LELAND (LEYLAND or LAYLONDE), JOHN (c. 1506-1552), English antiquary, was born in London on the 13th of September, probably in 1506. He owed his education at St Paul's school under William Lilly, and at Christ's College, Cambridge, to the kindness of a patron, Thomas Myles. He graduated at Cambridge in 1521, and subsequently studied at All Souls College, Oxford, and in Paris under Francois Dubois (Sylvius). On his return to England he took holy orders. He had been tutor to Lord Thomas Howard, son of the 3rd duke of Norfolk, and to Francis Hastings, afterwards earl of Huntingdon. Meanwhile his learning had recommended him to Henry VIII., who presented him to the rectory of Peuplingues in the marches of Calais in 1530. He was already librarian and chaplain to the king, and in 1533 he received a novel commission under the great seal as king's antiquary, with power to search for records, manuscripts and relics of antiquity in all the cathedrals, colleges and religious houses of England. Probably from 1534, and definitely from 1536 onwards to 1542, he was engaged on an antiquarian tour through England and Wales. He sought to preserve the MSS. scattered at the dissolution of the monasteries, but his powers did not extend to the actual collection of MSS. Some valuable additions, however, he did procure for the king's library, chiefly from the abbey of St Augustine at Canterbury. He had received a special dispensation permitting him to absent himself from his rectory of Peuplingues in 1536, and on his return from his itinerary he received the rectory of Haseley in Oxfordshire; his support of the church policy of Henry and Cranmer being further rewarded by a canonry and prebend of King's College (now Christ Church), Oxford, and a prebend of Salisbury. In a Strena Henrico 1 (pr. 1546), addressed to Henry VIII. in 1545, he proposed to execute from the materials which he had collected in his journeys a topography of England, an account of the adjacent islands, an account of the British nobility, and a great history of the antiquities of the British Isles. He toiled over his papers at his house in the parish of St Michael le Querne, Cheapside, London, but he was not destined to complete these great undertakings, for he was certified insane in March 1550, and died on the 18th of April 1552.
Leland was an exact observer, and a diligent student of local chronicles. The bulk of his work remained in MS. at the time of his death, and various copies were made, one by John Stowe in 1576. After passing through various hands the greater part of 1 Re-edited in 1549 by John Bale as The laboryeuse Journey and Serche of J. Leylande for Englandes Antiquitees geven of him for a Neu Yeares Gifte, etc., modern edition by W. A. Copinger (Man- chester, 1895).
Leland's MSS. were deposited by William Burton, the historian of Leicestershire, in the Bodleian at Oxford. They had in the meantime been freely used by other antiquaries, notably by John Bale, William Camden and Sir William Dugdale. The account of his journey in England and Wales in eight MS. quarto volumes received its name The Itinerary of John Leland from Thomas Burton and was edited by Thomas Hearne (9 vols., Oxford, 1710-1712; other editions in 1745 and 1770). The scattered portions dealing with Wales were re-edited by Miss L. Toulmin Smith in 1907. His other most important work, the Collectanea, in four folio MS. volumes, was also published by Hearne (6 vols., Oxford, 1715). His Commentarii de scriptoribus Britannicis, which had been used and distorted by his friend John Bale, was edited by Anthony Hall (2 vols., Oxford, 1709). Some of Leland's MSS., which formerly belonged to Sir Robert Cotton, passed into the possession of the British Museum. He was a Latin poet of some merit, his most famous piece being the Cygnea Cantio (1545) in honour of Henry VIII. Many of his minor works are included in Hearne's editions of the Itinerary and the Collectanea.
For accounts of Leland see John Bale, Catalogus (1557); Anthony a Wood, Athenae Oxonienses; W. Huddesford, Lives of those eminent Antiquaries John Leland, Thomas Hearne and Anthony a Wood (Oxford, 1772). A life of Leland, attributed to Edward Burton (c. 1750), from the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps, printed in 1896 contains a bibliography. See also the biography by Sidney Lee, in the Diet. Nat. Biog.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)