Anthony Wood 1632-1695

From Book Owners Online

Anthony WOOD 1632-1695

Biographical Note

Born in Oxford, a younger son of Thomas Wood, a relatively prosperous man of gentry status. After witnessing the disruption of the Civil War in Oxford he graduated BA at Merton College in 1652 (MA 1655). He became keenly interested in antiquarian pursuits, inspired by county histories that were then appearing, and resolved to work on the history of Oxford. He devoted most of the rest of this life to this end, living on a small private income in two rooms of the family home opposite Merton; he had many connections within the University, but no fellowship or other official post.

Wood undertook extensive research in libraries and record collections in Oxford and London, and he developed a wide circle of acquaintance, friendship or patronage with contemporary scholars and antiquaries. With the support of John Fell, he published his Historia et antiquitates Universitas Oxoniensis in 1674, which significantly enhanced his reputation, while also fuelling some of the disagreements and personal animosities which ran through his whole career. He spent the next 15 years compiling the biographical directory of Oxford writers which became his Athenae Oxonienses (1691-2), financed with help from Ralph Sheldon. Although the momumental value of this work has been recognised by posterity, its immediate reward was a successful libel action by Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, leading to Wood’s expulsion from the University in 1693. His importance as a historian of Oxford was further enhanced, long after his death, through the publication of his Survey of the antiquities of the city (1889-99) and his autobiography (first published by Hearne in 1730, more substantially edited in 1891-1900).


Wood amassed a library of ca.7000 books and pamphlets, one of the largest private collections in late 17th-century Oxford, and particularly significant for its high proportion of rare and unusual items. He acquired books throughout his life, as well as being an intensive user of libraries and records, and his work on the Athenae Oxonienses encouraged many authors to donate copies of their works to him. Much of the collection is focused around his key interests in history (particularly Oxford), biography, and current affairs, with a high proportion of material published in England. His means were limited but he regularly scoured the Oxford bookshops and also accumulated, and preserved, many ephemeral publications such as newssheets and ballads. A shelflist made by Wood in 1681 makes it possible to reconstruct the way the collection was arranged in his rooms.

He sold some books and manuscripts to the Bodleian, and to Jesus College, Oxford in 1690 but the bulk of his collection (bar a few items which went astray soon after his death) went to the Ashmolean Museum, to which he bequeathed it. A catalogue was made there in 1715-16 and the collection was transferred to the Bodleian in 1860. Wood’s library is fully described and listed in Nicholas Kiessling’s 2002 catalogue for the Oxford Bibliographical Society.

Characteristic Markings

Wood regularly inscribed his books with numerous variant forms of his name in English or Latin (Antonius Bosco), and often added the date or price paid. He also recorded information about the acquisition of books in his diary and almanacs. He was an extensive annotator, using marginalia, underlinings, notes on flyleaves, and the insertion of notes on loose sheets. Wood’s bindings were typically cheap and plain, as he could not afford anything better, and bindings in his collection of decorated leather will often be found to have been gifts. He kept many of his books as pamphlets or in wrappers, though he had many pamphlet volumes bound up with parchment spines over paper-covered boards during the 1680s and 90s.


  • Baron, S. Anthony a Wood in W. Baker (ed), Pre-19th century British book collectors, 1999, 401-6.
  • Hoare P. (gen.ed.), The Cambridge history of libraries in Britain and Ireland. 3 vols. Cambridge, 2006. 40-1.
  • Kiessling, N. The library of Anthony Wood (2002).
  • Kiessling, N. The life of Anthony Wood in his own words, 2009.
  • Parry, Graham. "Wood, Anthony [Anthony à Wood] (1632–1695), antiquary." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.