Frederic Madden

Sir Frederic Madden KH (16 February 1801 – 8 March 1873) was an English palaeographer . [1]


Born in Portsmouth , he was the son of William John Madden (1757-1833), a Captain in the Royal Marines of Irish origin, and his wife Sarah Carter (1759-1833). From his childhood to linguistic and antiquarian studies. In 1826 he was engaged by the British Museum to assist in the preparation of the catalog of printed books, and in 1828 he became assistant keeper of manuscripts. In 1832 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society . [2]At the age of 32 he was made a knight, [3] enlarging him to the initials KH after his name, and in 1837 he succeeded Josiah Forshall as Keeper of Manuscripts.

Madden was the leading palaeographer of his day. However, his ignorance of German prevented his ranking high as a philologist , although he paid much attention to the early dialectical forms of French and English. His many contributions to antiquarian research were numerous: the best known, perhaps, was his dissertation on the spelling of Shakespeare’s name , which, mainly on the strength of a signature in John Florio’s copy of the work of Montaigne , he contended should Be “Shakspere.” “Shakspere” spelled all the way to the norm. [4]

On his death at his home in St Stephen ‘s Square, London, he bequeathed his journals and other private papers to the Bodleian Library , where they were to remain unopened until 1920.


He edited for the Roxburghe Club Havelok the Dane (1828), discovered by himself among the Laudian manuscripts in the Bodleian Library , William and the Werwolf (1832) and the old versions of the Gesta Romanorum(1838). In 1839 he wrote a book about the ancient metamorphoses of Syr Gawayne for the Bannatyne Club , and in 1847 Layamon ‘s Brut , with a prose translation, for the Society of Antiquaries . In 1850 the magnificent edition, in parallel columns, of which are known as ” Wycliffite ” versions of the Bible, from the original manuscripts, on which he and his coadjutor, Forshall,

In 1866-69 he edited the Historia Minor of Matthew Paris for the Rolls Series . In 1833 he wrote the text of Henry Shaw ‘s Illuminated Ornaments of the Middle Ages ; and in 1850 he edited the English translation of Joseph Balthazar Silvestre ‘s Universal Palaeography .

He was one of the three contributors to Collectanea Topographica and Genealogica .


In April 1837, when still the Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, Madden was shown a garret of the old museum building which contained a large number of fragments and codices of vellum manuscripts. Madden, who was identified as part of the Cotton library collection, which had been badly damaged in a fire of 1731.

During his tenure as Keeper of Manuscripts, Madden undertook extensive conservation work on the Cotton manuscripts (often in the face of opposition from the Museum’s board, which deemed the enterprise prohibitively expensive). In collaboration with the bookbinder Henry Gough, he developed a conservation strategy that restored even the most badly damaged fragments and manuscripts to a usable state. Vellum sheets were cleaned and flattened and mounted in paper frames. Where possible, they were rebound in their original codices.

As well as the fragments found in the garret, he carried out conservation work on the rest of the collection. Many manuscripts have become brittle and fragile, including the codex which contains the only known copy of Beowulf ( Cotton Vittelius A xv ). By 1845, the work was largely complete, but Madden was to suffer one more setback when a fire broke out in the bindery museum, destroying completely some further works from the collection. [5]


In the summer of 1837 in the district of Edmonton, then in Middlesex, [6] he married Emily Sarah Robinson (1813-1873). She was the daughter of William Robinson (1777-1848), lawyer and historian of Tottenham, and his wife Mary Ridge (1781-1856), daughter of the Chichester banker William Ridge. Some sources suggest that William Robinson was the illegitimate son of Anne Nelson, unmarried sister of Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson . [7]

Frederic and Emily had six known children, the eldest being Frederic William Madden (1839-1904), who in 1860 married Elizabeth Sarah Rannie (1839-1893) and had four children. [8] Frederic, a secretary of the Brighton College, 1874-88 and then Chief Librarian of the Public Library in Brighton 1888-1902.


  1. Jump up^  This article incorporates text from a publication in thepublic domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). ” Madden, Sir Frederic “. Encyclopædia Britannica . 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 280.
  2. Jump up^ “Library and Archive Cataloge” . Royal Society . Retrieved 4 March 2012 .
  3. Jump up^ ‘St James’s Palace, March 13, 1833. The King of the Royal Museum of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order’ London Gazette, 1833, p123 The King was this day pleased to confer the honor of Knighthood upon Frederic. // 12 November 2015
  4. Jump up^ John Louis Haney, The Name of William Shakespeare: a Study in Orthography , Egerton, 1906, pp. 42-50.
  5. Jump up^ Andrew Prescott, Their Present Miserable State of Cremation: The Restoration of the Cotton Library , 1997
  6. Jump up^ “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” FamilySearch Sarah Robinson, 1837; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005”, database, findmypast, Edmonton, Middlesex, England, General Register Office, Southport, England. Retrieved 11 November 2015
  7. Jump up^ ‘Notes and Queries, 27 February 1904, p. 170 Retrieved 12 November 2015
  8. Jump up^ Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England: Class: RG11; Piece: 1077; Folio: 51; Page: 32; GSU roll: 1341254

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