Stow, John

, a valuable historian and antiquary, was born in London, and as is usually supposed, in St. Michael’s Cornhill, where his father and grandfather lived, and were reputed men of good credit. The time of his birth was about 1525, but we know little of the circumstances of his youth, unless that he was bred up to his father’s business, that of a taylor. It has been often remarked as a singular, but after all a trifling circumstance, that two of the most celebrated antiquaries of the sixteenth century, Stow and Speed, were both bred to that occupation.

At what time, or on what occasion he removed from Cornhill, is uncertain, but in 1549, we find him dwelling within Aldgate, where the pump now stands, between Leadenhall-street and Fenchurch-street. While he lived here, he was the spectator of an execution which affected him not a little. The bailiff of Rumford, coming up to town during an insurrection which prevailed in Norfolk and Suffolk, and spread to some parts of Essex, happened to fall in company with the curate of Cree church, who asking him what news, the bailiff said that many were up in Essex, but that, “thanks be to God, things were in good quiet about them.” The curate, from some misconception of these words, immediately informed against the poor bailiff, as one of the rebels, or a favourer of their cause. On this he was next morning brought before a court-martial, and sentenced to be hanged in the parish where he uttered the aforesaid words, upon a gibbet erected before Mr. Stow’s | door. Stow was of course a witness, and heard the poor man’s dying declaration, respecting the above words which he made use of, and which were the only pretence for this unjust execution. Some time after, Stow removed into Lime-street ward, in the parish of St. Andrew Unclershaft, where he continued until his death*.

He began early to apply himself to the study of the history and antiquities of England with so much enthusiasm, that he bestowed little attention on business, or the concerns of domestic life; and this improvidence greatly impaired his circumstances, and at length reduced him to considerable difficulties. His first appearance, as an antiquary, was in the service of the ward of which he was now become an inhabitant. That of Bishopsgate had encroached on the bounds of it, and had taken in three houses, and a piece of land near London-wall, which belonged to it. These Mr. Stow plainly proved to be the property of his ward, by certain old leases and grants, and other authentic registers; an 1 they were accordingly at that time yielded to it; though, afterwards, when sir Richard Pype, al-‘erman of Bishopsgate ward, became lord mayor of London, and reclaimed them, it receded from its un.l >ubted right, and tamely surrendered them to his jurisdiction.

Mr. Stow’s success, however, in the Affair probably ani­* This curate, called Sir Stephen, one c<>mii>- n I e/\p bumr them. Mr. became so contemptible by his furious Slow heat <J ’his sermon, an I saw the zeal, that he was forced to leave the effec’s of it. Another rmrk of the city, and retire tosome unknown place curate’s imprudent zeal w.< his takin the country. “Mr. Stow has re- ing; /ccasion from that church’s name corded some things of him, which Un ^rshaft., as superstitions^ ^iv>n it, though not attended with such fata! to i!<-r are his judgment that thr titles consequences as that already men- of cnurches should be altered, and that tioned, were evidences of his exclusive even the names of the days of the week big‘ try. In a sermon, which he ought to be changed from those ht;apreached before a areat auditory at St. then ones which had been given them; Paul’s Cross, he inveighed bitterly nud that Fridays and Saturdays should against a long may-pole, called -haft, be no more fish-days, but others subin the next parish to his own, which stituted for such in thei>- place from thence was named *r. Andrew that Lent should he kept ai>nv Undershaft. This he insisted upon time than between Shrove-ti e and being an idol; and so warmly did he Raster. Another t.’id ).ia<-tice of this declare against it, that the zeal of many cut ate was, to go out of the pulpi> into of his hearers being excited thereby, the church- yard, and II.Oum‘ nu h gh they wt-nt in the afternoon of the same elm that grew there and p ea; h from day, and pulled the may-pole do MI tbttnce to his audience, and then return from the place where it hung upon to the church, and say or-ire the hooks, and then sawed it ii to divers English service, not at th,- a^tar. as pieces, each housekeeper taking as w. is usual, but upon a tomb, whit much of it as hung over his door or placed northward of it.” Strype’s Life stall, and then casting the pieces into of Stow. | mated him in his antiquarian researches, as he had now demonstrated the practical benefit arising from them. It was about 1560, that he turned his thoughts to the compiling an English chronicle, and he spent the greater part of his future life in collecting such materials relating to the kingdom at large, as he esteemed worthy to be handed down to posterity. But after he had been eagerly employed for a while in these studies, perceiving how little profit he was likely to reap from them, he was on the point of diverting his industry into the channel of the occupation he had been bred to; and the expensiveness of purchasing manuscripts was an additional motive to this resolution. Archbishop Parker, however, himself an excellent antiquary, and a bountiful patron of all who had the same turn, persuaded him to goon, and liberally contributed to lessen his expences, while his grace lived.

