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John Stow

John Stow

Stow, John, 1525?-1605, English chronicler and antiquarian. He was a tailor in his youth, but after 1560 he came under the patronage of Archbishop Matthew Parker, whose Society of Antiquaries he joined, and began collecting historical documents and manuscripts. His edition of Chaucer appeared in 1561, and in 1565 he produced a Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles. His work was periodically examined by the government, as he was suspected of Roman Catholic inclinations. His Chronicles of England (1580) was first called Annales of England (its best-known title) in the edition of 1592. He produced editions of the work of Holinshed and other English chroniclers. In 1598 there appeared his Survey of London, an immensely valuable account of the city in Elizabethan times. John Strype issued a new edition in 1720 (repr. 1971). Stow is one of the most trustworthy of 16th-century chroniclers.

John Stow (c. 1525–6 April 1605), was an English historian and antiquarian.

The son of Thomas Stow, a tallow-chandler, he was born about 1525 in London, in the parish of St Michael, Cornhill. His father's whole rent for his house and garden was only 6s. 6d. a year, and Stow in his youth fetched milk every morning from a farm belonging to the convent of the Minories. He did not follow his father's trade, but was apprenticed as a merchant tailor, being admitted to the Merchant Taylor's company in 1547 and, by 1547, had established a business at a house near the well within Aldgate, between Leadenhall and Fenchurch Street. In the 1570s, he removed to a house in St Andrew's parish, in Lime Street ward, where he lived till his death. In about 1560 he entered upon the work with which his name is associated.

Works

He made the acquaintance of the leading antiquarians of his time, including William Camden, and in 1561 he published his first work, The woorkes of Geffrey Chaucer, newly printed with divers additions whiche were never in printe before. This was followed in 1565 by his Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles, which was frequently reprinted, with slight variations, during his lifetime. Of the first edition a copy was said to have been at one time in the Grenville library. In the British Museum there are copies of the editions of 1567, 1573, 1590, 1598 and 1604. Stow having in his dedication to the edition of 1567 referred to the rival publication of Richard Grafton (c. 1500 - c. 1572) in terms, the dispute between them became extremely embittered.

Stow's antiquarian tastes brought him under ecclesiastical suspicion as a person "with many dangerous and superstitious books in his possession," and in 1568 his house was searched. An inventory was taken of certain books he possessed "in defence of papistry," but he was apparently able to satisfy his interrogators of the soundness of his Protestantism. A second attempt to incriminate him in 1570 was also without result. In 1580, Stow published his Annales, or a Generale Chronicle of England from Brute until the present yeare of Christ 1580; it was reprinted in 1592, 1601 and 1605, the last being continued to March 26 1605, or within ten days of his death; editions "amended" by Edmund Howes appeared in 1615 and 1631.

Survey of London

The work for which Stow is best known is his Survey of London, published in 1598, not only interesting from the quaint simplicity of its style and its amusing descriptions and anecdotes, but of unique value from its minute account of the buildings, social condition and customs of London in the time of Elizabeth I. A second edition appeared in his lifetime in 1603, a third with additions by Anthony Munday in 1618, a fourth by Munday and Dyson in 1633, a fifth with interpolated amendments by John Strype in 1720, and a sixth by the same editor in 1754. The edition of 1798 was reprinted, edited by WJ Thorns, in 1842, in 1846, and with illustrations in 1876. Through the patronage of Archbishop Matthew Parker, Stow was able to print the Flores historiarum of Matthew of Westminster in 1567, the Chronicle of Matthew Paris in 1571, and the Historia brevis of Thomas Walsingham in 1574.

At the request of Parker he had compiled a "farre larger volume," a history of Britain, but circumstances were unfavourable to its publication and the manuscript was lost. Additions to the previously published works of Chaucer were twice made through Stow's "own painful labours" in the edition of 1561, referred to above, and also in 1597. A number of Stow's manuscripts are in the Harleian collection in the British Museum. Some are in the Lambeth library (No. 306); and from the volume which includes them were published by the Camden Society, edited by James Gairdner, Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles, with Historical Memoranda by John Stowe the Antiquary, and Contemporary Notes of Occurrences written by him (1880).

Decline

Stow's literary labours did not prove very remunerative, but he accepted poverty in a cheerful spirit. Ben Jonson relates that once when walking with him Stow jocularly asked two mendicant cripples "what they would have to take him to their order." In March 1604 James I authorized him and his deputies to collect "amongst our loving subjects their voluntary contributions and kind gratuities," and himself began "the largesse for the example of others." If the royal appeal was successful Stow did not live long to enjoy the increased comfort resulting from it. He was buried in the London church of St Andrew Undershaft, where the monument erected by his widow, a terracotta figure of him, still remains.

References

  • Barrett L. Beer: Tudor England Observed — the World of John Stow, Sutton Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-7509-1943-4
  • Ian Gadd and Alexandra Gillespie (eds): John Stow (1525-1605) and the making of the English past : studies in early modern culture and the history of the book. London, British Library, 2004. ISBN 0712348646

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