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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.


3. Nicholas Saxton and Richard Bole

All this while we have heard no more of the two fellows of Balliol who matriculated at the University of Cologne on 1 December 1442 as familiares of William Gray, archdeacon of Northampton.

Nicholas Saxton, a Yorkshireman, was perhaps some connexion of William Saxton, fellow and benefactor of the library a generation earlier. He was a fellow before 1438, when we find him pledging MS 89, and retained his fellowship when he went abroad, for in September 1447 he received a papal indult to hold a benefice woth £5, notwithstanding the College statutes, 'as fellow and student of Balliol College and intending to continue in the study of theology.' In the interval he had been with Gray in Florence, and had entered into personal relations with Vespasiano da Bisticci and the humanist Donato Acciaiuoli; for later, when Gray is in Rome, it is Saxton with whom they are in correspondence about the books being written in Florence to Gray's order. [1] That he remained all Gray's time in Rome is not likely, for he is not among the numerous Balliol fellows whose names appear in receipt of patronage in gray's register as bishop of Ely. We find him beneficed in Essex, vicar of All Saints, Maldon, in 1458 and rector of Danbury in 1461, and ten years later he disappears from the scene. [2]

All that remains is a few of his books. He recovered a volume of Kilwardby's Patristic Tables (MS 5), which had gone astray, and gave or bequeathed five others. MS 153 is an Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, together with Chrysostom's De reparatione lapsi, in a fifteenth-century English hand, with nothing very distinctive about it. MS 74, Gregorius de Arimino on the second book of the Sentences is Italian, an unattractive book on re-used parchment. The other three are in german hands, and were no doubt acquired during Saxton's sojourn in Cologne: MS 25 Peter of Floreffe, MS 265 the Anticlaudianus and MS 146B. This last is the surprise, for it contains, besides some fairly obvious Petrarch, two rare authors - Ralph of Lonchamp and Andrea Biglia - and a unique treatise by Pietro da Monte Forte which, as Professor Giuseppe Billanovich has recently shown, seems to take us straight back to the study-table of Boccaccio.

Of Gray's other companion, Richard Bole, we know rather more. He first appears as a fellow of Balliol in March 1429, when he was ordained by Gray's uncle the bishop of London, so that he was a man of some standing, and already held a living in Suffolk when he set off with Gray to Cologne. [3] The humanist interests revealed by his choice of books make it certain that the further journey into italy would have been to his liking, and he learnt somewhere to write a good humanist bookhand; but that he actually went on to Italy there is at present noevidence to prove. If he did so, he did not remain there very long, but seems to have returned to England - possibly when Gray took up his appointment at the Curia in 1446. Within a few years, we know, he found employment elsewhere, for by February 1449 he appears as a prebendary of Southwell and chaplain to Cardinal Kempe, archbishop of York. The cardinal's long absences from his diocese are notorious, and Bole very likely spent his time mainly in the south. He was certainly known to be within reach of London in July 1450, when Balliol designated him its proctor in some business touching its City living of St lawrence Jewry, and in December of the same year, when he was appointed, very likely at Gray's instigation, one of five representative of the English hospice in Rome for the recovery of a benefaction. [4] On 5 September 1451 he was appointed a notary public.

Cardinal Kempe died on 22 March 1454, the year of gray's promotion to the see of Ely and final return to England; but it may be that Bole was already attached to the service of the Cardinal's nephew, Thomas Kempe, bishop of London. On 23 May 1452 he was given a prebend in St paul's London, followed in 1454 by the rectory of Orsett in Essex, and one section of MS 123 was written by him partly at Fulham and partly at Olantigh. Fulham was the principal residence of the bishop of London, and Olantigh was the home in Kent of Roger Kempe the bishop's father. In any case he makes no appearance in gray's Ely register until December 1456, when he witnesses an act of the bishop's at Downham. It may be that he had entered the royal service, for the Patent Rolls record a commission on 16 May 1459 to John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester and the King's clerks Robert Flemmyng, dean of Lincoln, Henry Sharp, and Richard Bole, appointing them as the King's orators and special messengers to offer his obedience to Pope Pius II [5] and on 8 March 1461 he was given the prebend of West Hurrock in the King's free chapel of Hastings. In the following year, when he was already in expectation of a living in the diocese of Canterbury, Gray seems to have had in mind to secure his services for Ely; for on 21 April 1462 he was admitted to the rectory of Balsham near Cambridge, facta primitus resignacione ecclesie parochialis de Olde Rumney Cantuar. dioc., quam dictus magister Ricardus optinebat .[6] Next year, on 15 January 1463, he succeeded Dr Richard Laverock as the bishop's official, and on 6 February succeeded John Stokes as archdeacon of Ely, being installed on 12 February, and exhanging his living of Balsham for that of East Dereham in Norfolk, which Gray's nephew Alexander Woderyngton had previously held. He remained archdeacon of Ely until his death in September 1477, when his body was buried in his church of Wilburton, 6 miles or so south-west of Ely; and there a large canopied brass with his effigy, after some losses, still survives. [7]