In order to qualify himself effectually for what he had in view, he procured as many of the ancient English writers, both printed and in manuscript, as he could obtain by money or favour. These he studied so attentively as to gain an exact and critical knowledge of them, and he at the same time embraced every opportunity of cultivating the intimacy of those persons who were most capable of assisting him; such as archbishop Parker, already mentioned; Lambard, author of the Perambulation of Kent, and other works; Bowyer, keeper of the records of the Tower, and the first methodizer of them; with the celebrated Camden, and others of lesser note. For more particular information respecting the antiquities of London, he collected all the old books, parchments, instruments, -charters, and journals relating to it, that he could meet with; and he had, besides, procured access to the archives in the chamber of the city, where he perused, and transcribed such original papers as were of service to him in the prosecution of his grand design of writing the “Survey” of it.

The first work which he published, was his “Summary of the Chronicles of England, from the coming in of Brute unto his own time,” which he undertook at the instance of lord Robert Dudley. The reason of his proposing it to him was this: In 1562, Mr. Stow having in his search after curious and uncommon tracts, met with an ingenious one of Edmund Dudley, his lordship’s grandfather’s writing, during his imprisonment in the Tower, entitled “The Tree of the Commonwealth;” (which he dedicated to Henry VIII. | but it never came to his hand) he kept the original himself, hut transcribed a fair copy of it, and took an opportunity of presenting it to this nobleman, who earnestly requested our author to attempt something of the same nature. To gratify so illustrious a suitor, he collected his “Summary,” and dedicated it to him when it was finished. The acquisition of such a patron was undoubtedly important to him at this period, but more in point of fame tiian emolument.

Not long after, in 1573, the “Summary” was reprinted with large additions, in a thick octavo in the black letter. It begins with a general description of the kingdom, and then treats of the several kings and queens that governed this island naming the mayors and sheriffs every year; and under each reign it gives the several remarkable occurrences that happened, especially those concerning the city of London.

In this year came out the laborious and voluminous collections of Reiner Wolfe, printer to the queen, and of others, being a chronicle of Britain, printed and reprinted by Raphael Holinshed, and commonly going under his name. In the last and largest edition of that work, there are inserted many considerable additions communicated byStow, and which form the main part of it from 1573 to 1583, and afford eminent proofs of his pains and diligene.

In 1600, he published his “Flores Historiarum,” or Annals of this kingdom from the time of the ancient Britons to his own.“This work was nothing else but his” Summary" greatly enlarged, which he dedicated to archbishop Whitgift. It was reprinted five years after with additions; but even in this improved state it was no more than an abridgment of a much larger history of this nation, which he had been above forty years collecting out of a multitude of ancient authors, registers, chronicles, lives, and records of cities and towns; and which he intended now to have published, if the printer, probably fearing the success of it, after the late appearance of so large a chronicle as that of Holinshed, had not chosen rather to undertake this lesser abstract of it.

In 1598 appeared the first edition in 4to, of that valuable work which he entitled “A Survey of London.” What induced him hrst to compile this work, was a passage he met with in William Lambard’s “Perambulation,” in which he calls upon all who had ability and opportunity, to do | the like service for the shires and counties wherein they were born or dwelt, as he had done for that of Kent. Such an invitation was not lost upon a writer of Stow’s zeal and disposition, and he immediately resolved upon the description of the metropolis, the place both of his habitation and birth. It was dedicated by him to the lord mayor, commonalty, and citizens; and at the end of it were the names of the mayors and sheriffs, as far as 1598. He was sensible something ought to have been added concerning the political government of the city; but he declined touching upon it, as he at first intended, because he was informed that Mr. James Dalton, a learned gentleman and citizen, purposed to treat of it.

