Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts

Back to: Home > Archives & Manuscripts > Ancient MSS

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.


Henceforward, Gray seems to have retired from public life. He was now over sixty, and had long outlived his own family; his eldest brother, Thomas, had died before 1426, and the second, Ralph, on 17 March 1443; he lies with his wife in alabaster on a splendid tomb in the little church of Chillingham of Northumberland. [1] In fact the bishop had only about another five years of life. Around St Valentine's Day, 14 February 1477, as we learn from the Ely chronicler, he fell ill in London; after Easter he came down to Elt, and having lain ill for some time in the palace there, retired to his manor of Downham [2]. A new member of the episcopal household makes his appearance in the bishop's register in the person of Walter Lemster, MD, an early product of the new royal foundations of Eton and King's, who on 10 May 1477 receives out of the manor of Fen Ditton a pension of 10 marks, increased on 23 April 1478 to 20 [3] But medical skill was of no avail. On Tuesday 4 August 1478, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, he died at Downham; four days later, his body was brought to Ely, and buried with great solemnity between the shrines of St Alban and St Ermenild, in the last bay but one on the north side of the choir. 'Pasted on the last column are the fragments of a paper notice' with his arms [4]; but his tomb, with its over-arching canopy and brass beneath, has long since disappeared. [5]

The Ely chronicler gives us a list of the plate and vestiments which he gave to his cathedral, and tells us that he contributed to the repair of the bell-tower; perhaps it was to the great underpinning archves, which are said to date from 1477. Bentham records that his arms appeared 'in the east window of the north Isle of the presbytery, and carved on stone shields on the walls near the said window.' [6] The presence of his arms or badge in the old windows of Bottisham, Comberton, Littleport, Willingham, and on the old roof and choir-stalls at Littleport, perhaps commemorated generosity towards parish churches in his diocese. [7] That he contributed to the building of the Master's lodging at Balliol is shown by his coat of arms thrice repeated on the supporting brackets of the oriel window of the solar. [8] But of his testamentary dispositions in the absence of a will we know nothing. Leland, [9] whose information is usually derived from books which he has seen, says that he gave many volumes to Peterhouse; Vespasiano, that he left his degnissima libreria to his successors in the see. Both these statements lack corroboration. We have no trace of any book of Gray's that did not come to Balliol, unless it be British Museum Royal 8.E.xii, a fifteenth-century volume containing the Artes predicandi of Thomas Waleys and Simon Alcock, Coluccio Salutati's De saeculo et religione and other works, and a collection of Sermones ad monachos partly by Caesarius of Arles. The inscription: Liber mag. T. Stevynson ex dono mag. T. Gray militis et executoris mag. Willelmi Gray nuper Eliensis episcopi suggests that this was one of Gray's own books, given by his executor to his latest chaplain as a memento of his dead master. [10] Everything else that we know of came to Oxford, where four bays were added to Chace's libary at its eastern end to make room, following exactly the design of the earlier work. The sole credit for this is given in two inscriptions formerly in the windows to Robert Abdy, the Master, who died in June 1483; [11] but that the work was not finished until after the accession of Henry VII in the summer of 1485 is indicated by the use of Tudor badges, red roses and white roses en soleil, which alternate with columbines in the tracery lights of the new windows. The arms of benefactors, mainly bishops and fellows of the College, and the rhyming Latin verses around them, carried on Chace's design of fifty years before, and Chace himself and his ten fellows were moved into a new east window.[12]

