Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leland, John (1506?-1552)

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LELAND or LEYLAND, JOHN (1506?–1552), antiquary, born in London about 1506, probably belonged to a Lancashire family. He had a brother known as John Leland senior, and the distinguishing appellation of ‘junior’ sometimes applied to him is doubtless due to his bearing the same christian name as his brother. He was doubtless a collateral descendant of the older Latin writer called, like his brother, John Leland the elder [q. v.], and of Richard Leland or Leyland, treasurer of the Duke of Bedford's household, who witnessed his master's will in 1435 (Nicolas, Testamenta Vetusta, p. 243). When on his great tour about 1537 the antiquary visited Sir William Leyland, possibly a kinsman, at his house at Morley near Leigh in Lancashire (Itinerary, v. 89; Baines, Lancashire, iii. 601–2), and a John Leyland, who may have been the antiquary's brother, acted subsequently as Sir William's executor.

John was sent to St. Paul's School, London, under William Lily [q. v.] He found a patron in one Thomas Myles, whose generosity in paying all the expenses of his education he freely acknowledged in an ‘encomium’ inscribed ‘ad Thomam Milonem’ (Leland, Encomia, 1589). He removed in due course to Christ's College, Cambridge, and proceeded B.A. in 1522. Subsequently he studied at All Souls' College, Oxford, where he appears to have made the acquaintance of Thomas Caius. He ultimately completed his studies in Paris under Francis Sylvius, and became intimate with Budé (Budæus), Jacques le Febvre (Faber), Paolo Emilio (Paulus Emilius), and Jean Ruel (Ruellus) (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 492). He returned home a finished scholar in both Latin and Greek, and with a good knowledge of French, Italian, and Spanish. After taking holy orders, he acted in 1525 as tutor to a younger son of Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, and wrote with much elegance Latin panegyrics on the king and his ministers of state, which appear to have recommended him to favour at court. At Christmas 1528 he was in receipt of a small annual income from the king (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, v. 305). Before 1530 Henry VIII made him his library keeper; and he frequently gave the king presents of books. He became a royal chaplain, and on 25 June 1530 was presented to the rectory of Pepeling in the marches of Calais (Lansd. MS. 980, f. 108). On 31 May 1533 he and Nicholas Uvedale or Udall [q. v.] wrote ‘verses and ditties’ recited and sung at Anne Boleyn's coronation (ib. vi. No. 564). On 19 July following Pope Clement VII granted him a dispensation to hold four benefices, of which the annual value was not to exceed one thousand ducats (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vi. App. No. 4). In 1537, on the birth of Edward VI, he composed an elaborate Latin poem.

In 1533 Leland was made ‘king's antiquary,’ an office in which he had neither predecessor nor successor, and in the same year a commission was granted him under the broad seal directing him to make a search for English antiquities in the libraries of all cathedrals, abbeys, priories, and colleges, and all places where records, writings, and secrets of antiquity were deposited. In 1532 he had been returned as an absentee from his rectory at Pepeling (ib. v. No. 711), and by a special dispensation, 12 July 1536, he was relieved of the obligation of residence, and was allowed to keep a curate there. Although he does not claim to have spent more than six years (1536–42) in his antiquarian tour through England, he seems to have been mainly occupied in the expedition from 1534 to 1543. He intended his collections to be the basis of a great work on the ‘History and Antiquities of this Nation.’ According to his own account he spared himself neither labour nor cost. He claims to have visited almost every bay, river, lake, mountain, valley, moor, heath, wood, city, castle, manor-house, monastery, and college in the land. And not only did he note the present aspect of the places visited, but he investigated and described all Roman, Saxon, or Danish remains of which he could obtain knowledge, and carefully examined very many coins and their inscriptions. As became a personal adherent of the king, he championed the new religious establishment. He was at York in June 1534, when Sir George Lawson, treasurer of Berwick, informed Cromwell that he and Leland paid a visit to York minster; noting on a tablet on the wall a statement that one of Henry VIII's predecessors ‘took this kingdom of the Pope by tribute to hold of the Church of Rome,’ they rased the offending words ‘out of the tablet’ (ib. vii. App. 23). Bale shared Leland's antiquarian zeal and protestant opinions, and when Bale was imprisoned ‘for his preaching’ in January 1537, Leland wrote on his behalf to Cromwell, and emphasised his learning, judgment, and modesty (ib. XII. i. 230; Ellis, Orig. Lett. 3rd ser. iii. 154).