Bole's books came to his old college; unfortunately, there is not list of them, and twelve or thirteen are the most that is now known. Two of these might come from the study of any fifteenth-century archdeacon: a volume of provincial Constitutions (MS 158), and another containing the Ocuus Sacerdotis, the Sacramentale of Willelmus de Monte Lauduno, and an anonymous compilation De vitiis et virtutibus (MS 83). Another (MS 240) is of considerable interest in itself, and as the sole known survivor from the library of a small alien priory. MS 88, a compilation De vitiis et virtutibus not yet identified, which bears what is believed to be his coat of arms, and MS 287, part i, William of Auvergne, are both in English hands, and have marginal notes in his autograph; the date of their acquisition is uncertain. All the remained restify in one way or another to Bole's humanistic interests. On arrival in Cologne in 1442 he had occupied himself, ocia deuitans in making a copy for William Gray of the commentary of Thomas Wallensis on the De civitate Dei (MS 78A), and he also annotated Gray's two-volume Seneca (MSS 129, 130); but we have no trace of any acquisitions of his own. The only book in his library undoubtedly written in 1409; but whether it was acquired in Italy, there is nothing to show. Four of the remainder are the work of T. Werken, the Dutch scribe whom we have seen beginning one volume of the Bandino Encyclopedia (MS 238B) in Cologne, and finishing it in Rome in 1448: MS 310, Leonardo Bruni's Letters dated 1449; MS 287, part ii, Guarino's Virgil-lexicon and MS 127, works of Petrarch, Cicero, and Poggio, both dated 1450; and a copy of Mapheus Vegius De verborum significatione, of which fragments survive in Bodleian MS Savile 106, and which probably came from Bole. And Bole may be responsible for the making of another of Werken's books, Baldwin of Ford De sacramento altaris now in Brussels [8], which bears a couplet presenting it to Gray, who became a bishop shortly after its completion. For Bole seems to have maintained personal relations with Werken, who came to England not later than 1449 and settled there. [9] This appears from Gray's episcopal register under date 21 April 1462, where Bole is admitted in absence to the rectory of Balsham, and Werken acts as his proxy. And Bole was industrious in adding to his library by his own efforts. MS 123, Glosses on Sallust, etc., was written by him, as we have seen, part of it divided between Fulham and Olantigh; MS 258 is a Sallust (on ten leaf quires in the Italian manner) finished by him in february 1461, just a week before Werken's Ringstead; and MS 300A, a Polycraticus in the same hand. As reflected in his books he is much the most interesting man in Gray's circle, and it is much to be hoped that some day we shall learn more about him.


[1] See the letters printed by Miss de la Mare (above, p.xxxi n.)

[2] Emden iii.1648

[3] His preferments are listed in Emden i.213-4. (I know of no authority for describing him as Gray's secretary.)

[4] College Archives B.22.47; Modern Philology xxxvi (1938/9) 123.

[5] The commission is printed in Rymer's Foedera xi.422. Both Sharp and Flemmyng had graduated in 1447 at Padua, where Bole had perhaps studied in Gray's company two years earlier.

[6] This and other details are from Gray's episcopal register. Anne Roper, The Church of St Clement, Old Romney (1938) 43 records the appointment in 1462 of William Bolton, who was perhaps Bole's replacement.

[7] The brass was restored in 1869, Balliol very properly making a contribution. The unrestored inscription is recorded by the eighteenth-century antiquary William Cole in Palmer's Monumental Inscriptions 195.

[8] For this and the Savile fragments see below, pp. 376, 383.

[9] To the list of books written by Werken given in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society ii (1950) 104 sould be added Cambridge University Library Ff.3.10, John Chrysostom on St John, andnd perhaps Cambridge Corpus Christi College 76, part ii, Cassian. Mr MB Parkes has found his work at Canterbury.

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