John Leland



The Itinerary of John Leland, ed. Lucy Toulmin Smith, 5 vols (London, 1907-10; reprinted, with a foreword by T. Kendrick, Carbondale, [1964])


Principal Works

The topographical and antiquarian writings of the ‘King's Antiquary’ to Henry VIII, John Leland, present extraordinary problems to the textual editor because of the state of disorder and incompleteness in which he left his major works and because of the proliferation of transcripts (many of original manuscripts which have subsequently decayed or been lost). Voluminous autographs of the so-called Collectanea (*LeJ 16) and the Itinerary (*LeJ 54) are preserved in the Bodleian Library, and there are a few other autograph portions belonging to these works (*LeJ 17, *LeJ 18, LeJ 55-6). To reconstruct anything approaching the complete texts, however, it would be necessary also to consult a variety of transcripts and extracts made by sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century antiquaries. The most extensive account of the manuscripts of these works remains that in Smith. Page references to Smith are given in the entries below for all manuscripts mentioned or discussed in that edition. For surveys of Leland's manuscripts, their provenance and their dissemination — as well as certain ‘lost manuscripts’ — see also James P. Carley, ‘The Manuscript Remains of John Leland, “The King's Antiquary”’, TEXT, 2 (1985), 111-20, and Oliver Harris, ‘“Motheaten, Mouldye, and Rotten”: The Early Custodial History and Dissemination of John Leland's Remains’, Bodleian Library Record, 18/5 (April 2005), 460-501, in which most of the manuscripts recorded below are cited or discussed.

Other Works

Leland — whose papers were originally committed by Edward VI into the custody of the royal tutor Sir John Cheke (1514-57) — has left some autograph manuscripts of other works (*LeJ 3, *LeJ 8, *LeJ 12, *LeJ 50, *LeJ 90, LeJ 96-8), including his presentation verses on the coronation of Anne Boleyn (*LeJ 8). The scribal copy of Antiphilarchia which he must have presented to Henry VIII likewise survives (LeJ 9). Two autograph letters by Leland are also recorded (LeJ 99-100), as well as a document signed by him (*LeJ 101). In his account of Leland in the original Dictionary of National Biography, Sidney Lee claims that a printed exemplum of Sedulii Scoti comment. in epistolas Pauli (Basle, 1527) in Cambridge University Library has at the beginning an epigram in Leland's hand; however, neither of the two exempla of that edition now in this library (B*. 4. 15(c) and Sel. 3. 741) contains such an epigram.

A list of works ascribed to Leland appears in John Bale, Scriptorum illustrium Maioris Brytanniae catalogus (Basle, 1557), pp. 671-2. A number of these works have never been identified, but some of Bale's titles (such as ‘Descriptio Angliae’) may well refer to transcripts of documents among Leland's miscellaneous collections rather than to original works: see T.C. Skeat, ‘Two “Lost” Works by John Leland’, English Historical Review, 65 (1950), 505-8. The preface to the Itinerary — the account of his research which Leland presented to Henry VIII (preserved in his autograph: *LeJ 90) — was printed by Bale in 1549 under the title The Laboriouse Journey and Serche of Johan Leylande for Englandes Antiquitees and so is here listed as an independent work (LeJ 90-95). Two exempla of Bale's edition in the British Library (LeJ 94.5 and LeJ 94.8), and possibly others elsewhere, have a missing word near the top of sig. F6v supplied in Bale's own hand: see W. W. Greg, ‘Pen-and-Ink Corrections’, Review of English Studies, 7 (1931), 337.


There are a few other miscellaneous items of interest. In his Remarks and Collections (ed. C.E. Doble, II (Oxford, 1886), 227) Hearne notes that an Elizabethan transcript of The Itinerary (‘being taken from the originals before they took wet, as is suppos'd’) was once owned by James Wright (1643-1713) but was consumed in a fire at the Middle Temple in 1678.

Various printed exempla of Leland's works contain notable annotations by early readers: for instance, exempla of three of his poems and tracts in the British Library (C.95.c.15 (1.3.4)) have annotations by the antiquary William Lambarde (1536-1601).

Manuscripts known to have been owned by Leland are rare. Examples of extant medieval manuscripts that passed through his hands are in the British Library: the Melrose and Tynemouth Chronicles and Geraldus Cambrensis De principis instructione in Cotton MSS Faustina B IX and Julius B XIII. Examples of copies of medieval documents which Leland used in his work would include Bodleian, MS Dugdale 11, ff. 1r-8r, and British Library, Cotton MSS Cleopatra C. III, f. 220r, and Domitian A. VIII, ff. 119r-20v. It would be impossible, however, to determine all Leland's sources of information or exactly which extant documents he is likely to have handled. Indeed, the value of Leland's Collectanea lies in the uniqueness of his position as the King's Antiquary at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, when he was able to examine and transcribe, or make notes upon, so much material that was subsequently lost or dispersed.

A brief early-eighteenth-century account of Leland was published as The Life of John Leland (the First English Antiquary) with extensive notes and a bibliography of his works…printed from a hitherto unpublished work (by the learned Edward Burton) (London, 1896). Eight pages of Burton's working papers of his account (formerly Phillipps MS 8232) are now in the Bodleian (MS Eng. misc. a. 21).

Peter Beal