John Allen Giles

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John Allen Giles by Charles J. Grant.

Rev. John Allen Giles (1808–1884) was an English historian. He was primarily known as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and history. He revised Stevens' translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He was a fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.[1]


The son of William Giles and his wife Sophia, née Allen, he was born on 26 October 1808 at Southwick House, in the parish of Mark, Somerset. At the age of sixteen he entered Charterhouse School as a Somerset scholar. From Charterhouse he was elected to a Bath and Wells scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 26 November 1824. In Easter term 1828 he obtained a double first class, and shortly afterwards graduated B.A., proceeding M.A. in 1831, in which year he gained the Vinerian scholarship, and took his D.C.L. degree in 1838. His election to a fellowship at Corpus on 15 November 1832 followed his college scholarship as a matter of course.[2]

Giles wished to become a barrister, but was persuaded by his mother to take orders, and was ordained to the curacy of Cossington, Somerset. The following year he vacated his fellowship, and was married. In 1834 he was appointed to the head-mastership of Camberwell College School, and on 24 November 1836 was elected head-master of the City of London School. The school did not do well under him, and he resigned on 23 January 1840; his resignation, however, has also been attributed to some misfortune connected with building speculations. He was succeeded by George Ferris Whidborne Mortimer. He retired to a house which he built near Bagshot, and there took pupils, and wrote.[2]

After a few years Giles became curate of Bampton, Oxfordshire, where he continued taking pupils, and edited and wrote a great number of books. Among them was one entitled Christian Records, published in 1854, which related to the age and authenticity of the books of the New Testament. Samuel Wilberforce as bishop of Oxford, required him, on pain of losing his curacy, to suppress this work, and break off with another literary. After some letters, which were published, he complied with the bishop's demand.[2]

On 6 March 1855 Giles was tried at the Oxford spring assizes before Lord Campbell, on the charges of having entered in the marriage register book of Bampton parish church a marriage under date 3 October 1854, which took place on the 5th, having himself performed the ceremony out of canonical hours, soon after 6 a.m.; of having falsely entered that it was performed by license; and of having forged the mark of a witness who was not present. He pleaded not guilty, but it was clear that he had committed the offence to cover the pregnancy of one of his servants, whom he married to her lover, Richard Pratt, a shoemaker's apprentice. Pratt's master, one of Giles's parishioners, instituted the proceedings. Giles spoke on his own behalf, and declared that he had published 120 volumes. His bishop also spoke for him. He was found guilty, but strongly recommended to mercy. Lord Campbell sentenced him to a year's imprisonment in Oxford Castle. After three months' imprisonment he was released by royal warrant on 4 June.[2]

After two or three years Giles took the curacy, with sole charge, of Perrivale in Middlesex, and after five years became curate of Harmondsworth, near Slough. At the end of a year he resigned this curacy, and went to live at Cranford, nearby, where he took pupils, and after a while moved to Ealing. He did not resume clerical work until he was presented in 1867 to the living of Sutton, Surrey, which he held for seventeen years, until his death on 24 September 1884.[2]


Much of Giles's work was hasty, and done for booksellers. His 'Scriptores Græci minores' was published in 1831, and his 'Latin Grammar' reached a third edition in 1833. He published a 'Greek Lexicon,' 1839.[2]

Between 1837 and 1843 Giles published the 'Patres Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ,' a series of thirty-four volumes, containing the works of Aldhelm, Bæda, Boniface, Lanfranc, Archbishop Thomas, John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois, Gilbert Foliot, and other authors. Several volumes of the Caxton Society's publications were edited by him, chiefly between 1845 and 1854. Among these were 'Anecdota Bædæ et aliorum,' ‘Benedictus Abbas, de Vita S. Thomæ,' ‘Chron. Angliæ Petroburgense,' ‘La révolte du Conte de Warwick,' and 'Vitæ quorundam Anglo-Saxonum.' His 'Scriptores rerum gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris' was published in 1845.[2]

