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Ancient manuscripts - Introduction to the catalogue 2

Sir Roger Mynors: Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

c. Oxford University Press 1963. Reproduced with permission.


2. William Gray and his Books cont.

The summons to Rome in 1446 offered a different prospect. The King's proctor was the royal agent in all business at the Papal court; his was a post calling not so much for administrative capacity or academic distinction as for good social standing, perseverance, and the ability to make and maintain close personal contacts with prelates and officials. Looking back we see in it the germ of diplomatic representation.[1] The business was both royal and private. Of the former one instance will suffice. One of the heaviest dossiers laid on gray's table when he took up his new employment was the papers connected with Henry VI's foundation of his new college of St Mary of Eton, on which much time and money had already been spent. In this he had the assistance of Henry Sharpe, later dean of St Stephen's, Westminster, another English student of Padua, where he had recently taken his doctorate in civil law; the Patent Rolls under date 25 January 1448 record a 'pardon to Master Henry Sharpe, doctor of laws, for good service in the company of Master William Gray... concerning the estate of Eton College,' [2] Private persons too were glad to enlist the aid of the King's representative if they had business at the Curia, and we know from a chance reference in the Paston Letters that Gray kept a regular agent in London through whom they could make contact with him. His name was Elias Cliderow, and he was perhaps a kinsman of Robert Roke 'alias Clerehow', a benefactor of the College library, who had probably been a fellow of the College at the time Gray came into residence at Oxford. When William Paston the judge died in 1444, his widow Agnes and his son John Paston had much ado to retain certain property against a claimant called John Hawteyn, who according to them was a renegade Carmelite friar. 'The frere' as he is always called in Paston circles, obtained the support of the Holy See; the Pastons enlisted the English Carmleties through their regular proctor in Rome, and some time in 1449 we find John Paston writing from Norfolk to a correspondent in London: 'wherfor, ser, my moder and I pray yow enquere after a man callid Clederro, whych is solisitor and attorne with Master Will. Grey, that late was the Kingges proktor at Rome, and the seyd Clederro sendith matiers and letters owth of Ingelond to his sayd master every monith etc...,' in order that Cliderow might be induced to write and ask Gray to act in the Paston interest. [3]

Then there were the many English visitors to Rome: John Capgrave, for instance, the Austrin friar from King's Lynn, known as a voluminous writer, who was there perhaps for the Jubilee in 1450. In dedicating to Gray, some ten years later, his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, MS 189, he speaks in the prefatory letter of the kindness received from him during an illness in Rome, and when, in an account of the City written as a result of that visit, he refers to the encyclopedia of Dominic of Arezzo, it is natural to wonder whether he may not have used Gray's copy of that rather rare work. (MS 238). [4] For the benefit of such visitors there was in Rome an English hospice, dedicated to the HOly Trinity and St Thomas of Canterbury, which was as useful, and as vulnerable in its finances and its buildings, as such establishments in foreign capitals still are. Between 1449 and 1453 the hospice was rebuilt, and Fray assisted in this, and was one of the guarantors of a loan raised for the purpose; when the hospice had a dispute in 1451 with its regular agent in London over the collection and remitting of its charitable income, Gray's agent Cliderow was the man called in to help; and Rchard Thwaites, whom we find in the same year as camerarius of the hospice, was a member of Gray's household and brother of Robert Thwaites, the Master of Balliol. [5] But it is another visit that brings before us perhaps most clearly the kind of work which fell to the lot of the King's proctor. It had long been a darling project of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury to secure the canonization of their great bishop Osmund, and in 1452 Nicholas Upton the precentor, well known later as the author of the De studio militari, and Simon Houchyns their former chapter-clerk were sent to Rome to press his claims anew. The day after their arrival in the City they waited upon Gray, who was not only their King's representative but a confrater of the church of Salisbury; and it is clear that they pinned much hope upon him throughout the subsequent vexations, of which an entertaining account in some detail can still be recovered from the cathedral archives. [6]

