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

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STOW, JOHN (1525?–1605), chronicler and antiquary, was born about 1525 in the parish of St. Michael, Cornhill, London, of which his father and grandfather were parishioners (cf. Aubrey, Lives, ii. 541). Thomas Cromwell deprived his father by force of a part of the garden of his house in Throgmorton Street (cf. Survey, ed. Thoms, p. 67). He describes himself in his youth as fetching milk ‘hot from the kine’ from a farm in the Minories. In early life he followed the trade of a tailor, which was doubtless his father's occupation. In 1544 a false charge, which is not defined, was brought against him by a priest, and he had the satisfaction of convicting his accuser of perjury in the Star-chamber (Strype). On 25 Nov. 1547 he was admitted to the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company, but was never called into the livery nor held any office (Clode, Hist. of Merchant Taylors' Company, p. 183). In 1549 he was living near the well in Aldgate, between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street, and there witnessed the execution in front of his house of the bailiff of Romford, who seems to have been judicially murdered as a reputed rebel. Soon afterwards Stow removed to Lime Street ward, where he resided till his death.

Stow does not seem to have abandoned his trade altogether till near the close of his career, and he was until his death an honoured member of the Merchant Taylors' Company. But he left in middle life ‘his own peculiar gains,’ and consecrated himself ‘to the search of our famous antiquities.’ From 1560 onwards his time was mainly spent in the collection of printed books, legal and literary documents, and charters, in the transcription of ancient manuscripts, inscriptions, and the like, all dealing with English history, archæology, and literature. His zeal as a collector increased with his years, and he ultimately spent as much as 200l. annually on his library. Some time after the death, in 1573, of Reginald or Reyner Wolfe [q. v.], the projector of Holinshed's ‘Chronicles,’ Stow purchased Wolfe's collections. He came to know all the leading antiquaries of his day, including William Lambarde, Camden, and Fleetwood. He supplied manuscripts of mediæval chronicles to Archbishop Parker, who proved a stimulating patron, and he edited some of them for publication under the archbishop's direction. He joined the Society of Antiquaries formed by the archbishop, but of his contributions to the society's proceedings only a fragment on the origin of ‘sterling money’ is known to survive (Hearne, Curious Discourses, ii. 318).

Stow's first publication was an edition of ‘The woorkes of Geffrey Chaucer, newly printed, with divers addicions whiche were never in printe before’ (London, 1561, fol.). Lydgate's ‘Siege of Thebes’ was appended. Stow worked on William Thynne's edition of 1532, but ‘corrected’ and ‘increased’ it. For many years subsequently he ‘beautified’ Chaucer's text with notes ‘collected out of divers records and monuments.’ These he made over to his friend Thomas Speght [q. v.], who printed them in his edition of 1598 (cf. Survey, 1603, p. 465). Speght included a valuable list of Lydgate's works, which he owed to Stow. Francis Thynne [q. v.] censured Speght's work, and in 1602 Speght brought out a corrected edition.

