John Theyer

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John Theyer (1597–1673) was an English royalist lawyer and writer, an antiquary and bibliophile.


He was the son of John Theyer (d. 1631), and grandson of Thomas Theyer of Brockworth, Gloucestershire, and was born there in 1597. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, when about sixteen, but did not graduate. After three years at Magdalen he practised common law at New Inn. Anthony Wood's mother proposed to send her son to qualify under Theyer as an attorney. Wood did not go, but he became a lifelong friend, and visited Theyer to make use of his library. It was at Cooper's Hill, Brockworth, a small estate given Theyer by his father on his marriage in 1628. Theyer resided mainly at Brockworth.[1]

At the start of the First English War in 1642, he intervened at Painswick church, where some iconoclastic Parliamentarians had been active; his wife claimed descent from the courtier William Kingston who had an elaborate tomb in the church. Theyer made a court appearance in September with two local men, was fined, and added some church brasses to his collection in 1644;[2][3] the tomb inscription to Kingston was later reported lost.[4] In 1643 Theyer was in Oxford, serving in the king's army. Wood says he became a Roman Catholic about this time. His estate was sequestrated by the parliament, who pronounced him one of the most 'inveterate' with whom they had to deal. His family were almost destitute until his discharge was obtained on 4 November 1652.[1]

Theyer died at Cooper's Hill on 25 August 1673, and was buried in Brockworth churchyard on the 28th.[1]


Theyer presented to Charles I, in Merton College garden, a copy of his Aerio Mastix, or a Vindication of the Apostolicall and generally received Government of the Church of Christ by Bishops, Oxford, 1643.[1][5] It was a controversial work, a contribution to the debate on episcopacy arising from Smectymnuus;[6] the title references Aerius of Sebaste, who in the view of some of Theyer's contemporaries was the first Presbyterian.[7] On 6 July 1643 he was created M.A. on merit, by the king's command. He began, but did not live to finish, A Friendly Debate between Protestants and Papists.[1]


By his wife Susan, Theyer had a son John; the latter's son Charles (b. 1651) matriculated at University College, Oxford, on 7 May 1668, and was probably the lecturer of Totteridge, Hertfordshire, who published A Sermon on her Majesty's Happy Anniversary, London, 1707.[1]

Theyer Library[edit]

Richard Hart, the last prior of Llanthony Secunda, Gloucestershire, was lord of the manor of Brockworth, and the builder of Brockworth Court; he was also the brother of Theyer's grandmother Ann Hart. Theyer inherited Hart's library of manuscripts, which determined his direction as collector.[1] He collected manuscripts from the West Midlands, in particular;[8] he made acquisitions from Worcester and West of England religious houses,[9] including Buckfast Abbey and Hailes Abbey.[10]

Brockworth Court, Gloucestershire, today.

To his grandson Charles, Theyer bequeathed 800 manuscripts.[11] Charles Theyer then offered them to Oxford University, and the Bodleian Library despatched Edward Bernard to see them, but no purchase was made, and they passed into the hands of Robert Scott, a bookseller of London. A catalogue of 336 volumes, dated 29 July 1678, was prepared by William Beveridge and William Jane.[12] The Theyer collection was bought by Charles II, after Beveridge and Jane had beaten Scott down to half the asking price on some key items.[13] This 1678 accession to the Library was handled by Henry Thynne;[14] it is considered the major addition to the collection of this period, excepting only the Codex Alexandrinus. The 1697 Catalogus Manuscriptorum Angliæ by Bernard does not mention the location as the Royal Library, an anomaly for which Richard Bentley was responsible as librarian.[15] It gives 312 items.[1]

The whole collection passed with the Old Royal Library to the British Museum (see Royal manuscripts, British Library).[1]

Montague Rhodes James researched the bequest to Charles Theyer. It led him to trace the passage of manuscripts at Llanthony to the library at Lambeth Palace.[16]

Particular items[edit]

Page from a 15th-century manuscript owned by John Theyer.[17] It is from The Vision of William of Stranton (also William Staunton), a religious work relating to St Patrick's Purgatory.