In 1603, five years after the first, a second edition of this useful work was published, with considerable improvements made by the author, out of his old stores of “many rare notes of antiquity” as he styles them. Part of these related to the city government, which he now had no scruple to introduce, as Mr. Dalton’s death had put an end to all expectation from that gentleman’s pen. Stow therefore endeavoured to supply the defect, and would have done it more copiously, had he not been interrupted by a fit of sickness. The notes which he added related to the aldermen and sheriffs of London; the names of the officers belonging to the mayor’s house, and to the sheriffs: of the liveries of the mayors and sheriffs, and various other particulars which are very curious when contrasted with the manners and modes of our times*. He must have verylittle curiosity who is not amused by comparisons of this kind, and must have very little reflection, if he does not draw useful conclusions from observing the pertinacity with which every age supports its own fashions. These additions, Stow confessed, were far short of what he desired or purposed to do: but as they were all he could accomplish at present, he promised hereafter to augment them, a promise which his increasing weakness and death prevented him from fulfilling.

* "I confess,’‘ says Fuller in his hu- tory, but that the/*;- of his gown will

morons way, " I have heard him of- be fe’t therein. Sure I am, our mcst

ten accused that he reporfeih res in se elegant historians who have wrote since

minuius, toys and trifles, being such a his time (sir Francis liacon, master smell-fea:,t, that he cannot pass by Catnrlen, 8tc.) though throwing away

Guildhall, but his pen must taste of th ba-Ue’, have taken the fruit, though

the good cheer therein. However, this not mentioning his name, making us^

must be indulged to his education so of his endeavours." Fuller’s Worthies. hard is it for a citizen to write an | hisIn 1618, after his decease, a third edition, still in quarto, was published by A. M. or Anthony Muuday (See Munday), a citizen also, and a man of some fame. He had been the pope’s scholar in the seminary at Rome; afterward, returning home, and renouncing the pope and popery, he wrote two books relative to the English priests and papists abroad. This editor made several additions, as he pretended, to the Survey; much of which, he hinted, he had formerly from Stow himself, who, in his lite-time, delivered into his some of his best collections, and importunately persuaded him to correct what he found amiss, and to proceed in perfecting so worthy a design. He talks of being employed about twelve years revising and enlarging it; and that he had the encouragement of the court of aldermen in the council-chamber, being brought before them by sir Henry Montague, the recorder, afterward lord chief justice of the King’s-bench. But after all, the additions he made were chiefly some inscriptions and epitaphs from the monuments in the parish churches; a continuation of the names of the mayors and sheriffs; and little more, except some transcripts out of Stow’s Summary and Annals, and here and there venturing to correct some errors, as he calls them, in the original, in place of which he has rather substituted his own; for Mr. Stow was too exact and precise to be corrected by one so much inferior to him in literature, and in antiquities, as Munday appears to be.

In 1633, there appeared an edition of it in folio, by the same A. M. together with H. D. C. J. and some others. It was dedicated, as all the preceding editions had been, to the lord-mayor, aldermen, and recorder for the time being, with the citizens. In this was a continuation of the names of the mayors and sheriffs to that year, with the coats of arms of all the mayors, the companies of London, merchants and others; and a brief imperfect account of the incorporation of the said companies’, and the dates of their several charters; with some other articles. But by this time the book began to abound with verbal errors and deviations from the author’s edition and sense, which called for "some abler and more judicious hand than had been hitherto employed to correct and rectify.

This was happily effected in 1720, when it arrived at a fifth impression, under the care and management of John Strype, M. A. a citizen by birth (as all the former editors were) and the son of a freeman of London. This edition | is enlarged into two volumes folio; great numbers of errors are corrected, and Stow restored to himself; the remains are inserted every where in their proper places; the history of the city brought down to the period of publication, and the customs, laws, and acts of common-council, which are of such importance for understanding the civil polity of it, very fully explained. In 1754, the sixth and last edition was published, with continuations of all the useful lists, and considerable additions of various matters, and particularly of many plates from very accurate designs.