The havoc made among the monastic manuscripts at the dissolution of the monasteries caused Leland infinite distress, and he entreated Cromwell (16 July 1536) to extend his commission so as to enable him to collect the manuscripts for the king's library. ‘It would be a great profit to students and honour to this realm,’ he wrote: ‘whereas now the Germans, perceiving our desidiousness and negligence, do send daily young scholars hither that spoileth them and cutteth them out of libraries, returning home and putting them abroad as monuments of their own country.’ Leland's desire was only in part gratified, but he despatched some valuable manuscripts to London in 1537, the chief of which came from St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury (De Script. Brit. p. 299). After Leland's tour was finally concluded, he presented in 1545 an address to Henry VIII, entitled ‘A New Year's Gift,’ in which he briefly described the manner and aims of his researches. He had by that date prepared an account of early English writers, but he hoped to draw up within a year a full description or topography of England, with a map engraved in silver or brass; a work on the antiquities or civil history of the British Isles in fifty books; a survey of the islands adjoining Britain, including the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, and Isle of Man, in six books; and an account of the nobility in three. He also designed an account of Henry's palaces, in imitation of Procopius, who is said to have described the palaces of the emperor Justinian.

But the first work that he completed after his return home was a manuscript treatise dedicated to Henry VIII, and entitled ‘Antiphilarchia,’ in which he claimed to defend the king's supreme dignity in church matters, ‘closely leaning to the strong pillar of Holy Scripture against the whole college of the Romanists.’ The immediate object of his attack was the ‘Hierarchiæ Ecclesiasticæ Assertio’ of Albertus Pighius (Cologne, 1538, fol.) (Newe Yeare's Gifte, sig. F).

Leland soon applied to Archbishop Cranmer, who had already shown some interest in his labours, for church preferment. On 3 April 1542, accordingly, he was presented to the rectory of Haseley, Oxfordshire, and he held a canonry at King's College, Oxford, until 1545, when that institution was converted into Christ Church. He was also prebendary of East and West Knoll or Knoyle in the cathedral of Salisbury, but in his later years he spent most of his time in his house in the parish of St. Michael le Querne in London, where he occupied himself in arranging his notes. He wrote to a friend at Louvain to procure him as an assistant ‘a forward young man about the age of xx years, learned in the Latin tongue, and able sine cortice nare in Greek.’ He seems to have involved himself in some literary quarrel with Richard Croke [q. v.], whom he denounced as a slanderer (Collectanea, v. 161; Strype, Cranmer, iii. 738). In 1544, according to Craig's ‘Scotland's Sovereignty asserted,’ p. 9, Leland drew up the form of the declaration of war made by Henry VIII against the Scots. At length his antiquarian studies overtaxed his brain, and he became incurably insane. On 21 March 1550 the privy council gave him into the custody of his brother, John Leland or Layland, senior, and directed that the income derived from the benefices of Haseley and Pepeling should be applied to his maintenance. Leland died without recovering his reason on 18 April 1552, and was buried in the church of St. Michael le Querne. His monument bore a long laudatory inscription in English, with some Latin elegiac verse. The church, which was destroyed at the Great Fire, and was not rebuilt, stood at the west end of Cheapside.

Leland is the earliest of modern English antiquaries. His industry in accumulating facts was remarkable, and as a traveller he was a close observer. His ‘Itinerary’ carefully notes the miles distant between the places that he visited, the best way of approaching each city, and most of the objects of interest likely to interest an historian. But manuscripts attracted him more than architecture, and he rarely rises in his descriptions of buildings above his designation of the abbey of Malmesbury as ‘a right magnificent thing.’ On very rare occasions he notices local customs or popular botany. In his ‘Collectanea’ he shows himself to be a conscientious genealogist, but he was not an historical scholar. He defends with unnecessary zeal the truth of the Arthurian legends, and condemns the scepticism of Polydore Vergil. His English style is rough and disjointed, and both his ‘Itinerary’ and ‘Collectanea’ read like masses of undigested notes. As a Latin poet he is deserving of high regard. His poems are always graceful and imaginative, and exhibit at times, as in his ‘Cygnea Cantio,’ an appreciation of natural scenery which is not apparent in his ‘Itinerary.’ He wrote in very varied metres, and knew and appreciated the best classical models. Ovid, Lucretius, Martial, and Euripides are among the authors quoted by him. He is said by Polydore Vergil and Thomas Caius to have been personally vain and self-conceited, but his extant writings hardly corroborate this verdict. He had none of the virulence characteristic of the early professors of protestantism, and did not disdain social intercourse in his travels with abbots or friars. Pits's suggestion that his mental failure was due to his remorse at having abandoned Rome rests on no foundation.

