BODLEY, Thomas (1545-1613), of London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1545, s. of John Bodley, merchant, of Exeter, Devon by Joan, da. of Robert Hone of Ottery St. Mary, Devon. educ. Geneva; Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1559, BA 1563, MA 1566; fellow, Merton 1564; travelled abroad 1576-80. m. 19 July 1586, Ann, da. of Richard Cary or Carew of Bristol and wid. of Nicholas Ball of Totnes, Devon, s.p. Kntd. 1604.

Offices Held

Proctor, Oxf. Univ. 1569; gent. usher c.1583; mission to Denmark and Germany Apr. 1585, to France 1586-8; ambassador in the United Provinces 1588-96.1


Bodley’s early life and education is set out in an autobiographical sketch preserved in the library he restored and enlarged and which has immortalised his name. His father married the daughter of another merchant of Exeter, where Bodley was born. After Mary’s accession, the family (of known protestant views) went into exile, first to Wesel, then to Frankfurt and finally to Geneva, where, at the age of twelve, Bodley heard lectures by Anthony Chevallier in Hebrew, Philip Beroald in Greek, Calvin and Beza on divinity, and read Homer with Robert Constantine, the author of a Greek lexicon. Returning to England after the accession of Elizabeth, the family settled in London, Bodley’s father soon afterwards being granted a patent for the exclusive printing of the Geneva Bible. Bodley himself went up to Oxford, playing an active part in university life until 1576, when he left to travel in Italy, France and Germany. He evidently then decided not to return to the university but to enter public life instead, possibly because he had already secured powerful patronage at court. Writing after Bodley’s death, John Chamberlain blamed him for not mentioning Francis Walshingham and Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in his autobiography, two of the three people who had been his ‘main raisers’ and ‘best benefactors’. At one time indeed, Bodley was in Leicester’s service. Either Walsingham or Leicester was probably indirectly responsible for Bodley’s return to Parliament for Portsmouth, the seat that he preferred to Hythe, where he had also been returned on the recommendation of the lord warden, William Brooke alias Cobham, 10th Lord Cobham. Both Bodley and his wife had relatives and connexions in Devon and Cornwall, which may help to explain his return for St. Germans in the following Parliament.2

After a decade of diplomatic service abroad, Bodley retired from public life, efforts to induce him to undertake other missions meeting with failure. Apparently, at one time both Burghley and Essex urged Bodley’s appointment as a secretary of state, but their mutual hostility led Burghley to oppose the plan and to become suspicious of Bodley himself. Certainly without his wife’s money and the backing of Essex, Bodley could not have commenced the great work to which he devoted the last years of his life. The restored and enlarged library at Oxford was formally opened on 8 Nov. 1602, and two years later James I granted letters patent by which it was to be called after Bodley himself. In 1611 he made plans to endow the library with his lands in London and Berkshire. He died in London 28 Jan. 1613, having made his will the previous 2 Jan. Sir John Benet and ‘my good cousin’ William Hakewill were the executors; Sir Ralph Winwood, the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Egerton I, Lord Ellesmere, Edward Coke, and his ‘assured and special friend’ Henry Savile II the overseers; and the university was the chief beneficiary. Bodley was buried in Merton College chapel, having provided 1,000 marks for the funeral. His will was contested by his brother Lawrence and his niece Elizabeth Willis, his relatives no doubt feeling with John Chamberlain that ‘he was so carried away with the vanity and vain glory of his library that he forgot all other respects and duties of conscience, friendship or good nature’. Judgment was given in favour of the executors on 15 May.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: Patricia Hyde


  • 1. F. B. R. Troup, Sir Thomas Bodley’s Father and Kindred; DNB; CSP For. 1584-5, p. 428; 1586-8, p. 636; 1588, pp. 333-4, 348.
  • 2. Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 432; Leycester Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxvii), 326; Neale, Commons, 219; D’Ewes, 334; Manningham Diary (Cam. Soc. xcix), pp. 63, 129.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1601-3, pp. 2, 18; 1603-10, p. 124; HMC Hatfield, xii. 387; Chamberlain Letters, i. 36, 414, 417; PCC 37 Capell; C142/339/139.