Giles contributed to Bohn's Antiquarian Library translations of 'Matthew Paris,' 1847, 'Bede's Ecclesiastical History,' and the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,' 1849, and other works. In 1845 he published 'Life and Times of Thomas Becket,' 2 vols., translated into French, 1858; in 1847, 'History of the Ancient Britons,' 2 vols., and in 1848, 'Life and Times of Alfred the Great.'[2]

In 1847–8 appeared his 'History of Bampton,' 2 vols., and in 1852 his 'History of Witney and some neighbouring Parishes.' While at Bampton, in 1850 he published 'Hebrew Records' on the age and authenticity of the books of the Old Testament, and in 1854 'Christian Records on the Age, Authorship, and Authenticity of the Books of the New Testament,' in which he contended, in a preface dated 26 October 1853, that the 'Gospels and Acts were not in existence before the year 150,' and remarks that 'the objections of ancient philosophers, Celsus, Porphyry, and others, were drowned in the tide of orthodox resentment' (see Letters of the Bishop of Oxford and Dr. J. A. G., published in a separate volume).[2] A review of Giles' 1854 Christian Records,[3][4] states, "His [Giles] object is to establish ...that the historical books of the New Testament are without any evidence, external or internal, of origin from an apostolical period or source ; and abound in irreconcilable discrepancies."[5]

In 1853 he began to work on a series called 'Dr. Giles's Juvenile Library,' which went on appearing from time to time until 1860, and comprised a large number of school-books, 'First Lessons' on English, Scottish, Irish, French, and Indian history, on geography, astronomy, arithmetic, &c. He contributed 'Poetic Treasures' to Moxon's 'Popular Poets' in 1881.[2]

Marriage & progeny[edit]

Monumental brass in Dunsford Church, Devon, erected by Anna Isabella Giles to her husband Col. Baldwin III Fulford (1801-1871), displaying the arms of Giles: Azure, a cross between four cups uncovered or on a chief argent three pelicans vulning themselves proper[6]

Giles married Miss A. S. Dickinson, who survived him, and by whom he had progeny including:

  • (son) Giles, in the Bengal police,
  • Herbert Allen Giles, Professor of Chinese at the University of Cambridge.
  • Anna Isabella Giles, eldest daughter, married firstly to Dundas W. Cloeté of Churchill Court, Somerset,[2] secondly in 1868 to Col. Baldwin III Fulford (1801-1871) of Great Fulford, Dunsford, Devon, a Justice of the Peace for Devon, Chairman of Quarter Sessions and Colonel of the 1st Royal Devon Yeomanry.[7]
  • Younger daughter, unmarried.[2]


  1. ^ 1852 reprinted in Good stories from Oxford and Cambridge and the dioceses 1922 "Miss Brassie spilled a glass of wine when she was eight years old ; J. A. Giles was sitting next to her, and observed that it was an unladylike thing. " Not so unladylike," replied she, " to spill the wine, as it is ungentlemanlike in you to tell me of it."
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l  "Giles, John Allen". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  3. ^ Giles, John Allen (1877). Hebrew and Christian Records: An Historical Enquiry Concerning the Age and Authorship of the Old and New Testaments 1. Trübner & Company. p. 3. Image of Title page at Google Books 
  4. ^ Giles, John Allen (1877). Hebrew and Christian Records: An Historical Enquiry Concerning the Age and Authorship of the Old and New Testaments 2. Trübner & Company. p. 3. Image of Title page at Google Books 
  5. ^ The Foreign Quarterly Review. Treuttel. 1854. p. 552. His [Giles] object is to establish —against Paley especially— a set of purely negative results ; that the historical books of the New Testament are without any evidence, external or internal, of origin from an apostolical period or source ; and abound in irreconcileable discrepancies. ("Christian Records ; an Historical Inquiry concerning the Age, Authorship, and Authenticity of the New Testament." By the Rev. Dr. Giles, late Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. London: Whittaker and Co. 1854.) (Image of p. 552 at Google Books) 
  6. ^ Berry, William, Encyclopaedia Heraldica, Vol.4[1]
  7. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, pp. 847–8, pedigree of Fulford of Fulford

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

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