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Tanner, Thomas (1674-1735) (DNB00)


TANNER, THOMAS (1674–1735), bishop of St. Asaph and antiquary, born at Market Lavington, Wiltshire, on 25 Jan. 1673–4, was the eldest child of Thomas Tanner (1640?–1718), vicar of that parish from 1671, by his first wife, Sarah Willoughby (d. 1711), whom he married on 20 April 1673. After the boy had been trained at home by his father, he was entered as batler at Queen's College, Oxford, on 6 Nov. 1689, and matriculated on 17 Dec. He had been recommended by Archbishop Lamplugh, an acquaintance of his father, to the provost of Queen's, through whose favour he became in 1690 a chapel or bible clerk of the college. He graduated B.A. in 1693, and was ordained deacon at London House in December 1694.

On 27 Jan. 1694–5 Tanner was appointed by Leopold William Finch, warden of All Souls' College, Oxford, to the post of chaplain in that college. This was probably conferred on him through the influence of Finch's intimate friend, James, the good earl of Abingdon, then owner of the Lavington estate. The warden befriended him still further by obtaining on 2 Nov. 1696 his election as a fellow of All Souls'. Tanner acknowledged his obligation in his dedication to Finch of the first edition of the ‘Notitia Monastica’ (1695); without Finch's aid he states that ‘he must have left this beloved place [Oxford] and his studies.’ He proceeded M.A. on 28 April 1696.

At Queen's College Tanner began, in conjunction with Gibson (afterwards bishop of London, and his lifelong friend), the researches in antiquities which they prosecuted for the rest of their days. In 1693 he issued proposals for printing an edition of the entire works of John Leland, and, though the suggestion received scant encouragement, drudged at it for many years. Most of the works of Leland were in the end published by Hearne, and in 1709 the ‘Commentarii de Scriptoribus Britannicis’ came out under the editorship of Anthony Hall [q. v.] This induced Tanner to advertise in the ‘Courant’ of 22 March 1708–1709 that he should publish his ‘Bibliotheca Britannica’ with the commentaries of Leland. On 10 Sept. 1709 he hoped to finish it by the end of that winter, but the volume did not appear until after his death.

Tanner amassed great materials for an account of Wiltshire, and in 1696 contemplated its publication in succession to the works of Leland. He supplied the additions to the history of that county which were embodied in Gibson's edition of Camden's ‘Britannia,’ and in 1751 his collections on the county were presented by his son to the Bodleian Library. While in residence at Oxford Tanner compiled for Bernard's ‘Catalogue of Manuscripts’ (i. 249–263, 268–71) particulars of the collections of Francis Junius and Richard James, and of Gerard Langbaine's ‘adversaria,’ which are preserved in the Bodleian library. But the details are said to be wanting in exactness. In 1694 he made the acquaintance of Anthony à Wood, and they were soon on friendly terms. Dr. Charlett on 21 Nov. 1695, when the end of Wood's life was near, recommended him to entrust his manuscripts to Tanner as ‘carefull, true, faithfull, and discreet in the disposition of them.’ The general papers were placed by Wood on his deathbed in the care of Bisse of Wadham College and Tanner, with Charlett as their overseer, and the more private documents were not to be opened for seven years. The day before his death he gave the continuation of the ‘Athenæ Oxonienses’ ‘with great ceremony to Mr. Tanner for his sole use, without any restrictions’ (Life prefixed to Gutch's ed. of Hist. of Univ. of Oxford). It slumbered in manuscript for many years, and Tanner was even accused of keeping it back to transfer the matter to his own ‘Bibliotheca Britannica.’ About 1719 Jacob Tonson purchased the copyright in the published work, and Tanner was applied to for the additional lives, five hundred in all. After some strong expressions in them had been modified, they were included in the edition which came out in 1721 under the editorship, as it is believed, of Laurence Echard. Hearne was much displeased at this transaction, always calling it the ‘spurious edition,’ and his condemnation has been echoed by other writers. But it is probable that the only alterations in the memoirs as left by Wood consisted of the omission of a few harsh phrases.

