The following article appears in the 2015 Jesus College Record. Chris Jeens prepared it for publication in February 2015. He died in August 2015 and is remembered in the College Record.
Sir John Prise’s supposed gift of 47 medieval manuscripts to Jesus College has long posed a puzzle. He died in 1555, 16 years before the foundation of the College. In his will he made specific and different arrangements for the disposal of the manuscripts he had acquired in the course of supervising the closure of religious houses in the West Country. His ‘written books of history’ were to go to his (second) son Richard, while his ‘written
books of divinity’ were left to Hereford Cathedral Library.
Hereford Cathedral did indeed receive some such works, but the greater part found their way to Jesus, where in a register entry c. 1621/22 (RE.1, page 42) they were listed under the heading Nomina Librorum Manuscriptorum ex Donatione Johannis Prise Equitis Aurati Herefordiensis – ‘Titles of manuscript books from the gift of Sir John Prise of Hereford’.
Recent research by the College Archivist has provided an answer to how Prise’s bequest was so disposed to the benefit of the College. Sir John’s eldest son, Gregory Prise (1535-1600), was principal executor of his father’s will and a leading figure in the city of Hereford where he resided in his father’s old property of St Guthlac’s Priory. Gregory’s own will, made and executed in 1600, is preserved in the National Archives (TNA:PROB 11/95). Again, it makes provision for written books of divinity, but in this case Jesus College is the named recipient: ‘And all that the rest of my books of Divinitie in wrytten hand I geve and bequeath to the colledge or howse called Jesus Colledge Oxfforde to be there regestred kepte and reserved forever.’
It is a matter of speculation as to why these manuscripts remained in Gregory’s possession after his father’s death, and why he subsequently chose to leave them to Jesus College, with which he had no other known connection. However, it seems clear that it was Gregory Prise rather than Sir John who was our real benefactor in this case.
Chris Jeens (Archivist, 2007-2015)