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Anthony Wood, 1632-1695

Anthony Wood or Anthony à Wood[1] (17 December 1632 – 28 November 1695) was an English antiquary.


Early life

He was the fourth son of Thomas Wood (1580-1643), B.C.L. of Oxford, where Anthony was born. He was sent to New College School in 1641, and at the age of twelve was removed to the free Lord Williams's School at Thame, where his studies were interrupted by civil war skirmishes. He was then placed under the tuition of his brother Edward (1627-1655), of Trinity College, and, as he tells us, "while he continued in this condition his mother would alwaies be soliciting him to be an apprentice which he could never endure to heare of." He was entered at Merton College in 1647, and made postmaster.

In 1652 he took up ploughing and bell-ringing. "Having had from his most tender years an extraordinary ravishing delight in music," he began to teach himself the violin and took his B.A. examinations. He engaged a music-master and obtained permission to use the Bodleian, "which he took to be the happiness of his life." He became an M.A. in 1655, and in the following year published a volume of sermons by his late brother Edward.

Antiquity career

He began systematically to copy monumental inscriptions and to search for antiquities in the city and neighbourhood. He went through the Christ Church registers, "at this time being resolved to set himself to the study of antiquities." Dr John Wallis, the keeper, allowed him free access to the university registers in 1660; "here he layd the foundation of that book which was fourteen years afterwards published, viz. Hist. et Antiq. Univ. Oxon." He also came to know the Oxford collections of Brian Twyne to which he was greatly indebted. He steadily investigated the muniments of all the colleges, and in 1667 made his first journey to London, where he visited William Dugdale, who introduced him into the Cottonian Library, and William Prynne showed him the same civility for the Tower records.

On 22 October 1669, he was sent for by the delegates of the press, "that whereas he had taken a great deal of paines in writing the Hist. and Antiq. of the Universitie of Oxon, they would for his paines give him an 100 li. for his copie, conditionally, that he would suffer the book to be translated into Latine." He accepted the offer and set to work to prepare his English manuscript for the translators, Richard Peers and Richard Reeve, both appointed by Dr. Fell, Dean of Christ Church, who undertook the expense of printing. In 1674 appeared Historia, et antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis, handsomely reprinted "e Theatro Sheldoniano in two folio volumes, the first devoted to the university in general and the second to the colleges. Copies were widely distributed, and university and author received much praise. On the other hand, Bishop Barlow told a correspondent that "not only the Latine but the history itself is in many things ridiculously false" (Genuine Remains, 1693, p. 183).

In 1678 the university registers which had been in Woods custody for eighteen years were removed, as it was feared that he would be implicated in the Popish Plot. To relieve himself from suspicion he took the Oath of Supremacy. During this time he had been gradually completing his great work, which was produced by a London publisher in 1691-1692, 2 vols. folio, Athenae Oxonienses: an Exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the University of Oxford from 1500 to 1690, to which are added the Fasti, or Annals for the said time. Wood contemplated publishing a third volume of the Athenae, printed in the Netherlands. The third appeared subsequently as "a new edition, with additions, and a continuation by Philip Bliss" (1813-1820, 4 vols. 4to). The Ecclesiastical History Society proposed to bring out a fourth edition, which stopped at the Life, ed. by Bliss (1848, 8vo; see Cent. Mag., N.S., xxix. 135, 268). Bliss's interleaved copy is in the Bodleian.

On 29 July 1693 Wood was condemned and fined in the vice-chancellor's court for certain libels against the late Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. He was punished by being banished from the university until recanting, and the offending pages burnt. The proceedings were printed in a volume of Miscellanies published by Edmund Curll in 1714. Wood was attacked by Bishop Burnet in A letter to the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1693), and defended by his nephew Dr Thomas Wood, in a Vindication of the Historiographer, to which is added the Historiographer's Answer (1693), reproduced in the subsequent editions of the Athenae. The nephew also defended his uncle in An Appendix to the Life of Bishop Seth Ward, 1697. After a short illness Anthony Wood died, and was buried in the outer chapel of St John Baptist (Merton College), in Oxford, where he had superintended the digging of his own grave only a few days before.

He received no recognition from the university he had worked for his whole life. He never married, and led a life entirely devoted to antiquarian research. He was always suspected of being a Roman Catholic, and invariably treated Jacobites and Papists better than Dissenters in the Athenae, but he died in communion with the Church of England.

Wood's original manuscript (purchased by the Bodleian in 1846) was first published by John Gutch as The History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford, with a continuation (1786-1790, 2 vols. 4to), and The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford (1792-1796, 3 vols. 410), with a portrait of Wood. To these can be added The Antient and Present State of the City of Oxford, chiefly collected by A. à Wood, with additions by the Rev. Sir J. Peshall (1773, 4to; the text is garbled and the editing very imperfect). The Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford, composed in 1661-66 by Anthony Wood, edited by Andrew Clark, was issued by the Oxford Historical Society (1889-1899, 3 vols. 8vo). Modius Salium, a Collection of Pieces of Humour was published at Oxford in 1751, 12mo. Some letters between John Aubrey and Wood were published in the Gentleman's Magazine (3rd ser., ix. x. xi.).

Wood bequeathed his library (127 manuscripts and 970 printed books) to the Ashmolean Museum, and the keeper, William Huddesford, printed a catalogue of the manuscripts in 1761. In 1858 the whole collection was transferred to the Bodleian, where 25 volumes of Wood's manuscripts had been since 1690. Many of the original papers from which the Athenae was written, as well as several large volumes of Wood's correspondence and all his diaries, are in the Bodleian.

In fiction

A fictionalised version of Anthony Wood is one of four narrators in Iain Pears' 1998 novel An Instance of the Fingerpost, which is set in the early 1660s.


  1. ^ In his memoirs he speaks of himself and his family as Wood or à Wood, the last form being a pedantic return to old usage adopted by himself.

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