TWYNE, John (1507/8-81), of Canterbury and Preston, nr. Wingham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1553
Apr. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1507/8, 1st s. of William Twyne of Bullington, Hants. educ. Oxf. BCL 31 Jan. 1525. m. (1) 1525, Alice (d. 20 Oct. 1567), da. of William Peper of Canterbury, 4s. 3da.; (2) 14 Nov. 1568, Margaret Carpenter of Canterbury.1

Offices Held

Common councilman, Canterbury 1539-47, 1548-50, sheriff 1544-5, alderman 1550-62, mayor 1553-4.2


In 1538 John Twyne of Canterbury, gentleman, was admitted to the freedom of the city by right of his marriage to a freeman’s daughter. As she was to die in October 1567 in the 43rd year of the marriage, this must have taken place in the year in which Twyne became a bachelor of civil law. The marriage debarred Twyne from the priesthood which might otherwise have followed his ordination as acolyte in 1521, and he remained in this minor order during his 16 years’ residence, probably as a schoolmaster, in St. Augustine’s abbey, Canterbury, and his 20 years as headmaster of the King’s School founded in 1542. Successful and prosperous in pedagogy, Twyne made his chief reputation as antiquarian and archaeologist; his De Rebus Albionicis, edited by his son in 1590, has been called ‘perhaps the earliest attempt at anything like a scientific inquiry into the origins of British history’.3

Twyne’s civic career, which began after the dissolution of the abbey, was a chequered one. Dismissed from the common council in November 1547, he was reinstated in the following August and in July 1550 elected alderman. On 18 May 1553 the mayor of Canterbury was ordered by the Privy Council to send him up; his offence is not revealed, but the prominence he was soon to attain suggests that he may have championed Mary’s claim to the throne. The first year of her reign saw him elected mayor and twice returned to Parliament. His fellow-Member, William Coppyn, was an ex-mayor and former doorkeeper of the abbey. No payment of parliamentary wages to either of them was entered in the city’s accounts, but on 10 Apr. 1554 the burmote agreed that a sum of £12 ‘before this time delivered to Mr. Twyne and Mr. Coppyn ... should by writ be levied of the commonalty and repaid again into the chamber’. Between the two Parliaments Canterbury held firm during Wyatt’s rebellion—a service recorded to Twyne’s credit, alongside his ability to make his pupils speak Latin, in the epitaph which he almost certainly wrote for himself—and this may have prompted the instruction given to him and Coppyn on their return to Westminster to ‘make suit for the Queen’s park in the name of the whole commonalty’.4

Twyne was not to sit in the Commons again and he appears to have received no preferment from the crown unless he was the John Twyne, BCL, admitted to the prebend of Llandygwy in Brecon on 3 Nov. 1558. Yet it was probably not only his ‘riot and drunkenness’ and his holding of civic office which incurred Archbishop Parker’s displeasure at the visitation of 1560. His vacating of the headship in 1560 was followed in May 1562 by his dismissal as alderman and another appearance before the Privy Council. Two of the other five aldermen ejected with him were known enemies of the Elizabethan settlement and Twyne himself was described as ‘a very conjurer’. How far he had retracted the alleged ‘heresy’ of the lectures he had once delivered at Cranmer’s direction it is hard to say, but his aspersions on Henry VIII, Foxe and Parker could not have helped, even though he had given manuscripts to the archbishop’s library, some of them from the abbey, and was in 1560 keeper of one of the archiepiscopal woods. By 1568 Twyne was living at Preston, near Wingham, Kent, although he probably retained the property in St. Paul’s parish, Canterbury, which he had bought in 1539. An autograph will in Latin of 27 Mar. 1580 is in the archives of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was buried in St. Paul’s on 30 Nov. 1581.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: Helen Miller


  • 1. He described himself as 58 in Sept. 1566, C. E. Woodruff and H. J. Cape, King’s School, Canterbury, 60, although in January 1576 he claimed to be over 74, Lansd. 21, f. 111. Vis. Kent (Harl. Soc. lxxv), 41; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 582-3; Reg. St. Peter’s, Canterbury, ed. Cowper, 76; Canterbury Mar. Lic. ed. Cowper.
  • 2. Canterbury burmote bk. passim.
  • 3. Freemen of Canterbury, ed. Cowper, col. 159; Wood, Ath. Ox. ed. Bliss, i. 463; Emden, 582; Woodruff and Cape, 56-76; R. B. Ferguson, ‘John Twyne: a Tudor humanist and the problem of legend’, Jnl. of Brit. Studies, ix(1), 24-44.
  • 4. Canterbury burmote bk. ff. 37, 41, 83v, 84v; APC, iv. 105; DNB repeats the error made by Hasted, Kent, iv. 53 that Twyne had sat in the Parliament of March 1553; W. Somner, Antiqs. Canterbury, i. app. 70.
  • 5. Emden, 582-3; T. Tanner, Bibl. Britannica-Hibernica, 729; Canterbury burmote bk. ff. 145, 151; APC, vii. 105; LP Hen. VIII, vii, xiv; M. R. James, Cat. Mss Corpus Christi Coll. Camb. i. pp. xxii, 358; Lambeth Pal. lib. ct. rolls 1401; Reg. St. Paul’s, Canterbury ed. Cowper, 205.