Savile, Henry (1549-1622) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 50
Savile, Henry (1549-1622)

by William Carr
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle Thomas Savile (d. 1593).

SAVILE, Sir HENRY (1549–1622), scholar, son of Henry Savile and Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Ramsden, was born at Bradley, near Halifax, on 30 Nov. 1549. His father was the second son of John Savile of Newhall, the representative of a younger branch of the Saviles of Methley (St. George's Visitation of Yorkshire, Surtees Soc. lxiii. 571). Sir John Savile (1545–1607) [q. v.] was his elder brother. Savile was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he matriculated about 1561 (Wood, Hist. of Oxford, ii. 152). He was elected fellow of Merton College in 1565, and graduated B.A. in January 1566. On taking his M.A. degree on 30 May 1570 he read ‘his ordinaries in the Almagest of Ptolemy,’ thereby establishing some reputation as a mathematician and a Greek scholar. For a time he gave voluntary lectures in mathematics, and in 1575 was elected junior proctor, an office which he held for two years. In 1578 he travelled on the continent, where he made the acquaintance of the most eminent scholars of his time, and collected a number of manuscripts. He is also said to have acted for a brief period as resident for the queen in the Low Countries (Wotton, English Baronetage, i. 60). On his return he was made tutor in Greek to the queen (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, ii. 310), and in 1585 he was elected warden of Merton College. There was another candidate in the field, but the influence of Lord Burghley was exercised on behalf of Savile. Both Burghley and Walsingham signed a letter, which they addressed to the fellows on 28 Feb. 1585, urging his appointment (Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College, p. 61), and he was elected unanimously. The choice of the society was justified by Savile's conduct as warden. He was an autocratic ruler, but under his rule Merton College enjoyed a period of prosperity; in 1589 the whole north wing of the college was rebuilt from the gate to the warden's lodging, and in 1608 the fellows' quadrangle was begun, and completed by September 1610. Savile selected with great judgment men of learning as fellows, and thus conspicuously improved the position of his college.

In 1591 Savile's translation of four books of the ‘Histories’ of Tacitus appeared. The book was dedicated to the queen, and the notes and a commentary on the history of Roman warfare served to confirm the author's growing reputation as a man of learning. Six editions appeared during the next fifty years, and the work won its author a compliment in verse from Ben Jonson.

On the occasion of the royal visit to Oxford in September 1592, Savile and the fellows of Merton entertained the queen and all the privy council to a banquet, and Savile was chosen to sum up the university disputation provided for the amusement of the sovereign (‘Oratio habita Oxonii anno 1592 23 Sept. coram regina Elizabetha’).

In 1595 Savile applied for the grant of the provostship of Eton. Considerable difficulties stood between him and the preferment, not the least being that the Eton statutes provided that the provost should be a priest. Savile, however, secured the support of the Earl of Essex, with whom he was on terms of friendship. So energetically did Savile press his suit at court that early in 1595 the queen nominated him to be secretary of the Latin tongue, and to hold the deanery of Carlisle in commendam, ‘in order to stop his mouth from importuning her any more for the provostship of Eton’ (Anth. Bacon to Hawkyns, 5 March 1595). But Savile was undaunted, and he besought the influence of Lord Burghley, also appealing to Burghley's sister-in-law, Lady Russell (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 196), and to Burghley's son, Sir Robert Cecil (Cal. of MSS. of Marquis of Salisbury, iv. 189). When the queen was urged to maintain the ancient statutes of Eton College, Savile asserted that ‘the queen has always the right of dispensing with statutes’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 29 April 1595). His arguments prevailed, and the provostship was bestowed on him on 26 May 1596, ‘any statute, act, or canon to the contrary notwithstanding.’ He retained the wardenship of Merton, and introduced at Eton the severe régime which he had inaugurated at Oxford. Aubrey informs us that while at Eton he could not abide ‘witts.’ ‘When a young scholar was recommended to him for a good wit, he declared “Out upon him … give me the plodding student. If I would look for witts I would go to Newgate, there be the witts”’ (Aubrey, Lives of Eminent Men, II. ii. 525). That Savile approved in any way of Essex's rising is improbable; but his connection with Cuffe, Essex's secretary, whom he had made a fellow of Merton, and who left him a sum of money in his will (Camden Soc. Publ. lxxviii. 91), and his friendship with the unfortunate earl were sufficient to make him an object of suspicion. Accordingly in February 1601 he was for a short time in private custody (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 24 Feb. 1601). After the execution of his father the young Lord Essex was entrusted to Savile's charge at Eton, and subsequently seems to have been treated with great deference at Merton, being specially allowed one of the rooms in the warden's lodging.

