THOMAS BODLEY - THE BOOK MAN
The saviour of Oxford's greatest library
Exeter-born Thomas Bodley helped create one of the world's
great libraries. But the birth of the Bodleian had as much to do with pilchards
Thomas Bodley was born in 1545 to a staunch Protestant
family in a house on the corner of High Street and Gandy Street in Exeter.
father, John, was an Exeter merchant and his mother, Joan was the daughter of
another Exeter merchant from Ottery St. Mary.
The Bodleys were forced to
flee to Geneva to avoid persecution at the hands of Queen Mary. When they returned
to London 7 years later, Thomas was installed as a scholar at Oxford University.
In 1586, after a two year stint as MP for Portsmouth, Thomas was returned
as MP for St. Germans, Cornwall. Soon after he married wealthy Ann Ball, the widow
of a local merchant from Totnes.
came from her husband's pilchard business and it was to secure Thomas's future
and bankroll his ambition - to build a bastion of Protestantism out of books.
Bodley became a roving ambassador for the new queen - Elizabeth.
a skilled diplomat going on important secret missions to Denmark to help advance
the Protestant cause he believed in passionately.
But after eventually
falling foul of the queen, in 1597 Bodley came to Oxford. He wanted to crown a
life of public service by helping restore the university library, which by the
late 16th century was in a desperate state.
He offered to help - by now
Bodley was rich - and the university realised with his connections they had found
The value of a good read
The library had lain empty since
about 1550, when almost all the books had been removed by the reforming Commissioners.
|Our Inside Out man gets lost in the library stacks|
Books were very valuable - one book would cost the equivalent of a
year's wages - but Bodley was gifted at getting money and donations from the good
and the great of the day.
He developed the techniques many charities still
use today - making sure that all the benefactors got a good plug. Donations flooded
Bodley was clear about what sort of books he wanted for his library
- they were to be of a high and serious nature.
He wrote to his librarian
that he wanted no plays, almanacs or 'riffe raffe' books on the shelves.
Bodley wanted religious works in his library to help prove the Protestants right
and the Catholics wrong.
No books were lent out - because they had a habit
of never returning.
A good deal
|A signpost to the Bodleian Library|
Bodley realised that if the library was to keep growing he couldn't just rely
on on donations - and so he secured an agreement that was to mean the library
would keep growing for ever.
He struck a deal with the stationers' company
entitling the Bodleian to a copy of every newly printed book.
greatly accelerated the rate at which the library grew - nowadays some 1500 books
a week come into the library.
Bodley lived just long enough to see the start
of a massive extension to his library. He died in 1613 and was buried in Merton
His legacy is the hundreds of thousands of books - with
millions more dotted around Oxford - now available to scholars from all over the