The Itinerary of John Leland, in or about the Years 1535-1543. Edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, with a Foreword by Thomas Kendrick.

London, Centaur Press Ltd, 1964.

11 parts in 5 vols, 8vo, with frontispiece portrait, 8 maps (of which 7 folding), and 2 folding facsimiles of Leland’s maps; blue cloth, spines lettered in gilt (a new set, though with light external wear).

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The Itinerary of John Leland, in or about the Years 1535-1543. Edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, with a Foreword by Thomas Kendrick.

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The authoritative edition of Leland’s Itinerary, a monument of English bibliography and antiquarian research. The Itinerary comprises the notes of the antiquary John Leland (c. 1503–1552) on his journeys through England and Wales during the dissolution of the monasteries. According to Leland’s account, he was granted by Henry VIII a commission in 1533 ‘to peruse and dylygentlye to searche all the lybraryes of monasteryes and collegies of thys your noble realme’ (I, p. xxxvii), which he began in 1533 with a tour of the West Country and an extended visit to the library at Glastonbury. With the suppression of minor houses in 1536, Leland appealed to Cromwell to preserve monastic libraries, and though he had only limited success in saving books (both for the Royal Library and for himself) his book-lists and descriptions serve as a valuable record of English monastic collections before their dispersal.

‘There is some evidence that Leland kept on searching out books after the fall of the monasteries and his copy of a letter authorizing him to use any books in the “late” monastery at Bury St Edmuns that might “forder hym yn setting forth such matiers as he writith for the King’s Majeste” still survives. By about 1539, nevertheless, his chief concerns had shifted to topography and local history. Inflamed by a patriotic desire to see the places he had read about in ancient histories and chronicles, he spent by his own account some six years in travelling throughout Henry’s dominions, so that :”there is almost neyther cape nor baye, haven, creke or pere, ryver or confluence of ryvers, breches, washes, lakes, meres, fenny waters, mountaynes, valleys, mores hethes, forestes, woodes, cyties, burges, castels, pryncypall manor places, monasteryes and colleges, but I have seane them and noted in so doynge a whole worlde of thynges verye memorable”’ (ODNB).

Even before the Itinerary’s appearance in print, ‘copies in varying degrees of completeness were made by prominent scholars, to exert an immense influence. Few historians and antiquaries did not use Leland’s work, and many acknowledged their debt, starting with Bale. In the following generation Leland’s followers included both William Harrison and William Camden, ranging like him across the whole country, and local historians like William Lambarde, in his ground-breaking survey of Kent, and Joh Stow, who used Leland’s notes for his great Survey of London of 1598. In the following century not only did scholars of the eminence of Dugdale, and the less methodical John Aubrey, use Leland’s work, but so too did the pioneering natural historian Robert Plot … By more recent generations Leland’s notes are valued particularly for the unique insight they provide into Tudor England, and for their witness to the final phase of English monasticism. They continue to be regularly cited in local histories, in scholarly editions of medieval British authors, and in such bio-bibliographical works as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography itself.’ (Ibid.).

Leland’s Itinerary was first printed by Thomas Hearne at Oxford in 1710-1712, an edition substantially revised and corrected by Lucy Toulmin Smith, who collated Hearne’s edition with Leland’s manuscripts for her edition of 1906-1910. Toulmin Smith inserted Leland’s marginal notes and provided extensive new commentary, as well as marking Leland’s routes in a series of folding maps; this 1964 edition includes a new introduction by Thomas Kendrick.

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