Savile's relations with Essex, and his ability as a scholar, secured him the favour of King James, by whom he was knighted after a banquet given to the king at Eton on 30 Sept. 1604 (Winwood, Memorials, ii. 33). He is said to have declined offers of further preferment by James in either church or state (English Baronetage, i. 60). Though in favour at court, he was sufficiently independent to run the risk of giving offence by his refusal to sanction at Merton the sermon ordered to be preached every Tuesday by members of each college in commemoration of the king's escape from the plot against his life (known as the Gowrie plot) in Scotland (Mem. Merton Coll. p. 70). He was appointed to correct the Latin translation of the king's ‘Apology for the Oath of Allegiance’ (Cal. State Papers 27 April 1609), and was among the scholars commissioned to prepare the authorised translation of the bible; portions of the Evangelists, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation fell to his share.

The loss of his only son in 1604 was probably one of the causes which induced Savile from that time onward to devote the greater part of his fortune to the advancement of learning. He had long contemplated an edition of St. Chrysostom, and had visited for the purpose all the public and private libraries in Great Britain (Preface to the St. Chrysostom, vol. viii.). Through agents in the various capitals of Europe and the intervention, on their behalf, of the English ambassadors, Savile now collated all known editions and obtained examinations of the best manuscripts. He also received assistance from Greek scholars abroad (Preface, vol. viii.), and gathered round him at Eton men of learning like Richard Montagu, Hall, Boys, Carleton, and Allen. After making an attempt, but failing, to secure the Royal French type for the work (M. Pattison, Life of Casaubon, p. 231), he purchased a special fount from Holland, engaged John Norton, the king's printer, for the task, and himself supervised the whole of the printing at Eton [see under Norton, William]. The first volume of the great work was published in 1610; it was completed in eight volumes folio in 1613. Its preparation is said to have cost Savile 8,000l., the paper alone costing 2,000l. The sumptuous undertaking was the first work of learning on a great scale published in England (Hallam, Hist. of Lit. of Europe, iii. 10). Casaubon (in ‘Epist. ad D. Hoeschelium’) speaks of it as prepared ‘privatâ impensâ animo regio.’ There seems to have been considerable difficulty in disposing of the thousand copies. The price was at first fixed at 9l., subsequently at 8l. (Savile to Carleton, 26 Feb. 1613, Cal. State Papers, Dom.), but after Savile's death a few copies in the possession of Eton College were sold for 3l. Through Dudley Carleton, who was the son-in-law of Savile's wife, presentation copies were given to the Signory of Venice and to the states of Holland, and through the same agency copies were sold abroad. Savile, however, writing to Carleton, 13 March 1615, laments that the ‘market for the Chrysostom is so down’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom.). The sale of the work is said to have been greatly interfered with by the publication in Paris, two years later, of a similar edition by Fronton Du Duc, with a Latin translation attached; the Latin text, according to Fuller, was derived from proof-sheets of Savile's work, which had been secured by fraud. But though Savile's text appears to have been employed, there is no evidence that it was fraudulently obtained (Brunet, Manuel du Libraire, iii. 535). In 1613 Savile continued the work of his printing press at Eton by editing Xenophon's ‘Cyropædia,’ and in 1618 he published for the first time, at the request of Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine's ‘De Causa Dei contra Pelagium.’

