Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gray, Thomas (d.1369?)

GRAY, Sir THOMAS (d. 1369?), author of the ‘Scala-chronica,’ was the son of Sir Thomas Gray of Heaton, Norhamshire, Northumberland. His mother seems to have been Agnes de Beyle (Kellaw, Reg. i. 1170, iv. 310; cf. Raine, N. Durham, p. 86; Stevenson, Preface, xxvii). Sir Thomas Gray the elder was left for dead upon the field when Wallace (May 1294) attacked the English sheriff at Lanark (Scala-chron. p. 124; Stevenson, Pref. p. xv). He was taken prisoner to Bannockburn (Scala-chron. pp. 141–2; cf. Trivet, p. 355), was constable of Norham Castle (1319), and seems to have died about 1344, for his son, Sir Thomas, was ordered seizin of his father's lands 10 April 1345 (Raine, p. 45; Kellaw, iii. 368–71, iv. 310–11). Sir Thomas Gray the younger thus became lord of Heaton Manor and warden of Norham Castle (ib.) He had already been ordered to accompany William de Montacute, the earl of Salisbury, abroad (10 July 1338), and in March 1344 the wardenship of the manor of Middlemast-Middleton was granted to ‘Thomas de Grey le Fitz’ for his service beyond the sea (Rymer, ii. 1048; Stevenson, proofs, No. 19). He fought at Neville's Cross (October 1346), and was called to the Westminster council of January 1347 (Stevenson, p. xxviii; cf. Rymer, iii. 92, 97). When the Scottish truce was over he was ordered to see to the defence of the borders (30 Oct. 1353). He was taken prisoner during a sally from Norham Castle (August 1355), and with his son Thomas (or William, according to one Scotch account), whom he knighted just before the engagement, was carried off to Edinburgh. Here he ‘became curious and pensive,’ and began ‘à treter et à translater en plus court sentence les cronicles del Graunt Bretaigne et les gestez des Englessez’ (Scala-chron. p. 2; Stevenson, p. xxix; cf. Wyntoun, bk. viii. ll. 6543–82, and Bower, ii. 350–1). Before 25 Nov. 1356 he wrote to Edward III, begging help towards paying his ransom; but he had been released by 16 Aug. 1357, when he was appointed guardian to one of King David's hostages (Rymer, iii. 343, 366). He probably accompanied the Black Prince to France in August 1359 (ib. p. 443); he was made warden of the east marches in 41 Edward III (1367), and is said to have died in 1369 (Stevenson, p. xxxii). His wife was Margaret, daughter of William de Presfen or Presson. By her he left a son, Thomas, aged ten, who appears to have died about 30 Nov. 1400, seized of Wark, Howick, Heaton, and many other manors. His grandson, John Grey (d. 1421), earl of Tankerville, is noticed separately.

The ‘Scala-chronica’ opens with an allegorical prologue, and is divided into five parts. Of these part i., which relates the fabulous history of Britain, is based on ‘Walter of Exeter's’ Brut (i.e. on Geoffrey of Monmouth); part ii., which reaches to Egbert's accession, is based upon Bede; part iii., extending to William the Conqueror, on Higden's ‘Polychronicon;’ and part iv. professes to be founded on ‘John le vikeir de Tilmouth que escript le Ystoria Aurea.’ There are several difficulties connected with the prologue; the chief are its distinct allusions to Thomas Otterburn, who is generally supposed to have written early in the next century (Scala-chron. pp. 1–4). According to Mr. Stevenson many incidents in part iv. are not to be found in the current editions of Higden. Mr. Stevenson considers the book to assume some independent value with the reign of John; but its true importance really begins with the reign of Edward I. It is specially useful for the Scottish wars, and narrates the exploits of the author's father in great detail (Scala-chron. pp. 123, 127, 138, &c.). The author is tolerably minute as to Edward II's reign (pp. 136–53), and the rest of the book (pp. 153–203) is devoted to Edward III. The detailed account of the French wars from 1355–61 suggests the presence of the writer (pp. 172–200). The history breaks off in 1362 or 1363.

The principal manuscript of the ‘Scala-chronica’ is that in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The question of authorship is settled by the verse anagram in the prologue which forms the words ‘Thomas Gray’ (Prol. pp. 1, 2). The title ‘Scala-chronica’ and the allegory in the prologue with its series of ladders point to the scaling ‘ladder’ in the Gray arms (Stevenson, p. iii, n. b). In the sixteenth century Dr. Wotton made extracts from the ‘Scala-chronica.’ The whole work has never been printed, but Mr. Stevenson edited the latter half (from 1066 A.D.) and the prologue for the Maitland Club in 1836. This edition is prefaced by an elaborate introduction and a series of important documents relating to the Grays. It also includes the abstract which Leland made of the ‘Scala-chronica’ when it was in more perfect state than now, and a short analysis of a French work which seems to have borne a close relation to the ‘Scala-chronica’ (ib. pp. xxxv, xxxvi, 259–315).

[Scala-chronica, ed. Stevenson (Maitland Club), 1836; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. 1821; Kellaw's Registrum Palatinum Dunelmense, ed. Hardy (Rolls Series); Escheat Rolls; Tanner, p. 338; Nasmith's Catal. of Manuscripts of Corpus Christi Coll. Cambridge, ed. 1777; Raine's Hist. of North Durham; Wyntoun, ed. Laing (1872), ii. 485–6; Trivet, ed. Hog (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Bower's Scotichronicon, ed. Goodall (1759), ii. 350–1; Planta's Cat. of Cotton. MSS.]

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