In 1562 Stow acquired a manuscript of the ‘Tree of the Commonwealth,’ by Edmund Dudley [q. v.], grandfather of Robert Dudley (afterwards Earl of Leicester), the queen's favourite. He made a copy with his own hands, and presented it to the author's grandson. The latter, in acknowledging the gift, suggested that Stow ought to undertake original historical writing. Stow took the advice, and planned a chronicle on a generous scale, but before he had gone far with it he turned aside to produce a chronological epitome of English history, with lists of the officers of the corporation of London. Such works were not uncommon at the time, and an undated reissue, assigned to 1561, of ‘A breviat Chronicle contaynynge all the Kynges [of England],’ which was originally published many years before by J. Mychell of Canterbury, was long regarded in error as the first edition of Stow's ‘Epitome.’ It was not until 1565 that Stow produced his ‘Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles conteynyng the true accompt of yeres, wherein every Kyng of this Realme … began theyr reigne, howe long they reigned: and what notable thynges hath bene doone durynge theyr Reygnes. Wyth also the names and yeares of all the Bylyffes, custos, maiors, and sheriffes of the Citie of London sens the Conqueste, dyligentely collected by J. Stow. In ædibus T. Marshi’ (London, 1565, 8vo). The work was well received, and was frequently reissued until the year preceding Stow's death, with successive additions bringing the information up to date. An account of the universities of England was added to the issue of 1567. Others bear the dates 1570, 1573*, 1575, 1579, 1584, 1587, 1590*, 1598*, and 1604* (those marked with an asterisk are in the British Museum). The work was dedicated to successive lord mayors with the aldermen and commonalty of London. From the first Stow's accuracy was impugned by an interested rival chronicler, Richard Grafton [q. v.], who had anticipated him in bringing out a somewhat similar ‘Abridgment of the Chronicles of England’ in 1562. This was dedicated to Lord Robert Dudley, and was often reprinted. In the 1566 edition Grafton sneered ‘at the memories of superstitious foundacions, fables, and lyes foolishly Stowed together.’ In the dedication to the edition of 1567 Stow punningly, by way of retort, deplored the ‘thundering noice of empty tonnes and unfruitful graftes of Momus offspring’ by which his work was menaced. The warfare was long pursued in prefaces to successive editions of the two men's handbooks. Stow finally denounced with asperity all Grafton's historical work (cp. Address to the Reader, 1573). There seems little doubt that his capacity as an historian was greater than Grafton's, and that the victory finally rested with him (Ames, Typogr. Antiq. ed. Dibdin, iii. 422–7).

But Stow had other troubles. His studies inclined him to conservatism in religion, and he never accepted the reformed doctrine with much enthusiasm. His zeal as a collector of documents laid him open to the suspicion of Elizabeth's ministers. In 1568 he was charged with being in possession of a copy of the Duke of Alva's manifesto against Elizabeth which the Spanish ambassador had disseminated in London. He was examined by the council, but was not punished (Clode, p. 651). Soon afterwards—in February 1568–9—his house was searched for recently published papistical books, and a list was made of those found. The officials of the ecclesiastical commission who made the search reported that they found, in addition to the forbidden literature, ‘foolish fabulous books of old print as of Sir Degory Triamour,’ ‘old written English chronicles,’ ‘miscellanea of divers sorts both touching physic, surgery, and herbs, with medicines of experience,’ and ‘old fantastical books’ of popish tendencies (cf. Strype, Grindal, pp. 184, 516). In 1570 a brother gave information which led to another summons before the ecclesiastical commission, but the unspecified charge, which apparently again impugned Stow's religious orthodoxy, was satisfactorily confuted. In the same year Stow accused a fellow-tailor named Holmes of slandering his wife, and Holmes was ordered to pay Stow twenty shillings. Thenceforth he was unmolested, and inspired his fellow citizens with so much confidence that in 1585 he was one of the collectors in the city of the money required to furnish the government with four thousand armed men.

Stow pursued his historical and antiquarian work with undiminished vigour throughout the period of his persecution by the council and his bitter controversy with Grafton. Archbishop Parker's favour was not alienated by the allegations of romanism made against him. With Parker's aid Stow saw through the press for the first time Matthew of Westminster's ‘Flores Historiarum’ in 1567, Matthew Paris's ‘Chronicle’ in 1571, and Thomas Walsingham's ‘Chronicle’ in 1574. In 1580 he dedicated to Leicester the first edition of his original contribution to English history entitled ‘The Chronicles of England from Brute unto this present yeare of Christ, 1580. Collected by J. Stow, citizen of London,’ London, by ‘R. Newberie at the assignement of H. Bynneman,’ 4to. The useful work, in a new edition four years later, first bore the more familiar title of ‘The Annales of England faithfully collected out of the most authenticall Authors, Records, and other Monuments of Antiquitie from the first inhabitation untill … 1592,’ London (by Ralph Newbery), 1592, 4to. The dedication was now addressed to Archbishop Whitgift. The text consists of more than thirteen hundred pages, and concludes with an appendix ‘of the universities of England.’ The ‘Annales’ were reissued by Stow within a few days of his death in 1605 still in quarto, ‘encreased and continued … untill this present yeare 1605.’ It was re-edited, continued, and considerably altered in 1615 by Edmund Howes [q. v.], with an appended account of the universities, to which Sir George Buc supplied a description of ‘the university of London’ (i.e. of the Inns of Court and other educational establishments of the metropolis). A new edition by Howes appeared in 1631.

