Croke, Richard (DNB00)

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CROKE or CROCUS, RICHARD (1489?–1558), Greek scholar and diplomatist, is claimed by Sir Alexander Croke to have been a member of the Oxfordshire family of Blount, alias Croke, the son of Richard Blount, alias Croke, of Easington, Buckinghamshire, by his wife Alice, and thus brother of John Croke (d. 1554) [q. v.] But this identification is rendered very doubtful by the facts that Croke is invariably described in the matriculation registers of the universities at which he studied as ‘Londinensis,’ and that the only relative mentioned by him in his will or elsewhere is a brother, Robert Croke of Water Orton, Warwickshire, who is not known in the genealogy of the Oxfordshire family. There can be no doubt that he was a native of London, and his parentage must be left uncertain. In 1555 he described himself as sixty-six years old; hence he was born in 1489. He was educated at Eton, and was admitted a scholar of King's College, Cambridge, 4 April 1506. After proceeding B.A. in 1509–10 he went to Oxford, to study Greek under Grocyn, and thence to Paris, about 1513, to attend the lectures of Hieronymus Aleander. Gulielmus Budæus made Croke's acquaintance at Paris, and addressed to him a letter in Greek (Budæi Epistolæ, Basil, 1521, p. 168). Croke suffered much from poverty, and Erasmus, who was impressed by Croke's scholarship, asked Colet to aid him from any fund at his disposal for the support of poor scholars. Colet declined assistance, and repudiated the suggestion that he had command of such a fund with needless warmth. Croke declared that his relatives had deprived him of his patrimony, and Archbishop Warham was understood to contribute towards the expenses of his education. On leaving Paris, about 1514, Croke visited many other universities. His great knowledge of Greek made him welcome to learned men, and he claimed to be the first to lecture publicly on the language at Louvain, Cologne, and Leipzig. At Louvain he did not remain long enough to make a reputation. At Cologne he distinguished himself as a successful teacher of Greek, and just before leaving the town (20 March 1515) matriculated at the university. In the register he is described as ‘Magister Richardus Croce angelicus, dioc. lundenen. professor literarum grecarum.’ In the summer semester following Croke was established as Greek lecturer at Leipzig. He matriculated at the university in the course of the term, and is described in the register as ‘Magister Richardus Crocus Britannus Londoniensis, equestris ordinis, qui Græcas professus fuit literas.’ Although not the first, as he himself asserted, to teach Greek at Leipzig, he was the first to lecture on it with conspicuous success. He devoted most of his energies to instruction in grammar; but he also lectured on Plutarch, and his works prove a wide acquaintance with Greek literature. His pupils, among whom was Camerarius, wrote with enthusiasm of his crowded classes. However inconvenient the hour or place, his lecture-room was filled to overflowing. ‘Croke is the great man at Leipzig,’ wrote Erasmus to Linacre in June 1516. Almost all the German scholars of the day corresponded with him, and among his acquaintances were Reuchlin and Hutten. Mutianus described to Reuchlin a visit paid him by Croke, and added that he was more Greek than English, and read Theocritus charmingly, but knew no Hebrew. The Leipzig faculty of arts, at the desire of George, duke of Saxony, one of Croke's patrons, made him a present of ten guilders, and when the duke visited Leipzig the faculty petitioned him to confer a stipend of a hundred guilders on Croke. No immediate reply was made, and the university of Prague invited him to fill their Greek chair at the same salary. But the Leipzig authorities entreated him to stay, and on 12 March fifteen masters of arts of Leipzig repeated their request to the duke for adequate emolument (printed in Codex Dipl. Saxon. Reg. pt. ii. xi. 406). Croke wrote with satisfaction of the generosity with which the university authorities and the duke treated him, but it is not known whether any fixed stipend was granted him. While in Leipzig Croke published two important philological works. The first was an edition of Ausonius (1515), with an ‘Achademie Lipsensis Encomium Congratulatorium’ prefixed; the second was ‘Tabulæ Græcas literas compendio discere cupientibus sane quam necessariæ’ (1516), dedicated to the university, together with two Latin poems addressed to Mutianus. In 1516 Croke also issued a translation of the fourth book of Theodore Gaza's ‘Greek Grammar,’ with a dedication to the Archbishop of Magdeburg and Mainz, where he promises, at the request of Thomas More, to translate the three preceding books. The Leipzig authorities granted Croke copyright in these publications for five years. He returned to England in 1517, when he proceeded M.A. at Cambridge, and his pupil, P. Mosellanus, whom Croke in vain invited to settle in England, took his place at Leipzig as teacher of Greek. The statement that Croke also taught at Dresden rests on a misconception.

