Spelman, Henry (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SPELMAN, Sir HENRY (1564?–1641), historian and antiquary, born about 1564, was the eldest son of Henry Spelman of Congham, Norfolk, by his second wife, Frances, daughter of William Sanders of Ewell in Surrey. His father was the second son of Sir John Spelman (1495?–1544) [q. v.]

Spelman was educated at Walsingham grammar school (Hist. of Sacrilege, ed. 1853, p. 247), and when ten or twelve is said by Aubrey to have been sent to ‘a curst school-master,’ who was very severe to him, and would say to a dull boy ‘as very a dunce as Henry Spelman’ (Aubrey, Lives, ii. 540). He was admitted pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 15 Sept. 1580, matriculated on 17 March 1581, and graduated B.A. in 1582–3, after residing only eight terms in the university (Cambridge Antiquarian Soc. Proc. ii. 101). This curtailment of his university career was occasioned by the death of his father on 7 Oct. 1581. He was then obliged to return home to assist his mother in her management of the affairs of the family. He was probably a good scholar on leaving the university (Cambr. Antiq. Soc. Proc. ii. 112); the tradition (Aubrey, Lives) that he did not master the Latin language till past middle age is unfounded. After a short stay in Norfolk (Glossary, pref. ed. 1626), he went to London, where he became a student at Lincoln's Inn in 1585–6 (Dugdale, Orig. Jurid. p. 268), but he does not appear to have studied law with a view to practice, and left London within three years to settle again in Norfolk. On 18 April 1590 he married Eleanor, daughter and coheiress of John L'Estrange of Hunstanton. His wife seems to have brought him considerable property, and this, with what he inherited, provided him with a generous competency (ib.) He became guardian to his brother-in-law, Sir Hamon L'Estrange, and lived during his ward's minority on the latter's property at Hunstanton [see under L'Estrange, Sir Hamon].

Though at this period engaged in the ordinary occupations of a country gentleman, Spelman displayed his antiquarian bent by the composition of a Latin treatise on coats of armour, ‘Aspilogia;’ it was probably written before 1595, although it was not published till 1654. He also transcribed many of the deeds and charters relating to the monasteries of Norfolk and Suffolk, and wrote the description of Norfolk printed by John Speed [q. v.] before 1610. In 1593 he was admitted a member of the original Society of Antiquaries (Archæologia, xxxii. 138; Hearne, Antiq. Disc. ii. 439), and thus made the acquaintance of Camden, Sir Robert Cotton, Richard Carew, and others. Such intercourse encouraged his antiquarian proclivities. In 1594 (Reliquiæ Spelmannianæ, ed. Gibson, p. 208) he wrote a dialogue, probably to be read before the society, concerning the coin of the kingdom and existing prices; he proved that immense treasure had been in the past exported from England. The society discontinued its meetings in 1604. Spelman's efforts to resuscitate them ten years later were frustrated by James I's prohibition. In 1609 he unsuccessfully petitioned James I for admission as a fellow to the new Chelsea College (Draft of Latin petition in Tanner MS. cxlii. 58).

Spelman increased his Norfolk properties in 1594 by the purchase of the leases of Blackborough and Wormegay abbeys from the lessees of the crown, but he became involved by this transaction in proceedings in the court of chancery which lasted many years; the case was ultimately settled by compromise after 1625, while Lord Coventry was lord-keeper (F. S. Cooper in Proceedings of Cambr. Antiq. Soc. ii. 104; Hist. and Fate of Sacrilege, ed. 1853, p. 245). Bacon, when lord chancellor, gave his decision against Spelman in this litigation, and it is significant that Sir Henry's name subsequently appeared among the suitors in chancery who presented petitions to parliament complaining of Bacon's corruption (Hist. Sacrilege, 1853, p. 245; Howell, State Trials, ii. 1107). Summing up the results of this suit in the ‘History and Fate of Sacrilege’ (ed. 1853, p. 247), he declared himself to have been ‘a great loser, and not beholden to fortune, yet happy in this that he is out of the briars, and especially that he hereby first discerned the infelicity of meddling with consecrated places.’

