Thomas Rymer

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Not to be confused with Thomas the Rhymer, a 13th-century Scots laird.

Thomas Rymer (c. 1643 – 14 December 1713) [1] was an English antiquary and historian. His most lasting contribution was to compile and publish the Foedera: 16 volumes of the texts of agreements made between The Crown of England and foreign powers during all earlier centuries. He held the office of English Historiographer Royal from 1692 to 1714.


Early life and education

Thomas Rymer was born at Appleton Wiske, near Northallerton in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1643, [2] or possibly at Yafforth. He was the younger son of Ralph Rymer, lord of the manor of Brafferton in Yorkshire, described by Clarendon as possessed of a good estate. The father was executed for his part in the Farnley Wood Plot of 1663. The son studied at Northallerton Grammar School where he was a classmate of George Hickes. [2] Here he studied for eight years under Thomas Smelt, a noted Royalist. [3] Aged 16, he then went to study at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, entering on 29 April 1659. [3]

Although Rymer was still at Cambridge in 1662, when he contributed Latin verses to a university volume celebrating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, there is no record of his taking a degree. This may have been due to the financial problems his father was suffering at the time, or the fact that on 13 October 1663 his father was arrested, and executed the following year, for his involvement in the Farnley Wood Plot to stage an uprising in Yorkshire against Charles II. Although Thomas's elder brother Ralph was also arrested and imprisoned, Thomas himself was not implicated, and on 2 May 1666, he became a member of Gray's Inn, and was called to the bar on 16 June 1673. [4]


Rymer's first appearance in print [8] was as translator of René Rapin's Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie (1674), [9] to which he added a preface in defence of the classical rules for unity in drama. [10] Following the principles set there set, he composed a tragedy in verse, licensed on 13 September 1677, called Edgar, or the English Monarch, [11] which was a failure. It was printed in 1678, [4] with a second edition in 1693. Rymer's views on the drama were again given to the world in a printed letter to Fleetwood Shepheard, the friend of Matthew Prior, entitled The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider'd (1678). [12]

To Ovid's Epistles Translated by Several Hands (1680), with a preface by Dryden, Rymer contributed Penelope to Ulysses. [13] He was also one of those who Englished the so-called Dryden's Plutarch of 1683–1686 (5 vols.): the life of Nicias fell to his share. [14]

Rymer wrote a preface to Whitelocke's Memorials of English Affairs (1682), [15] and in 1681 A General Draught and Prospect of the Government of Europe, reprinted in 1689 and 1714 as Of the Antiquity, Power, and Decay of Parliaments, [16] where, ignorant of his future dignity, the critic had the misfortune to observe, "You are not to expect truth from an historiographer royal."

He contributed three pieces to the collection of Poems to the Memory of Edmund Waller (1688) [18] (afterwards reprinted in Dryden's Miscellany Poems), [19] and wrote the Latin inscription on all four sides of Waller's monument in Beaconsfield churchyard. [20] The preface to the posthumous Historia Ecclesiastica (1688) [21] of Thomas Hobbes seems to have been written by Rymer. [24] An English translation was published in 1722. [25] The Life of Hobbes (1681) sometimes ascribed to him was written by Richard Blackburne. [26] He produced a congratulatory poem upon the arrival of Queen Mary in Westminster with William III on 12 February 1689. [27] [4]

Rymer's next piece of authorship was to translate the sixth elegy of the third book of Ovid's Tristia for Dryden's Miscellany Poems (Silvae, Second Part of Miscellanies, 2nd edition (1692), p. 148). [32] On the death of Thomas Shadwell in 1692, Rymer received the appointment of historiographer royal at a yearly salary of £200. [4] Immediately after appeared his much discussed A Short View of Tragedy (1693), [33] criticising Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, which gave rise to The Impartial Critick (1693) [34] of John Dennis, the epigram of Dryden.

In his discussion of The Bloody Brother by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and George Chapman, Rymer coins the term "poetical justice".


