Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palsgrave, John

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PALSGRAVE, JOHN (d. 1554), chaplain to Henry VIII, was a native of London, where he received his elementary education. Subsequently he entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and proceeded to the degree of B.A. (Addit. MS. 5878, f. 63). He then migrated to the university of Paris, where he graduated M.A., and acquired a thorough knowledge of French. From the privy purse expenses of Henry VIII in January 1512–1513, it appears that Palsgrave, who had been ordained priest, was ‘scolemaster to my Lady Princes,’ i.e. Mary, the king's sister, who afterwards married Louis XII of France. On 29 April 1514 he was admitted to the prebend of Portpoole in the church of St. Paul, London (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 428). Having instructed the Princess Mary in the French tongue, he accompanied her to France on her marriage, and she never forgot his services (Brewer, Letters and Memorials of Henry VIII, vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 1459, 1460). On 3 April 1515 she wrote from Paris to Wolsey begging that Palsgrave might have the living of Egylsfeld in the diocese of Durham, or the archdeaconry of Derby. In 1516 he was collated by Atwater, bishop of Lincoln, to the benefice of Ashfordby, Leicestershire, vacant by the death of Henry Wilcocks, D.C.L., whose executors were ordered in 1523 to pay him 68l. for dilapidations. He also obtained the rectories of Alderton and Holbrook in Suffolk, and Cawston, Norfolk. Sir Thomas More, writing to Erasmus in 1517, mentions that Palsgrave was about to go to Louvain to study law, though he would continue his Greek and Latin; and Erasmus, in a letter from Louvain, dated 17 July the same year, informs More that Palsgrave had left for England. In 1523 he entered into a contract with Richard Pynson [q. v.], stationer of London, for the printing of sixty reams of paper at 6s. 8d. a ream; and there is another indenture for printing 750 copies of Palsgrave's ‘Lesclarcissement de la langue Francoyse,’ one of the earliest attempts to explain in English the rules of French grammar. Pynson engaged to print daily a sheet on both sides, and Palsgrave undertook not to keep him waiting for ‘copy.’ This curious contract has been printed, with notes, by Mr. F. J. Furnivall, for the Philological Society, London [1868], 4to.

In 1525 among the officers and councillors appointed to be resident and about the person of Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, natural son of Henry VIII, then six years of age, who had been appointed lieutenant-general north of the Trent, was Palsgrave, his tutor, who was allowed three servants and an annual stipend of 13l. 6s. 8d. (Nichols, Memoir of the Duke of Richmond, 1855, pp. xxiii, xxiv). His signature is attached to several of the documents issued in that and subsequent years by the council of the north. Writing to the king with reference to his pupil in 1529, Palsgrave asserts ‘that according to [my] saying to you in the gallery at Hampton Court, I do my uttermost best to cause him to love learning, and to be merry at it; insomuch that without any manner fear or compulsion, he hath already a great furtherance in the principles grammatical both of Greek and Latin.’ In another letter, addressed to Lady Elizabeth Tailboys the same year, he remarks: ‘The King's Grace said unto me in the presence of Master Parre and Master Page, I deliver, quod he, unto you three, my worldly jewel; you twain to have the guiding of his body, and thou, Palsgrave, to bring him up in virtue and learning.’

In 1529 Palsgrave thanked More for his continued friendliness, and acknowledged that he was more bound to him than to any man, adding: ‘I beseech you for your accustomed goodness to continue until such time that I may once more tread under foot this horrible monster, poverty.’ At this period he told Sir William Stevynson that all he had to live by and pay his debts and support his mother was little more than 50l. for Alderton, ‘and Holbroke be but 20l., Kayston 18l., my prebend in Polles 4l., and my wages 20 marks; and was indebted 92l.’ Stevynson was asked to tell his old pupil, the queen-dowager of France, that Palsgrave desired the benefice of Cawston, Norfolk. In the Record Office there is a draft ‘obligation,’ dated 1529, by which Palsgrave undertakes to pay Thomas Cromwell 7l. 6s. 8d. on his procuring a papal bull, under lead, called a union, for uniting the parish church of Alderton to the prebend of Portpoole in St. Paul's Cathedral.

In 1531 he repaired to the university of Oxford, and the next year was incorporated M.A. there, and took the degree of B.D. (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 121). On 28 Oct. 1532 he informed one William St. Loe that he was about to keep house at Blackfriars, where ‘I could have with me your son, Mr. Russell's son, a younger brother of Andrew Baynton, and Mr. Noryce's son, of the king's privy chamber.’ He intended previously to spend some time at Cambridge ‘for three reasons: (1) I am already B.D., and hope to be D.D.; (2) I could get a man to help me in teaching, as this constant attendance hurts my health. And I go to Cambridge rather than Oxford, because I have a benefice sixteen miles off.’