Leland published little in his lifetime. All his works are now very rare. The titles of the pieces issued under his personal superintendence are: 1. ‘Næniæ in mortem Thomæ Viati equitis incomparabilis,’ dedicated to the Earl of Surrey, an elegy on the death of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder, with a woodcut portrait of Wyatt, which has been attributed to Holbein, London (Reginald Wolfe), 1542, 4to (Brit. Mus. and Lambeth), reprinted in Hearne's edition of ‘Leland's Itinerary,’ vol. ii. 2. ‘Genethliacon illustrissimi Eaduerdi Principis Cambriæ, Ducis Coriniæ et Comitis Palatini, libellus ante aliquot annos inchoatus. Nunc vero absolutus et editus,’ a poem on the birth of Edward, prince of Wales, dedicated to Henry VIII, with an explanation of the ancient names of places used in the poem—‘Syllabus et interpretatio antiquarum Dictionum quæ passim in libello lectori occurrunt,’ London (R. Wolfe), 1543, 4to (Brit. Mus.); reprinted in Hearne's edition of the ‘Itinerary,’ vol. ix. 3. ‘Assertio inclytissimi Arturij, regis Britanniæ. Elenchus antiquorum nominum,’ London (John Herford), 1544, 4to (Brit. Mus., one copy on vellum), a defence of the authenticity of the Arthurian fables in reply to Polydore Vergil; an English translation was published with the title: ‘Ancient Order, and Societie and Unitie Laudable of Prince Arthur and his knightly Armorie of the Round Table; with a threefold Assertion, Englished from Leland by R. Robinson, 1582’ (cf. Brydges, Brit. Bibliographer, 1810, i. 109–35). 4. ‘Kυγνειον Aσμα. Cygnea Cantio. Commentarij in Cygneam Cantionem indices Britannicæ Antiquitatis locupletissimi;’ a Latin poem in 699 lines in choriambic tetrameter, dedicated to Henry VIII, whose exploits are celebrated in the song of a swan swimming between Oxford and Greenwich; elaborate notes in Latin prose on the places mentioned include quotations from eighty classical and mediæval writers; Windsor is very sympathetically described. London (Reginald Wolfe), 1545, 4to, with woodcut (Brit. Mus.); another edition, 1658, 12mo; reprinted in Hearne's edition of the ‘Itinerary,’ vol. ix. 5. ‘Nænia in mortem Henrici Duddelegi equitis,’ London (John Mayler), 1545, 8vo (Ames, 573); reprinted in Ross's ‘Historia Regum Angliæ,’ ed. Hearne, 1716, and in the 1770 edition of the ‘Itinerary.’ 6. ‘Bononia Gallo-mastix in laudem victoriæ felicissimi Henrici VIII Anglici, Francisci, Scotici;’ verses on Henry VIII's capture of Boulogne in 1544, London (John Mayler), 1545, 4to (Ames, 573); reprinted in Hearne's edition of the ‘Collectanea.’ 7. ‘Eγκωμιον της Eιρηνης, Laudatio Pacis’ (the ‘Praise of Peace’), London (R. Wolfe), 1546, 4to, a Latin poem (Brit. Mus.); reprinted in Hearne's edition of the ‘Collectanea,’ vol. v. 8. ‘The Laboryouse Journey and Serche of J. Leylande for Englande's Antiquitees geven of him for a Newe Yeares Gifte to King Henry the VIII in the 37 Yeare of his Raygne, with Declaracyons enlarged by J. Bale,’ London, 1549, 8vo (Brit. Mus.); edited by John Bale, with long notes by the editor interpolated in Leland's text, to which Bale added his own ‘Register of the Names of English Writers, whom the second part of his work “De Scriptoribus Britanniæ” shall comprehend.’ The ‘Newe Yeares Gifte’ was reprinted in Ralph Brooke's ‘Discoverie of Certaine Errours,’ 1594; in Weever's ‘Funerall Monuments,’ 1610; in 1722, Oxford, 8vo; in ‘Itinerary’ (ed. Hearne), v.; in Huddesford's ‘Life of Leland’; and, ed. W. A. Copinger, in 1895.