Rymer's most lasting contribution to scholarship was the Foedera, a collection of "all the leagues, treaties, alliances, capitulations, and confederacies, which have at any time been made between the Crown of England and any other kingdoms, princes and states". [35] Documents were presented in Latin with summaries in English. [35] Begun under a royal warrant in 1693, it was "an immense labour of research and transcription on which he spent the last twenty years of his life". [36] [37]

The first edition of the Foedera comprised 20 volumes dated from 1704 to 1735. Sixteen were prepared by Rymer, of which the last two were published posthumously by his assistant Robert Sanderson, who himself compiled the remaining volumes, the last three being supplementary. [37]

George Holmes revised the first 17 volumes, published from 1727 to 1735, as well as a single folio (in 1730) of corrections to the first edition. [37] [38]

The "Hague edition" was published from 1737 to 1745 in "ten closely-printed folio volumes". [37] [nb 1] The first nine reprinted the London edition, with the tenth combining Paul de Rapin's French-language synopsis and an index to the Foedera. [37] [38] Rapin's text had been translated into English in 1733. [40]

The Record Commission in 1800 proposed a "Supplement and Continuation" to the Foedera; in 1809 it decided instead on a complete revision. [37] Seven parts were prepared before the project was abandoned owing to dissatisfaction with the editing. [37] [38] Six parts in three volumes were published from 1816 to 1830, and the seventh in 1869, along with miscellaneous notes. [nb 2] The work was thus revised up to the year 1383. [37] [38] A three-volume English-language summary and index of the complete Foedera followed. [42] The Victoria County History guide recommends citing the Record Commission (RC) edition where available and the Hague edition otherwise. [43]


Rymer died on 14 December 1713, and was buried four days later in St Clement Danes Church in the Strand. [2] He apparently left no immediate family. [4]


  1. All volumes are scanned at the Internet Archive. [39] Book 8 to 12 (of 20, covering 1397 to 1502) are available at British History Online. [35]
  2. All volumes are scanned at HathiTrust. [41]