Meanwhile Stow was employed in revising the second edition of Holinshed's ‘Chronicle,’ which was published in January 1585–7. His final work was ‘A Survay of London contayning the originall antiquity and increase, moderne estates, and description of that citie … also an apologie (or defence) against the opinion of some men concerning the citie, the greatnesse thereof. … With an appendix containing in Latine, Libellum de situ et nobilitate Londini, by W. Fitzstephen in the Raigne of Henry the Second, b.l., J. Wolfe,’ London, 1598, 4to. It was dedicated to Robert Lee, lord mayor, and to the citizens of London, and is an exhaustive and invaluable record of Elizabethan London. ‘Increased with divers notes of antiquity,’ it was republished by Stow in 1603. A reprint of the 1603 edition, edited by William J. Thoms, appeared in 1876 with modernised orthography, and edited by Henry Morley [q. v.] in the Carisbrooke Library in 1890. Stow's authorised text is to be found alone in the edition of 1603. After his death the work was liberally revised and altered. An enlarged edition by Anthony Munday appeared in 1618, and by Munday, Henry or Humphry Dyson, and others in 1633. Strype re-edited and expanded it in 1720 (2 vols. fol.), and again in 1754. John Mottley [q. v.], published an edition in 1734, under the pseudonym of Robert Seymour.

Stow's reputation grew steadily in his closing years. He was of lively temperament, and his society was sought by men of letters. Henry Holland, in his ‘Monumenta Sancti Pauli’ (1614), called Stow ‘the merry old man.’ But he was always pecuniarily embarrassed; his expenses always exceeded his income, and his researches were pursued under many difficulties. ‘He could never ride, but travelled on foote unto divers cathedral churches and other chiefe places of the land to search records’ ({sc|Howes}}). He told Manningham the diarist, when they met on 17 Dec. 1602, that he ‘made no gains by his travails’ (Diary). He bore his poverty cheerfully. Ben Jonson related that when he and Stow were walking alone together, they happened to meet two crippled beggars, and Stow ‘asked them what they would have to take him to their order’ (Jonson, Conversations with Drummond, Shakespeare Soc.) He long depended for much of his subsistence on charity. As early as 1579 the Merchant Taylors' Company seems to have allowed him a pension of 4l. a year, which Robert Dowe, a master of the company, liberally supplemented. At Dowe's suggestion the company increased Stow's pension by 2l. in 1600. From money left by Dowe at his death to the company, Stow after 1602 received an annual sum of 5l. 2s. in addition to his old pension. On 5 July 1592 he acknowledged his obligation to the company by presenting a copy of his ‘Annales.’ Camden is said to have allowed Stow an annuity of 8l. in exchange for a copy in Stow's autograph of Leland's ‘Itinerary.’ But his pecuniary difficulties grew with his years and were at length brought to the notice of the government. On 8 March 1603–4 letters patent were issued authorising Stow and his deputies to ‘collect voluntary contributions and kind gratuities.’ He was described as ‘a very aged and worthy member of our city of London, who had for forty-five years to his great charge and with neglect of his ordinary means of maintenance, for the general good as well of posterity as of the present age, compiled and published divers necessary books and chronicles.’ An epitome of the letters patent was circulated in print. A copy survives in Harleian MS. 367, f. 10. Apparently Stow set up basins for alms in the streets, but the citizens were chary of contributions. In 1605 William Warner, in a new edition of his ‘Albion's England,’ illustrated the neglect of literary merit by the story of Stow's poverty.

