Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torkington, Richard
TORKINGTON, Sir RICHARD (fl. 1517), English priest and pilgrim, was presented in 1511 to the rectory of Mulberton in Norfolk by Sir Thomas Boleyn (afterwards Earl of Wiltshire), father of Anne Boleyn. In 1517 he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and of his journey he has left an account. He started from Rye in Sussex on 20 March 1517, passed through Dieppe, Paris, Lyons, and St. Jean de Maurienne, crossed the Mont Cenis into Italy, and, after some stay in Turin, Milan, and Pavia, reached Venice on 29 April. Here he embarked for Syria on 14 June, after witnessing the ‘marriage of the Adriatic’ and observing the activity of the Venetian arsenal in the building of new ships. Twenty-three new galleys were then being constructed; more than a thousand workmen were employed upon these, and a hundred hands were busy at ropemaking alone. The Venetian artillery, both naval and military, Torkington describes as formidable. Torkington's voyage from Venice to Jaffa was by way of Corfu, Zante, Cerigo, and Crete. He sighted Palestine on 11 July, and landed (at Jaffa) on the 15th; reached Jerusalem on the 19th, and stayed there till the 27th. He was lodged in the Hospital of St. James on Mount Sion, and visited all the places of Christian interest in or near the holy city, including Bethlehem. His return to England was more troubled than his outward passage. He was detained a month in Cyprus; was left behind ill at Rhodes, where he had to stay six weeks; had a stormy voyage from Rhodes to South Italy, and, though he left Jaffa on 31 July 1517, did not reach Dover till 17 April 1518. He considered his pilgrimage ended at the shrine of St. Thomas in Canterbury, and reckoned that it took him a year, five weeks, and three days. While sick in Rhodes (September-October 1517) he was under the care of the knights of St. John, who were soon after driven out by the Turks (1522). In Corfu (February 1517) he witnessed a Jewish wedding, which he describes; and in Lower Italy he visited Messina, Reggio, Salerno, Naples, and Rome, making his way back to his own country by Calais and the Straits of Dover. He complains much of Turkish misrule and annoyance in Palestine. His credulity is well up to the average in the matter of relics and sacred sites; thus his book ends with a reference to the ‘Dome of the Rock’ as the veritable Temple of Herod. In Pavia he saw the tomb of Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III, whose remains were afterwards moved to England.
His account remained in manuscript till 1883. There are two extant transcripts of the original in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 28561 and 28562); the former is of the sixteenth century, the latter was made late in the eighteenth century by Robert Bell Wheler [q. v.] of Stratford-on-Avon, who also described the text in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for October 1812. Torkington's diary was printed in 1883 by W. J. Loftie, with the title of the ‘Oldest Diary of English Travel’ (see also Information for Pilgrims, ed. E. G. Duff). From the ‘Information for Pilgrims’ published in 1498, 1515, and 1524, Torkington apparently copies his description of Crete, including the wrong reference to ‘Acts’ instead of ‘Titus’ for St. Paul's condemnation of the Cretans. His account of the wonders of the Holy Land, of Venice, and the various things seen between Venice and Jaffa agrees almost verbatim with Pynson's edition of Sir Richard Guildforde's ‘Pilgrim Narrative’ (1506–7, printed in 1511), written by Guildforde's chaplain.
[Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 28561, 28562; Loftie's edit. of the Oldest Diary of English Travel, 1883.]