Aubrey, John (1626-1697)
Aubrey, John (1626-1697)
John Aubrey, an antiquarian whose work stands as the fountain of the modern revival of Druidism, was born into a well-todo family in Easton Pierse, Wiltshire, England, on March 12, 1626. He entered Trinity College Oxford in 1642 but his stay was cut short the following year due to an outbreak of smallpox and the beginning of the civil war that would eventually lead to the execution of the king. Through the rest of the decade he studied the megaliths of the country, particularly Stonehenge, studied law, and worked for his father. His father died in 1652 and he inherited his father's estates. However, several lawsuits and an extravagant lifestyle reduced him to poverty over the next decade.
During this time Aubrey continued his antiquarian studies and in 1671 received a commission from the government to make surveys of antiquarian sites. While collecting a mass of data, he published none of it, though he shared some of it with a colleague, Anthony A. Wood, for a volume on the antiquities of Oxford. The only book he published, Miscellanies, was a collection of ghost stories and other accounts of the supernatural. At one point during the reign of Charles II (1660-85), he composed an unpublished manuscript on the Wiltshire stone monuments in which he presented his major thesis that they were a product of the Druids. At the time, the common wisdom was that they were of Roman origin, and Aubrey was the first to realize that they were far older. He expanded upon his beliefs in an unpublished manuscript, Monumenta Britannica.
Aubrey gained a certain fame in later life. He was a guest of many of the intellectual elite and at one point was visited by John Toland, later to be elected the first chief of a revived Druid Order. Aubrey died in Oxford in 1697.
While Aubrey published little during his life, his manuscripts were saved and in 1719, his text Perambulation of Surrey became the basis of Rawlinson's Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey. A number of his works, including extracts from Monumenta Britannica, were issued in the nineteenth century.
Within the modern Druid movement, many believe that Aubrey was more than a gentleman scholar. They have concluded that he was a Druid himself, that he participated in a Druid grove that met at Mount Haemus, and that he passed along some authority to John Toland. There is no hard evidence to support such belief.
Carr-Gomm, Philip. The Elements of the Druid Tradition. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1991.
J. A. Cannon