Having thus gone through the history of the work, from its first appearance in a small quarto, to its enlargement into two folio volumes of near 800 pages each, we shall resume our memoirs of the author. \ seen, \>y the fruits of it, his strong propensity to the study of history and antiquities; and have observed that so much or his time was consumed by employments of this kind, as was inconsistent with his attention to his trade. Accordingly, what by this neglect, and the expence of purchasing books and manuscripts, he greatly impaired and diminished his fortune; and instead of enjoying that affluence and ease, which his labours for the honour of his country, and the service of posterity, justly merited: he was not even refunded what he expended in the advancement of them, but left in the decline of life to encounter with poverty and distress.

After twenty-five years labour in this way, and publishing his large “Summary,” as a specimen of his capacity, he addressed the lord-mayor and aldermen to grant him two freedoms, which perhaps he received, although we find no record of the fact. Some years after, he again petitioned the lord-mayor and aldermen, stating, “That he was of the age of threescore and four, and that he had for the space of almost thirty years last past, besides his Chronicles dedicated to the earl of Leicester, set forth divers” Summaries“dedicated to them, &c. He therefore prayeth them to bestow on him some yearly pension, or otherwise, whereby he might reap somewhat toward his great charges.” Whether this application had any success, is not known. There is no instance of his reaping any reward from the city, adequate to the extraordinary pains he underwent in the establishment of the reputation of it, unless his being promoted to the office of its Fee’d Chronicler; a post of no great consequence, and to which | probably a very small salary was annexed. Whatever it might he, it was so far from retrieving his ruined circumstances, that it did not even afford him the means of subsistence; so that he was forced to beg a brief from king James I. to collect the charitable benevolence of well-disposed people. To the liberal feelings of the present age, it must appear very strange that such a man should have been reduced to such a situation; that neither the opulent city of London, whose service and credit he had so greatly advanced, by writing such an elaborate and accurate survey of it; nor the wealthy company of Merchant Taylors, of which he was a member; nor the state itself; should have thought it their duty to save a person from want, to whom they were all so highly indebted. The licence or brief which his majesty granted him to beg, was a libel upon his own bounty; and the produce of it, so far as we know, fixes an indelible reproach on the charity of the Londoners of that day. We may judge of the sum total collected on this occasion by what was gathered from the parishioners of St. Mary Wolnoth, which amounted to no more than seven shillings and sixpence.

In this state of poverty, he died April 5, 1605, in his eightieth year, and was buried towards the upper end of the north-isle of the church of St. Andrew Undershaft, in Leadenhall-street, where a monument was erected by his widow, of a composition resembling alabaster, and altogether a very animated work. How she could afford this, when her husband died in such poor circumstances, does not appear. Probably she was assisted by some persons who were ashamed of their neglect of our author in his life-time. We are sorry to add a very disgraceful circumstance to this account, which was not known to the editors of the edition of 17 54, and which we have upon the authority of Maitland. After noticing this monument, and paying a just compliment to the deceased’s character, Maitland adds, " that neither that, nor any other consideration was sufficient to protect his repository from being spoiled of his injured remains by certain men in the year 1732, who removed his corpse to make way for another.‘’

For the character of Stow, we must necessarily be indebted to his contemporaries, and it would be injustice not to give it in their simple style. His person and temper are thus described by Edmund Hows, who well knew him “He was tall of stature, lean of body and face his eyes | small and chrystalline; of a pleasant and cheerful countenance y his sight and memory very good, and Ijg recained the use of all his senses unto the day of his Ueath. He had an excellent memory was very sober, mild, and courteous to any that required his instructions. He always protected never to have written any thing either for envy, fear, or favour, nor to seek his own private gain or vain glory, and that his only pains and care was, to write truth.

But in order to form a judgment of him, it is necessary to consider the disposition of his mind, as well as lus visible works and actions. The first thing that naturally occurs to our view is, that he was an earnest student and lover of the antiquities of his own country, and this to such a degree as to sacrifice the trade to which he was brought up. He was an unwearied reader of all English history, whether printed or in manuscript; and a searcher into records, registers, journals, charters, &c. Nor was he content with barely perusing these things, but desirous also of possessing himself of them, as of a great treasure. By the time he was forty years of age, he h?id furnished a considerable library of such, as appears from the report of Mr. Watts, archdeacon of London, who was sent to search it, viz. ‘That he had a great collection of old books anJ Mss. of all sorts, but especially relating to chronicles and history, both in parchment and paper, &c.’ And his library contained not only ancient authors, but original charters, registers’, and chronicles of particular places, which he had the greater opportunity of procuring, as he lived shortlyafter the dissolution of the monasteries, when such things were dispersed and scattered abroad among various hands.

