The Tudor Society

2 March – Sir Thomas Bodley and the Bodleian Library

On this day in Tudor history, 2nd March 1545, scholar, diplomat and founder of the Bodleian Library, Sir Thomas Bodley, was born in Exeter.

Sir Thomas Bodley served as a diplomat in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but he is most known for his re-founding of Oxford University Library and the Bodleian Library, and all the work he did on it. Find out all about him and his library in today's talk.

The Bodleian Library is world famous and you can have a virtual tour of this Oxford landmark in this video:

Also on this day in Tudor history, 2nd March 1522, there was a Shrovetide joust with the theme of unrequited love at the court of Henry VIII. You can find out more about this joust, and whether it had anything to do with Mary Boleyn, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1535 – Death of Sir Robert Drury, lawyer, Privy Councillor and Speaker of the House of Commons.
  • 1618 – Burial of Elizabeth Carey, Lady Hunsdon, wife of Sir George Carey (Mary Boleyn's grandson). She was buried in the Hunsdon vault in Westminster Abbey.
  • 1619 – Death of Anne of Denmark, consort of James VI and I, of dropsy and consumption. She was buried in Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. According to her biographers Maureen M. Meikle and Helen Payne, her entrails were buried at the Abbey on 5th March and her body lay in state at Denmark House from 9th March to 13th May, when she was laid to rest at the Abbey. Her funeral was “in form and scale comparable to that of Queen Elizabeth.”


On this day in Tudor history, 2nd March 1545, scholar, diplomat and founder of the Bodleian Library, Sir Thomas Bodley, was born in Exeter.
Thomas was the son of John Bodley, a Protestant merchant who took his family into exile to Germany during Mary I's reign, and his wife, Joan Hone. The family returned to England in Queen Elizabeth I's reign, and Bodley was able to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated BA in 1563 and MA in 1566. He then lectured at Merton College and was elected junior proctor. He left Oxford in 1576 and began a diplomatic career for Elizabeth I’s government, under the patronage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Sir Francis Walsingham. He also served as a member of Parliament for Portsmouth.

In 1583, Thomas began serving Elizabeth as a Gentleman Usher and in 1585, he carried out his first major diplomatic mission in Denmark and Brunswick. In 1588, he carried out a further diplomatic mission to Henry III in France, followed by another to Denmark and the merchants at Hamburg. His most important diplomatic mission, however, was when he was appointed at the Queen’s ambassor to the United Provinces, i.e. the Netherlands, where he was resident ambassador at the Hague from late 1588 to early 1597.

Thomas returned to England in 1597, in ill health and disillusioned by his time as ambassador. It was at that point that he retired from public service and began the project for which he is known today, the foundation of the Bodleian Library. In 1598, Thomas Bodley he restored, refurbished and re-founded the Oxford University library, and it was re-opened on 8th November 1602 as Bodley's Library, or the Bodleian Library. This library had been begun in around 1320, but was rescued by Bodley, who had married a rich widow, Anne Cary, widow of Nicholas Ball, a wealthy fish merchant who had made his fortune in trading pilchards. Bodley wrote that in his retirement, he wanted to “set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students”. By the time the library opened in 1602, it had over 2,500 books, and soon became world famous.

In 1604, Bodley was knighted by King James I, who was a patron of the library, and in 1610, Bodley came to an agreement with the Stationers’ Company, London, that every book published in England and registered with the Stationers would have a copy deposited at the Bodleian.
Sir Thomas Bodley died at his home next to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London on 29th January 1613, shortly after work started on an extension to the library. He was buried in Merton College Chapel on 29th March 1613. He left most of his fortune to Oxford University, as he had no children.
The Bodleian Library had further work carried out in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and it is a wonderful place, and an important Oxford landmark. I’ll give you a link to a video giving a virtual tour of it

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2 March – Sir Thomas Bodley and the Bodleian Library