Spelman was returned as member of parliament for Castle Rising on 29 Sept. 1597 (Return of Members of Parl. 1878), and in 1604 he served as high sheriff of Norfolk. His scholarly abilities, combined with his knowledge of affairs, commended him to James I, by whom he was appointed on 2 March 1617 commissioner to determine unsettled titles to lands and manors in Ireland. The business of the commission necessitated three visits to Ireland (Hearne, Antiq. Discourse, ii. 439; Preface to Glossary, ed. 1626).

In 1612 he moved with his whole family to London, in order to be within reach of books and scholarly friends, and to free himself from unspecified annoyances which he had experienced in the country. Although he continued to perform the duties of a justice of the peace in Norfolk, he sold his stock and let his farms and house there. His first London residence was in Tuthill Street, Westminster, close to the library of his friend Sir Robert Cotton (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. p. 424). Here he remained for about twenty years, until his removal to the house in Barbican of Sir Ralph Whitfield, his son-in-law (Addit. MS. 25384; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. iv. 18; cf. Archæologia, vol. xxiv.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. January 1632).

As soon as he was settled in London, Spelman completed his treatise ‘De non temerandis Ecclesiis, a tracte of the rights and respect due unto Churches,’ which, according to the title, was written ‘to a gentleman who, having an appropriate parsonage, employed the church to prophane uses, and left the parishioners uncertainly provided of Divine service in a parish near there adjoining.’ The gentleman in question was Francis Sanders, Spelman's uncle, a conversation with whom is said to have occasioned the writing of the treatise. In the first instance it was intended only for private circulation, but was printed in London in 1613. Three copies bound together, in the British Museum Library, contain numerous manuscript notes by the author. The third copy has a slightly different title-page. A reissue came from the press of Andrew Hart at Edinburgh in 1616, and contains an address by the author to the bishops of Scotland and a preface signed ‘I. S.’ Spelman's treatise, rough and forcible in style but abounding in recondite learning, exercised an extraordinary influence on lay impropriators, who were in not a few cases induced by its strong argument to restore lay impropriations to the use of the church. ‘While Sir Henry Spelman lived there came some unto him almost every term at London to consult with him how they might legally restore and dispose of their impropriations’ (Reliq. Spelman. ed. Gibson, p. 64). Baptist, Lord Hicks, Baron Scudamore, and Sir Roger Townsend were among those who acted on his advice. The success of this work no doubt led the author to proceed with the more elaborate ‘History of Sacrilege,’ which he had already projected. In the preface to the reader, ‘De non temerandis Ecclesiis’ (ed. 1613), he says in reference to the larger undertaking: ‘I have thought it not unfit upon some encouragement to sende this forth (like a Pinnesse or poste of Advise) to make a discovery of the coast before I adventure my greater ship.’ He was collecting materials for his ‘History of Sacrilege’ up to 1633. But it was not printed in its author's lifetime; it was published for the first time by an unknown editor in 1698.

Meanwhile Spelman resolved to concentrate his energies on a great work on the bases of English law to be deduced from original records (ib. ii. 439). But at the outset of his researches he experienced so much difficulty in assigning the proper meanings to Anglo-Saxon and Latin terms that he determined to postpone his legal researches until he had compiled a glossary of law terms. He had already prepared in 1614, for the Society of Antiquaries, ‘a discourse touching the antiquity and etymology of law terms and times for the administration of justice in England.’ But the society was suppressed before this paper was read, and it was not published till 1684 (Hearne, Antiquarian Discourses, ii. 331). Pursuing his scheme of a full glossary, he submitted sample sheets to eminent foreign scholars in September 1619, and, on securing their approbation, proceeded with the work (Peiresc to Spelman, Addit. MS. 25384). The deaths of his wife and of a son in 1620 did not impede his progress, but while working on the ‘Glossary’ he found time in October 1621 to prepare a formal opinion on the question whether the accidental killing of a park-keeper by Archbishop Abbot rendered him incapable of performing archiepiscopal functions. He affirmed the archbishop's irregularity, and insisted on the necessity of an extraordinary form of new consecration. This expression of opinion did not affect his friendly relations with the archbishop (Preface to Concilia). At length in 1626 the first volume of the ‘Glossary,’ extending to the end of the letter ‘L,’ was published. Spelman had offered it in vain to Beale, the king's printer, for 5l., or for books of that value. He consequently bore all the expenses of publication. The importance of the volume was immediately recognised by the great scholars of the day (Ussher to Spelman, 2 April 1628, Addit. MS. 25384, f. 8), but the greater part of the edition remained on Spelman's hands for ten years. He was collecting materials for the completion of the work until 1638. The second and concluding volume appeared posthumously in 1664.

