in strong terms his repentance for not having preached more frequently than he did (ib. i. 352 a), a self-reproach doubtless influenced by the public discouragement of the practice of preaching on the part of his old Oriel contemporary, Bishop Peacock, of whom he always writes in terms of severe condemnation. Not less significant of the consistent honesty with which he combated the prevailing abuses of pluralities, non-residence, and general neglect of their duties by the clergy of his day (instances may be found in plenty in his ‘Dictionary’), was his refusal of preferment or resignation of any benefice held by him, when he found its tenure incompatible with the due interests of the parishes concerned. The only benefice which he retained, his prebend at Wells, was of the small value of eight marks yearly (ib. ii. 517 a).

Gascoigne died 13 March 1457–8, according to the brass (now destroyed) upon his grave, having made his will on the previous day. The will, which was proved 27 March, is printed in the ‘Munimenta Academica Oxon.’ ii. 671 f. By it Gascoigne devised most of his books to the recently founded monastery of Sion in Middlesex. He had already presented many books to Balliol, Oriel, Lincoln, Durham, and All Souls' Colleges (see Coxe, Catal. index; Rogers, intr. vii). He was buried in the antechapel of New College, possibly through the interest of Bishop Beckington, a former fellow; but the burial there of a member of another college may fairly be taken as evidence of the singular respect in which he was held. The inscription on his brass is given by Wood (Colleges and Halls, p. 207). The Gascoigne coat of arms is described by Thoresby (ubi supra), Thomas's ‘difference’ by Wood (l. c.).

Gascoigne's principal work is his ‘Dictionarium Theologicum,’ written at various times between 1434 and 1457 and preserved in two stout volumes in the library of Lincoln College, Oxford (MSS. 117, 118). Its alternative title is ‘Veritates collectæ ex s. Scriptura et aliorum sanctorum scriptis in modum tabulæ alphabet.,’ and its contents are mainly of a theological or moral interest. But it includes also much of an autobiographical character, and throws great light upon the history and condition of the university of Oxford and the English church in the writer's day. Some extracts from the book have been printed by Mr. J. E. T. Rogers under the title of ‘Loci e Libro Veritatum’ (Oxford, 1881); but the selection by no means exhausts the interest of the work, and the edition unfortunately abounds in errors of transcription. References to the work are here given from the manuscript itself. Extracts from the ‘Dictionary’ occur in several manuscripts, e.g. in the British Museum in the Cottonian MS. Vitellius C. ix., and the Harleian MS. 6949; and portions of it are sometimes cited as distinct works, e.g. ‘Septem Flumina Babyloniæ,’ ‘Veritates ex Scripturis’ (Tanner, l. c.).

Gascoigne also wrote a brief life of St. Jerome, of which Leland saw a copy in the library of Oseney Abbey (Collect. iii. 56, p. 57, ed. Hearne). This is perhaps the same with the compilation bearing Gascoigne's name, and occupying four leaves of the manuscript in Magdalen College, Oxford (93, f. 199; Coxe, Catal. Magd. Coll. 51). He also translated into English a life of St. Bridget of Sweden for the edification of the sisters of Sion (Loci, p. 140). This is probably the life of St. Bridget which was printed without any author's name by Pynson in 1516, and has been re-edited by J. H. Blunt in his introduction to the ‘Myroure of our Ladye,’ pp. xlvii–lix (Early English Text Society, Extra Series, 1873). The ‘Myroure’ itself, a devotional treatise written for the use of the convent of Sion, is conjectured by the editor to be also the work of Gascoigne. It was printed by R. Fawkes in 1530, but of this edition only a few imperfect copies are known to exist. The lives of St. Bridget's daughter Katharine and of her confessor, which occur in the Digby MS. 172, ff. 25–53, have been assigned to Gascoigne (Tanner, l.c.) by an error, since the manuscript is expressly stated not to be his composition, though it contains some notes by him. Possibly these notes are identical with the ‘Annotata quædam de s. Brigitta et miraculis eius,’ of which a copy existed in the lost Cottonian manuscript Otho A. xiv. A volume in the Bodleian Library (Auct. D. 4. 5) contains a Latin psalter with notes by Gascoigne, and a Hebrew psalter (now bound separately and known as Bodl. Or. 621) has some glosses in his handwriting and his signature dated 1432. In the blank leaves at the end of the Latin psalter are several historical memoranda (ff. 99–107), one giving an account (unfortunately imperfect and not in his handwriting, but corrected with additions by him) of the condemnation and beheading of Archbishop Scrope, which is of the highest value, since it is probably the source from which the current narratives are derived. These memoranda are printed by Mr. Rogers (pp. 225–32). The following works are also attributed to Gascoigne: ‘Epistola cuidam S. T. D. de rebus gestis in concilio Florentino’ (Trin. Coll. Cambr., MS. 301, in Catal. Codd. MSS. Angl. ii. 96, 1697), ‘Tractatus de indulgentiis ex compilatione doctoris Gascoyn’ (unless this be the work of John Gascoigne [q. v.]), ‘Ordinariæ Lectiones,’ and ‘Sermones Evangeliorum.’

[Gascoigne himself supplies most of the data for his biography in the Dictionarium Theologicum, and in notes written in manuscripts once belonging to him. One of these, at the end of the Bodleian manuscript 198, is printed by Mr. Rogers (p. 232); another at the end of the Magdalen College, Oxford, MS. 103, by Coxe, Catalogue of Oxford Manuscripts, Magd. Coll. 55. The remaining materials are chiefly found in the university registers (printed in the Munimenta Academica Oxon. ii.) and in Anthony à Wood and Tanner.]

R. L. P.