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Tunstall [Tunstal, Tonstall], Cuthbert

1. Dates
Born: Hackforth, Yorkshire, 1474
Died: London, 18 Nov. 1559
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 85
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
Tunstall was a natural son of Thomas Tunstall, legitimized later by the marriage of his parents and accepted as a member of the family. Whether because he was not the first born son or whether because of his quasi-illegitimate origin, he was sent to the university and destined for the church.
Clearly the family was prosperous if not more.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, Cambridge; Padua, L.D.
Oxford, c.1491, Balliol College. Apparently because of the plague he migrated to Cambridge.
Cambridge, c.1496, King's Hall (merged before long into Trinity). Biographia britannica says there is no recorded B.A. I am assuming a B.A. or its equivalent, however.
Padua, 1499-1505; L.L.D., 1505, in both Canon and Roman law.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
Tunstall did not accept the Protestant Reformation. He did temporize with the murderous issue of royal supremacy and held on to his position under both Henry and Edward. He was finally deprived of his position at the end of Edward's reign, was restored under Mary, and then deprived again under Elizabeth less than two months before his death.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Tunstall was an outstanding classical scholar, the friend of both Thomas More and Erasmus. He assisted Erasmus in the preparation of the second edition as his Greek New Testament. He was primarily an official, however, both in the government of England and in the administration of the church. He composed a number of religious works.
His presence in this catalogue is due to De arte supputandi, either the first or nearly the first book on arithmetic published in England. Compiled from the works of others, the book does not make any claim of originality.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life, Government
Tunstall returned to England from Padua about 1505 and immediately found ecclesiastical preferment. As far as we know, he never resided in any of the parishes he held except for Harrow.
Rector of Barmston (Yorkshire), 1506-7, apparently from a family connection.
Chancellor of Archbishop Warham, 1509. This was the decisive connection. It must have stood behind the three benefices on 1508-9, and it introduced him to the Court.
Rector of Stanhope (Durham), 1508-20, 67. Rector of Aldridge, 1509, resigned same year. Rector of Steeple Langford, (Wiltshire), 1509-11, 34. Add to them Rector of Harrow on the Hill (Middlesex), 1512-22, 88. Prebend of Stow Longa, Lincoln cathedral, 1514-20, 33; Archdeacon of Chester, 1515-22, 65; Prebend of Botevant in York Cathedral, 1519-22, 17; Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, with a prebend and a parish, 1521-3, the whole worth 263.
By now he was deeply involved with the royal government. Ambassador at Brussels to Charles, Prince of Castile, 1515-17 (with per diem allowance of 1); Ambassador to Charles V's court at Cologne, 1519-21 (per diem now up to 2); and other diplomatic mission in 1525-6, 1529, and 1545-6. The diplomatic assignments were expensive beyond their remuneration, but they installed Tunstall in the graces of Henry. He was a member of Henry's Council by 1515. Master of Rolls, 1516-22, with "annuity" of 31 and apparently fees. Keeper of the Privy Seal, 1523-30 with salary of 365 and again fees. President of the Council of the North, 1530-38, 800; he continued on the Council after he ceased to be its president.
Through the King he obtained serious ecclesiastical preferment. Bishop of London, 1522-30, 1119. Bishop of Durham, 1530-59, 2810. He was deprived at the end of 1552 under Edward, restored almost immediately under Mary, then deprived under Elizabeth in 1559 just before his death.
Note that all of these positions were the result of patronage, but the recompense came through the church and the government.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
Lady Margaret Boynton, related if I recall to Tunstall's sister-in-law, installed him in Barmston.
Archbishop Warham started his meteoric career and arranged all sorts of ecclesiastical appointments. He introduced him to the Court. Tunstall held onto favor under Wolsey.
Henry VIII had him appointed to the sees of London and Durham successively and to the governmental positions listed above.
Mary reinstated him in 1553 after his deprivation in 1552.
Tunstall was intimate with the whole circle of English humanists. He dedicated De arte supputandi to Thomas More, who in turn wrote many flattering things about him. I do not consider this patronage in view of the reciprocal flattery.
With his eminence Tunstall became a patron himself. Books were dedicated to him--e.g., a translation of Plutarch and Lucian into Latin by the diplomatist Richard Pace, whom Tunstall got to know in Padua, and Grynaeus' edition of the Greek text of Euclid. He is reported to have kept a learned circle around him in Durham. He bestowed money and books on Cambridge for its library.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Applied Mathematics
De arte suppotandi was explicitly practical in intent; he was not composed as an exercise in mathematical theory. The dedication stressed the practical intent.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Close friendship with Thomas More, Linacre, and the whole circle of English humanists, and with Erasmus.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 19, 1237-42. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 6.1, 3978-84.
  2. L.B. Smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, (Princeton, 1953).
  3. Charles Sturge, Cuthbert Tunstal, Churchman Scholar, Statesman, Administrator, (New York, 1938).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. J.K. McConica, English Humanists and Reformation Politics, (Oxford, 1965).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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