Tanner's ‘Notitia Monastica’ brought him under the notice of John Moore, then bishop of Norwich, whose private chaplain he became in 1698; on 6 March 1700–1 he was collated, by the gift of the bishop, to the chancellorship of Norwich diocese. Moore made him on 24 Nov. 1703 commissary in the archdeaconry of Norfolk, and on 1 Jan. 1706–7 commissary of the archdeaconry of Sudbury and the town of Bury St. Edmunds. In June 1706 he was presented by Duncan Dee [q. v.] to the rectory of Thorpe Bishop's, near Norwich. Moore, when translated to the see of Ely, bestowed on him a canonry in that cathedral (installed 10 Sept. 1713), which was vacated by his installation on 15 Feb. 1723–4 as canon of Christ Church, Oxford, a preferment which restored him to his beloved university. He was raised to the archdeaconry of Norfolk on 26 Dec. 1721, and the lower house of convocation in 1727 elected him as its prolocutor. He took the degrees of B.D. and D.D. on 30 June 1710.

These distinctions foreshadowed his elevation to the episcopal bench, and on 23 Jan. 1731–2 he was consecrated at Lambeth as bishop of St. Asaph. He retained his canonry at Christ Christ in commendam, residing there for a part of the year, and in 1733 he became the sinecure rector of Llandrillo, Merionethshire. At the close of that year he was very ill, but recovered, although ‘of a gross body.’ After an indisposition of seven days he died at Christ Church on 14 Dec. 1735, and was buried ‘without any funeral pomp’ near the pulpit in the nave of the cathedral on 26 Dec. (Miscell. Geneal. et Herald., 2nd ser. i. 145). It is said that his death was hastened by one of Dr. Ward's pills (Joseph Clutton, Ward's Pills, 1736, p. 79). His epitaph was on the first pillar of the south side of the cathedral; a shorter inscription is on a large black gravestone under which he lies. The charitable bequests of the bishop included the sum of 200l. to his native place, the interest of which was to be expended annually on 25 Jan.—his birthday and St. Paul's day—in teaching and other charitable and social purposes.

Tanner was thrice married. His first wife, whom he married in 1701, was Rose, eldest daughter of Bishop Moore. She died on 15 March 1706, aged 25 (having had issue Dorothy, died 17 Feb. 1703–4, aged 14 months), and was buried on the south side of the bishop's chapel in Norwich Cathedral, under a white marble tablet with an inscription to her memory. According to Hearne, she was ‘a short squabb dame,’ and ‘remarkable for drinking of brandy,’ and Tanner after marrying her was obliged to abandon for a time his studies, and was involved in lawsuits about his chancellorship. His second wife was Frances, daughter of Jacob Preston, citizen of London, but of a gentleman's family in Norfolk. She died on 11 June 1718, aged 40, and was buried in the same chapel, with an inscription on white marble over her grave. The iron palisade door to this chapel was given by Tanner, and his arms, with those of his first two wives, are on it. Her issue consisted of two daughters, both of whom died young, and one son, Thomas Tanner, canon of Canterbury and rector of Hadleigh and Monk's Eleigh, Suffolk, who married in January 1742–3 Mary, third daughter of Archbishop Potter, and died on 11 March 1786 (Gent. Mag. 1786, i. 269). When John Loveday visited the bishop of St. Asaph in July 1732, his house was kept by his sister, ‘a widow lady’ (Tour, Roxburghe Club, pp. 65–8), but he married in May 1733 as his third wife Elizabeth Scottowe of Thorpe by Norwich. She was an heiress, and married as her second husband Robert Britiffe, recorder of Norwich and M.P. for that city. She died on 1 May 1771, aged 77.

Tanner was the author of two well-known works. The first of them, ‘Notitia Monastica, or a Short History of the Religious Houses in England and Wales,’ was published at Oxford in 1695. His letter to Samuel Pepys, with a copy of the volume, is in the collection of Mr. J. E. Hodgkin (Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. App. ii. 182). By September 1709 he had a second edition ready ‘with considerable improvements,’ but it did not come out, and the original volume became very scarce. It was reprinted, at the expense of the society for the encouragement of learning, in 1744, under the editorial care of his brother, John Tanner, vicar of Lowestoft and precentor of St. Asaph Cathedral (bur. 26 Dec. 1759; cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, viii. 402–3), and was much enlarged, partly from the bishop's collections, but mainly by the editor. A third edition, with many additions, was edited by James Nasmith [q. v.] in 1787, and a copy of it at the British Museum contains many notes by Sir Henry Ellis, mostly taken from Hearne's annotated copy of the first edition at the Bodleian Library. From this work Sir Richard Colt Hoare printed at Shaftesbury in 1821 a volume of twenty-five copies only, entitled ‘Monasticon Wiltonense: a List of the Religious Houses in North and South Wiltshire.’