With his scholarly studies Spelman combined some active interest in practical affairs. He had become a member of the council for New England shortly after its foundation on 23 July 1620 (Harard, i. 99), and took a prominent part in the control of the company from this period up to the resignation of their charter in 1635. He drew their patents, and performed other legal work arising out of their struggle with the Virginia Company (Cal. State Papers, Colonial, 12 July 1622, 28 Jan. 1623, 25 March 1623, 29 June 1632, 25 April 1635). He was also among the adventurers who, by patent, were erected into the Guiana Company, and on 8 June 1627 he was appointed treasurer (ib. 8 June 1627).

On 26 April 1625 Spelman was returned member for Worcester city to the first parliament of Charles I (Return of Members of Parliament), but he seems after a short time to have been succeeded in that position by his son John. He was no ardent politician. ‘I am no parliament man,’ he wrote on 26 May 1628 to Ussher. Although a devoted royalist, he appears to have sympathised with the promulgation of the Petition of Right, the main points in which he regarded as having been ‘seriously and unanswerably proved and concluded by the lower house’ (Life and Letters of James Ussher, ed. Parr, London, 1686). He was appointed on 8 May 1627 a member of a commission to inquire what offices existed, and what fees were taken, in 11 Eliz. (1569–70), and what fees had been imposed since. He was again appointed a member of two similar commissions, on 28 June 1627 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. June 1627) and in January 1630. His work ‘De Sepultura,’ which was not published till 1641, and which proved the existence of exorbitant exactions, embodied no doubt some of the experience he gained in this capacity.

Although, according to Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Spelman was in 1630 ‘now very aged and almost blind’ (Autobiogr. i. 455), he appears about this time to have undertaken his compilation of the ‘Councils, Decrees, Laws, and Constitutions of the English Church,’ the first volume of which, up to 1066, occupied him seven years (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 671). In carrying out this most important work he was assisted by Jeremiah Stephens [q. v.] and by his son John Spelman. Other scholars also gave generous assistance, and Abbot, Laud, and Ussher all regarded the work favourably. The first volume appeared in 1639. Although it omitted much that might have been inserted, and was in places inaccurate, this publication was the first attempt to deal in a systematic way with the early documents concerning the church, and practically inaugurated a new historical study.

Meanwhile the difficulties in the way of the study of Anglo-Saxon which had led him to undertake the ‘Glossary’ determined him to found an Anglo-Saxon lectureship at Cambridge. On 28 Sept. 1635 he wrote on this subject in cautious fashion to his friend Abraham Wheelocke [q. v.]: ‘We must not launch out into the deep before we know the points of our compass’ (Letters of Eminent Literary Men, Camd. Soc. p. 153). Bishop Wren encouraged the design (Tanner MS. clvii. 85). The lectureship was eventually established and endowed with the stipend of the impropriate rectory of Middleton. Wheelocke was appointed the first lecturer. But the first appointment to the post was also the last. On Wheelocke's death in 1657, and in accordance apparently with the founder's wishes, the stipend of the rectory of Middleton was then paid to William Somner [q. v.] towards the expense of completing his Saxon dictionary (Kennet, Life of Somner, p. 72; Cooper, Annals, iii. 301).

Spelman was granted (27 Nov. 1636) by royal warrant, at the recommendation of the council, the sum of 300l., in recompense of his extraordinary ‘labour and pains taken by him on sundry occasions in his majesty's service’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom.), and about February 1638 he declined the king's offer of the mastership of Sutton's Hospital, Charterhouse. At the same time he recommended his son John for the office (Tanner MS. xxvi. 21). Despite his generosity to the university of Cambridge, he appears to have been an unsuccessful candidate for the representation of the university in 1640, only seventy votes being recorded in his favour (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 405). The last work that Spelman published was the ‘Original Growth, Propagation, and Condition of Tenures by Knight Service’ (1641), which he undertook owing to the mistakes attributed to the interpretation he gave of ‘Feudum’ in his ‘Glossary’ (Hearne, Antiq. Disc. ii. 439).

He died in London at the house of his son-in-law, Sir Ralph Whitfield, in Barbican, and was buried near Camden in Westminster Abbey, just outside the chapel of St. Nicholas, on 14 Oct. 1641 (cf. Letters of Eminent Men, Camd. Soc.).

