Thomas Allen 1540?-1632

From Book Owners Online

Thomas ALLEN 1540?-1632

Biographical Note

Born at Uttoxeter, son of William Allen, a member of a family of local gentry. BA Trinity College, Oxford 1563, fellow 1565, MA 1567. Moved to Gloucester Hall 1571, apparently to avoid taking the oath of supremacy; Allen’s sympathies were to Roman Catholicism, though he conformed to required Anglican practices. He spent the rest of his life in Oxford, teaching mathematics and contributing to University administration. He was actively involved in the establishment of the Bodleian Library, as a member of the committee set up in 1598, and helped to canvass for donations. He had a wide scholarly circle, including contacts with other mathematicians and antiquaries (e.g. William Camden, John Dee, Thomas Harriot, John Selden, Brian Twyne) and their patrons (e.g. Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, and Henry Percy). He was respected as an astrologer, with a popular reputation as a magician.


Allen is known primarily as a manuscript collector; he assembled a significant library of ca.250 manuscripts, originally from a wide variety of English medieval libraries, including Oxford colleges and monasteries across the country. About half of these are scientific or philosophical in content, but he also had literary, historical, classical and theological texts. Many of these are listed in a catalogue made in 1622, partly in the hand of Brian Twyne, now Bodleian MS Wood F.26. Allen bequeathed all his manuscripts, and such other books as he may take a liking to, to his friend and former pupil Sir Kenelm Digby, who was persuaded by Laud to give them to the Bodleian Library in 1634; they now constitute the bulk of MSS Digby 1-236 there.

Allen also gave 19 manuscripts, and a number of printed books, to the Bodleian Library in 1601-04; it is not clear whether these originally came from his personal collection. Other manuscripts of his did not pass to Digby, having been given to others, including Sir Robert Cotton, and Sir Thomas Aylesbury (there are ca. 30 Allen manuscripts among Cotton’s at the BL). The size of his printed book collection is not known and only a few can be traced today. He gave some printed books to Trinity College in 1625. Examples: Trinity College, Oxford I.7.1, I.7.9; Christies 16.3.1978/1222; Sotheby’s 13.3.2008/4110.

Characteristic Markings

Allen rarely annotated his books, although his inscription and catalogue number is found in some of his manuscripts. Those which passed through Digby’s hands were each given a separate inventory number, beginning with an A, written on the flyleaf, first page of text, or spine. It seems likely that most of the manuscripts were unbound, or held in simple covers, while in Allen’s possession. Digby reorganised the collection and had most of it bound up in volumes with his armorial stamp.


  • Feingold, M. The mathematicians’ apprenticeship, 1984.
  • Jayne, S. Library catalogues of the English renaissance. Godalming, 1983. 135, 160.
  • Ker, N. R. Thomas Allen’s manuscripts, Bodleian Library Record 2 (1948), 211-15.
  • Turner, A. J. "Allen, Thomas (1540?–1632), mathematician and antiquary." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Watson, A. G. Thomas Allen of Oxford and his manuscripts, in M. B. Parkes and A. G. Watson (eds), Medieval scribes, manuscripts & libraries, 1978, 279-314.