Tanner's other great work was the ‘Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica’ (1748), which was also printed at the cost of the society for encouraging learning. He had laboured at it for forty years, and at his death left the manuscripts to his brother John, instructing him to select, with the aid of two other divines, a competent antiquary for the editorship, and then to submit their choice to the approval of Bishop Gibson. The result was the appointment of the Rev. David Wilkins [q. v.], who drew up a preface. Tanner's aim was to give an account of all authors that flourished within the three kingdoms to the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the merits of his work were far in advance of any of its predecessors. With all its defects, it long remained ‘the highest authority to which the inquirer can refer’ (Hardy, Descriptive Cat. of Materials, vol. i. pt. p. xlii).

Some coins were given by Tanner to the Bodleian Library in 1733, and by his will, dated 22 Nov. 1733, he bequeathed to it his manuscripts and such printed books not already there as the curators and librarian should select. His books, more than nine hundred in number, included many of very great value, but unfortunately during the course of their journey by water when he moved from Norwich to Oxford the barge sank at Bensington lock, near Wallingford (11 Dec. 1731). They were submerged for twenty hours, and the effects are still visible. The largest portion of the manuscripts, nearly three hundred out of about 470, consist of papers formerly the property of Archbishop Sancroft, and the most valuable of them relate to the time of the civil war. Selections were published by the Rev. Henry Cary, and they formed the substance of Gutch's ‘Collectanea Curiosa’ (1782). A catalogue of the whole collection by the Rev. Alfred Hackman was published in 1860 as vol. iv. of the general catalogue of manuscripts at the Bodleian. It is asserted by Dr. Jessopp that among the rolls in the Tanner collection are ‘more than one which the bishop must have removed from the archives of Ely’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. ix. 392). Many letters to and from him are preserved in the public libraries, and several are printed in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes,’ iv. 146, 356–7, Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literary History,’ iii. 402–35, ‘Letters of Eminent Persons’ (1813), i. 300–4, ii. 103–13, 164–74, and Bishop Nicolson's ‘Correspondence’ (1809).

Tanner assisted John Ray in his works, Robert Hawes in his compilation on Framlingham, and Samuel Knight in his lives of Colet and Erasmus. He also helped the publication of the English works of Sir Henry Spelman (1722). Two folio volumes by him in the diocesan registry at Norwich were much used by Blomefield (Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. App. p. 87), who dedicated the ‘History of Norfolk’ to his memory. Wake when archbishop of Canterbury, and Gibson as bishop of London, frequently consulted him.

The bust of Tanner by Sir Henry Cheere is among those of former fellows of All Souls' in its library.

Tanner contributed towards the cost of new buildings at Queen's College in 1707, and towards the erection of a new hall at All Souls'. The arms which he assumed were those of the Tanner family in Cornwall, and they are represented on a large shield over that hall on the outside to the south. Inside is a whole-length portrait; and there is a bust of him by Sir Henry Cheere in the library of the college. Another picture of him, sitting in his episcopal costume, is in the hall of Christ Church. There is also a smaller portrait by Reading, in the corner of which is depicted an ancient lamp given by the bishop to the Society of Antiquaries, and preserved in its museum. He was elected F.S.A. on 23 Dec. 1718, and at the cost of the society an engraving of his portrait at All Souls' was executed in 1736 by George Vertue. Copies of it appeared in ‘Vetusta Monumenta,’ vol. i. plate 45, ‘Notitia Monastica’ (1744), the ‘Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica’ (1748), and in Rodd's ‘Portraits,’ vol. i. A print of him engraved by P. Audinet, with his autograph, is in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literary History,’ iii. 225.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, pref. i. 10–13, cxxii–iv. iv. 540; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark, iii. 453, 474–477, 482–504, iv. 197, 228–32; Wood's Oxford City, ed. Clark, i. 25–6; Hearne's Collections, ed. Doble, i. 113, 200, ii. 9, 164–5, 177, 223, 524, iii. 18; Rel. Hearnianæ (ed. 1869), i. 17, ii. 192, iii. 9, 24, 42–3, 79, 112; Burrows's All Souls', passim; Macray's Bodl. Libr. (1890), pp. 209–12; Wood's Colleges, ed. Gutch, i. 152, 281, 285, 446, and App. pp. 295, 472–3; Stratford's Wiltshire Worthies, p. 123; Wilts Archæol. Mag. xiii. 59–77 (by the Rev. Edward Wilton); Gent. Mag. 1736, p. 692; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 51, 78, 356, ii. 485, 496, 522; Blomefield's Norfolk, iii. 590–1, 636–7, vii. 263; Biographia Britannica; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, ii. 97, 161–3; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. iii. 401; information from the Rev. Dr. Magrath, Queen's College, Oxford.]

W. P. C.