  1. Arthur Sherbo, "Rymer, Thomas (1642/3–1713)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 17 Oct 2017
  2. 1 2 3 Riordan, Michael. From Middle Ages to Millennium Northallerton Grammar School and College 1322–2000. County Print. p. 10. ISBN   1-86123-103-2.
  3. 1 2 "Rymer, Thomas (RMR659T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Lee 1897.
  5. Cicero's prince the reasons and counsels for settlement and good government of a kingdom, collected out of Cicero's works / by T. R., esq. (Early English Books Online - text only). London: Printed for S. Mearne. 1688.
  6. Christopher Bond (September 2009). "The Phœnix and the Prince: The Poetry of Thomas Ross and Literary Culture in the Court of Charles II". The Review of English Studies. 60 (246): 588–604. doi:10.1093/res/hgn169.
  7. Zimansky 1956, p. 284.
  8. A 1688 translation into English of William Bellenden's Ciceronis Princeps (first published anonymously in Paris in 1608) [5] sometimes said to be Thomas Rymer's first publication, has been shown by Curt Zimansky to be the work of Thomas Ross (1620–1675), courtier, poet and tutor to the first Duke of Monmouth. [6] [7]
  9. Rapin, René (1674). Reflections on Aristotle's treatise of poesie containing the necessary, rational, and universal rules for epick, dramatick, and the other sorts of poetry: with reflections on the works of the ancient and modern poets, and their faults noted/by R. Rapin. Rymer, Thomas (trans.). London: Licensed by Roger L'Estrange. Printed by T. N. for H. Herringman, at the Anchor in the Lower Walk of the New Exchange.
  10. "Thomas Rymer: Reflections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesie: The Preface of the Translator". English Poetry 1579-1830: Spenser and the Tradition. Retrieved 26 March 2019. NB This page includes the thoughts of other critics about Rymer, such as: George Saintsbury (1911) History of English Criticism, pp. 133-34; Herbert E. Cory (1911) Critics of Edmund Spenser, pp. 120-21; Harko Gerrit De Maar (1924), History of Modern English Romanticism, p. 34; and H. T. Swedenberg (1944), Theory of the Epic in England, p. 47.
  11. Rymer, Thomas (1693). Edgar, or the English Monarch: an Heroick Tragedy. (Early English Books Online – text only) (2nd ed.). London: Printed for James Knapton, at the Crown in St. Pauls-Church-yard.
  12. Rymer, Thomas (1678). The Tragedies of The Last Age Consider'd and Examin'd by the Practice of the Ancients, and by the Common Sense of all Ages. (Early English Books Online – text only). London: Printed for Richard Tonson at his Shop under Grays-Inn Gate, next Grays-Inn Lane.
  13. This work went through numerous, increasingly expanded editions: e. g. Ovid; Rymer, Thomas (1776). "Penelope to Ulysses". In Dryden, John (preface) (ed.). Ovid's Epistles: with his Amours. Translated into English Verse by the Most Eminent Hands. London: Printed for T. Davies, W. Strahan, W. Clarke, et al.
  14. Plutarch; Rymer, Thomas (1693). "Nicias". The third volume of Plutarch's lives. Translated from the Greek, by several hands. (Early English Books Online – text only). London: Printed by R. E. for Jacob Tonson, at the Judges Head in Chancery-Lane, near Fleet-street. pp. 411–471.
  15. Rymer, Thomas (1853). "Preface to the first edition, London 1682". In Whitelocke, Bulstrode (ed.). Memorials of the English affairs from the beginning of the reign of Charles the First to the happy restoration of King Charles the Second, Vol. 1. (4 vols.) (Repr. of 2nd, 1732 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. iii–xi.
  16. Rymer, Thomas (1714) [1681]. Of the Antiquity, Power, and Decay of Parliaments. London: Sold by J. Roberts.
  17. Oppenheimer, Carl H (1940). The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library. 3. New York: Privately Printed. p. 1083. Source: "Poems to the memory of that incomparable poet Edmond Waller Esquire". WorldCat. OCLC   15877645.
  18. Rymer, Thomas, ed. (1688). Poems to the memory of that incomparable poet Edmond Waller Esquire by several hands. (Early English Books Online - text only). London: Printed for Ioseph Knight, and Francis Saunders, at the Blew Anchor, in the lower Walk of the New Exchange.
    The poems are: On Mr. Waller. T. Rymer (p. 4); Monsieur St. Euremon. 1684 (In French). In English, by T. R. (p. 10); To Mr. Riley, Drawing Mr. Waller's Picture . T. R. (p. 26).
    "It is not improbable that the initials T. R., signed to several of the pieces, are those of Thomas Rymer, who is believed to have edited the volume and who signed one of the poems in full." [17]
  19. Dryden, John, ed. (1716). The First Part of Miscellany Poems. Containing Variety of New Translations of the Ancient Poets: Together with Several Original Poems, By the Most Eminent Hands (4th ed.). London: Mr. Dryden.
    On Mr. Waller By Mr. T. Rymer (pp. 223–225); Monsieur St. Euremon. 1684. In English, by T. R. (p. 234); To Mr. Riley, Drawing Mr. Waller's Picture. By Mr. T. Rymer (p. 267).
    The attribution of the Riley poem is 'By Mr. Rymer', rather than 'T. R.' in the 1688 version.
  20. Rymer, Thomas (1690). "The Epitaph on Mr. WALLER'S Monument in Beconsfield Church-yard in Buckinghamshire: written by Mr. Rymer, late Historiographer-Royal". In Waller, Edmund (ed.). The second part of Mr. Waller's poems Containing, his alteration of The maids tragedy, and whatever of his is yet unprinted: together with some other poems, speeches, &c. that were printed severally, and never put into the first collection of his poems. London: printed for Tho. Bennet, at the Half-Moon in St. Pauls Church-yard. p. [110].