If we try to summarize the impression left on us by Gray as a patron of learning and a book-collector, we see at once that he was no renaissance prelate-patron. The books written to his order are well, but not splendidly, decorated. He kept no tame humanists in his household, except Niccolò Perotti for a short time as a youth of eighteen. He received no dedications, except from the inexhaustible John Capgrave, who had been wooing Duke Humphrey a quarter of a century before. He was no great promoter of learning in others, except for his not very lavish support of John free, whom he had decided to send to Italy originally as companion to one of his own nephews. Nor was he specially devoted to the new classical learning. This is clearly brought out if we compare him with Robert Flemmyng, a man without the same noble connexions, five years his junior, whose career in Cologne, Padua, Ferrara, and Rome was in many ways so closely parallel to his own. Flemmyng owned a few Greek books; he wrote Lucubratiunculae in Latin verse; he acquired a collection of classical Latin literature second only to Duke Humphrey's: Plautus, Caesar, Horace, Livy, Pliny's Letters, Aulus Gellius, and the ancient commentatos on Latin poetry, Donatus, Porphyrion, Lactantius, Servius. [13] There is none of this in Gray. Yet Gray is, perhaps, in some ways, a more unusual figure; for he seems to have formed, while still quite a young man, the idea of a scholar's library, suitable for a learned institution devoted to philosophy and theology, and provided with sell-set-up copies of the best authors of all periods, common or scarce, as such a definition would be understood in his own day. To these Italy added, on the one hand, an important new element, Greek Fathers in translation; on the other, a certain number of authors ancient (Cicero, Virgil, Quintilian) or modern (the Letters of Petrarch, Guarino, Gasparino Barzizza) likely to improve one's style in Latin prose, and a few humanist translations of short pieces from the Greek; but the new interests represented by Tortelli's Orthographia and Biondo's Italia illustrata and Valla's version of Thucydides could lead no farther, once he had returned from Rome to England. It is the wide range and high standard of his original texts in philosophy and theology that is so impressive, and never does one appreciate this more than in turning over the books of the excellent John Warkworth, with all those Flores and Distinctiones and Sermones and Summae de Vitiis, all useful, but so much of it as it were secondhand, predigested knowledge. But further than this I will not generalize, for after pondering on Gray for many years I have no doubt, that if a list of his library ever does appear, it will contain some surprises.


[1] Illustrated in A History of Northumberland xiv (1935).

[2] Lambeth MS 448, f.113, printed in H Wharton, Anglia Sacra i (1691) 672-3.

[3] This second grant, and its ratification by the Prior and Convent of Ely, are printed in full by Bentham, HIstory of Ely, ed.2, 34*, appendix xxviii. A warrant for the payment of the pension, dated 1483, is in the British Museum, MS Harley 433, f.160.

[4] TD Atkinson, An Architectural History of ... Ely (Cambridge, 1933) 33.

[5] A view of the tomb as it was in 1812, already mutilated, is given in Bentham's History, plate xx. A considerable portion of the canopy is said to survive in the north triforium of the nave.

[6] Lambeth MS 448, f. 87v; Bentham 45*, appendix xxxv.

[7] Bentham 45*; Wm Palmer, Monumental inscriptions from Cambridgeshire (Cambridge, 1932) 109, 245.

[8] The remaining fragments of original glass, inscribed Jhesu mercy, were removed from the tracery-lights of this window in 1949.

[9] Collectanea iii.21

[10] Three months after Gray's death, in Nov. 1478, we find Stevenson acting as tutor to William Paston at Eton, where he later became fellow and vice-provost (Emden iii.1776).

[11] One would like to know whether this project was discussed when Gray visited Oxford in 1469 or 1470; the proctors' accounts for 1469/70 record the expenditure of xvi d. in uino dato episcopi Eliensi - HE Salter, Medieval Archives of the University of Oxford (OHS lxxiii, 1921) 300.

[12] The suggestion in the Victoria County History iii.93 that the glazing of the library was not finished until 1522 appears to lack foundation.

[13] Flemmyng's books, which went to Lincoln College, Oxford, are conveniently summarized in Weiss 103-4 and Emden ii.700.

[previous page] [next page]


You do not need to request permission to download or print one copy of any of the images on these pages for your personal private study or research purposes.
You do need to request permission in writing to use any of these images for any publication in any format, including any use on a website.

The archives and manuscriptss of Balliol College are open by appointment to enquirers in person at the Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell.
Enquiries should be sent in writing (email or post) to the Archivist.
There is no charge for Archive enquiries, but donations for Archive purposes are always appreciated.
Updated 15.viii.14
Balliol College
All rights reserved © 2017