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Henry Spelman

Born: c. 1564
Birthplace: Congham, Norfolk, England
Died: Oct-1641
Location of death: London, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scholar

Nationality: England
Executive summary: English antiquary

English antiquary, the eldest son of Henry Spelman, of Congham, Norfolk, and the grandson of Sir John Spelman (c. 1495-1544), judge of the king's bench. Born probably in 1564, he was educated at Walsingham School, and proceeded in 1580 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his degree in 1583. His father had died in 1581, and on Spelman devolved the management of the family estates. He became a member of Lincoln's Inn, but in 1590 he returned to Norfolk, where he married Eleanor l'Estrange. He became guardian to his brother-in-law, Sir Hamon l'Estrange, on whose property at Hunstanton he resided for some time. He occupied himself with the history and antiquities of his native county, writing an account of Norfolk for John Speeds's Theatre of Great Britaine. He belonged to the Society of Antiquaries, of which Sir Robert Cotton and William Camden were also members. The society gradually declined, and Spelman's efforts to revive it in 1614 were frustrated by King James I. Having bought in 1594 the remainder of the two leases of two abbeys of which the Crown was the lessor, he became involved in prolonged litigation over them, and a judgment given against him by Bacon makes it interesting to find Spelman subsequently among the petitioners who alleged corruption against the lord chancellor. His experience in this process no doubt combined with a scandal connected with a church and parsonage in the possession of his uncle Francis Sanders to occasion his pamphlet De non temerandis ecclesiis (1613-16), which induced many lay owners of ecclesiastical spoils to make restitution, and Spelman himself acted accordingly. This tract led up to his History and Fate of Sacrilege, which was in the hands of the printer when the Great Fire broke out. The book was supposed to have perished, but Bishop Gibson discovered part of it in the Bodleian Library. It was printed, not, however, under his editorship, in 1698, with the statement on the title page that it was "wrote in 1632." Spelman had conceived the idea of a work on the foundations of English law, based on early charters and records, but finding that there were no adequate means of determining the exact meaning of the Anglo-Saxon and Latin law terms employed in the documents, he began to compile a glossary, the first volume of which, Archaeologus in modum glossarii, was published at his own expense in 1626. He continued to work at the subject until 1638. A second volume, Glossarium archaiologicum (1664), appeared after his death. His Codex legum veterum statutarum regni Angliae, quae ab ingressu Gulielmi I usque ad annum nonum Henry III. edita sunt was published by David Wilkins in his Leges anglo-saxonicae (1721). Spelman's most important work, Concilia, decreta, leges, constitutiones in re ecclesiarum orbis britannici, is an attempt to place English church history on a basis of genuine documents. The first volume, which occupied him seven years, came down to 1066 and was published in 1636. A second volume was edited by Sir William Dugdale in 1664. Spelman entered parliament as member for Castle Rising in 1597, and in 1604 was high sheriff of his county. In 1612 he settled in London near his friend Sir Robert Cotton. In 1617 he served on a commission to inquire into disputed Irish estates, and later took part in three legal inquiries into the exactions levied on behalf of the Crown in the civil and ecclesiastical courts. He was member of parliament for Worcester in 1625. In 1627 he became treasurer of the Guiana Company, and he was also an energetic member of the council for New England. His general services to the state were recognized in 1636 by a gift of money, and two years later by the offer of the mastership of Sutton's Hospital, Charterhouse. He died in London in October 1641, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His later years had been spent in the house of his son-in-law, Sir Ralph Whitfield.

His son, Sir John Spelman (1594-1643), also gained a reputation as a scholar and antiquary. He was knighted in 1641 and served the king actively at the beginning of the Civil War. He edited from manuscripts in his father's library Psalterium Davidis latino-saxonicum vetus (1640), and wrote a Life of Alfred the Great which was translated into Latin and published in 1678.

Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London, published in 1723 The English Works of Sir Henry Spelman, Kt., Published in his Lifetime; together with his Posthumous works relating to the Laws and Antiquities of England. The first section contained De non Temerandis Ecclesiis, already mentioned; The Larger Treatise concerning Tythes, first published in 1646; De sepultura; and Villare anglicum, or a View, of the Towns of England; while the second included The Original, Growth, Propagation and Condition of Feuds and Tenures by Knight-service in England, written in 1639; Two Discourses: i. Of the Ancient Government of England, ii. Of Parliaments; The Original of the Four Terms of the Year, written in 1614 and first printed in 1684; Icenia, a Latin description of Norfolk, and some other treatises. This was a revised edition of an earlier collection (1698), and contained a life of the author, based chiefly on the autobiographical matter prefixed to the Glossary of 1626, and two additional papers, Of the Admiral Jurisdiction, and the Officers thereof, and Of Antient Deeds and Charters. Wilkins's edition of his Concilia was edited by A. W. Haddan and William Stubbs in 1869-73.

Father: Henry Spelman (d. 1581)
Wife: Eleanor l'Estrange (m. 1590)

    High School: Walsingham School
    University: Trinity College, Cambridge University (1583)

    UK Member of Parliament


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