William Somner 1606-1669

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William SOMNER 1606-1669

Biographical Note

Son of William Somner, registrar of the court of Canterbury. Became a clerk to his father and was later appointed registrar of the Diocese of Canterbury by William Laud. Supported by Meric Casaubon, Somner authored the antiquarian work The antiquities of Canterbury (1640, 1662, 1703) and made the acquaintance of other contemporary antiquaries including Sir Simonds d'Ewes, Sir William Dugdale and Sir Roger Twysden. He was presented with the Anglo-Saxon lectureship at Cambridge in 1657, a position that aided the completion of his Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum (1659). A royalist, Somner tried to protect the muniments of Canterbury from parliamentary soldiers and helped to preserve pieces of the cathedral's font for reconstruction in 1660. He was imprisoned in Deal Castle in 1659 but was released at the Restoration and presented with the mastership of St John's Hospital, Canterbury and the office of auditor of Canterbury Cathedral.


A catalogue of ca.275 books of his, dated 1639, survives in BL Burney ms 368. He and his brother John gave books to Canterbury Cathedral Library ca.1665, and books/manuscripts from his library were acquired by the Cathedral after his death.


  • Jayne, S. Library catalogues of the English renaissance. Godalming, 1983, 170.
  • Ramsay, N. The Cathedral Archives and Library in P. Collinson (ed), A history of Canterbury Cathedral, 1995, 381.
  • Sherlock, Peter. "Somner, William (bap. 1598, d. 1669), antiquary and Anglo-Saxon scholar." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • William Somner in Canterbury Cathedral Library.
  • Sarah Griffin and David Shaw, ‘William Somner and his books: provenance evidence for the networks of a seventeenth-century Canterbury antiquarian’, in: Kentish Book Culture: Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability c.1400–1660, edited by Claire Bartram, Peter Lang, 2020, pp. 233–285.
  • David Wright, ‘The life of William Somner of Canterbury (1606-1669)’, Archaeologia Cantiana, vol. 140 (2019), pp. 13-36, vol. 141 (2020), pp. 25-46.