Friday, February 15, 2013

Thomas Crosfield’s diary

Thomas Crosfield was buried three and a half centuries ago today. Born and bred in the Lake District, he became an Oxford university man for most of his life, and lived through the turbulent civil war period. He is only remembered today because of his diary - not published until 1935 - which is full of detail about university life, in particular under the chancellorship of William Laud, who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Crosfield was born in Kendal, Westmorland (now Cumbria) in 1602, the son of a scrivener who later became mayor of Kendal. He was educated locally, and then at Queen’s College, Oxford, which made him a fellow in 1627. By then, he had already begun to preach in nearby parishes. In 1638, he became vicar of the Queen’s College living at Godshill, Isle of Wight, but this was sequestered by parliament in 1644. He may, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), have been vicar of Windermere, Westmorland, for a few months in 1644-1645.

Crosfield married Helen Wyvill in 1645, and the couple had two sons and three daughters. In 1648, Crosfield obtained the rectory of Chale, Isle of Wight, and in 1649 became rector of Spennithorne (50 miles east of Kendal on the other side of the Pennines) in the Wyvills’ gift, after his father-in-law’s death. He died in early 1663, and was buried at Spennithorne church on 15 February. 

There is very little information about Crosfield available on the web, and most of what we do know comes from a diary he kept intermittently - from 1626 to 1640 and then again in the mid-1650s - published in 1935 by Oxford University Press. Secondhand copies of The Diary of Thomas Crosfield are available for about £10 from Abebooks. Some references to Crosfield’s diary can be found in The Mathematicians’ Apprenticeship: Science, Universities and Society in England, 1560-1640 by Mordechai Feingold and published in 1984 by Cambridge University Press (which can be read at Googlebooks).

The most accessible online information about the diary comes from the ONDB: ‘The main run of Crosfield’s manuscript diary, Queen’s College MS 390, stretches, with gaps, from January 1626 to January 1640. There are also accounts of conversations between provost and fellows, or among the fellows, from 1632 to 1638, and analyses of books. Much of the diary proper and some other portions, but by no means all that is of significance, was edited in 1935 by F. S. Boas. The text, in English and Latin, with some passages in idiosyncratic French, throws light on collegiate and university life in a period which included William Laud’s chancellorship. [Laud, also a diarist, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645]. Christopher Potter, provost from 1626 to 1646, who favoured the diarist, comes to life in table-talk, theological views, disciplinary measures, careful husbanding of resources, and efforts to beautify the chapel. [. . .] 

He was interested in town politics and assizes, and particularly in theatrical performances. A keen observer of national and international events, he frequently summarized ‘currantos’ and letters. His diary offers incidental evidence for the study of French, Hebrew, Arabic, mathematics, and astronomy; the royal visit to Oxford in August 1636 is also described. [. . .] Diary entries recommence in February 1653 and run until February 1654, replete with concern about money and litigation, debts and tithes, but also touching on Quakers. They suggest that Crosfield had come to accept Cromwell.’

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