Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Legge, Thomas

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LEGGE, THOMAS (1535–1607), master of Caius College, Cambridge, and Latin dramatist, born at Norwich in 1535, was second of the three sons of Stephen Legge, by Margaret, daughter of William Larke. He matriculated from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in November 1532, but shortly afterwards migrated to Trinity College, of which he became scholar in 1555; he graduated B.A. in 1556–7, became fellow of Trinity, supplicated for incorporation at Oxford in 1566, and proceeded M.A. in 1560, and LL.D. in 1575. In 1568 he became fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was noted as an active tutor, and of the old way of thinking in religious matters. On 27 June 1573 he was appointed master of Caius College, and took with him thither many of his pupils from Jesus College. Some time between 1563 and 1574 he was regius professor of civil law, but he does not seem at any time to have been, as is sometimes stated, regius professor of Hebrew. At Caius Legge's conduct soon brought him into trouble. He secured the election of one Depup to a fellowship, though Dr. Caius disapproved of the appointment because of Depup's leanings towards the old religion. He seems about 1581 to have been committed to the Fleet for treating with contempt certain letters from the queen. These probably had reference to his habit of encouraging north-country Romanists in his college, conduct which formed the subject of an accusation made against him by the fellows, in a letter to Burghley on 31 Jan. 1581–2. The fellows also charged Legge with misappropriating the college funds, and with using ‘continuall and expressive loud singinge and noyse of organs,’ to the disturbance of the students. A visitation was held, and the matter seems to have been settled. About May 1579 Legge had been appointed commissary to the university; in 1587–8 and in 1592–3 he was vice-chancellor. On 16 May 1590 he was admitted an advocate at Doctors' Commons; about 1593 he became master in chancery, and in 1597 he was a justice of the peace for Cambridge. Legge died on 12 July 1607, and was buried in Caius College Chapel, where there is an effigy and an inscription to his memory. His portrait is in the master's lodge, and has been engraved. By his will he left money to the college, which was spent in building the north side of the front court.

Legge was a man of learning and a correspondent of Justus Lipsius. He is remembered chiefly, however, by his Latin tragedy of ‘Richard III,’ in three acts, which was performed in the hall of St. John's College in 1579. In this Palmer, afterwards dean of Peterborough, was the Richard, and Nathaniel Knox, eldest son of the reformer, played Hastings. This play is alluded to by Harington in his ‘Apologie of Poetry’ as a famous tragedy, and by Nashe in his ‘Have with you to Saffron Walden,’ and was probably the one which the Cambridge men asked Burghley's permission to substitute in 1592–3 for the English comedy that the queen had asked for (cf. Cooper, Annals of Cambr. ii. 518). There are manuscripts of ‘Richardus Tertius’ at Emmanuel and Caius Colleges and in the University Library at Cambridge; also among the Harleian and Phillipps collections. It was edited from the Emmanuel MS. for the Shakespeare Society by Barron Field in 1844, and again printed by Mr. Hazlitt in vol. v. of his edition of Collier's ‘Shakespeare's Library,’ 1875. Fuller states that Legge composed a tragedy on the subject of the ‘Destruction of Jerusalem,’ ‘and having at last refined it to the purity of the Publique Standard, some Plageary filched it from him just as it was to be acted.’ The ‘Destruction of Jerusalem’ is said by Mr. Fleay to have been acted at Coventry in 1577.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 454, 555; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Fleay's Chron. of the English Drama and Hist. of the London Stage; Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 43; Add. MS. 24488, f. 451 (Hunter's Chorus Vatum); Add. MS. 5875, f. 102; Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth.]

W. A. J. A.