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John Twyne: a Tudor Humanist and the Problem of Legend

  • Arthur B. Ferguson

John Twyne deserves to be better known. Any man raised as he was in a society still not accustomed to drawing a clear line between history and myth, yet who struggled as valiantly as he did to make the nation's distant past comprehensible to men of reason, merits more than a second glance – if only because his failure to free himself completely from the myths and legends against which he was contesting tells as much about the limitations of humanist scholarship as his partial success tells about its potentialities. As it is, no one but the rare scholar interested in Geoffrey of Monmouth's reputation or the fortunes of the Brutus legend in Renaissance thought is likely ever to have heard of him. His one known work, the engagingly levelheaded (and at times engagingly wrongheaded) dialogue, De rebus Albionicis, Britannicis atque Anglicis, remained in the limbo of forgotten books until Sir Thomas Kendrick restored it to its proper place as one of the most resourceful critiques of the British History to appear in the century.

It is less, however, for his substantive contribution to the controversy over the Trojan origin of the British people that Twyne rates additional attention than for his approach to the problems involved in it – a fact which helps account for the neglect he has suffered. An original rather than a profound mind, not quite in the first rank of scholars despite his considerable classical learning, he nevertheless makes possible the examination, in a rarely revealing example, of the sense of temporal perspective then emerging in Renaissance England.

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1. Twyne, John, De rebus Albionicis, Britannicis atque Anglicis, Commentariorum libri duo (London, 1590), S.T.C. 24407. It was written for his son Thomas and published by him. It was probably written, however, sometime before 1550. It purports to be a dialogue that took place much earlier still, certainly well before the dissolution of the monasteries and, since it refers to a recent trip made by Juan Luis Vives to England, probably in the late 1520s.

2. SirKendrick, Thomas D., British Antiquity (Cambridge, 1950), esp. pp. 105–08. For biographical detail see D.N.B. Twyne was for twenty years headmaster of King's School, Canterbury, and a man of some prominence in the city, for brief periods mayor and also Member of Parliament.

3. Ferguson, A. B., “Circumstances and the Sense of History in Tudor England: the Coming of the Historical Revolution,” Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. Headley, John M. [Proceedings of Southeastern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, No. 3] (Chapel Hill, 1968), pp. 170205.

4. Ferguson, A. B., The Articulate Citizen and the English Renaissance (Durham, N.C., 1965), chs. viii-x.

5. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 67.

6. Ibid., p. 131.

7. The discourse is supposed to have taken place at the summer residence of John Foche, last Abbot of St. Augustine's at Sturry, near Canterbury. The others present were Wotten, then a youth and afterwards dean of Canterbury, Dygon, then a monk of St. Augustine's and later prior, and lastly Twyne himself, then certainly young. Foche does most of the talking, being the senior scholar present; the others serve largely to set up speeches for him. On the treatment of Polydore Vergil, see Kendrick, British Antiquity; also Hay, Denys, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance Historian and Man of Letters (Oxford, 1952).

8. See Young, A. M., Troy and Her Legend (Pittsburgh, 1948); Heninger, S. K., “The Tudor Myth of Troy-novant,” South Atlantic Quarterly, LXI (1962), 378–87.

9. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, p. 67.

10. Seznec, J., La survivance des dieux antiques (London, 1940).

11. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, p. 13.

12. Ibid., pp. 13-14; cf. Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain, tr. Evans, Sebastian (London, 1912), Bk. IV, ch. i. See also Levy, J. H., Tudor Historical Thought (San Marino, 1967), p. 146.

13. E.g., Llwyd, Humphrey, The Breviary of Britain, tr. Twyne, Thomas (London, 1573), S.T.C. 16636, fols. 1-4; SirPrice, John, Historiae Brytannicae defensio (London, 1573), S.T.C. 20309, p. 3. On these and other defenders of the British History, see also Kendrick, , British Antiquity, pp. 88 ff.

14. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 15, 18-19, 22, 27, 3233.

15. Ibid., pp. 32-33.

16. Ibid., pp. 38-39; cf. p. 20.

17. Ibid., pp. 13-14, 66-68. Both Polydore and John Rastell had also recognized this. Levy, , Tudor Historical Thought, pp. 5873. But note the sensible counterargument advanced by Price to the effect that the Romans were not in a position to know much about British origins. Price, , Defensio, p. 4.

18. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 6567.

19. Ibid., p. 92. “Sed vetus error occupauit animos multorum, ac fascinauit specie antiquitatis quadam suae, atque ita fascinauit, vt quod verum est deinceps certe nolint cernere.”

20. Leland, John, Assertio inclytissimi Arturii regis Britanniae (1544), tr. Robinson, Richard (London, 1582), esp. chs. x-xii, xv, in Middleton, Christopher, The Famous Historie of Chinon of England, ed. Mead, W. E. [E.E.T.S., original series, No. 165] (London, 1925). Leland, however, was more willing than Twyne to accept legends even when he recognized them as such.

21. Kendrick, , British Antiquity, p. 105.

22. SirElyot, Thomas, Bibliotheca Eliotae: Eliotis Librarie (London, 1545), S.T.C. 7660. Elyot expressed much the same skepticism as did Twyne about the notion that “Britain” was derived from “Brutus.” The suggestion that Elyot may have been the author of the De rebus Albionicis will not, I think, survive a careful reading of that document. See Hogrefe, Pearl, The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Elyot (Ames, 1967), pp. 104–05.

23. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, p. 118.

24. Ibid., p. 15.

25. Ibid., p. 16.

26. For primitivistic and antiprimitivistic references in classical writings, see Lovejoy, A. O. and Boas, George, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Baltimore, 1935).

27. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 7-9, 15-31, 98107.

28. Lambarde, William, A Perambulation of Kent (London, 1826), p. 11. Lambarde, writing in the early 1570s, must have read Twyne's manuscript or perhaps heard him speak. Alexander Neville, writing about the same time and also of Lambarde's circle, refers to the idea but says merely that it was held a nonnullis, Neville, Alexander, in Norwicus, De furoribus Norfolciensium Ketto duce (London, 1575), S.T.C. 18478, p. 13.

29. Norden, John, Speculum Britanniae (London, 1593), S.T.C. 18635, p. 2 Twyne does not mention Volscus, however.

30. Verstegen, Richard [pseudonym for Rowland, R.], A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities concerning … the English Nation (London, 1605), S.T.C. 21361, ch. iv. See also Spenser, Edmund, The Faerie Queen, II.x.5.

31. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 1731.

32. Ibid., pp. 24-25; for his full discussion of this evidence, see pp. 24-31. On the subject of changes in the Kentish coastline in ancient times, see Holmes, T. Rice, Ancient Britain and the Invasions of Julius Caesar (London, 1936), pp. 518–51.

33. Twyne, De rebus Albionicis, “quondam altum pelagus, et mare veliuolum?”

34. Ibid., pp. 96-103.

35. Ibid., pp. 105-07.

36. Ibid., p. 103. “Quod mihi non leue argumentum aduersum eos qui isthmum olim fuisse inter Britanniam Galliamque, vel negauerint, vel dubitauerint, saepenumero videri solet cogitanti qua via ac ratione alias 11 If primum in Albionem venerint.”

37. Ibid., p. 15.

38. Ibid., pp. 56-59.

39. Ibid., p. 48. It is interesting that Twyne did not take notice of the story published by his contemporary, John Bale, to the effect that one Samothes, son of Japhet, was the first postdiluvian king of Britain and that Albion, a collateral descendant, came later. See Bale, John, Illustrium majoris Britanniae Scriptorum Summarium (Ipswich [actually Wesel?], 1548), S.T.C. 1295.

40. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 16-17, 58-59, 9698.

41. Ibid., p. 97. “Tum Vochius, ridenda haec potius mehercule, inquit, quam refellenda … iudicauerim…. Deus bone, quae vnquam narratio audita est quae risu acciperatur dignior, ab ijs praesertim qui in veterum historicorum monumentis desudarunt?”

42. Piggott, Stuart, “Antiquarian Thought in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” in English Historical Scholarship in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, ed. Fox, Levi (Oxford, 1956), pp. 93114.

43. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 5960. “Quorum non pauca vestigia, nimirum aggeres, castella, caucas subterraneas, trophaea saxea, gygantum choraeas, sepulchra, non solum maiorum nostrorum aetas, verum etiam nostra contemplata est,” See also p. 75 for grave findings. It is interesting to notice that Leland also accepted giants on authority but would not admit the stories of gigantic grave remains. Leland, , Assertio, p. 30. Twyne, however, cites relatively “recent” and specific cases. He does not mention the case mentioned in Elyo, Bibliotheca, s.v. “Gigas.”

44. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 6162.

45. See above, n. 26.

46. For a development of this point, see A. B. Ferguson, “‘By Little and Little’: the Early Humanists on the Development of Man,” to be published in a volume in honor of Wallace K. Ferguson. See also Kendrick, , British Antiquity, p. 121.

47. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 6364. “dum adhuc in cauernis et foueis habitatum esset … nee rudis populus condendarum aedium, multo minus civitatum, scientiam calleret. Quo sane tempore … quae alimenta ipsa terra primum sponte sua, postea vero incondita quadam adiuta agricultura producebat, parce ad arcendam famen ac sitim, non ad excitandam gulam liberalius sumebantur. Vestitus erat, non quern ingenium ad fastum, sed necessitas ad tegumentum excogitauerat, nempe ex pilis et corijs animalium, quae nonunquam confecta venatione, carnes praebebant in dapes lautiores: verum eo rarius, quo minus in actum adhuc venissent homines, nec ferarum, volucrum et piscium capiendorum artificium cognoscerent. Haec vita primorum parentum fuit, hae antiquae gentis Albionicae.”

48. White, John, The True Pictures and Fashions of the People in that Parte of America now called Virginia, in Hariot, Thomas, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (Frankfort, 1590), S.T.C. 12786. White depicts not only the aborigines he saw on the 1585 expedition to the West but the “Picts” of early British history, whom he reconstructed more or less by analogy. See also Kendrick, British Antiquity, plates XII-XV. A more explicit parallel between the Indians and the Britons was made by Speed, John, The History of Great Britaine (London, 1611), pp. 179–82.

49. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 5860.

50. Ibid., p. 64. He speaks of the early Albionic society, “Nondum aliarum nationum inquinamentis turpificatae ab initio consuetudines: a quibus quanto hodie longius decessum est, tanto corruptius viuitur.”

51. Ibid., pp. 64-65. He cites Diodorus, Herodianus, and Dio.

52. Ibid., pp. 167, 132-33. See also Cary, M. and Warmington, E. H., The Ancient Explorers (London, 1929), pp. 3133; Holmes, , Ancient Britain, pp. 511–14.

53. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 4143.

54. Ibid., pp. 58, 144.

55. Ibid., p. 44.

56. Ibid., p. 81.

57. Ibid., p. 59.

58. Ibid., pp. 56-58. Twyne makes the kind of use of the ancient theory of the effect of climate on the temperament and character of peoples which begins to move from the typical medieval use to something more nearly like Jean Bodin's.

59. Ibid., p. 91.

60. Ibid., pp. 80-83, 91.

61. Ibid., pp. 108-10.

62. Ibid., p. 16.

63. Ibid., p. 9.

64. Ibid., p. 10.

65. Ibid., p. 80.

66. Ibid., pp. 77-78.

67. Ibid., pp. 82-86.

68. Ibid., pp. 90-91.

69. Ibid., pp. 88-89.

70. Ibid., pp. 82, 144.

71. Ibid., pp. 142-44. On the Druids see Kendrick, Thomas D., The Druids, a Study in Keltic Prehistory (New York, 1927). Some interest in the subject was shown in Leland, John, Commentarii de Scriptoribus Britannicis (Oxford, 1709). But Twyne's interest in the nature and influence of Druidism is not met with again until the works of Price and Llwyd. See above, n. 13.

72. Twyne, , De rebus Albionicis, pp. 8788.

73. Ibid., pp. 143-44.

74. Ibid., p. 119; see also preceding pages.

75. Ibid., pp. 150-52.

76. Ibid., pp. 152-53. “Ex his togati bellicique Romanorum mores, ex his ardens propagandae gloriae studium, ex his denique conseruandi in officio animos, mira victorum solertia elucere potent.” He believed, however, that the Romans had occupied the entire island.

77. Ibid., pp. 122-25.

78. Ibid., pp. 122-23.

79. Ibid., p. 161.

80. Ibid., p. 45. He also had it on good authority that Hercules among others, before the fall of Troy, had come to Britain, made war on the inhabitants, and was chased out by them.

81. Ibid., p. 91.

82. Ibid., p. 84.

83. Ibid., p. 125.

84. Ibid., pp. 129-31.

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