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William Grocyn

William Grocyn (1446?-1519), English scholar, was born at Colerne, Wiltshire.

Intended by his parents for the church, he was sent to Winchester College, and in 1465 was elected to a scholarship at New College, Oxford. In 1467 he became a fellow, and had among his pupils William Warham, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. In 1479 he accepted the rectory of Newton Longville, in Buckinghamshire, but continued to reside at Oxford. As reader in divinity in Magdalen College in 1481, he held a disputation with John Taylor[?], professor of divinity, in presence of King Richard III, and the king acknowledged his skill as a debater by the present of a buck and five marks. In 1485 he became prebendary of Lincoln cathedral[?]. About 1488 Grocyn left England for Italy, and before his return in 1491 he had visited Florence, Rome and Padua, and studied Greek and Latin under Demetrius Chalchondyles[?] and Politian. As lecturer in Exeter College he found an opportunity of indoctrinating his countrymen in the new Greek learning.

Erasmus says in one of his letters that Grocyn taught Greek at Oxford before his visit to Italy. The Warden of New College, Thomas Chaundler, invited Cornelius Vitelli[?], then on a visit to Oxford, to act as praelector. This was about 1475, and as Vitelli was certainly familiar with Greek literature, Grocyn may have learnt Greek from him. He seems to have lived in Oxford until 1499, but when his friend John Colet became dean of St Paul's in 1504 he was settled in London. He was chosen by his friend to deliver lectures in St Paul's; and in this connexion he gave a singular proof of his honesty. He had at first denounced all who impugned the authenticity of the Hierarchia ecclesiastica ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, but, being led to modify his views by further investigation, he openly declared that he had been completely mistaken. He also counted Linacre, William Lilye, William Latimer[?] and More among his friends, and Erasmus writing in 1514 says that he was supported by Grocyn in London, and calls him "the friend and preceptor of us all."

He held several preferments, but his generosity to his friends involved him in continual difficulties, and though in 1506 he was appointed on Archbishop Warham's recommendation master or warden of All Hallows College at Maidstone in Kent, he was still obliged to borrow from his friends, and even to pledge his plate as a security. He died in 1519, and was buried in the collegiate church at Maidstone.

Linacre acted as his executor, and expended the money he received in gift to the poor and the purchase of books for poor scholars. With the exception of a few lines of Latin verse on a lady who snowballed him, and a letter to Aldus Manutius at the head of Linacre's translation of Proclus's Sphaera (Venice, 1499), Grocyn has left no literary proof of his scholarship or abilities. His proposal to execute a translation of Aristotle in company with Linacre and Latimer was never carried out. Wood assigns some Latin works to Grocyn, but on insufficient authority. By Erasmus he has been described as "vir severissimae castissimae vitae, ecclesiasticarum constitutionum observantissimus pene usque ad superstitionem, scholasticae theologiae ad unguem doctus ac natura etiam acerrimi judicii, demum in omni disciplinarum genere exacte versatus" (Declarationes ad censures facultatis theoiogiae Parisianae, 1522).

An account of Grocyn by Professor Burrows appeared in the Oxford Historical Society[?]'s Collectanea (1890).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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