Savile had always been a close friend of Bodley (Bodley's will quoted in Macray's Annals of the Bodleian, p. 407), and assisted the latter in the foundation of his library (Wood, Hist. of Oxford, iii. 928). Possibly stimulated by Bodley's munificence, he founded the two professorships which still bear his name in the university of Oxford. In the preamble of the deed of foundation (dated 1619) it is said that geometry is almost totally unknown and abandoned in England, and it was to remedy this evil that Savile established the two Savilian chairs of geometry and astronomy open to mathematicians from any part of Christendom. The professorships were each endowed with 150l. per annum, a mathematical library established for their use, and a mathematical chest furnished with 100l. Savile himself gave in act week 1620 (ib. ii. 334) the first lectures in geometry, which were published in 1621, together with some of his earlier mathematical lectures. When Camden was on the point of founding his professorship at Oxford, Savile wrote (25 Oct. 1621) offering him the advice of one ‘who had trod the paths before him and knew the rubbs in such a business to his great pains and charge;’ he subsequently advised him very strongly to follow his example in bequeathing books for the use of his readers (Gul. Camdeni et illustrium virorum Epistolæ, ed. Thomas Smith, 1691, pp. 314, 315).

Savile died at Eton on 19 Feb. 1622, having returned thither ‘resigned for death’ a few days previously (Chamberlain to Carleton, 16 Feb. 1622, Cal. State Papers, Dom.); he was buried at Eton ‘by torchlight to save expense, though he left 200l. for his funeral’ (1 April 1622, Cal. State Papers, Dom.). Monuments were erected to his memory both at Eton College and in Merton College Chapel, and are still in existence; and a public oration was made in his honour before the university of Oxford, in the divinity school, by Thomas Goffe (‘Ultima linea Savilii,’ Oxon. 1622).

Savile was the most learned Englishman in profane literature of the reign of Elizabeth (Hallam, Lit. Hist. of Europe, ii. 62). Richard Montagu [q. v.] speaks of him as ‘the magasine of all learning’ (preface to Diatribæ, 1621, p. 126) and ‘ad miraculum eruditus.’ Joseph Scaliger calls him ‘Savillius vir doctissimus’ (Epist. 232).

In appearance Savile is said to have been tall and ‘an extraordinary handsome man, no lady having a finer complexion’ (Aubrey, Lives of Eminent Men, II. ii.). There is a full-length portrait of him at Eton, and another full-length portrait, painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger [q. v.], in the university gallery, Oxford, presented by his wife in 1621.

About 1592 Savile married Margaret, daughter of George Dacres of Cheshunt, and widow of George, second son of Sir William Gerrard of Dorney, Buckinghamshire (Clutterbuck, Hist. of Hertfordshire, ii. 101). The lady possessed a considerable fortune (Hatfield MSS. 27 July 1595). She survived him with an only daughter, Elizabeth, who married, in 1613, the son of Sir William Sedley; Waller wrote on her death:

    Here lies the learned Savile's heir,
    So early wise and lasting fair,
    That none, except her years they told,
    Thought her a child or thought her old.

She was the mother of Sir Charles Sedley [q. v.] (Aubrey, II. ii.).

Savile wrote or edited the following works: 1. ‘The Ende of Nero and Beginning of Galba. Fower books of the Histories of C. Tacitus,’ &c., 1591, fol. The notes to this edition were translated by Isaac Gruter and published, Amsterdam, 1649. 2. ‘A View of certain Military Matters, or Commentaries concerning Roman Warfare,’ which first appeared in the 1591 edition of the translation of Tacitus, was subsequently translated into Latin by Freherus, and printed separately, 1601. 3. ‘Report of the wages paid to the Ancient Roman Soldiers, their vittayling and apparrel, in a letter to Lord Burleigh,’ 1595 (Somers Tracts, vol. ii.) 4to. 4. ‘Rerum Anglicarum Scriptores post Bedam præcipui … primum in lucem editi,’ fol. 1596; published also at Frankfurt in 1601. ‘This edition is full of errors, amounting at times to downright unintelligibility’ (Preface to Will. Malm. ed. Rolls Ser.). In it appears the chronicle of the pseudo-Ingulph with the addition of the forged passage which makes Ingulph a student at Oxford in the twelfth century (Parker, Early History of Oxford, Oxf. Hist. Soc. p. 389; Archæological Journal, xix. 43). 6. ‘Sancti Gregorii … in Julianum invectivæ duæ,’ 1610, 4to. 7. ‘S. Johannis Chrysostomi Opera, Græce,’ fol. 8 vols. 1610–13. 8. ‘Ξενόφωτος Κυρόυ παιδείας βιβιίαη: Xenophontis de Cyri Institutione libri octo,’ 4to, 1613. 9. ‘Thomæ Bradwardini Arch. olim Cantuariensis de causa Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum ad suos Mertonenses, libri tres ex scriptis codicibus nunc primum editi,’ fol., 1618. 10. ‘Prælectiones tresdecim in principium elementorum Euclidis,’ 4to, 1621. 11. Six letters written to Hugo Blotius, published in ‘Lambecius Bibliotheca,’ vol. iii. He also left several unpublished manuscripts which are now in the Bodleian Library. These include: 1. Orations (Bodl. MS. 3499, art. 18). 2. Tract of the original of the monasteries (ib. art. 17). 3. Tract concerning the union of England and Scotland, written at the command of the king (ib. art. 22).

