Thomas Rymer

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Not to be confused with Thomas the Rhymer, a 13th-century Scots laird.

Thomas Rymer (c. 1643 – 14 December 1713)[1] was an English antiquary and historian. His most lasting contribution was his compilation and publication of the Foedera, sixteen volumes of texts of agreements made between The Crown of England and foreign powers during all earlier centuries. He held the office of English Historiographer Royal from 1692 to 1714.

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Rymer was born at Appleton Wiske, near Northallerton in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1643,[2] or possibly at Yafforth. He was the younger son of Ralph Rymer, lord of the manor of Brafferton in Yorkshire, described by Clarendon as possessed of a good estate. The father was executed for his part in the Farnley Wood Plot of 1663. The son studied at Northallerton Grammar School where he was a classmate of George Hickes.[2] Here he studied for eight years under Thomas Smelt, a noted Royalist.[3] Aged sixteen, he then went to study at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, entering on 29 April 1659.[3]

Although Rymer was still at Cambridge in 1662, when he contributed Latin verses to a university volume celebrating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, there is no record of his taking a degree. This may have been due to the financial problems his father was suffering at the time, or the fact that on 13 October 1663 his father was arrested, and executed the following year, for his involvement in the Farnley Wood Plot to stage an uprising in Yorkshire against Charles II. Although Thomas's elder brother Ralph was also arrested and imprisoned, Thomas himself was not implicated, and on 2 May 1666, he became a member of Gray's Inn, and was called to the bar on 16 June 1673.[4]


Rymer's first appearance in print was as translator of René Rapin's Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie (1674), to which he added a preface in defence of the classical rules for unity in drama.[5] Following the principles there set forth, he composed a tragedy in verse, licensed 13 September 1677, called Edgar, or the English Monarch, which was a failure. It was printed in 1678.[4]

Rymer's views on the drama were again given to the world in the shape of a printed letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, the friend of Prior, under the title of The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider'd (1678). To Ovid's Epistles Translated by Several Hands (1680), with preface by Dryden, Penelope to Ulysses was contributed by Rymer, who was also one of the hands who Englished the Plutarch of 1683–86. The life of Nicias fell to his share. He furnished a preface to Whitelocke's Memorials of English Affairs (1682), and wrote in 1681 A General Draught and Prospect of the Government of Europe, reprinted in 1689 and 1714 as Of the Antiquity, Power, and Decay of Parliaments, where, ignorant of his future dignity, the critic had the misfortune to observe, "You are not to expect truth from an historiographer royal."

He contributed three pieces to the collection of Poems to the Memory of Edmund Waller (1688), afterwards reprinted in Dryden's Miscellany Poems, and is said to have written the Latin inscription on Waller's monument in Beaconsfield churchyard. The preface to the posthumous Historia Ecclesiastica (1688) of Thomas Hobbes is said to have been by Rymer, but the Life of Hobbes (1681) sometimes ascribed to him was written by Richard Blackburne. He produced a congratulatory poem upon the arrival of Queen Mary in 1689.[4]

His next piece of authorship was to translate the sixth elegy of the third book of Ovid's Tristia for Dryden's Miscellany Poems (1692, p. 148). On the death of Thomas Shadwell in 1692 Rymer received the appointment of historiographer royal, at a yearly salary of £200.[4] Immediately afterwards appeared his much discussed Short View of Tragedy (1693), criticising Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, which produced The Impartial Critick (1693) of John Dennis, the epigram of Dryden.


