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John Leland


John Leland, antiquary

John Leland (1502 - 1552) was an English antiquary. He was born in London. He was a pupil to William Lily, the celebrated grammarian—the first head master of St. Paul's school; and by the kindness and liberality of a Mr. Myles, he was sent to Christ's college. Cambridge. From this university he removed to All Souls, Oxford, where he paid particular attention to the Greek language. He afterwards went to Paris, where he cultivated the acquaintance of the principal scholars of the age, and could probably number among his correspondents [pg 389] the illustrious names of Buddoeus, Erasmus, the Stephani, Faber, and Turnebus; in this city he perfected himself in the knowledge of the Latin and Greek tongues, to which he afterwards added that of several modern languages. On his return to England he took orders, and was appointed one of the chaplains to King Henry VIII, who gave him the rectory of Popelay, in the marshes of Calais, appointed him his library keeper, and conferred on him the title of Royal Antiquary, which no other person in this kingdom, before, or after possessed. In this character his majesty in 1533 granted him a commission, empowering him to search after England's antiquities, and peruse the libraries of all cathedrals, abbeys, priories, colleges, &c., as also all the places wherein records, writings, and whatever else was lodged that related to antiquity. "Before Leland's time," says Hearne, in his preface to the Itinerary, "all the literary monuments of antiquity were totally disregarded; and the students of Germany apprised of this culpable indifference, were suffered to enter our libraries unmolested, and to cut out of the books deposited there whatever passages they thought proper, which they afterwards published as relics of the ancient literature of their own country."

In this research Leland was occupied above six years in travelling through England, and in visiting all the remains of ancient buildings and monuments of every kind. On its completion, he hastened to the metropolis, to lay at the feet of his sovereign the result of his labours, which he presented to Henry, under the title of a "New Year's Gift," (This was published by Bale in 1549, 8vo) in which he says, "I have so traviled yn your dominions booth by the se costes and the midle partes, sparing nother labor nor costes, by the space of these vi. yeres paste, that there is almoste nother cape, nor bay, haven, creke or peers, river or confluence of rivers, breches, watchies, lakes, meres, fenny waters, montagnes, valleis, mores, hethes, forestes, chases wooddes, cities, burges, castelles, principale manor placis, monasteries, and colleges, but I have seene them; and notid yn so doing a hole worlde of thinges very memorable."

At the dissolution of the monasteries, Leland made application to Secretary Cromwell, to entreat his assistance in getting the MSS. they contained sent to the king's library. In 1542 Henry presented him with the valuable rectory of Hasely, in Oxfordshire; the year following he preferred him to a canonry of King's college, now Christchurch, Oxford, and about the same time collated him to a prebend in the church of Sarum. As his duties in the church did not require much active service, he retired with his collections to his house in London, where he sat about digesting them, and preparing the publication he had promised to the world; but either his intense application, or some other cause, brought upon him a total derangement of mind, and after lingering two years in this state, he died on the 18th of April, 1552.

His notes have survived, and are an invaluable primary source not only for the local history and the geography of England, but also for archaeology, and both cultural and economic history.

The writings of Leland are numerous; in his lifetime he published several Latin and Greek poems, and some tracts on antiquarian subjects. His valuable and voluminous MSS., after passing through many hands, came into the Bodleian library, furnishing very valuable materials to Stow, Lambard, Camden, Burton, Dugdale, and many other antiquaries and historians. Polydore Virgil, who had stolen from them pretty freely, had the insolence to abuse Leland's memory—calling him "a vain glorious man." From these collections Hall published, in 1709, "Commentarii de Scriptoribus Brittanicis." "The Itinerary of John Leland, Antiquary," was published by the celebrated Hearne, at Oxford, in nine volumes, 8vo., 1710, of which a second edition was printed in 1745, with considerable improvements and additions. The same editor published "Joannis Lelandi Antiquarii de Rebus Brittanicis Collectanea." in six volumes, Oxon. 1716, 8vo.


  • The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. 10, Issue 286, December 8, 1827

John Leland, Presbyterian minister

John Leland (1691 - 1766) was a Presbyterian minister and author of theological works. Born in Wigan, Lancashire, he was educated in Dublin, Ireland (then part of Great Britain), and went into the ministry there. His main interest was in opposing Deism, and he attacked proponents of Deist ideas, such as Matthew Tindal.

John Leland, Baptist minister

John Leland (1754 - 1841) was a Baptist minister in Massachusetts and Virginia. He was an important figure in the struggle for religious liberty in the United States. Leland also later opposed the rise of missionary societies among Baptists. He was born on May 14, 1754, in Grafton, Massachusetts and died on January 14, 1841 in Cheshire, Massachusetts.

  • Writing of John Leland Web Site - (a work in progress)

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