Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eyton, Robert William

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EYTON, ROBERT WILLIAM (1815–1881), antiquary, born at the vicarage, Wellington, Shropshire, on 21 Dec. 1815, was the third son of the Rev. John Eyton, a cadet of the Eytons of Eyton. His mother was an heiress of the Plowdens of Plowden. He was educated first at Bridgnorth, then at Rugby, under Dr. Arnold, whence he proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford (October 1835), and there graduated with honours in 1839 (M. A. 1845), After taking his degree he entered holy orders, and in 1841 was presented to the rectory of Ryton in Shropshire. During his residence here for twenty-two years he planned and wrote his great work, 'The Antiquities of Shropshire,' which was completed in 1881 and published in forty-eight parts, making twelve octavo volumes. 'He stands alone,' says Mr. Chester Waters, 'in the literary world as a county historian.' His knowledge of the fiscal and judicial systems under the Anglo-Norman kings, and his familiarity with persons and events during two centuries after the Norman conquest, were very remarkable. His researches were mainly confined to this period, and the parochial history of Shropshire is seldom brought down in his work to a later time than the reign of Edward I. Genealogy was one of his strong points, and his memoirs of the families of Le Strange, Mortimer, and De Lacy, in which nothing is admitted without strict proof, placed him at the head of contemporary genealogists. Eyton's style was dry, but always clear and precise. In 1863 he resigned the living of Ryton and removed to the south of England. He sold his library, but soon resumed his studies, verifying and correcting doubtful passages in the 'Antiquities,' applying special knowledge to the subject of English history during the eventful reign of Henry II. In 1878 he published 'The Court, Household, and Itinerary of Henry II.' The writer has collected and arranged in order of date every record of this reign within his knowledge, whether printed or in manuscript, and has appended every charter the names of attesting witnesses, so that the itinerary of the king includes the public life and career of every member of his household, court, and government, with details of every transaction, legal and political, of which any record has been preserved. Eyton's later years were spent in publishing the results of his studies of Domesday Book. In 1877 appeared 'A Key to Domesday: an Analysis and Digest of the Survey of the County of Dorset, 4to. In this book he set forth his belief that the domesday hide of land was a term denoting fiscal value, not superficial quantity. The Dorset volume was followed in 1880 by a similar digest of the 'Survey of Somerset,' in two volumes sm. 4to; in 1881 the same method was applied to the 'Survey of Staffordshire,' in another volume. To the two last-named works was given the common title of 'Domesday Studies.' The four volumes together undoubtedly form a most important contribution to domesday literature.

Eyton's last printed work was a series of notes on Staffordshire records, with special reference to the baronies which are enumerated in the 'Liber Niger.' This paper was written in co-operation with Colonel Wrottesley, and was printed by the Salt Society (i, 146), in which Eyton took a great interest. Although suffering from a most painful complaint, he did not relax from his favourite studies till five weeks before his death. The valuable collection of his manuscript remains, filling some fifty volumes, written in a minute hand, were purchased by the trustees of the British Museum in 1882. They include, among other valuable researches, a digest and analysis of the 'Domesday of Lincolnshire,' in five quarto volumes, with a history of each fief and its successive owners, so far as they can be gathered from the public records. In his manuscript vol. vi. the author examines all the undated charters of the Anglo-Norman kings which have been printed in the 'Monasticon' and the 'Chronicle of Abingdon,' and assigns to each charter its true date. Among his manuscripts are four folios, in which Dugdale's version of the baronage is copied on one side in tabular farm, while the opposite is full of corrections, proofs, and illustrations. He died at Winchfield House, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, on 8 Sept. 1881. He married in 1839 Mary Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James Watts, vicar of Ledbury, by whom he had a family.

[Academy, 1881. pp. 293-4 (by E. Chester Waters); Salt Society, vols, i. ii. ; Shropshire Arch. Soc., vol. x.]

R. H.