Gibbon, John (DNB00)

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GIBBON, JOHN (1629–1718), writer on heraldry, eldest son of Robert Gibbon, draper, of London, fourth son of Robert Gibbon of Rolvenden, Kent, by his wife Mary, daughter of Lionel Edgar of Framsden, Suffolk (Visitation of London, 1633–5 (Harl. Soc.) i. 310), was born on 3 Nov. 1629. He was brother of Edward Gibbon's great-grandfather, Matthew Gibbon. On 11 Dec. 1639 he was admitted a pupil of Merchant Taylors' School (Robinson, Register, i. 145), whence he proceeded to Jesus College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree. On his father's death in 1643 he inherited, as he tells us, an estate in Kent, but, being mostly marsh land, it was never worth very much to him (Day Fatality}. In another of his works he celebrates the 'retired content' which he enjoyed at Allesborough in Worcestershire, in the house of Thomas, lord Coventry, where he was employed as a 'servant' or domestic tutor (Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam, p. 19). Gibbon visited Europe as a soldier and a traveller, acquired good knowledge of French and Spanish, passed some time ‘very happily’ in Jersey, crossed the Atlantic, and resided ‘a great part of anno 1659 till February the year following … in Virginia, being most hospitably entertained by the Honourable Colonel Rich. Lee, sometimes secretary of state there’ (ib. pp. 155, 156). In Virginia his passion for heraldry found gratification at a war-dance of the native Indians. Their little shields of bark and their naked bodies were painted with the colours and symbols of his favourite science, showing ‘that heraldry was ingrafted naturally into the sense of humane race’ (ib. pp. 156–7). Gibbon returned home after the Restoration, and on 9 Feb. 1664–5 took up his abode in the house belonging to the senior brother in St. Katharine's Hospital, near the Tower, where he resided till 11 May 1701 (Stowe, Survey, ed. Strype, 1720, bk. i. p. 204). He received a patent for the office of Blue Mantle pursuivant at arms on 10 Feb. 1668, through the influence of Sir William Dugdale, then Norroy, but was not actually created such until 25 May 1671 (Noble, Hist. of College of Arms, p. 293), when, as he relates, ‘it was my hard hap to become a member of the Heralds Office when the ceremony of funerals (as accompanied with officers of arms) began to be in the wane. … In eleven years time I have had but five turns,’ which out of gratitude he commemorates at length (Introductio, &c., p. 161). He never received further promotion, as he injured himself by his arrogance towards his less learned superiors in the college, whose shortcomings he had an unpleasant habit of registering in the margins of the library books, which he also filled with calculations of his own nativity. He firmly believed his destiny so fixed by the stars which presided at his birth that good or ill behaviour could never alter it (Noble, ut supra, p. 363). Among his friends, however, he could number Dugdale, Ashmole, Dr. John Betts, and Dr. Nehemiah Grew, ‘and in the society of such men,’ remarks Edward Gibbon, ‘he may be recorded without disgrace as the member of an astrological club’ (Autobiography). In religion and politics he was a high tory. In the latter end of the reign of Charles II he wrote in the support of the Duke of York. Upon James's return from Flanders in 1679 he published a little essay entitled ‘Dux bonis omnibus appellens, or The Swans Welcome.’ Another whimsical piece was ‘Day Fatality; or, some Observations of Days lucky and unlucky; concluding with some Remarks upon the fourteenth of October, the auspicious Birth- day of his Royal Highness James, Duke of York,’ fol. [London], 1678, and again in 1679. It was reprinted by Aubrey in his ‘Miscellanies,’ with additions at the end by himself, and in vol. viii. of the quarto editions of the ‘Harleian Miscellany.’ In 1686 appeared a ‘second impression, with … additions. To which is added, Prince-Protecting Providences and the Swans Welcome. All by an Officer at Arms, author of a book, Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam,’ 2 pts. fol. Gibbon's other political writings are: 1. ‘A Touch of the Times; or, two letters casually intercepted’ [London, 1679], against Henry Care [q. v.], author of the ‘Weekly Packet of Advice from Rome.’ 2. ‘Unio Dissidentium. Heir apparent and presumptive made one. By J. G., B.M.,’ fol. [London? 1680?]. 3. ‘Edovardus Confessor redivivus … in the sacred Majesty of King James the II.; being a Relation of the admirable and unexpected finding of a sacred relique of that pious prince, … since worn sometimes by his present majesty’ [anon.], 4to, London, 1688. At page 157 of his ‘Introductio’ Gibbon makes humorous reference to his antagonist, ‘little Mr. Harry Care,’ whose arguments he had ridiculed in a pamphlet called ‘Flagellum Mercurii Antiducalis.’ The triumph of the whigs proved a lasting check to Gibbon's preferment, and he was suspended from his office until he could bring himself to take the oath of allegiance.

Among his contemporaries Gibbon's reputation as a writer on heraldry and genealogy ranked deservedly high. In 1682 he published at London his ‘Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam. An Essay towards a more correct Blason in Latine than formerly hath been used,’ 8vo, ‘an original attempt, which Camden had desiderated, to define, in a Roman idiom, the terms and attributes of a Gothic institution. His manner is quaint and affected; his order is confused; but he displays some wit, more reading, and still more enthusiasm. An English text is perpetually interspersed with Latin sentences in prose and verse; but in his own poetry he claims an exemption from the laws of prosody’ (Edward Gibbon, Autobiography). He also compiled from British and foreign authorities an elaborate account of the important services rendered by heralds in former times, which compilation, named by him ‘Heraldo-Memoriale,’ he communicated to Strype for insertion in an abridged form in the latter's edition of Stow's ‘Survey,’ 1720 (bk. i. pp. 143–5). He was able to render Strype other aid (ib. bk. i. p. 204, bk. ii. pp. 7, 8). Three of his letters occur in the ‘Strype Correspondence’ in the University Library, Cambridge (Cat. of MSS. v. 148).

Gibbon died in the parish of St. Faith, London, on 2 Aug. 1718 (affidavit appended to will registered in P. C. C. 160, Tenison), and was buried on the 6th in the church of St. Mary Aldermary (Registers of St. Mary Aldermary, Harl. Soc. p. 215). His wife, Susannah, had been buried in the same church on 24 Aug. 1704 (ib. p. 208).

[Addit. MS. 5870, f. 78; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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