On 22 March 1564 the College received the first major bequest to the Library: 90 books donated by Thomas Paynell.

Paynell donation 9One of the earliest bequests to the College was the gift of ninety books left in the will of one Thomas Paynell, who probably died early in 1564, as his will was proved on 22 March of that year. It is not entirely clear who Thomas Paynell was, not least because there were at least five or six Thomas Paynells (it was a prominent Lincolnshire surname) active in mid-sixteenth century England. Certainly none of them was ever a member of St. John’s and there is no evidence that any of them ever matriculated at either Oxford or Cambridge. Anthony Wood, the seventeenth-century historian of Oxford, thought that Paynell had been a member of St. Bernard’s College, the Cistercian college that had been on the site of Front Quad before St. John’s was founded, but there seems to be no evidence for this either.

Most likely, ‘our’ Thomas Paynell had studied at the University of Paris before becoming a canon at Merton Priory in Surrey. When this was dissolved at the Reformation, he became rector of Cottingham in Yorkshire and then of All Hallows, Honey Lane, in London. He even became a chaplain to Henry VIII and was sent on some diplomatic missions. In all this time he was a prolific translator of theological, spiritual and medical books. He managed to flourish under the contrasting religious regimes of Henry VIII and his children, though later Protestant authors believed his books to be corrupted by ‘monkish superstition’. His religious views therefore seem similar to those of Sir Thomas White, and it was probably a friendship with our founder that led him to bequeath his books to the College. We shall, however, never know for sure.

Paynell donation 1

" St John's College is truly fortunate in having rich and diverse historical collections, grown over centuries through donations and bequests like that of Thomas Paynell. We now look forward to moving these into the new library and study centre and with that quite literally into the 21st century. The new building's state-of-the-art facilities will allow us to make the college library's treasures more available for teaching and research, as well as school access and outreach. " Dr Petra Hofmann, College Librarian

Images from the Paynell bequest