Rymer's most lasting contribution to scholarship was the Foedera, a collection of "all the leagues, treaties, alliances, capitulations, and confederacies, which have at any time been made between the Crown of England and any other kingdoms, princes and states".[6] Documents were presented in Latin with summaries in English.[6] Begun under a royal warrant in 1693, it was "an immense labour of research and transcription on which he spent the last twenty years of his life".[7][8]

The first edition of the Foedera comprised 20 volumes dated from 1704 to 1735. Sixteen were prepared by Rymer, of which the last two were published posthumously by his assistant Robert Sanderson, who himself compiled the remaining volumes, the last three being supplementary.[8]

George Holmes revised the first 17 volumes, published from 1727 to 1735, as well as a single folio (in 1730) of corrections to the first edition.[8][9]

The "Hague edition" was published from 1737 to 1745 in "ten closely-printed folio volumes".[8][nb 1] The first nine reprinted the London edition, with the tenth combining Paul de Rapin's French-language synopsis and an index to the Foedera.[8][9] Rapin's text had been translated into English in 1733.[11]

The Record Commission in 1800 proposed a "Supplement and Continuation" to the Foedera; in 1809 it decided instead on a complete revision.[8] Seven parts were prepared before the project was abandoned owing to dissatisfaction with the editing.[8][9] Six parts in three volumes were published from 1816 to 1830, and the seventh in 1869, along with miscellaneous notes.[nb 2] The work was thus revised up to the year 1383.[8][9] A three-volume English-language summary and index of the complete Foedera followed.[13] The Victoria County History guide recommends citing the Record Commission (RC) edition where available and the Hague edition otherwise.[14]


Rymer died on 14 December 1713, and was buried four days later in St Clement Danes Church in the Strand.[2] He apparently left no immediate family.[4]


  1. ^ All volumes are scanned at the Internet Archive.[10] Book 8 to 12 (of 20, covering 1397 to 1502) are available at British History Online.[6]
  2. ^ All volumes are scanned at HathiTrust.[12]


  1. ^ Arthur Sherbo, "Rymer, Thomas (1642/3–1713)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 17 Oct 2017
  2. ^ a b c Riordan, Michael. From Middle Ages to Millennium Northallerton Grammar School and College 1322–2000. County Print. p. 10. ISBN 1-86123-103-2.
  3. ^ a b "Rymer, Thomas (RMR659T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ a b c d e Lee 1897.
  5. ^ A translation of Cicero's Prince (1668), sometimes said to be Rymer's first publication, is actually the work of Thomas Ross. See Curt Zimansky, The Critical Works of Thomas Rymer (1956), p. 284.
  6. ^ a b c "Rymer's Foedera". British History Online. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  7. ^ Zimansky, xvii–xx. The quote is from page xviii.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Record Commission; No. III; II. Rhymer's Fœdera. Three Volumes". The Gentleman's Magazine. Edinburgh: F. Jefferies: 23–30 : 27–30. July 1834. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d Tedder 1911
  10. ^ Foedera (Hague edition), Internet Archive: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5, Vol 6, Vol 7, Vol 8, Vol 9, Vol 10.
  11. ^ Whatley, Stephen (1733). Acta Regia; Being the Account which Mr. Rapin de Thoyras Published of the History of England, and Grounded Upon Those Records, which are Collected in Mr. Rymers Foedera. London: Printed by James Mechell.
  12. ^ Vols 1 to 3 (parts 1 to 6) from University of Minnesota; Vol. 4 from University of Iowa; Appendices from Yale University.
  13. ^ Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1869–85). Syllabus (in English) of the documents relating to England and other kingdoms contained in the collection known as "Rymer's Foedera.". Public Record Office.v.1. 1066–1377 (1869); v.2. 1377–1654 (1873); v.3. Appendix and index (1885).
  14. ^ "Writing for the VCH » Style guidelines » Rymer's Foedera". Victoria County History. Retrieved 25 May 2017.


  • Reedy, Gerard (1978). "Rymer and history". Clio. 7 (3): 409–22.
  • Sherbo, Arthur (2013) [2004]. "Rymer, Thomas (1642/3–1713)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24426. (subscription required)
  • Zimansky, Curt A. (1956). The Critical Works of Thomas Rymer. New Haven: Yale University Press.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Thomas Shadwell
English Historiographer Royal
Succeeded by
Thomas Madox