Theyer's library included works of Roger Bacon, and manuscripts of Thomas Cranmer once thought lost.[15] Humphrey Wanley claimed that Cranmer's Commonplace Book was acquired by Henry Compton, and only later was added to the larger collection of the Old Royal Library.[18] Other items were literature, the Canterbury Tales[19] and William Forrest.[20] Theyer had a manuscript of Dives and Pauper, a work from around 1400, and attributed it to the Carmelite Henry Parker, as did John Bale, but modern scholarship disagrees.[21][22] A Harley manuscript (MS Harley 460) has a list of the books at Llanthony Priory in about 1350,[23] and an Anglo-Saxon prayerbook of about 820, in Latin with glosses in a Mercian dialect of Old English, which may have been written for a female physician.[24] Perhaps the best known manuscript is the Westminster Psalter (Royal 2. A. xxii), a psalter from Westminster Abbey with important illuminations, begun about 1200, to which five tinted drawings were added some fifty years later.[25] According to the British Library it contains "some of the most elegant and refined painting of the period".[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i  "Theyer, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ Welbore St. Clair Baddeley, A Cotteswold Manor; being the history of Painswick (1907), pp. 201–2;
  3. ^ Welbore St. Clair Baddeley, History of the Church of St. Mary at Painswick (1902), p. 36;
  4. ^ Cecil Tudor Davis, The Monumental Brasses of Gloucestershire (1899) p. 217;
  5. ^ Full title given as Aerio-mastix, or, A vindication of the apostolicall and generally received government of the Church of Christ by bishops against the schismaticall Aèerians of our time wherein is evidently demonstrated that bishops are jure divino : 1 as they are superintendents of the inferiour clergy, 2 as without whom there can be no lawfull ordination, 3 as through whom lawfull succession is deduced by scriptures, fathers, councells : with answers to the principall objections against episcopacy : digested into and exact method; catalogue entry.
  6. ^ Peter Heylyn, Cyprianus anglius: or the History of the Life and Death of the most Reverend and renowned Prelate William Archbishop of Canterbury (1668), p. 496; Google Books.
  7. ^ Henry Kaye Bonney, The Life of the Right Reverend Father in God, Jeremy Taylor (1815), p. 21 note b; Google Books.
  8. ^ Louise Sylvester, Lexis and Texts in Early English: studies presented to Jane Roberts (2001), p. 53; Google Books.
  9. ^ Julius Parnell Gilson, The Library of Henry Savile, of Banke, in Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, London vol. 9 (October 1906 – March 1908), p. 136;
  10. ^ Monastic Database page
  11. ^ They were catalogued in Harl. MS. 460.
  12. ^ Royal MS. Appendix, 70. The Collection.
  13. ^ Edward Edwards, Libraries and Founders of Libraries (1864, 2010 reprint), p. 172; Google Books.
  14. ^ Paul Ayris, David Selwyn, Thomas Cranmer: churchman and scholar (1999), p. 52; Google Books.
  15. ^ a b J. M. Stone, Studies from Court and Cloister (2004), p. 244; Google Books.
  16. ^ Montague Rhodes James, The Manuscripts in the Library at Lambeth Palace (1900);
  17. ^ British Library Catalogue.
  18. ^ Ayris and Selwyn, p. 313; Google Books.
  19. ^ Late Medieval English Scribes
  20. ^ Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry (1781), p. 827 note 3; Google Books.
  21. ^ Priscilla Heath Barnum, Dives and Pauper, Volume 2 (2004), p. lix; Google Books.
  22. ^ Copsey, Richard. "Parker, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21304.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  23. ^ British Library, Harley MS 460
  24. ^ British Library, Royal MS 2 A xx
  25. ^ BL catalogue Westminster Psalter; Nigel Morgan, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, Volume 4: Early Gothic Manuscripts, Part 1 1190–1250, Harvey Miller Ltd, London, 1982, ISBN 0-19-921026-8, No. 2
  26. ^ BL blog, "The Westminster Psalter"

Further reading[edit]

  • Luis Thayer Ojeda, William Bazeley (1907), The Thayer Family of Brockworth

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Theyer, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.