Leland's manuscript collections were on his death made over by Edward VI to the custody of Sir John Cheke, but when Cheke left England in Mary's reign, they seem to have been dispersed. Some were sold. No. 76 of Digby's MSS. (a copy of the four Gospels) in the Bodleian Library was bought by Dr. John Dee in London on 18 May 1556, ‘ex bibliotheca, Joh. Lelandi.’ The British Museum has a copy of Valla's translation of Homer's ‘Iliad’ (1522), with manuscript notes by Leland.

The five volumes of his ‘Collectanea,’ containing his miscellaneous notes on antiquities, catalogues of manuscripts in monastic libraries, and his account of English writers, passed into the hands of Humphrey Purefoy, whose son Thomas presented them to William Burton, the historian of Leicestershire, in 1612.

The original manuscripts of Leland's ‘Itinerary’ passed to William, lord Paget, and afterwards to Sir William Cecil, but they also ultimately became Burton's property. In 1632 Burton gave the ‘Collectanea,’ in five volumes, and seven of the eight volumes of the ‘Itinerary’ to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The eighth volume of the ‘Itinerary,’ which Burton had lent to a friend, and had been unable to recover, was subsequently presented to the Bodleian by Charles King (M.A. of Christ Church 1677). Several sixteenth-century transcripts of Leland's manuscript ‘Itinerary’ are extant. A valuable copy made by John Stow is in Tanner MS. 464, and four other transcripts, more or less perfect, are also in the Bodleian Library (Macray, Annals, p. 75).

Other of Leland's autograph manuscripts seem to have at one time belonged to Leland's publisher, Wolfe, and to have passed from him to the library of Sir Robert Cotton, being now in the Cottonian collection at the British Museum (cf. ‘Collectanea’ in Jul. C. vi. 1, and Vesp. F. ix. 223, with copies in Vitel C. ix. 234, and ‘Index Librorum in Monast. Angliæ Repert.’ in Vitel. C. ix. 227). The Harleian collection contains interesting transcripts of the ‘Itinerary,’ with an index by Sir William Dugdale (Harl. MS. 1346, cf. 6266). Leland's verses composed for Anne Boleyn's coronation are in Brit. Mus. Bibl. Reg. (18 A. lxiv.)

Many antiquaries had access to Leland's manuscripts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Bale used the ‘Commentarii de Scriptoribus’ (in the fourth volume of Leland's ‘Collectanea’), when preparing his biographies of English writers, 1548 and 1557. At times Bale merely transcribes Leland's notes, but in most cases he expands them, and Bale's antipapal rancour is all his own. Harrison in his ‘Description of England,’ and Holinshed and Stow in their ‘Chronicles,’ freely incorporated notes by Leland when they were in the possession of Wolfe. Camden in his ‘Britannia,’ Dugdale in his ‘Warwickshire’ and his ‘Baronage,’ and William Burton in his ‘Leicestershire’ owed much to Leland's researches. Camden was charged by Ralph Brooke [q. v.] in his ‘Discoverie of Certaine Errours’ with unfairly ‘feathering his nest’ with Leland's plumes.

On 18 Jan. 1580–1 Thomas Hatcher wrote urging Stow to publish Leland's account of English authors (Harl. MS. 374, No. 10), but nothing came of the suggestion. Bishop Tanner intended to publish many of Leland's manuscripts, but he was delayed by his labours on his ‘Notitia Monastica,’ and was disappointed to find himself anticipated in one part of his design by the appearance in 1709 of Leland's ‘Commentarii de Scriptoribus Britannicis’ at Oxford, under the editorship of Anthony Hall [q. v.] This was the first of Leland's antiquarian collections to be published. Hearne justly complains that the edition is very faulty, owing to many omissions and to erroneous transcription. His own copy, collated with Leland's manuscripts as far as p. 133, is in the Bodleian Library (Letters from the Bodleian, i. 198). A copy in the British Museum also contains copious manuscript notes. Tanner, ten years later, was still collecting notes for another edition of the book (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, v. 356), and his design developed into his ‘Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica,’ 1748 (cf. Notes and Queries, vi. 83–4).

