Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wakefeld, Robert

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WAKEFELD, ROBERT (d. 1537), oriental scholar, was probably born, like his younger brother, Thomas [q. v.], at Pontefract in Yorkshire. After graduating in arts at Cambridge (1513–14), he went abroad to study oriental languages. A letter of Bishop Fisher (Baker, Hist. of the College of St. John, ed. Mayor, i. 358), assuring him of ‘the emoluments of his college during the space of two years,’ appears to prove that Wakefeld was a member of St. John's College. After teaching in France and Germany, he settled for a short time at Louvain, where he was professor of Hebrew from 1 Aug. to 1 Dec. 1519 (Andreas, Fasti Academici, 1650, p. 283). He was succeeded in that office by another Englishman, Robert Shirwood [q. v.] From Louvain he went to Tübingen, where his teaching was so much appreciated that in 1523, when he was summoned back to England, Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, and the heads of the university, wrote, the one to Henry VIII and the other to the chancellor of Cambridge, to beg that he might be spared to them some time longer. The letters, taken from Wakefeld's ‘Oratio de Laudibus,’ are reprinted in Freytag's ‘Adparatus Literarius’ (iii. 545–9).

On returning home Wakefeld was recommended by Richard Pace [q. v.], dean of St. Paul's, to the king, who appointed him one of his chaplains (Pref. to the Oratio de Laudibus). He also received the degree of B.D. at Cambridge. In 1524 he read lectures on Hebrew in that university. The Cambridge calendar places him at the head of the list of regius professors of Hebrew, with the date 1547; but the one appointed to that office was his brother Thomas (Mullinger, University of Cambridge, ii. 416).

When the question of the king's divorce was being discussed, Wakefeld took an active part in it. In 1526 Pace recommended him to Henry as one specially competent to give an opinion on the subject, and in 1527 Wakefeld himself wrote to the king. He has been unjustly represented as offering to argue on either side, as might be most desirable (Le Grand, quoted in Burnet's Hist. of the Reformation, 1829, vol. iii. pp. xxii–xxiv; Phillips, Life of Reginald Pole, 1767, i. 42). Burnet shows how ungrounded is the imputation. As might be expected from the side he took, he was patronised by the Earl of Wiltshire (the letters relating to these transactions are reprinted in Knight's Erasmus, App. viii.; Letters and Papers, iv. 3232–4).

In 1530 Wakefeld was sent by the king to Oxford, at the request of that university, to teach Hebrew, and delivered an address on the subject in the hall of King's College (Christ Church), which was printed, apparently in the same year, along with his ‘Syntagma.’ The confusion of this with his earlier ‘Oratio de Laudibus’ has been a source of frequent mistakes (see, for example, Wordsworth's Scholæ Academicæ, 1877, p. 379). In 1532 Wakefeld was appointed to the twelfth canonry in the newly refounded King's College or Christ Church, Oxford (Wood, Hist. and Antiquities, ed. Gutch, p. 429). At the dissolution of the lesser monasteries in 1536 he exerted himself to prevent the destruction of valuable books. What Wood calls his ‘preservation’ of the books has a less favourable name applied to it by Pits (Relationes Historicæ, 1619, p. 727). Leland gave him the name of Polypus, supposed to refer to his crafty dealing in this matter (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, vol. i. col. 102).

Wakefeld died on 8 Oct. 1537 (Lexicon Eruditorum, tome iv. col. 1778), leaving his brother Thomas his heir. His success as a teacher is shown by the fact that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as of Tübingen, petitioned to have his services continued to them. He was called a worthy successor to Reuchlin. Among his pupils he numbered Bishop Fisher and Cardinal Pole. Fisher spoke highly of his Hebrew scholarship (Letters and Papers, iv. 5730).

His chief works were: 1. ‘Roberti Wakfeldi, sacrarum literarum professoris eximii, Oratio de laudibus & utilitate trium linguarum, Arabicæ, Chaldaicæ, & Hebraicæ … Londini, apud VVinandum de Vorde,’ in small 4to [1524]. This was the first book printed in England with Hebrew and Arabic characters (Warton, Hist. of English Poetry, 1840, iii. 3). 2. ‘Kotser [i.e. Fragmentum] Codicis R. Wakfeldi, quo præterecclesiæ sacrosanctæ decretum, probatur coniugium cum fratria carnaliter cognita illicitum omnino,’ London, printed by Berthelet in 4to [1528]. 3. ‘Syntagma de Hebræorum codicum incorruptione. Item eiusdem oratio Oxonii habita, vna cum aliis lectu ac annotatu non indignis.’ Also by Winand [Wynkyn] de Worde, small 4to [1530?]. The ‘Syntagma’ is really the concluding part of No. 1, having been delayed for want of proper types (Maitland, Early Printed Books, p. 396). 4. ‘Paraphrasis in Librum Koheleth, seu Ecclesiasten’: see Hyde's ‘Catalogue of the Bodleian Library,’ 1674. Pits gives the titles of a number of minor works, of which some are portions of those already described, while others are wrongly ascribed to Wakefeld. Thus a ‘De Laudibus Agriculturæ’ is shown by Freytag to be the work of Robertus Britannus, cited by Foppens (Bibliotheca Belgica, ii. 1074). The curious metrical romance of ‘Kyng Boccus and Sydracke,’ published by Godfray about 1530, is assigned to Wakefeld by Cooper (Athenæ Cantabr. i. 531), on the authority of Ayscough's ‘Catalogue.’). But the author of this was Hugh Caumpeden (cf. art. Twyne, John].

[Authorities quoted in text.]

J. H. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.271
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
447 ii 4f.e. Wakefield, Robert: after ‘Catalogue.’ insert Wakefield's transcript made in 1502 is in Sloane MS. 2232 (cf. Ward’s Cat. Romances, i. 919).