Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Netter, Thomas
NETTER or Walden, THOMAS (d. 1430), Carmelite, was born at Saffron Walden, Essex, whence he is often called Walden or Waldensis. His parents' names were John and Matilda (Doctrinale Fidei Ecclesiæ, iii. 272). Shirley suggested that the date of Netter's birth was about 1380, and Blanciotti 1377. The known facts of Netter's life make it probable that the true date was a little earlier. Netter entered the Carmelite order at London, and was then sent to study at Oxford. He says himself that he was a pupil of the Franciscan William Woodford [q. v.], whom we know to have been lecturing at Oxford in 1389–90 (ib. ii. 310; Grey Friars at Oxford, p. 247, Oxford Hist. Soc.) It is therefore probable that Netter was a student at Oxford during these years; he eventually graduated as a doctor of divinity, and acquired a high reputation by his public disputations. He was ordained acolyte by John, bishop of Glasgow, on 19 Sept. 1394, and subdeacon by Robert de Braybroke, bishop of London, on 5 June 1395. Bale describes him as ‘most learned in the Holy Scriptures, and well instructed in Aristotelian philosophy’ (Harl. MS. 3838, f. 203 b). His abilities soon attracted attention and won him the patronage of Stephen Patrington [q. v.], then provincial prior of the Carmelites. In 1409 he attended the council of Pisa, where he is said to have been a strenuous supporter of the rights of the council; Bale speaks of him as replying to the arguments of Peter de Candia, afterwards Pope Alexander V (ib. f. 36).
On his return to England Netter took a prominent part in the prosecution of the Wiclifites. According to Thevet (Pourtraits et Vies, pp. 154–7), he was at this time appointed inquisitor in England. He was present in 1410 at the first trial of William Tailor before Archbishop Arundel at St. Paul's (Doct. Fidei, ii. 33–4, 386–7). Netter had engaged in a controversy at Oxford with Peter Payne [q. v.], who, he says, withdrew before they had come to close quarters (ib. i. 7–8), and also, it is said, with John Luck, an Oxford doctor, who had been a great friend of his, but who in 1412 was accused of heresy. On 25 Sept. 1413 he was present at the examination of Sir John Oldcastle [q. v.] before Archbishop Arundel (Foxe, Acts and Monuments, iii. 329, 332; Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 443; Doct. Fidei, i. 21). Shortly after the accession of Henry V, Netter is said to have preached a sermon against the lollards at Paul's Cross, in which he openly reproved the king for his slackness. Henry, probably through the influence of Patrington, chose Netter for his confessor, and his championship of orthodoxy was perhaps strengthened by Netter's advice. On the promotion of Patrington to the bishopric of St. David's in 1414 Netter was elected twenty-third provincial prior of the English Carmelites in a council held at Yarmouth (Harl. MS. 3838, f. 35).
Next year he was sent as one of the English representatives to the council of Constance (H. von der Hardt, Concilium Constantiense, i. 501), but his name does not occur among the royal envoys mentioned in Rymer's ‘Fœdera,’ vol. ix., and from the slight reference to him in Von der Hardt's collection it does not appear that he can have played a very prominent part in the deliberations. Moreover he was in England in 1416, when he was present at the jubilee of Robert Mascall [q. v.] at Ludlow. After the close of the council on 11 May 1419 Netter was sent by Henry on a mission to Wladislaw, king of Poland, and Michael, the grand master of the Teutonic knights, in order to support the Emperor Sigismund in arranging terms of peace between them, and to prevent the failure of the papal army against the Hussites (44th Rep. Deputy Keeper of Public Records, p. 611; Villiers de Saint-Etienne, Bibl. Carm. ii. 833; Doct. Fidei, ii. 798–9). He was at Grudentz on 19 July 1419, when an agreement was made between the Teutonic knights and Wladislaw (Dogiel, Codex Diplomaticus Regni Poloniæ, iv. 104). There is, however, no record of the mission in the ‘Fœdera.’ During this mission Netter is said to have introduced the Carmelite order into the east of Europe, and to have converted to the catholic faith Vitovt, duke of Lithuania, from which circumstance he has been styled the Apostle of Lithuania. Vitovt is said to have secured his coronation as king through Netter's influence with the emperor and pope; as a matter of fact, however, Vitovt was not converted to the catholic faith; neither was he crowned king, but died of chagrin on 27 Oct. 1430 (Lelewel, Histoire de la Lithuanie, pp. 153–5; Rambaud, History of Russia, i. 182–3; Morfill, Poland, pp. 53–4); and, moreover, the scheme for his coronation was not on foot until 1429.