On 3 Oct. 1533 he was collated by Archbishop Cranmer to the rectory of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, London (Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 334), and on 7 Nov. 1545 he was instituted to the rectory of Wadenhoe, Northamptonshire, where he resided until his death, which took place in 1554, before 3 Aug. (Bridges, Hist. of Northamptonshire, ii. 390).

His principal work is: 1. ‘Lesclarcissement de la Langue Francoyse, compose par maistre Jehan Palsgraue Angloys, natyf de Londres et gradue de Paris,’ London, 1530, black-letter, folio, with dedication to Henry VIII. Pynson seems to have printed only the first two parts of two sheets and a half (signed A in four, B in two, C in four), and fifty-nine leaves. After these comes a third part, with a fresh numbering of leaves from 1 to 473. The printing was finished on 18 July 1530 by John Haukys, this work being the only known production of his press. The king's grant to Palsgrave of a privilege of seven years for his book is dated at Ampthill 2 Sept. anno regni XXII. The book was originally intended to be a kind of dictionary for the use of Englishmen seeking to acquire a knowledge of the French tongue. In this respect it has been superseded by later works, but it is now used in England for another purpose, as one of the best depositories of obsolete English words and phrases; and it is of the greatest utility to those who are engaged in the study of the English language in the transition state from the times of Chaucer, Gower, and Wiclif to those of Surrey and Wyat. In his epistle to the king's grace the author says he had written two books before on the same subject, and had presented them to Queen Mary of France, and also to the Prince Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, ‘her most worthy espouse.’ These were probably manuscript books, as no such printed works are known (Addit. MS. 24493, f. 93). Very few copies of the original ‘Lesclarcissement’ are now in existence. Two are in the British Museum, one containing manuscript notes by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas. Perhaps one reason for its scarcity was the determination of the author that other teachers of French should not obtain copies. Consequently he ‘willed Pynson to sell no copies to any other persons than such as he should command to have them, lest his profit by teaching the French tongue might be mynished.’ The copy in the Mazarin Library at Paris is the only one known in France. This was reprinted at the public expense under the auspices of the minister of public instruction and the editorship of F. Génin, Paris, 1852, 4to, pp. 889. It is included in the ‘Collection de Documents Inédits sur l'Histoire de France.’

His other works are: 2. ‘Joannis Palsgravi Londinensis Ecphrasis Anglica in Comœdiam Acolasti. The Comedy of Acolastus translated into oure Englysshe tongue after suche maner as chylderne are taught in the Grammer Schole, fyrst worde for worde … and afterwarde accordynge to the sence … with admonitions … for the more perfyte instructynge of the lerners, and … a brefe introductory to … the dyvers sortes of meters,’ Latin and English, London (Tho. Berthelet), 1540, 4to (Brit. Mus.); dedicated to Henry VIII. This work was originally written in Latin by William Fullonius. 3. ‘Annotationes verborum.’ 4. ‘Annotationes participiorum.’ 5. ‘Epistolæ ad diversos.’

He probably, either with or without his name, printed other works. One John Williamson, jun., writing to Cromwell, says: ‘Please it you also to know that I have sent you oon hundreth bookes entitled “Le Myrour de Verite,” whiche I have receyved this present daie of Maister Palgrave’ (Ellis, Original Letters, 3rd ser. ii. 212).

Davy, on the authority of Watt, erroneously ascribes to Palsgrave, through a curious blunder, the authorship of ‘Catechismus. Translated by W. Turner, Doctor of Phisicke,’ London, 1572, 8vo (Athenæ Suffolcienses, i. 93). The real title of this work is ‘The Catechisme … used in the dominions that are under … Prince Frederike the Palsgrave of the Rhene,’ London (R. Johnes), 1572, 8vo.

[Addit. MSS. 19105, f. 57 b, 19165, f. 93; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), pp. 435, 470 (Dibdin), iii. 3632; Baker's Biogr. Dram. 1812, i. 560, ii. 4; Bale's Scriptt. Brit. Cat. pars i. p. 710; Beloe's Anecd. vi. 344; Brewer and Gairdner's Letters and Memorials of Henry VIII; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 119, 545; Dodd's Church Hist. i. 228; Foster's Alumni Oxon. early series, iii. 1111; Kennett MS. 46, f. 36; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), pp. 636, 839, 849, 1769; Palgrave Family Memorials, by Palmer and Tucker, p. 203; Pits, De Angliæ Scriptoribus, p. 703; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 571; Miss Wood's Letters, i. 180, 202.]

T. C.