Through life, although by no means blind to the failings of her ministers (De Sepultura), Spelman's admiration of the English church exercised on him a predominant influence, and his good services to the Anglican community in opening out the almost unexplored field of early church history were invaluable. The gratitude of contemporaries was expressed by Sir Francis Wortley:

    There's none I know hath written heretofore
    Who hath obliged this church and kingdom more;
    Thou hast derived and proved our Church as high
    As Rome can boast, and given her pride the lie

(Characters and Elegies, London, 1646, p. 48). Another view of his churchmanship is supplied by his biographer J. A., who says: ‘Cane pejus et angue eos oderat qui sibi solebant plaudere tanquam qui soli essent sancti et pure vereque, ut vocant, Protestantes.’ As an ecclesiastical lawyer he ranks among the best informed that this country has produced, and his ‘Glossary’ gives him a title to the name of inaugurator of philological science in England.

Spelman was a willing helper of fellow-students. He assisted Baker in his collections for an ecclesiastical history (Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 14); he encouraged Wheelocke to edit Beda; he was the means of introducing Dugdale to Dodsworth (Dugdale, Life, p. 10), and helped the former in September 1638 to secure the appointment of pursuivant extra title Blanch Lyon (see Dugdale).

By his wife, Eleanor L'Estrange, who died on 24 July 1620, he had four sons and four daughters, all born in Norfolk. The eldest and youngest sons, John [q. v.] and Clement [q. v.], are noticed separately. The second son died within nine days of his mother. The third son, Henry (1595–1623), ‘in displeasure of his friends and desirous to see other country’ (Relation of Virginia, by H. S.), went out to Virginia in 1609, lived with the Indians until December 1610, learnt their language, acted as interpreter to the colony of Virginia from 1611, paid short visits to England in 1611 and 1618, and on 23 March 1623 was killed by the Anacostan Indians near the site of Washington (Brown, Genesis of U.S.A.)

In appearance Spelman, says Aubrey (Lives, ii. 540), ‘was a handsome gentleman, strong and valiant, and wore alwayes his sword till he was about 70 or more.’ There is a portrait of him, erroneously said to have been taken when he was eighty-one years of age, in the university gallery, Oxford. Another portrait ascribed to Paul von Somer is in the National Portrait Gallery; an engraving of this picture by Faithorne is prefixed to vol. i. of the ‘Glossary,’ published in 1726, and to the ‘Aspilogia,’ edited by Biss. Faithorne's engraving was subsequently copied by White, and appears in the collected works edited by Gibson. A third portrait in oils belongs to the Earl of Hardwicke, and a fourth was in the Fountaine collection at Narborough. There is an engraved portrait in Blomefield's ‘History of Norfolk.’