He died on 6 April 1605, and was buried in the church of St. Andrew Undershaft in Leadenhall Street, where Elizabeth, his widow, erected to his memory a monument in terra-cotta. The effigy, which still survives, was formerly coloured. He is represented as seated in a chair and reading. Besides the sculptured portrait on the tomb, a contemporary engraving of Stow was prepared for his ‘Survey’ (ed. 1603). The original painting belonged to Serjeant Fleetwood (cf. Manningham Diary). Most extant copies of the ‘Survey’ lack the portrait. It is reproduced in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1837, i. 48. The inscription on the engraving entitles Stow ‘Antiquarius Angliæ.’ His friend Howes described him as ‘tall of stature, leane of body and face, his eyes small and crystalline, of a pleasant and cheerful countenance.’

Stow was the most accurate and businesslike of English annalists or chroniclers of the sixteenth century. ‘He always protested never to have written anything either for malice, fear, or favour, nor to seek his own particular gain or vainglory, and that his only pains and care was to write truth’ (Howes). Sir Roger Lestrange is reported by Hearne to have said ‘that it was always a wonder to him that the very best that had penn'd our history in English should be a poor taylour, honest John Stow’ (Robert of Gloucester, ed. Hearne, p. lxi). Hearne described Stow as an ‘honest and knowing man,’ ‘but an indifferent scholar’ (Letters from the Bodleian, i. 288, ii. 98).

Much reluctance was shown by Stow's friends in preparing any of his numerous manuscripts for publication after his death (cf. Strype, Cranmer, vol. i. p. xvii). But Edmund Howes [q. v.] at length revised his ‘Annales,’ and Munday his ‘Survey of London.’ In his ‘Annales’ (ed. 1592, p. 1295) Stow wrote that he had a larger volume, ‘An History of this Island,’ ready for the press. In 1605, a few days before his death, he asked the reader of his ‘Annales’ to encourage him to publish or to leave to posterity a far larger volume. He had long since laboured at it, he wrote, at the request and command of Archbishop Parker, but the archbishop's death and the issue of Holinshed's ‘Chronicle’ had led to delay in the publication. Howes in his continuation of Stow wrote that Stow purposed if he had lived one year longer to have put the undertaking in print, but, being prevented by death, left the same in his study orderly written ready for the press. The fate of this manuscript is unknown, but it is suggested that portions were embodied in the ‘Successions of the History of England, from the beginning of Edward IV to the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth,’ together with a list ‘of peers of the present time, by John Stow,’ 1638, fol.

Many of Stow's manuscripts passed into the collection of Sir Symonds D'Ewes, and some of them are now in the British Museum. Autograph translations by him of Giraldus Cambrensis, Florence of Worcester, Alured of Rievaulx, and Nicholas Trivet, are among the Harleian manuscripts (Nos. 551, 563). Harleian MS. 543 consists of transcripts made by Stow from historical papers, now lost, formerly in Fleetwood's library; one piece, ‘History of the Arrival of Edward IV in England,’ formed the first volume of the Camden Society's publications in 1838. Harleian MS. 367 consists of private papers belonging to Stow. A valuable but imperfect transcript by Stow of Leland's ‘Itinerary’ is in Bodleian Library, Tanner MS. 464.

[Howes inserted an account of Stow into the 1615 edition of his Annales. Strype contributed an interesting memoir to his edition of the Survey of London (1720). There is a good biography in Clode's History of the Merchant Taylors' Company, pp. 183–7. See also Gent. Mag. 1837, i. 48 seq.; Thoms's introduction to the Survey of London, 1876; C. L. Kingsford's edition of the Survey, Oxford, 1908; D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature; Bolton Corney's Curiosities of Literature illustrated; Strype's Works.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.261
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
4 i 15f.e. Stow, John: for 506 read 516
ii 2f.e. for 1876 read 1842