Kenelm Henry Digby

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Kenelm Henry Digby (c. 1797 – 1880) was an Anglo-Irish writer, whose reputation rests chiefly on his earliest publication, The Broad-Stone of Honour, or Rules for the Gentlemen of England (1822), which contains an exhaustive survey of medieval customs. The work was subsequently enlarged and issued (1828–29) in four volumes entitled: Godefridus, Tancredus, Morus and Orlandus. Digby's exposure to Walter Scott's Ivanhoe novels as a youth encouraged him to romanticize the Middle Ages. Broad-Stone contributed to the Young England movement’s feudalist ideology and influenced many of Digby's Cambridge contemporaries. The book inculcated readers with ideas of chivalry and staunch Catholicism and stressed the importance of the heart’s knowledge over intellectual learning by presenting historical figures as role models. Digby's revival of medieval principles helped young men of his day construct their idea of what being a "gentleman" means.

Born at Clonfert, he was 15 when his father died in 1812. He moved to England to attend Petersham High School near London. From 1816 to 1819, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] where some members of the university advocated reform and even republicanism; Digby, however, favoured a strong monarchy, the Church, and chivalry. At Cambridge, he read Tennyson and Hallam; his close friends there were George Darby, Julius Hare, William Whewell, and Adam Sedgwick. In summer, he traveled across Europe sketching old castles and writing.

Ehrenbreitstein, a massive mediaeval fortress in Germany, gave him the title The Broad-Stone of Honour. He published the book in a single volume in 1822, and the beliefs he explored while writing it seem to have contributed to his conversion to Catholicism in 1825. After that, he rewrote and expanded the one volume into four, published in 1828-29: Godfridus, containing a general introduction (named after Godfrey of Boulogne, a Crusade hero); Tancredus, discussing chivalry’s discipline and applauding Christianity (for Tancred of Hauteville, another Crusade hero); Morus, bashing the Reformation as the death of chivalry and religion (after Sir Thomas More); and Orlandus, which detailed Digby’s idea of chivalric behaviour (after Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso).[citation needed]


  • "Digby, Kenelm Henry" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  • Memoir of Kenelm Digby by Bernard Holland, first published 1919; paperback, Fisher Press, 1992 ISBN 1-874037-05-1
  1. ^ "Digby, Kenelm Henry (DGBY814KH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.

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