Rous, John (1411?-1491) (DNB00)

ROUS or ROSS, JOHN (1411?–1491), antiquary of Warwick, born at Warwick about 1411, was son of Geoffrey Rous, a descendant of the Rowses or Rouses of Brinkelow, Warwickshire. His mother Margaret was daughter of Richard Fyncham. He was educated at Oxford. He numbered, he tells us, among his fellow-students there John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, and John Seymour, afterwards master of the works of the college of Windsor (Historia, ed. Hearne, p. 5). But there is no evidence for Wood's statement that he was a member of Balliol College, or that he became, on leaving Oxford, canon of Oseney. About 1445 he was appointed a priest or chaplain of the chantry or chapel at Guy's Cliffe, formerly called Gibcliff, near Warwick, which Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick [q. v.], built in 1423. There Rous resided until his death. He occasionally left his hermitage on visits to neighbouring towns or London. In 1459 he presented to the parliament sitting at Coventry a petition on the state of country towns and their pillage by the nobility, but it failed to attract much attention. He studied the records at the Guildhall in London, and saw the elephant brought thither by Edward IV. He once went to North Wales and Anglesey to consult Welsh chronicles. History and antiquities interested him from an early period, and he collected manuscripts on historical subjects; one on the subjection of the crown of Scotland to that of England he lent to his friend John Fox, bishop of Exeter.

As a writer, Rous proved more laborious than honest. He sought to make his researches satisfy the political party in power. Of his account of the earls of Warwick—his patron's ancestors—he prepared at least two versions, one in English and the other in Latin. They are both written on rolls of parchment, and are elaborately illustrated with the portraits and heraldic badges not only of the earls of Warwick, but of many British and English kings anterior to Henry VII. The texts of the two copies differ in their political complexion. The earlier English version, which was prepared between 1477 (the date of the Duke of Clarence's death) and the accession of Henry VII in 1485, is strongly Yorkist in tone, and Richard III is highly commended; the original copy of the version, with thirty-two illustrations, now belongs to the Duke of Manchester, and, after being privately printed as ‘the Rows Rol’ in 1845, was published, with an introduction by William Courthope, in 1859. An imperfect copy is in Lansdowne MS. 882, from which Hearne printed extracts in an appendix to his ‘Historia Ricardi II’ (1729). A better transcript by Robert Glover is among the Ashmolean MSS. 839, No. 8. The second version (in Latin), prepared after 1485, is pronouncedly Lancastrian in tone, and was intended to attract the favour of Henry VII. It has been since 1786 in the Heralds' College in London, and some of the drawings have been reproduced from it in Dallaway's ‘Heraldic Researches.’ Two appear in Spicer's ‘History of Warwick Castle,’ and that of Richard III in Halstead's biography of that king. A transcript, made in 1636, by Dugdale, who freely used all Rous's extant collections in his ‘Antiquities of Warwickshire,’ is in the Bodleian Library (Ashmol. MS. G. 2). Some portions are printed in the notes to Courthope's ‘Rows Rol.’

Rous's ‘Historia Regum Angliæ’ was written at the request of his old college friend, John Seymour. Seymour was anxious to learn the exploits of kings and princes who were founders of churches and cities, so that he might select subjects for statues to fill niches in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, then in course of erection under Seymour's direction. Rous dedicated the ‘Historia’ with fulsome flattery to Henry VII. It is extant in manuscript in the British Museum (Cotton. MS. Vesp. A. xii). A transcript supposed to have been made for Archbishop Parker, is in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and another transcript, made by Ralph Jennings, is now in the Bodleian Library. The latter was printed by Hearne in 1716 (2nd edit. 1745). Rous brings the history of the kings of England from the beginning of the world to the birth of Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII, in 1486. He displayed no critical faculty. In his account of Britain he reproduces with imaginative embellishments the myths of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Much space is devoted to the early history of his own university of Oxford. While assigning the origin of the city to a legendary king Mempric, he credits King Alfred with the foundation of the university.

Rous also wrote a life of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, which is now in Cotton. MS. Jul. E. iv. It is adorned by fifty-three drawings of the earl's adventures, followed by two pages of pedigree ornamented with half-length figures of the persons mentioned. All the designs, with Rous's text, are engraved in Strutt's ‘Manners and Customs,’ vol. ii. The text alone figures in Hearne's ‘Historia Ricardi,’ 1729, ii. 359–71. Rous also wrote a treatise, ‘De Episcopis Wigorniæ,’ a few extracts from which are in Ashmolean MS. 770, f. 33. The work is lost; but a quotation from it is preserved in Plot's ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ (p. 407). Leland also ascribes to him works on the antiquity of the town of Warwick, on the antiquity of Guy's Cliffe, against a false history of the university of Cambridge, an unfinished account of the antiquities of the English universities, a chronicle which he entitled ‘Verovicum,’ and a tract on giants, especially of those who lived after the flood (Leland, Collectanea, iv. 110, 211, 221). None of these compositions have survived. Hearne states that in Queen's College Register H [at Oxford] is Dr. Barlow's memorandum from Ross of Warwick's book, entitled ‘Quatuor Ætates Mundi,’ ‘which book [Barlow] does not tell us where to be found’ (Collectanea, Oxf. Hist. Soc. ii. 44).

Rous died on 24 Jan. 1491, at the reputed age of eighty-one, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, Warwick. He left his library to that church, and seems to have built a room to hold it within the church's precincts. A fine illuminated portrait of Rous—his dress appears to be that of a canon—is introduced into his roll of the earls of Warwick at the back of the portrait of Edward the Confessor. Some Latin lines, rehearsing the chief facts in his career, are appended. The portrait is reproduced in colours in the ‘Rows Rol,’ and in black and white, from the manuscript of the Latin version in the Heralds' College, in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1845 (pt. i. 475).

[Art. by J. G. Nichols in Gent. Mag. 1845, pt. i. 475 sq.; W. Courthope's introduction to the Rows Rol, 1859; Leland; Bale; Pits; Tanner; Nicolson's Historical Library.]

S. L.