Netter was probably back in England by Michaelmas 1420, when payment of his expenses is recorded in the Pell Rolls (Tyler, Memorials of Henry V, ii. 56, note q). On 1 April 1421 he was present at an assembly of his order at Norwich (Harl. MS. 1819, f. 197 b). On 30 March 1422 10l. was paid to him as the king's confessor for his expenses (Proc. Privy Council, ii. 331). Netter was with Henry at the time of his death, and the king is said to have died in his arms. He preached his funeral sermon at Westminster on 6 Nov. The remainder of Netter's life seems to have been occupied with the compilation of his ‘Doctrinale Fidei Ecclesiæ.’ In 1425 he interfered against the Carmelite fanatic Thomas Bradly or Scrope. On 13 Sept. 1428 he was present at the trial of the lollard William White at Norwich (Fasciculi Zizaniorum, p. 417). Netter was confessor to the young king Henry VI, and in this capacity was paid 40l. for the expenses of his journey to France on 26 Feb. 1430 (Proc. Privy Council, iv. 30). He went over with the king in April, and apparently accompanied him to Rouen, where he died on 2 Nov., and was buried in the church of the Carmelites in that city.
Netter was a man of great and varied learning, and enjoyed after his death, if not in his lifetime, the reputation of being one of the chief doctors of his order. It was above all as a defender of the catholic faith against the doctrines of Wiclif and Huss that he was pre-eminent, and his skill in this direction earned him the title of ‘Princeps controversistarum.’ Henry Kalteisen cited his authority at the council at Basle (Labbe, Concilia, xii. 1253 E, 1254 A, &c.), and Laurence Burell, who styles him ‘doctor autenticus,’ has some lines on him (Harl. MS. 1819, f. 66 b), which commence:
Hic prior Anglus erat, per quem provincia gesta est,
Atque fides per quem candida nostra manet;
Hic truncos hæresum invasit rapidissimus ignis;
Concilium testis Basiliense fuit.
Netter is said to have refused repeated offers of bishoprics, that he might devote himself to the service of his order. The institution of Carmelite nuns in England is ascribed to him. By Trithemius and others he is reckoned among the saints of his order, though he was never formally canonised. Leland says that he gave many books to the Carmelite library in London, which thus became of great value; one of the volumes thus presented by Netter, a commentary on the Psalms, is now MS. 58 at Trinity College, Oxford. The frontispiece to the first volume of the ‘Doctrinale Fidei’ in Blanciotti's edition is a portrait of Netter ‘ex pervetusta tabula Carmeli majoris Neapolis.’ Thevet, in his ‘Pourtraits et Vies,’ &c., leaves the place for the portrait blank.
Netter's chief work was the ‘Doctrinale Fidei Ecclesiæ Catholicæ contra Wiclevistas et Hussitas.’ This treatise as now extant is arranged in three parts or volumes; the first comprises four books, viz.: (1) ‘De Capite Ecclesiæ Jesu Christo;’ (2) ‘De Corpore Christi quod est Ecclesia;’ (3) ‘De religiosis perfectis in lege Christi;’ (4) ‘Quomodo religiosi in Ecclesia Dei possunt licite exigere victum suum.’ The second volume, ‘De Sacramentis,’ and the third, ‘De Sacramentalibus,’ treat of heresies affecting the sacraments and kindred matters. The first two volumes were presented to Martin V in 1426 by John Tacesphalus or Tytleshall, an Oxford Carmelite, but Netter himself says that he commenced it at the wish of Henry V, and he was clearly writing it as early as 1421. The last volume was presented to Martin V by John Keninghale [q. v.] in 1427. Netter, in his letter to the pope (Doct. Fidei, iii. 1), promises to treat in a fourth volume ‘de jejuniis, de indulgentiis, de juribus et immunitatibus ecclesiasticis, de fide quoque et hæresibus et reliquis multis.’ This fourth volume, if ever completed, does not now appear to be extant; and Thomas Gascoigne [q. v.] describes the work as it now exists (Loci e Libro Veritatum, p. 2). Jodocus Badius Ascensius printed the ‘De Sacramentis’ at Paris in 1521, and the ‘Sacramentalia’ in 1523, but did not produce the first volume till 1532, when he obtained a copy of it from Ghent. The two later volumes were printed at Salamanca in 1556–7, and all three at Venice in 1571. Of this last edition some copies bear the imprint ‘apud Vincentium Valagrisium,’ others ‘apud Jordanum Zilettum,’ but the text is identical; the last edition is that of Père Blanciotti, Venice, 1757; all the editions are in folio. Blanciotti used for his edition a manuscript in the Vatican (984), which dates from 1431, but which has been wrongly supposed to be Netter's autograph, together with a manuscript of little later date, then preserved at Ferrara. Other manuscripts are ‘Bibliothèque Nationale,’ 3677, 3678, 3679, comprising the complete work; Merton College, 317 (books iii. and iv.); Magdalen College, Oxford, 153 and 157 (the first two volumes); Merton College, 319; and Lincoln College, 106 (‘De Sacramentis’); Bodleian MSS. 2436, 2437 (the last two volumes); Cambridge Univ. Lib. Dd. 16, 17 (the first two volumes); and Reg. MS. 8 G. x in the British Museum (books i. and ii. of the ‘Doctrinale’).