  21. Rymer, Thomas (1688). "Preface". In Hobbes, Thomas (ed.). Historia ecclesiastica carmine elegiaco concinnata Authore, Thoma Hobbio Malmesburiensi. (Early English Books Online - text only) (in Latin). Augustae Trinobantum (London).
  22. Molesworth, William, ed. (1845). Thomae Hobbes Malmesburiensis Opera philosophica quae latine scripsit omnia: in unum corpus nunc primum collecta / studio et labore Gulielmi Molesworth, Vol. 5. (5 vols) (in Latin). p. 354.
  23. Springborg, Patricia (October 1994). "Hobbes, Heresy, and the Historia Ecclesiastica". Journal of the History of Ideas. 55 (4): 553. doi:10.2307/2709922. JSTOR   2709922.
  24. William Molesworth, in his 1845 edition of Hobbes [22] says that the preface is by Rymer, and that the original title page and motto must be attributed to him. Patricia Springborg also says the intro is by Rymer. [23]
  25. Hobbes, Thomas; Rymer, Thomas (Preface) (1722). English paraphrase, A True Ecclesiastical History From Moses to the time of Martin Luther, in Verse. Made English from the Latin original. London: Printed for E. Curll. hdl:2027/njp.32101073248617.
  26. "Dr. Blackburne certainly wrote a Latin supplement to the short "Life", entitled "Vitae Hobbianie Auctarium", the first sentence of which supplies the chief evidence of his authorship of the "Life". Both these works would seem to have been derived from a larger and fuller "Life" in manuscript written in English by John Aubrey, and used with the knowledge and consent of the latter, and possibly with the assistance of Hobbes himself." Blackburne, Richard by Arthur Henry Grant in DNB Volume 5.
  27. Rymer, Thomas. A Poem on the Arrival of Queen Mary, February the 12th, 1689. Early English Books Online. London: Printed for Awnsham Churchil, at the Black Swan at Amen Corner.
    Rymer compares Mary to Pyhrra, Deucalion's bride: according to Ovid, after the Deluge the couple threw rocks over their shoulders, which metamorphosed into babies who grew up and re-populated the world.
  28. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–1921). Vol. 8. The Age of Dryden. Dryden: Bibliography (
  29. Sylvæ: or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685). (Text-only, EEBO).
  30. This second edition of the First Part was published as Miscellany poems: in two parts : containing new translations out of Virgil, Lucretius, Horace, Ovid, Theocritus, and other authours: with several original poems by the most eminent hands. (Worldcat). This seems to be the only version to contain Rymer's translation. There are online copies (or text-only versions), but none seem to be freely available.
  31. Rymer's Ovid doesn't seem to appear in 3rd ed. of the First Part of the Miscellany Poems (1702) nor the 4th ed. of the Second Part. The third part [or volume] is Examen Poeticum (1693). (All
  32. Dryden and Jacob Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies has a somewhat involved publishing history of numerous editions with various titles, reprints and bindings. [28] The second edition of the Second Part (1692) seems to be the only one to contain Rymer's translation, and was apparently only published bound up with some copies of the second edition of the First Part (also 1692). The first edition of the Second Part was published as Sylvæ: or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685). [29] A second edition of Sylvae was published in 1692 and was bound with the second edition of Part One of the Miscellany Poems (1692) (Part One, 1st ed. 1684, reissued 1685). [30] In addition, some copies of the first edition of Sylvæ (not containing Rymer's Ovid) were bound up with the second edition of the Miscellany Poems. [31]
  33. Rymer, Thomas (1693). A Short View of Tragedy: its Original Excellency and Corruption. Scolar Press facsimile (1970). London: Printed and to be sold by Richard Baldwin.
  34. Dennis, John (1909) [1693]. "The Impartial Critick". In Spingarn, Joel Elias (ed.). Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, Vol. III: 1685-1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 148–197.
  35. 1 2 3 "Rymer's Foedera". British History Online. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  36. Zimansky 1956 , pp. xvii–xx. The quote is from page xviii.
  37. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "The Record Commission; No. III; II. Rhymer's Fœdera. Three Volumes". The Gentleman's Magazine. Edinburgh: F. Jefferies: 23–30 : 27–30. July 1834. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  38. 1 2 3 4 Tedder 1911.
  39. Foedera (Hague edition), Internet Archive: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5, Vol 6, Vol 7, Vol 8, Vol 9, Vol 10.
  40. Whatley, Stephen (1733). Acta Regia; Being the Account which Mr. Rapin de Thoyras Published of the History of England, and Grounded Upon Those Records, which are Collected in Mr. Rymers Foedera. London: Printed by James Mechell.
  41. Vols 1 to 3 (parts 1 to 6) from University of Minnesota; Vol. 4 from University of Iowa; Appendices from Yale University.
  42. Hardy, Thomas Duffus, ed. (1869–85). Syllabus (in English) of the documents relating to England and other kingdoms contained in the collection known as "Rymer's Foedera.". Public Record Office.v.1. 1066–1377 (1869); v.2. 1377–1654 (1873); v.3. Appendix and index (1885).
  43. "Writing for the VCH » Style guidelines » Rymer's Foedera". Victoria County History. Retrieved 25 May 2017.

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Preceded by
Thomas Shadwell
English Historiographer Royal
Succeeded by
Thomas Madox