Arthur Agarde

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Arthur Agarde
Died1615 (aged 74–75)
OccupationDeputy-chamberlain and antiquary

Arthur Agarde (1540–1615) was an English antiquary. His name is also spelt 'Agard' in contemporary sources[1]. He was born in Foston, Derbyshire. Agarde was trained as a lawyer, but entered the exchequer as a clerk.[2]

On the authority of Anthony à Wood it has been stated that he was appointed by Sir Nicholas Throckmorton to be deputy-chamberlain in 1570, and that he held this office for forty-five years, first informally, before he gained formal appointment in 1603. In this capacity, he was responsible for what would be a 40-year project to compile inventories of the four treasuries at Westminster, which contained both royal and abbey records.[3] This was an ideal place to pursue his antiquarian interests and he was one of the original members of the Society of Antiquaries.[2] The documents in his care at Westminster included Domesday Book, kept under special protection in his office. Agard also mentioned the ‘ancient registers and books which have fallen into my hands’ and, to judge by the range he cited in his varied contributions to the Society of Antiquaries' discussions, this material was diverse. Society members consulted Agard for advice on what material might be available.

Thomas Hearne, in his Collection of Curious Discourses written by Eminent Antiquaries (Oxford, 1720 first edition, but extended second edition published in 1773)[4], includes six essays by Agarde[2] titled as follows:[5]

  • Opinion touching the Antiquity, Power, Order, State, Manner, Persons and Proceedings of the High-court of Parliament in England
  • Of What Antiquity Shires were in England?
  • On the dimensions of the lands of England
  • The Authority, Office, and Privileges of Heralds in England
  • Of the Antiquity and Privileges of the Houses or Inns of Court, and of Chancery
  • Of the diversity of names of this island

The discussion on the dimensions of land, on 24 November 1599, gives an insight into Agard's research methods: Although I must confess that in this proposition I have more travelled than in any of the former, for that it concerneth me more to understand the right thereof, especially in that sundry have resorted to me thereabouts to know whether I have in my custody any records that avouch the same in certainty; yet so it fareth with me, that in perusing as well those abbreviations I have noted out of Domesday and other records …, as also those notes I have quoted out of ancient registers and books which have fallen into my hands within these xxx. years, I have found the diversity of measurement so variable and different in every … place in the realm, as I was in a mammering … .[6]

Agard, among the royal and Westminster Abbey archives, was not short of charters; he also had a private collection, including the Chertsey Abbey cartulary.[7] Few people at this time had any understanding of Anglo-Saxon. In the 1591 shire discussion, Agard shows no sign of understanding Old English but, during the following decade, he tried to rectify this by compiling a glossary, as he explained when discussing the etymology of steward in 1603: I take it to be derived from the Saxon, the later sillable ward, signifying watchfull or carefull over any thing; for soe … I fynd it expounded by an old booke of Canterbury [out of which I wrote the exposition of sundry Saxon words by alphabet].[8]

He also wrote a large work on the Domesday Book titled Tractatus de usu et obscurioribus verbis libri de Doomsday (lit. A Treatise on the Use and Meaning of the obscure Words in the Doomsday Book) as well as a guide book for his successors in office containing a catalogue of the records of the Treasury and an account of treaties with foreign nations.[5]

Agarde died between 22 and 24 August 1615, when almost 80, and was buried in the cloister of Westminster Abbey, on his tomb being inscribed Recordorum regiorum hic prope depositorum diligens scrutator. He bequeathed to the exchequer all his papers relating to that court, and to his friend Sir Robert Cotton his other manuscripts, amounting to twenty volumes, most of which are now in the British Museum.[2]

Agarde married sometime after 8 February 1570.[9] Margaret, daughter of George Butler of Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire[10] She died in1611, as the monument he raised to her in the cloister of Westminster Abbey states. They had no children and his nephew William Agard became his executor and residuary legatee, though he bequeathed many of his manuscripts elsewhere.[11]


  1. ^ This is the preferred spelling in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, G. H. Martin, ‘Agard, Arthur (1535/6–1615)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 7 Dec 2016(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Agarde, Arthur". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 366.
  3. ^ G. Martin, ‘Agard, Arthur (1535/6–1615)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
  4. ^ Hearne, Thomas (ed), A collection of curious discourses written by eminent antiquaries upon several heads in our English antiquities. Together with Mr. Thomas Hearne's preface and appendix to the former edition. To which are added a great number of antiquary discourses written by the same authors. Most of them now first published from the Original Manuscripts. With an account of the Lives and Writings of the Original Society of Antiquarians. In two volumes.... (London 1773)
  5. ^ a b Society of gentlemen (1780). The Biographical Dictionary, Or, Complete Historical Library: Containing the Lives of the Most Celebrated Personages of Great Britain and Ireland, Whether Admirals, Generals, Poets, Statesmen, Philosophers, Or Divines : a Work Replete with Instruction and Entertainment. F. Newbery. p. 23.
  6. ^ Hearne, Curious Discourses, i, 43
  7. ^ S127, which he had 'given' to Sir Robert Cotton by 1611, at least, according to Cotton: The Electronic Sawyer Online catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Charters -
  8. ^ Hearne, Curious Discourses, ii: 41, on the High Steward of England (4 June 1603
  9. ^ Sir Nicholas' left separate legacies in his will dated 8 February 1570 to Margaret Butler and Arthur Agard
  10. ^ M. Hoefer, Nouvelle Biographie Générale. Paris, France: Firmin Didot Frères, Fils et Cie, 1857. Agard was friendly with Robert Cotton. All the manuscripts which were not mentioned in the catalogue on display at the Cottonienne [Cottonian] library now found at Oxford. It has been on exhibition at Westminster Abbey and a small monument has been erected to its memory along with an inscription, mostly unreadable/erased from which we can read the name of his wife Margaret, daughter of George Butler of Sharnbrook.
  11. ^ Martin, ‘Agard’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 7 Dec 2016