Sharon Turner (24 September 1768 – 13 February 1847) was an English
2 History of the Anglo-Saxons
3 Historical work
6 Further reading
Born in Pentonville, Turner was the eldest son of William and Ann
Yorkshire who had settled in
London upon marrying. He
left school at fifteen to be articled to an attorney in the Temple. On
18 January 1795 he married Mary Watts (bap. 1768, died 1843), with
whom he had at least six children. Among these were Sydney, inspector
of reformatory schools, and Mary, married to the economist William
Turner became a solicitor but left the profession after he became
interested in the study of Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon literature. He
settled himself in
Red Lion Square
Red Lion Square near the British Museum, staying
there for sixteen years. When his friend
Isaac D'Israeli left the
synagogue after a dispute with the rabbi, Turner persuaded him to have
his children, including the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli,
baptised in the Church of England, to give them a better chance in
Some of his manuscripts were written almost illegibly in the margins
of letters, on the inside covers of magazines, or on discarded wax
paper. His publisher sent him clean paper but Turner did not use
History of the Anglo-Saxons
History of the Anglo-Saxons appeared in four volumes between
1799 and 1805.
Britain at the time of original publication was involved in wars
against France and the idea of the
Norman yoke (Anglo-Saxon liberty
versus Norman despotism) had been around since the seventeenth
century. Turner demonstrated Anglo-Saxon liberty "in the shape of a
good constitution, temperate kingship, the witenagemot, and general
principles of freedom". Turner researched extensively the
collections in the
British Museum and the manuscripts of Sir Robert
Cotton. In doing so he obtained a working knowledge of Anglo-Saxon.
The History had a profound impact on historiography for the succeeding
Robert Southey said that "so much new information was
probably never laid before the public in any one historical
publication". However, the
Edinburgh Review in 1804 criticised
Turner for a lack of discrimination and for the romantic parts of the
Walter Scott acknowledged his debt to Turner for his historical
work in his Dedicatory Epistle to his novel Ivanhoe. In 1981 J. W.
Burrow said Turner produced "the first modern full-length history of
Saxon England … It was a genuinely pioneering work, and was much
admired, and not without reason".
He contributed articles on English history to Rees's Cyclopædia, but
the titles are not known.
He continued the narrative in several subsequent works: History of
England During the Middle Ages, a multi-volume publication covering
English history from the reign of
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror to the
accession of Henry VIII; History of the Reign of Henry VIII; and
History of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. In 1839, the
works were combined into The History of England, a twelve-volume set
covering all of English history up to 1603.
Against the emergence of the French Consulate, Turner promoted the
notion of Anglo-Saxon liberty as opposed to Norman tyranny (strong
since the 17th century).
These histories, though somewhat marred by an attempt to emulate the
grandiose style of Gibbon, were works of real research, opening up and
to a considerable extent developing a new field of inquiry in the area
of Anglo-Saxon history. For example, Herodotus
reported the Persians called the
Scythians "Sakai", and Sharon Turner
identified these very people as the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons. In
carefully determining their origins in the Caucasus, Turner wrote:
Scythians crossed the Araxes, passed out of Asia, and
suddenly appeared in Europe in the sixth century B.C. … The names
Saxon, Scythian and Goth are used interchangeably."
Turner also authored a Sacred History of the World, a translation of
Beowulf and a poem on Richard III. Turner's place as a historian has
been debated by later generations of academics.
He was buried in brick vault at West Norwood Cemetery. His son, Sydney
Turner (1814–1879), was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, took
holy orders in the Church of England, and became rector of
Hempsted. Sharon Turner's son-in-law was William Ellis
(1800–1881), an educationalist and economist who tutored the British
^ a b Cousin, John William (1910). " Turner, Sharon". A Short
Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent
& Sons. Wikisource
^ a b c d e H. R. Loyn, 'Turner, Sharon (1768–1847)', Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September
2004; online edn, May 2009, accessed 14 August 2010.
^ "Hints to Our Contributors". The Leisure Hour. 3 (125): 317. 18 May
1854. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
^ Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), The Life and Correspondence of
Robert Southey. Volume II (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and
Longmans, 1850), p. 342.
^ Sir Walter Scott,
Ivanhoe (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 16.
^ J. W. Burrow, A Liberal Descent. Victorian Historians and the
English Past (Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 116–117.
^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Turner, Sharon". Encyclopædia
Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
H. R. Loyn, 'Turner, Sharon (1768–1847)', Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online
edn, May 2009, accessed 14 August 2010.
C. T. Berkhout and M. McC. Gatch, Anglo-Saxon Scholarship. The First
Three Centuries (Boston, 1992).
D. G. Calder, 'Histories and Surveys of Old English Literature; a
Chronological Review', Anglo-Saxon England 10 (1982),
"Turner, Sharon". Dictionary of National Biography.
ISNI: 0000 0001 2095 9196