So Gray may well have been busy - occupatissimo is Vespasiano's word - and it was not long before Perotti left his household for the more congenial company of Cardinal Bessarion, where he could pursue his Greek studies; of any knowledge of Greek in gray's entourage there is so far no trace. But for a man of humane interests Rome had its compensations. In March 1447 Nicholas V became Pope, and attracted to the Curia many leaders of the new learning. That gray knew the Pope through other than official contacts there is no evidence; Nicholas V wrote to Henry VI in 1448 to commend his faithful service, but naturally in quite general terms. [7] Of personal relations with other humanists we can hardlt expect in the absence of correspondence to find any record; but there are traces in one or two of his books. When we find that MS 286, his Italia illustrata, gives the text in a form different fro mthe published work, or that Cambridge Univ. Lib. MS Kk.4.2, his Latin Thucydides, seems to be one of the earliest copies to get into circulation, we may perhaps argue that Flavio Biondo or Lorenzo Valla were among his acquaintance. And he was well acquainted with one survivor of the great age of classical rediscovery, Poggio Bracciolini: in 1454, when Gray became a bishop, Poggio, then near the end of his long life and chancellor of the Republic of Florence, writing to congratulate him and offer good advice, speaks of the uetus ac iucunda consuetudo, pater optime, quae mihi tecum diutius in Romana curia fuit, amor quoque meus in te singularis. [8]

The acquisition of books conintued. Valla's version of Thucydides was finished in July 1452, and gray's copy, now at Cambridge, was written soon after. In the same hand are MS 290, the De Orthographia of Giovanni Tortelli, which is said to have been published in 1453; part of MS 131, gregorio Castellani's version of Timaeus of Locri; and probably MS 286, Biondo's Italia illustrata, of which the date is 1454 or thereabouts. Another part of MS 131, Bartolommeo Fazio's attack on Valla, is in the same hand as MS 128, the commentary on Cicero's Pro Q. Ligario by Giorgio Trapezonzio. All these, and with them the third part of MS 131, Rinucci da Castiglione's versions from the Greek, are connected by their illuminated initials, which are all by the same hand and slightly different in style from those in the books known to have been written in Florence; it looks as though they were all written for Gray in Rome at the end of his sojourn there. Perhaps too it was during those years that he acquired a volume made in Rome centuries earlier: MS 183, Haymo on the Pauline Epistles, written in the monastery of San Lorenzo fuori le mura. This may remind us not to overestimate the importance of Gray's interest in 'humane' studies; he had never abandoned his original objective of collecting all the best works in theology and philosophy, and it was in Italy that he not only acquired a new Aristotle, MS 242, the Ethics Politics and Economics in Leonardo Bruni's version, but also commissioned three big volumes (MSS 67B, 68 and 70) of Franciscus de Mayronibus, whose work he had begun to collect in Cologne, and two volumes (MSS 98 and 100) of the commentaries of Albertus Magnus on Aristotle. When these were written, there is, unfortunately, nothing to show; perhaps it was shortly before one of his journeys, or his final return, to England, for though the parchment and hand are Italian, the ornament is English.


[1] Miss B Behrens in EHR xlix (1934) 640-56; cf Mrs JW Bennett in Speculum xix (1944) 314-35 on gray's predecessor, Andrew Holles. According to Bekynton Correspondence I.xxviii n., the King's proctor at the Curia was paid £100 a year.

[2] Calendar of Patent Rolls 1446-52 (1909) 175.

[3] Original draft in BM Add. 27446, f.41, printed as of 1479-80 by J Gairdner, The Paston Letters (1904) vi, no.967. The date lies after the death of John's brother, Edmund Paston, in the spring of 1449, for his tombstone is mentioned, but before the fall of the duke of Suffolk ('the lord that is the freris mayntener') at the beginning of 1450. The addressee was perhaps James Gresham, since in vol. ii, no.128, we find Gresham by July 1450 in friendly relations with 'a man of the Archdekyn of Rychemond,' which is Cliderow, or someone else employed like him by Gray. Before Gray's final departure from Rome Cliderow and his wife Alice get an indult of plenary indulgence on 22 Aug 1453; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers, ed. JA Twemlow, x (1915) 142.

[4] John Capgrave, Ye Solace of Pilgrimes, ed. CA Mills (Oxford 1911) 13, 45, 49. But on p. 43 he refers to the books De viris illustribus, which is not now, and may never have been, included in Gray's set of this work.

[5] V.J. Flynn in Modern Philology xxxvi (1938/9) 121-138.

[6] AR Malden, The Canonization of St Osmund (Wilts. Record Society, 1901) 93 ff passim.

[7] Bekynton Correspondence i. 157.

[8] Poggii Epistolae, ed. T Tonelli, iii (Florence, 1861) 112-115.

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