Next in importance to the ‘Doctrinale Fidei’ comes the ‘Fasciculi Zizaniorum, Johannis Wyclif.’ This work consists of a collection of documents and other materials which furnish us with our only contemporary account of the rise of the lollards. Till the death of Wiclif the documents are ‘connected by a narrative which, though broken and inconsecutive, is evidently authentic and of great value.’ But from this point to the close of the book in 1428 the original papers are given without comment or connection (Shirley, p. x). The ascription of the collection to Netter is not free from doubt; the notices of the councils of Pisa and Constance, and the close of the collection with the examination of William White in September 1428, at which Netter was present, favour the idea. On the other hand, the narrative portion of the earlier part appears to be the work of a contemporary, and can therefore hardly be Netter's. Shirley concludes that the volume was collected after Netter's death from papers found in his possession, and that the basis of the collection was a fragment of a history of the lollards written by an earlier hand—perhaps by Stephen Patrington. It is, however, to be noticed that in the ‘Doctrinale Fidei’ (i. 385) Netter speaks of ‘Suadelæ Wicliffi quas congregat in unum Zizaniorum Fasciculum comburendum.’ Blanciotti (ad loc.) seems to think that the compilation was the work of William Woodford. Whether Patrington's or Woodford's, the collection is extremely likely to have come into Netter's hands, and to have been continued by him. The collection is now contained in Bodleian MS. E. Mus. 86. This manuscript in its original form contained seven portions, of which the first two were edited by the late W. W. Shirley for the Rolls Series in 1858. A list of the pieces contained in the remainder is given by Shirley, pp. lxxii–v; a considerable portion consists of notes on the council of Constance, which closely follow the acts printed by Mansi. In the ‘Conclusiones Wyccliff ter damnatæ,’ f. 110 b, four are added, which are expressly stated to have been drawn up by Netter.
Of Netter's other writings scarcely any seem to have survived. A short tract entitled ‘Rationes et Motiva et Reprobationes 43 articulorum Wiclefi et sectatoris Johannis Hus’ is printed in Blanciotti's edition of the ‘Doctrinale Fidei,’ iii. 1029 seq.; this treatise is preserved in Bodleian MS. 2714, O. C. f. 1., Magdalen College, Oxford, 4. f. 270, and in a manuscript which was in the library of the Lateran Canons at Padua (Oudin, Script. Eccl. iii. 2217). Bale and Villiers de Saint-Etienne give a list of over forty other works, some of which are perhaps really portions of the ‘Doctrinale.’ The list includes commentaries on various books of scripture and on a number of Aristotle's works; there are also the usual determinations, quæstiones, sermons and commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard.
Among Netter's correspondents were John Luck, Thomas Rudborne [q. v.], and Conrad Tremonius, a German Carmelite, who had been with him in Poland (Dogiel, u.s.) and accompanied him to England. Bale gives the first words of most of the treatises which he specifies, but none of Netter's minor works would seem to have survived, unless the ‘Introductiones Naturalium’ ascribed to him is identical with the tract in Bodleian MS. 2593, f. 150, or with the ‘Notabilia bona et utilia de terris naturalibus’ in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS. 116, ff. 18–38. The tract ‘De divinatione ad principes’ is mentioned by Netter in a letter to Rudborne (Tanner). The editors of the Venice edition of 1571 state that they had not met with any of Netter's minor works, ‘though some at Venice say that they have seen his treatise “De Veritate Catholica.”’[Most of our knowledge of Netter's life is derived from incidental statements in the Doctrinale Fidei Ecclesiæ, here quoted from Blanciotti's edition. There are a few references in the Proceedings of the Privy Council, where he is, strangely, called ‘John’ Walden. Thomas Gascoigne has some references to him in his Theological Dictionary (see Loci e Libro Veritatum, ed. Rogers, pp. 2, 11, 186). Other information is to be found in Leland's Comment. in Script. Brit. pp. 438–40; Bale's Heliades in Harleian MSS. 1819 ff. 66 b, 117 a, 197 b, 199 b, and 3838 ff. 35–7, 94–95, 203–4, and his Centuries, vii. 83; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. pp. 746–8; Villiers de Saint-Etienne's Bibl. Carmelitana, ii. 824–6, 833–42; Thevet's Pourtraits et Vies des Hommes Illustres, ed. 1584, pp. 154–7; Shirley's Preface to the Fasciculi Zizaniorum, pp. lxx–lxxviii. Lives are prefixed to the two Venice editions of the Doctrinale; that given by Blanciotti, I. ix–xvii., is the most complete account of Netter that has been published.]