Spelman's chief works were: 1. ‘De non temerandis Ecclesiis: a Tracte of the Rights and Respect due unto Churches,’ London, 1613; other editions, Edinburgh, 1616; London, 1616; Oxford, 1646, 1668, 1676, 1704, 1841. 2. ‘Archæologus in modum Glossarii ad rem antiquam posteriorem continentis Latina Barbara, peregrina, obsoleta … quæ in Ecclesiasticis, profanis Scriptoribus, legibus, antiquis chartis et formulis occurrunt,’ vol. i. 1626; the second volume, which is inferior to the first, appeared in 1664, edited by Dugdale, who was encouraged to undertake the work by Lord Clarendon and Archbishop Sheldon; there appears to be no evidence in support of the charge against Dugdale of interpolating this volume to gratify his political prejudice (Dugdale, Life, p. 29; cf. art. Dugdale, Sir William; Brady, Jani Anglorum facies Antiqua, 1683, p. 229). 3. ‘Concilia Decreta Leges Constitutiones in re Ecclesiarum orbis Britannici,’ vol. i. to 1066, London, 1639. The second volume appeared in 1664, edited by Dugdale, again at the instigation of Clarendon and Archbishop Sheldon; of the two hundred sheets in this volume, Dugdale declares that all but fifty-seven were of his own collecting (Dugdale, Life, p. 12). A later edition, dated 1736–7, was revised and expanded by David Wilkins [q. v.] into four folio volumes, and this work formed the basis of ‘Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents’ (1869–73), by Dr. William Stubbs, now bishop of Oxford, and Arthur West Haddan [q. v.] 4. ‘The Growth, Propagation, and Condition of Tenures by Knight Service,’ London, 1641. 5. ‘De Sepultura,’ 1641. 6. ‘A Protestant's account of his Orthodox holding in matters of Religion at this present Indifference in the Church,’ &c., Cambridge, 1642; reprinted in ‘Somers Tracts,’ iv. 32, ed. Scott. 7. ‘Tithes too hot to be touched,’ ed. Jeremy Stephens, 1646; the title was subsequently altered to ‘The larger Treatise on Tithes,’ 1647; the work was presumably written in support of Richard Montague [q. v.], and in opposition to Selden. 8. ‘Apologia pro tractatu de non temerandis & De alienatione decimarum,’ edited and completed by Jeremy Stephens, 1647. 9. ‘Aspilogia,’ edited with notes by Ed. Biss, fol. London, 1650. 10. ‘Villare Anglicum, or a View of the Towns of England,’ by Spelman and Dodsworth, 1656, 4to. 11. ‘De Terminis Juridicis: of the Law Terms; wherein the Laws of the Jews, Grecians, Romans, Saxons, and Normans relating to the subject are fully explained,’ 1684. 12. ‘The History and Fate of Sacrilege,’ London, 1698; this work appears to have been left incomplete by Spelman; in 1663 J. Stephens began to print it, but the impression was destroyed in the fire of London before it was finished. Bishop Gibson discovered the main portion of the manuscript in the Bodleian Library, but did not include it in his ‘Reliquiæ.’ The unknown editor of the 1698 edition, however, describes himself as ‘a less discreet person who will een let the world make what use of it they please.’ The aim of the work—‘published for the terror of evil-doers’—was to emphasise the ancient principle that church property could never be justly alienated. In 1846 and 1853 new editions appeared. In 1895 it was re-edited by the Rev. C. F. S. Warren. An abridged translation was made into French, 1698, and was reprinted at Brussels in 1787; it has also been translated into German (Regensburg, 1878). A collection of Spelman's posthumous works on the laws and antiquities of England, ‘Reliquiæ Spelmanniæ,’ was edited by Bishop Gibson in 1695. This volume contains, among other hitherto unpublished pieces, discourses ‘Of the Ancient Government of England’ and ‘Of Parliaments;’ ‘An Answer to a short Apology for Archdeacon Abbot touching the death of Peter Hawkins;’ ‘Of the Original of Testaments and Wills and of their Probate;’ ‘Icenia, sive Norfolciæ Descriptio topographica;’ ‘De Milite Dissertatio;’ ‘Historia Familiæ de Sharnburn;’ ‘A Dialogue concerning the Coin of the Kingdom;’ and two discourses ‘Of the Admiral-jurisdiction and the Officers thereof,’ and ‘Of Ancient Deeds and Charters.’ David Wilkins first printed in his ‘Leges Anglo-Saxonicæ’ (1721, fol.) Spelman's ‘Collection of the old and statute laws of England from William I to 9 Henry III.’ Another volume of selections from Spelman's works appeared in 1723 (London, fol.; 2nd edit. 1727). Among extant unpublished manuscripts of Spelman are: ‘Archaismus graphicus,’ written for the use of his sons in 1606, in the Bodleian Library, Rawl. B. 462, and ‘Magnæ Chartæ Origo,’ Rawl. C. 917, 548. Many of Spelman's manuscripts were sold with the library of Dr. Cox Macro in 1820.

[No good biography of Spelman exists; the lives by Bishop Gibson prefixed to his edition of the Collected Works and by J. A. in Latin prefixed to the edition of the Glossary published in 1687 afford little more information than that contained in Spelman's own preface to the Glossary, ed. 1626. Most of the authorities followed have been given in the text; reference has also been made to Brit. Mus. Cat.; Bodl. Libr. Cat.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. and Colonial; Hacket's Life of Bishop Williams; Dugdale's Life; Biogr. Brit.; Blomefield's Hist. of Norfolk; Norfolk Archæol. Soc. Publ.; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. i. 323.]

W. C.-r.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.255
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
328 ii 32 Spelman, Sir Henry: for He was admitted read In Sloane MS. (1466, f. 16) he describes himself as of Oxford University, but he was certainly admitted