Croke's reputation as a scholar was of service to him in England. He was employed to teach the king Greek, and in 1518 began reading public Greek lectures at Cambridge—an appointment on which Erasmus wrote to congratulate him. On 23 April 1519 he was ordained priest, and in two orations delivered before the university about the same time exhorted his hearers to devote all their energies to confirming their knowledge of Greek. A translation of the greater part of the first speech appears in Mr. J. Bass Mullinger's ‘History of Cambridge University,’ i. 529 et seq. In 1522 Croke was elected the first public orator at Cambridge, and held the office till 1528. He was fellow of St. John's College in 1523, and received a salary from Bishop Fisher for reading a Greek lecture there. He proceeded D.D. in 1524, and became tutor to the king's natural son, the Duke of Richmond, who lived with him at King's College. Archbishop Warham, More, Grocyn, and Linacre offered him a higher salary to induce him to settle at Oxford; but Fisher persuaded him to remain at Cambridge. Early in 1529, when the senate decreed an annual service to commemorate Fisher's benefactions to the university and to St. John's College, Croke protested that it was imprudent to honour Fisher as the founder of St. John's, a title which belonged only to Lady Margaret [see Beaufort, Margaret]. Fisher wrote to Croke denying that he had set up any such claim (Hymers, Documents, 210–16), and Baker, the Cambridge antiquary, who is followed by Cole, denounces Croke for his attitude in this business, as ‘an ambitious, envious, and discontented wretch’ (Baker, St. John's College, i. 97). But Croke's reputation was not injured at the time. In November 1529 he was sent, at the suggestion of Cranmer, to Italy to collect the opinion of Italian canonists respecting the king's divorce. He visited Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Ferrara, and Rome; at times assumed the name of Johannes Flandrensis; conferred with Jewish rabbis as well as with catholic divines; made copious transcripts from manuscript copies of the fathers in the library of St. Mark at Venice, and sought to become a penitentiary priest at Rome, in order to consult documents the more readily. He corresponded with Cranmer; repeatedly complained of the delay in sending remittances, and wrote to Henry VIII from Venice, 22 June 1530, that he feared assassination. Croke reported that out of Rome Italian opinion on the canonical question favoured the divorce, but that there was little inclination to discredit the pope's authority. He solemnly asserted that he never bought opinion, but admitted that he was as liberal as his means allowed in rewarding those who expressed themselves as he desired. His extant accounts show him to have paid sums to all manner of persons. In 1531 he was deputy vice-chancellor of Cambridge University; on 12 Jan. 1530–1 was presented by the crown to the rectory of Long Buckby, Northamptonshire; was incorporated D.D. at Oxford (1532); and became canon (18 July 1532) and sub-dean of Cardinal's or King's College, afterwards Christ Church. On the death of John Higden, dean of the college, in 1533, the canons petitioned Thomas Cromwell to appoint Croke to the vacant office; but the request was not complied with, although Croke assured the minister that he had preached sixty sermons in thirty-seven different places in favour of the king's supremacy. In 1545, when the King's College was transformed into the cathedral of Oxford diocese, Croke was not readmitted canon of the new foundation, but received a pension of 26l. 13s. 4d. He retired to Exeter College, and lived there in 1545. He was present at the public disputation on the sacrament, in which Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer were forced to take part, in April 1554, and was the first witness examined at Cranmer's trial at Oxford (September 1555), when he testified to the archbishop's heresy. His evidence in Latin is printed in Strype's ‘Cranmer’ (1854), iii. 548 et seq. He died in London in August 1558. A nuncupative will, dated 22 Aug. 1558, was proved a week later by his brother, Robert Croke of Water Orton, Warwickshire, an executor. He is described in the will as ‘parson of Long Buckby.’

The three works published by Croke at Leipzig—the edition of ‘Ausonius’ (1515), the ‘Tabulæ’ (1516), and the translation from Theodore Gaza—were printed by Valentin Schuman. In the ‘Ausonius’ the Greek characters appear without accents, breathings, or iota subscript. In the two later books accents and breathings are inserted. A second edition of the ‘Tabulæ,’ edited by Croke's pupil, Philip Neumann (Philippus Nouenianus), appeared in 1521. The ‘Encomium’ on Leipzig University prefixed to the ‘Ausonius’ has been reprinted in J. G. Boehme's ‘Opuscula Acad. Lips.’ Croke also published in a single volume (Paris, by Simon Colinæus, 1520) ‘Oratio de Græcarum disciplinarum laudibus’ and ‘Oratio qua Cantabrigienses est hortatus ne Græcarum literarum desertores essent.’ A Latin translation of Chrysostom's Greek Commentary is also ascribed to him. A volume entitled ‘Richardi Croci Britannici introductiones in rudimenta Græca’ appeared at Cologne in 1520, dedicated to Archbishop Warham. A copy of this book, no copy of which is in the British Museum, was recently discovered in Lincoln Cathedral Library. Croke contributed a Latin poem to Hieronymus de Ochsenfurt's ‘Reprobatio Orationis excusatoriæ picardorum.’ Leland denounces Croke as a slanderer (Collectanea, v. 161). In the Cottonian Library is Croke's ‘Letter Book’ while in Italy (Cotton MS. Vitell. B. 13), and many of his letters relating to his mission respecting the divorce are calendared in the ‘Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.’

[An admirable notice of Croke's career in Germany was contributed by Mr. Hermann Hager to the Transactions of the Cambridge Philological Society (1883), ii. 83–94. See also art. by Professor Horawitz in Deutsche Allgemeine Biographie; Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. i. 177–9; Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Hist. of Henry VIII; Burnet's Hist. of Reformation, ed. Pocock; Strype's Cranmer; J. Bass Mullinger's Hist. of Camb. Univ. i. 527–39, 615; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), i. 259–60; Henry VIII's Letters and Papers, ed. Brewer and Gairdner; Harwood's Alumni Etonenses.]

S. L. L.