Fabyan, Robert

, an English historian, was an alderman of London, and presents us with the rare instance of a citizen and merchant, in the fifteenth century, devoting himself to the pleasures of learning: but we know little of his personal history. There was nothing remarkable in his descent, and he made no great figure in public life. From his will it appears that his father’s name was John Fabyan; and there is reason to believe that, although he was apprenticed to a trade, his family were people of substance in Essex. Bishop Tanner says he was born in London. At what period he became a member of the Drapers’ company cannot now be ascertained. Their registers would probably have furnished a clue to guess at the exact time of his birth, but the hall of that ancient company was twice destroyed by fire, and they have no muniments which reach beyond 1602. From records, however, in the city archives, it appears that he was alderman of the ward of Farringdon Without; in 1493 he served the | office of sheriff; and in the registers which go by the name of the “Repertory,” a few scattered memoranda are preserved of the part which he occasionally took, at a period somewhat later, in public transactions.

On the 20th of September, 1496, in the mayoralty of sir Henry Colet, we find him “assigned and chosen,” with Mr. Recorder and certain commoners, to ride to the king “for redress of the new impositions raised and levied upon English cloths in the archduke’s land.” This probably alludes to the circumstance of Philip, to whom the emperor Maximilian had resigned the Low Countries the year before, exacting the duty of a florin upon every piece of English cloth imported into his dominions; but which he desisted from in the articles of agreement signed by his ambassadors in London, July 7, 1497. In the following year, when the Cornish rebels marched towards London, alderman Fabyan was appointed with John Brooke, and John Warner, late sheriff, to keep the gates of Ludgate and Newgate, the postern of the house of Friars-preachers, and the Bar of the New Temple. A few months after, in the thirteenth of Henry VII. we find him an assessor upon the different wards of London, of the fifteenth which had been granted to the king for the Scottish war. In 1502, on the pretext of poverty, he resigned the alderman’s gown, not willing to take the mayoralty; and probably retired to the mansion in Essex, mentioned in his will, at Theydon Gernon. That he was opulent at this period cannot be doubted, but he seems to have considered that the expences of the chief magistracy were too great, even at that time, to be sustained by a man who had a family of sixteen children, for such is the number specified in his will, and whose figures in brass he ordered to be placed upon his monument. Stowe, in his “Survey of London,” gives the English part of the epitaph on Fabyan’s tomb, from the church of St. Michael, Cornhill, and says he died in 1511; adding that his monument was gone. Bale, who places Fabyan’s death on February 28, 1512, is probably nearest the truth, as his will", though dated July ilth, 1511, was not proved till July 12th, 1513; which, according to the ecclesiastical computation, would be somewhat less than five months after the supposed time of his death. His will, which affords a curious comment on the manners of the time of Henry VIII. may be seen in Mr. Ellis’ s late excellent edition of his | Chronicle, to the preface to which edition this article is solely indebted.

From several passages in Fabyan’s history, it is evident that he was conversant in French, and no layman of the age he lived in is said to have been better skilled in the Latin language. With these accomplishments, with great opportunities, and with a taste for poetry, he endeavoured to reconcile the discordant testimonies of historians, and therefore named his work “The Concordance of Histories;” adding the fruits of personal observation in the latter and more interesting portion of his Chronicle. His poetry, indeed, is not of a superior cast. Mr. Warton considered “The Complaint of king Edward II.” to be the best of his metres but observes, that it is a translation from a Latin poem attributed to that monarch, but probably written by William of Wyrcestre. “Our author’s transitions,” he adds, “from prose to verse, in the course of a prolix narrative, seem to be made with much ease, and when he begins to versify, the historian disappears only by the addition of rhyme and stanza.

Fabyan, like the old chroniclers in general, for fear of neglecting some important facts, went beyond the age of historical certainty in his details. He divides his Chronicles into seven portions, giving a copy of verses as an epilogue to each, under the title of the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin. The first six portions bring his history from the landing of Brute to the Norman conquest. The seventh extends from the conquest to the conclusion. That he was a little tinged with superstition must be allowed; but he was no great favourer of the monastic institution, and his observations on some of the miracles related in his history are too pointed to be mistaken.

There have been five editions of Fabyan; the first printed by Pynson, in 1516, the great rarity of which is attributed by Bale to cardinal Wolsey, who ordered some copies “exemplaria nonnulla” to be burnt, because the author had made too clear a discovery of the revenues of the clergy. This obnoxious part, Mr. Ellis thinks, was the abstract of the bill projected by the house of commons in the eleventh year of Henry IV. for depriving ecclesiastics of their temporal possessions. Bale’s assertion, however, is unsupported by any other writer. The second edition was printed by Rastell in 1533; the third by John Reynes in 1542; the fourth by Kingston in 1559, all in folio; and | the fifth makes part of the series of Chronicles lately reprinted by a society of the most eminent booksellers of London, and was edited by Henry Ellis, esq. F. R. S. and F. S. A. with such collations and improvements as give it a very superior value. It is reprinted from Pynson’s edition of 1516, the first part collated with the editions of 1533, 1542, and 1559, and the second with a manuscript of the author’s own time, as well as the subsequent editions including the different continuations. 1

1 Preface as above.