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Morton, John

MORTON, JOHN

(b. England, 18 July 1670–18 July 1671; d. Great Oxendon, England, 18 July 1726)

natural history.

Morton, rector of Great Oxendon, wrote The Natural History of Northamptonshire (1712). In it he discusses the general geography, topography, natural history, and prehistory of the county. The work shows careful observation and the descriptions are generally good. Morton chose popular theoretical assumptions as bases for his commentary.

His observations on geology and paleontology are of interest. Although Morton knew John Ray, Martin Lister, and others who were especially concerned with geology and with fossils, he chose to follow the ideas of John Woodward. The latter believed that the biblical Deluge was responsible for geological features and for the presence of fossils, and Morton applied this assumption to his regional study. As Woodward had done, Morton interpreted the strata as having originated in water and as having settled out of the Flood waters according to the specific gravity of the matter of which they were composed. The remains of invertebrate sealife and the teeth and bones of land vertebrates destroyed by the Deluge settled out concurrently, also according to their specific gravity, and were entombed in the strata as fossils.

The botanical section of Morton’s Natural History received significant attention from his contemporaries and is notable for its attempt to arrange the flora of Northamptonshire systematically. The arrangement is principally that of John Ray’s Synopsis methodica stirpium Britannicarum (1690).

Morton was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1703. In 1705 a letter from him on fossils was published in the Philosophical Transactions. It is Morton’s only other publication.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Morton’s two works are “Letter From the Reverend Mr. Morton Containing a Relation of River and Other Shells Digg’d up, Together With Various Vegetable Bodies, in a Bituminous Marshy Earth, Near Mears Ashby in Northamptonshire: With Some Reflections Thereupon: As Also an Account of the Progress He Has Made in the Natural Hisiory of Northamptonshire,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 25 (1705), 2210 2214; and The Natural History of Northamptonshire; With Some Account of the Antiquities. To Which Is Annexed a Transcript of Doomsday-Book, so Far as It Relates to That Country (London, 1712).

A biographical notice is George Simonds Boulger, “John Morton,” in Dictionary of National Biography, XIII, 1050–1051.

Patsy A. Gerstner

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Morton, John

Morton, John (c.1420–1500). Cardinal. Morton was one of the greatest ecclesiastical statesmen of the 15th cent. He came from Dorset and went to Balliol College, Oxford. A useful ecclesiastical lawyer, he advanced rapidly under the patronage of Archbishop Bourchier but, as an adherent of the Lancastrians, fell into disfavour after Towton in 1461. He escaped to the continent, returned with Warwick in 1470, and after the Lancastrian disaster at Tewkesbury in 1471 made his peace with Edward IV. In 1473 he was appointed master of the rolls and in 1479 bishop of Ely. During the short reign of Richard III, Morton moved into opposition and was again forced to flee the country, returning after Henry VII's triumph at Bosworth. Henceforth Morton was the mainstay of the new regime, becoming archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and lord chancellor in 1487. In 1493 Henry obtained for him a cardinal's hat from Pope Alexander VI. The story of ‘Morton's fork’, which came from Bacon, credited him with financial rapacity, but he seems not to have had specific financial responsibilities. His extraordinary domination prompts comparison with Wolsey twenty years later. ‘The very mother and mistress of wisdom’, was Thomas More's assessment.

J. A. Cannon

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Morton, John (English prelate and statesman)

John Morton, 1420?–1500, English prelate and statesman, archbishop of Canterbury (1486–1500). He studied law at Oxford and practiced in the London ecclesiastical courts. A supporter of the Lancastrian party in the Wars of the Roses, he received a number of church livings, but after the Yorkist victory at Towton (1461) he was attainted and lived in exile at the court of Margaret of Anjou. He returned to England in 1470, taking an active part in the coalition against Edward IV, but after Edward's victory at Tewkesbury (1471), his attainder was reversed. He was made a master of the rolls in 1473, was sent (1474) on a mission to Hungary, and became bishop of Ely in 1479. Arrested in the reign of Richard III, he escaped to Flanders and was recalled by Henry VII on his accession (1485) to the throne. Morton became the king's principal counselor, was made archbishop of Canterbury (1486) and lord chancellor (1487), and was created a cardinal in 1493. He was probably the author of the original Latin version of the History of Richard III, which is usually ascribed to Sir Thomas More.

See biography by R. I. Woodhouse (1895).

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