It was his custom to transcribe all such old and useful books, as he could not obtain or buy, and were of service to his purpose. Thus, as we are assured by Ralph Brooksmouth, he copied Le’and’s six volumes of collections for his own use, which he sold afterward to the celebrated Camden, who gave him for them an annuity of H/. during his life. As he was thus well provided with books, he acquired a critical and nice taste in judging of them, and was enabled to detect many frauds and vulgar errors in our history, which had long passed unquestioned. One whimsical instance we shall mention from Strype. Grafion relates in his chronicle, that in 1502, one Bartholomew Read, a goldsmith and mayor, entertained in Goldsmiths’­hall more than a hundred persons of great estate; messes | and dishes served in a vast number; nay, that there was a park paled in the same hall, furnished with fruitful trees and beasts of venery (hunting) and other like circumstances. Stow had litltle difficulty in refuting this story, by measuring the hail, and it would appear to require very little ability to refute it, yet in these days of credulity it ion '4 passed current.

By his skill, also, in antiquity, he was enabled to settle the true bounds and limits of many contested properties, and to throw gceat light upon some obsolete authors, toward the useful editions of which he contributed largely. We are likewise indebted to him for some of the additions and enlargements of our most ancient poet, Chaucer; whose works were first collected and published by Caxton; and again published with additions by William Thinne, esq. in the reign of Henry VIII. after which they were “corrected and twice increased (to use his own words) through Mr. Stow’s painful labours in the reign of queen Elizabeth, to wit, in the year 1561; and again beautified with notes by him collected out of divers records and monuments: which he delivered to his loving friend Thomas Speight.

He was a true antiquary, one who was not satisfied with reports, nor yet with the credit of what he found in print, but always had recourse to originals. He made use of his own Lgs (for he could never ride), travelling on foot to many cathedral churches, and other places, where ancient records and charters were, to read them, and made large transcripts into his collections. There is a volume of these notes, which first came into the possession of sir Simonds D’Ewes, and was afterward procured by the first earl of Oxford. Ii is now part of the Harleian collection.

Much has been said of his religion. He was first, in all probability, a favourer of popery: this appears from the jealousy the state had of him in 1568, which occasioned an order of council to Grindal, bishop of London, to have his library searched f;>r superstitious books’; of which sort several were found there. And it is very likely that his notorious bias this way, might be the ground of the troubles he underwent either in the ecclesiastical commission court, or star-chamber; for it is certain that about 1570, he was accused before the ecclesiastical commissioners of no less than a hundred and forty articles, preferred against him by one that had been his servant. This miscreant had before defrauded him of his goods, and now sought to deprive | him of his life also. A far less number would hate been sufficient to despatch a man out of the world in those mistrustful times, hut the witnesses against him weie of such exceptionable characters, that his judges were too upright to condemn him upon their testimony. Some of them had been detected of perjury, and others burnt in the hand for felony. The perfidious servant, who was at the head of them as the informer, was no other than his younger brother Thomas, a man of great profligacy, as was evident both by this unprincipled prosecution of his nearest relation, and by his subsequent behaviour to him. For instead of manifesting any shame or repentance for his crime, he swore that he never committed it, and persisted in defaming his reputation, and threatening his life.

Whether Mr. Stow was a hearty protestant is rather dubious; there is one expression of his somewhere in the reign of queen Elizabeth, which is an indication of the affirmative, viz. “That doctrine is more pure now than it was in the monkish world.” But it is not certain whether he wrote this in earnest or ironically, nor is it matter of much consequence. Although he was not able to surmount the religious prejudices of his time, his moral practice was unblamable. He hated vice in all orders, and exposed it no less in the elergy than in laymen. He abhorred injustice, and spared not to rebuke all who were guilty of it. He was a lover of hospitality, and a great friend to public benefactions, while he had any thing to bestow. He was of an honest and generous disposition, and unspotted in his life. 1


Life by —Strype prefixed to the London edition of 1754. Biog. Brit Fuller’s Worthies. Gough’s Topography. —Strype’s Grindal, p. 124. —Strype’s Whitgift, p. 542.