Savile must be distinguished from Henry Savile (1570?–1617), fourth son of Thomas Savile of Banke, Yorkshire, who matriculated from Merton College on 11 Oct. 1588, graduated B.A. on 30 May 1592 and M.A. from St. Alban Hall on 30 June 1595, and was licensed to practise medicine on 28 Nov. 1601. According to Wood (Athenæ Oxon. ii. 201), he was known as ‘Long Harry,’ was an eminent scholar, especially in ‘painting, heraldry, and antiquities,’ and furnished Camden with the famous forged addition to Asser on which was based the myth of the foundation of Oxford by King Alfred (Parker, Early Hist. of Oxford, Oxf. Hist. Soc., who, however, assumes that ‘Long Harry’ and Sir Henry Savile were the same person). He died on 29 April 1617, and was buried in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London; a copy of his epitaph belonged to Wood (Bernard, Cat. MSS. Angliæ, p. 232). There was another contemporary Henry Savile, captain of H.M.S. Adventure in 1596, who wrote ‘A Libell of Spanish Lies, found at the Sack of Cales … with an “Answer by H. Savile”’ (London, 1596, 4to; reprinted in Hakluyt's ‘Principal Navigations,’ 1600, vol. iii.).

Sir Henry's younger brother, Thomas Savile (d. 1593), graduated B.A. from Merton College on 14 March 1579–80, M.A. on 18 Jan. 1584–5, was elected fellow of Merton in 1580, and proctor in 1592. He was learned in British antiquities, and fifteen of his letters to Camden on the subject (written between 1580 and 1582) are printed in ‘Camdeni et Ill. Virorum Epistolæ’ (1691, pp. 4–26). He took part in the ceremonials attending the queen's visit to Oxford during 1592, his year of office as proctor, and died before his term expired, being accorded a public funeral. He was buried in Merton College Chapel on 12 Jan. 1592–3. Richard Montagu [q. v.] mentions him as one of England's most learned men (Diatribæ, 1621, Pref. p. 126; cf. Tanner MS. 27, f. 142). He was not fellow of Eton College, and has been confused by Harwood (Alumni, p. 63) and others with the Thomas Savile who graduated B.A. from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1595–6, and M.A. in 1604, and was elected fellow of Eton College on 17 April 1613; he was apparently author of: 1. ‘The Prisoner's Conference,’ 1605, 8vo. 2. ‘The Raising of the Fallen,’ 1606, 4to (Brit. Mus.) (cf. Camdeni Epistolæ, esp. pp. 3, 22; Clark, Reg. Univ. Oxon.; Brodrick, Mem. of Merton; Cooper, Athenæ Cant. ii. 447).

[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library; Maxwell-Lyte's Hist. of Eton Coll.; Beloe's Literary Anecdotes, vol. v.; Watson's Halifax; Aubrey's Lives of Eminent Men; Owen's Epigrams, 3rd ser. ii. 33; Birch's Queen Elizabeth; Cat. of British Museum and Bodleian Libraries; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714, and Yorkshire Pedigrees; Bernard's Cat. MSS. Angliæ; Rawlinson's MSS. passim authorities quoted in text.]

W. C.-r.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.241
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
368 i 10f.e. Savile, Sir Henry: for Patterson read Pattison