A Brill Calendar: March 2
The Birth of Thomas Bodley
In 1558, young Thomas Bodley (born in Exeter, Devonshire, on March 2, 1545) completed his academic education at Oxford; Hebrew and Greek being his main interests.
This was a few years after the Bodley family returned to England, after a voluntary exile on the Continent – until a young Protestant Queen, Elizabeth, had succeeded her Roman-Catholic predecessor 'Bloody' Mary.
His scholarly effort was aggravated by an almost total absence of books, both in print and in manuscript. Since the dawn of Reformation in Britain, Oxford University’s library had become victim of growing indifference and ignorance about the merit & value of its superb collection. In 1550 the last remaining books of the ‘Old Library’ had been confiscated by royal commission; a little later even the oak shelving was taken away.
Having reached adulthood, Thomas Bodley was better equipped than most gentlemen of his rank to serve the ‘Virgin Queen’ as a diplomat on the continent; as from 1588 as Her Majesty’s Ambassador in the dynamic Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Court intrigues in Saint-James’s, nursed by William Cecil, Lord Burghley - at that time the ‘Power behind the Throne’ - ended Bodley’s Holland assignment in 1596, and he returned to London.
It is seldom that a love of books and respect for their vital cultural value has been demonstrated by an individual as unselfishly and generously as that showed by Thomas Bodley during the waning of his life. When he died on January 28, 1613, he endowed his ‘Alma Mater’ with a priceless collection of medieval manuscripts and other books; starting a ‘New Library’. The ‘Phoenix’ idiom applies; that mythological bird is tragically reduced to ashes but is reborn.
Perhaps it is not too far-fetched or chauvinist to surmise that Thomas Bodley observed among the academic, political and social elite of Holland a new, invigorating book-culture, capable of dealing with the scholarly intricacies inherent in reforming Christianity.
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