Tunstall, Cuthbert

views updated Jun 27 2018


(b. Hachforth, Yorkshire, England, 1474; d. London, England, 18 November 1559)

theology, diplomacy, mathematics.

Tunstall was the natural son of Thomas Tunstall and a daughter of Sir John Conyers, and he was later legitimated (in canon law) by their marriage. He attended Oxford (ca. 1491) and Cambridge (ca. 1496) but removed to Padua in 1499, where he remained for about six years and became doctor of both canon and civil (Roman) laws. He was appointed bishop of London (1522) and later bishop of Durham (1530, deprived 1552, restored 1553, deprived 1559). Although of strong religious convictions, he was humane and moderate, and was respected even by his opponents in matters of religion. While remaining faithful to Roman Catholic dogma, he was aware that reform was needed. He would protest decisions of Henry VIII (who often kept him away from London when unpopular decisions were to be made), but once they had been made, he would submit. Under Mary he refrained from persecuting Protestants. An outstanding classical scholar, Tunstall was a close friend of Sir Thomas More, to whom his arithmetic was dedicated, and of Erasmus, whom he assisted in the preparation of the second edition of his Greek New Testament.

Tunstall’s Latin arithmetic, De arte supputandi (1522), was published as a farewell to secular writings just before he was consecrated bishop of London. The work made no claim to originality of material but had been compiled over the years from all available works in Latin or other languages that Tunstall understood. As master of the rolls (1516–1522), and on diplomatic missions to the Continent, he had felt the need to refresh his memory of arithmetic to protect himself in monetary transactions. From the material he had collected he determined to write such a clear treatise that no one who knew Latin would lack an instructor in the art of reckoning. The work seems not to have been popular in England. It has never been translated into English, and all editions but the first were printed on the Continent, where it was greatly admired. For example, Simon Grynaeus dedicated the first Greek text of Euclid’s Elements (Basel, 1533) to Tunstall, since he had explained the calculating of numbers in so excellent a manner. England had lagged behind the rest of Europe in mathematics. Only a chapter on “Arsemetrike and Whereof It Proceedeth,” in Caxton’s The Mirrour of the World (1481), had preceded Tunstall’s De arte supputandi; and it was not until 1537 that an arithmetic appeared in English.


In addition to the London eds. of De arte supputandi (1522), there were Paris eds. (1529, 1535, 1538) and Strasbourg eds. (1543, 1544, 1548, 1551). For Tunstall’s ecclesiastical writings, see Charles Sturge, Cuthbert Tunstal (New York, 1938), which also contains a chapter on the arithmetic. For Erasmian humanism and religious developments in England during Tunstall’s lifetime, see L. B. Smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, 1536-1558 (Princeton, 1953) and J. K. McConica, English humanists and Reformation Politics (Oxford, 1965).

Joy B. Easton

Tunstall, Cuthbert

views updated Jun 08 2018


English bishop, statesman, and humanist; b. Hackforth, Catterick, Yorkshire, 1474; d. London, Nov. 18, 1559. The natural son of a squire, Thomas Tunstall, and of a daughter of Sir John Conyers of Hornby Castle, Yorkshire (the parents were probably married in later years), he was educated at Oxford and Cambridge before taking a doctorate in Canon and Roman law at Padua. Ordained in 1511 and made bishop of London in 1522, he was translated to Durham in 1530. In the period from 1515 to 1526 he was employed several times by Henry VIII in negotiations with Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France. As bishop of Durham he served Henry on the Council of the North (1537) and in conferences with the Scots. Devout and chaste, he owed his ecclesiastical promotion primarily to the king; his learning won him the friendship of Erasmus and Thomas More. Tunstall was a decided opponent of the Protestant reformers, and reluctantly acquiesced in the religious changes of Henry's reign. He disliked using force in the suppression of heresy but showed less consideration for political offenders. Opposed to the introduction of Protestantism under Edward VI, he was imprisoned in 1550 and deprived of his bishopric in 1552. Restored by Mary, he assisted in the return of papal supremacy but adopted a passive attitude to her persecution of Protestants. For refusing to acknowledge the royal supremacy under Elizabeth he again lost his see and died a prisoner in Lambeth Palace. Tunstall wrote two important works: De arte supputandi, a treatise on arithmetic, and De veritate corporis , a defense of the Real Presence.

Bibliography: c. sturge, Cuthbert Tunstal (New York 1938). p. hughes, The Reformation in England, 3 v. in 1 (5th, rev. ed. New York 1963). l. b. smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, 15361558 (Princeton 1953). a. f. pollard, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900) 19:123742.

[m. r. o'connell]

Tunstall, Cuthbert

views updated Jun 11 2018

Tunstall, Cuthbert (1474–1559). Bishop. Tunstall was a distinguished scholar and ecclesiastical statesman, whose religious balancing act, in a period of startling change, kept him in high office for almost the whole of his life. Of Lancashire gentry stock, he attended Balliol College, Oxford, before moving on to Cambridge and Padua. The patronage of Warham, to whom he was chancellor, brought him swift promotion. By 1522 he was bishop of London, in 1527 keeper of the privy seal, and much employed by Henry VIII on diplomatic missions. Though he disapproved of Henry's adoption of the headship of the church, Tunstall continued to serve. He succeeded Wolsey as bishop of Durham in 1530 and in 1537 became president of the Council of the North. He was out of sympathy with the reforms of Edward VI's reign and fell into disfavour on Somerset's overthrow, being deprived of his see in 1552. Mary restored him to it but he could not accept Elizabeth's Act of Supremacy and lost his bishopric once more in 1559, at the age of 85, a few weeks before his death.

J. A. Cannon