It is owing to Hearne's industry that the chief part of Leland's writings was first sent to the press. In 1710 the ‘Itinerary of John Leland the Antiquary’ was published at Oxford in nine volumes. A revised edition, with additions, appeared in 1745, and a third in 1770. Miss Toulmin Smith re-edited the ‘Itinerary’ (12 pts. in 5 vols.), 1906–8. Leland's notes on West Somerset were edited by W. George in 1879; those on Hampshire in 1868, and those on Wiltshire (by Canon Jackson) 1875. Hearne's edition of the ‘Collectanea’ was published at Oxford in six volumes in 1715. He inserted in vol. v. one piece of Leland which is not known to have been printed previously: ‘Codrus sive laus et defensio Gallofridi Arturii Monumetensis contra Polydorum Vergilium,’ a defence of Geoffrey of Monmouth against Polydore Vergil; but the other tracts and poems by Leland which Hearne introduced into his editions of the ‘Collectanea’ as well as of the ‘Itinerary’ had all been published in Leland's lifetime. A second edition of the ‘Collectanea’ appeared in London in 1770, and a third in 1774.

A book entitled Leland's ‘Epigrammata’ was licensed for the press in 1586, but his miscellaneous Latin verse and epigrams were first published in 1589. Some part of the book was drawn from the Bodleian manuscript volume (NE. F. 7. 8) which was originally presented by Leland to Henry VIII. Thomas Newton (d. 1607) [q. v.] of Cheshire was the editor, and the volume bore the title ‘Principum ac illustrium aliquot et eruditorum in Anglia virorum Encomia, Trophæa, Genethliaca et Epithalamia;’ it is reprinted by Hearne in the ‘Collectanea,’ v. 79–184. Leland's Latin verses, written in conjunction with Udall, whose contribution is chiefly in English, for the entertainment that celebrated Anne Boleyn's coronation, was printed from the Brit. Mus. MS. in Nichols's ‘Progresses of Elizabeth;’ and in Dr. Furnivall's ‘Ballads from Manuscript’ (Ballad Soc.), 1870, i. 379–401.

A ‘Tetrastichon Johannis Lelandi de Mona Insula’ appears in Ortelius's ‘Theatrum orbis Terrarum,’ Antwerp, 1592, fol. p. 13, and a ‘Tetrastichon Lelandi in Hectorem Boethium’ in Humphrey Llwyd's ‘Epistola de Mona’ (1573). Richard Robinson published in 1577 ‘A Record of Ancient Hystoryes in Latin—Gesta Romanorum autore, ut supponitur, Johanne Leylando antiquario,’ of which a sixth edition is dated 1601. An ‘Epigramma de fundatione Cantab. Academiæ,’ by Leland, is in Ashmol. MS. 770.

The antipapal treatise entitled ‘Dialogus cui titulus Antiphilarchia: interlocutores Philalethes et Tranotes,’ has not been printed. The manuscript, in forty-five chapters, at one time the property of Bishop More, is now in the Cambridge University Library (Ee. v. 14). In the same library is a copy of ‘Sedulii Scoti Comment. in Epistolas Pauli,’ Basle, 1527, with an ‘Epigramma’ at the beginning written in Leland's autograph.

Of lost works by Leland a ‘Life of Fulk Warren’ is said by Tanner to have belonged to Humphrey Bourchier. Thomas Caius states in his ‘Assertio Antiquitatis Academiæ Oxon.’ that Leland before his death wrote a book, ‘De Academiis,’ which proved Oxford an older foundation than Cambridge (Parkes, Early History of Oxford, Oxf. Hist. Soc., p. 28). Weever, in his ‘Funeral Monuments,’ assigns to Leland ‘Moriades sive Charitea Corona.’ Bale and Pits also credit him with notes on Quintilian's ‘Declamations,’ and on Martial, and with a long series of books of which nothing is now known, including a ‘Dictionarium Britannico-Latinum,’ and a treatise ‘De titulo regis ad Scotiam.’

A print of Leland by Grignion, from a bust at All Souls, is in Huddesford's ‘Life.’

[Information kindly supplied by John Leyland, esq.; Huddesford's Lives of Leland, Wood, and Hearne, 1772; Bale's Script. Brit. Cat. (1557), pp. 671–2; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 197; Letters of Eminent Lit. Men (Camd. Soc.), pp. 355–6; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Macray's Annals of Bodleian Libr.; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 110, 542; Retrospective Review (1854), ii. 171 sq.; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Strype's Cranmer, iii. 325–328; Hazlitt's Bibliographical Collections and Notes; Maitland's Early Printed Books in the Lambeth Library; Bernard's Cat. MSS. Angliæ, 235 sq.; MS. Sloane, 885, f. 64 sq.; Saturday Review, 15 Feb. 1879, 5 Sept. 1885.]

S. L.