Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas of Ely

THOMAS of Ely (fl. 1175), historian, was a monk of Ely. His principal work was a history of Ely in three books. The first book carries the history to the time of King Edgar, and the remaining two down to 1170. The first book has been printed three times (Mabillon, Acta SS. ii. 738; Bollandists' Acta SS. Jun. iv. 493; D. J. Stewart, Liber Eliensis). The second book is printed in a shortened form by the Bollandists from a Douay manuscript (Jun. iv. 523–38), and by D. J. Stewart from an Ely manuscript with variants from the Trinity College, Cambridge, MSS. O. 2. 1, and O. 2. 41. Stewart erroneously printed as part of book ii. a prologue with the title ‘Libellus quorundam insignium operum B. Ædelwoldi Episcopi.’ This ‘libellus,’ with what follows in O. 2. 41, and Vesp. A. xix. (printed by Gale, Hist. Brit. i. 463), appears to be the work of an unknown monk, writing at the order of Hervey [q. v.], bishop of Ely, whose work formed the basis of Thomas's book ii. Thomas used also the work of a monk Richard, then dead, for his account of Hereward. This Richard must be distinguished from Richard (d. 1194?) [q. v.], prior of Ely, whose work formed the basis of Thomas's book iii. The third book has been printed by Wharton (Anglia Sacra, i. 678) from late versions. An earlier and longer form, enlarged with many additional charters and miracles, is in the Trinity MS. O. 2. 1 ff. 107–76. In this manuscript, as in Vesp. A. xix, the history of the bishops ends with the death of Nigel [q. v.], 1169. In O. 2. 1, an account of the death of St. Thomas of Canterbury follows. Thomas appears (ch. xcvi. cf. O. 2. 1) to have taken up the work left unfinished by Richard when he went to Rome (1151), and he refers to Richard as ‘dominus prior et monachus.’

Thomas also wrote an account of the second translation of St. Etheldreda in six chapters, which is interpolated between books i. and ii. of the history of Ely in Domitian A. xv. This appears as chapter vi. of book ii. in the Douay manuscript, and parts of it occur in chapters cxliii–cxliv. of the longer book ii. (D. J. Stewart). A third work by Thomas, an account of St. Etheldreda's miracles, is interpolated after the account of her translation in Domitian A. xv., and follows book ii. in the Douay manuscript (Acta SS. Boll. Jun. iv. 539–76). The writer states that he, Thomas, was cured of a fever by the saint's intervention. The miracles are brought down to the time of Geoffrey Ridel (d. 1189) [q. v.]

[Wharton's Anglia Sacra, pp. xxxix–xlv, 593, 678. Wharton prints also, under the title Thomæ Historia Eliensis, an epitome based upon the work of Thomas. Gale (Hist. Brit. et Angl. vol. i.) prints as book ii. some extracts from the longer form of this book.]

M. B.