With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of the Visitors at Oxford

Of the surrendering the city there is no need for me to write. Let it suffice to say that, after parleys held for certain days, the articles of agreement were signed on the twenty-third day of June, and on the day following the city was delivered over to Sir Thomas Fairfax. I remember it by this token, that it was the feast of St. John the Baptist, and that Master Blagrove, of whom more hereafter, preached before the University on that day in the Chapel of St. John's College, as the custom is. The garrison went forth with their flags flying, and all the honours of war, and many others went with them.

Of these, some had nought to do with the University, having been brought to Oxford by the war, and now leaving it in due course when they thought they might serve the King elsewhere (though, indeed, his cause was now past help, save from the hand of God, and this was for the time present stayed). Others left place and preferment, or the prospect of such, in their several colleges, either because from the long use of arms to which they had been accustomed, by the siege the pursuits of peace had become flat and unprofitable, or because they were so well known as enemies to the cause of the Parliament that they did not venture to stay behind; or, finally, as was the case with not a few, as conceiving that their duty to the King was best done elsewhere than in Oxford. As for myself, though not yielding to any in loyalty to his sacred Majesty, I remained where I was. To this I conceived myself bound, not only by promise to the Lord General Fairfax, but also by my father's instructions, who had laid it upon me as a command that I should follow my studies so long as it should be possible. Also I had a duty to my mother and sister which I could scarce have paid had I departed from Oxford, to which place they were, so to speak, necessarily bound. Their chief means of living came from the land that had been my father's at Eynsham, and was now by law descended to me. That most worthy man, John Vickers, paid them his rent (which he might easily have withheld) most honourably, not waiting indeed for set seasons, but coming into the city on market days, or during the siege, whenever occasion offered, and paying, as he thought they might have need. God reward him for his truth and kindness! There were those that called him trimmer and turncoat and such ill-names, because he was friendly with them that were in power. But I say that if all men of England had been as true to what they saw of right and duty, of which, indeed, some perceive more and some less, surely things had gone better with this realm than they did.

I therefore, and many others with me, for like reason, or others that had no less constraining power, tarried in Oxford, following our usual manner of life, and waiting for what might ensue. And, indeed, it mattered but little to me. My Scholarship was at the best but of small value, something less than three pounds by the year, and now was fallen to about thirty shillings from defect in the revenues of the College, of whose tenants some lacked the ability to pay (having had their farms wasted by the war), and some the will. Nor was I like to exchange it for any better preferment, being well known in my College and elsewhere as a zealous King's man. Having therefore so little to lose that the very scurviest and most beggarly knave under the sun would scarce have perjured himself to gain or to save it, I could abide the end with a calm mind; though, indeed, I do trust I had been no less constant had I had the best preferment in the University, the Deanery of Christ Church, to wit, or the President's place at Magdalen College. And I was further confirmed in this temper by the marriage of my sister Dorothy with Master William Blagrove, Bachelor of Divinity of St. John's College, that had lately succeeded to the vicarage of Enstone. 'Twas an old contract between Dorothy and Master Blagrove, being first entered into in the year 1641, and now completed about the space of a year after my father's death. Yet they thought themselves fortunate that the end was no longer delayed. (And indeed I could name a couple of lovers that were contracted for forty and three years, expecting all the while till a certain rectory should fall vacant.) Nevertheless it may be doubted whether delay had not served them better. 'Tis certain that they had no small share of that trouble in the flesh which St. Paul does prophesy to all them that were not content to abide single as he was. I doubt whether these prophecies, even in the mouth of an apostle, deterred many whose hearts were set on matrimony, and indeed it must be remembered there was gain as well as loss. But of Dorothy and her husband I shall have occasion to speak again. Meanwhile I may say so much, that she being happily married, if it be happiness to have a learned and virtuous husband but poor in this world's goods withal, and my mother going to live with her, I was left master of myself and free to act as might seem most expedient.

For a while it seemed as if nothing would be done, and some even began to hope that all things would be suffered to continue as they were. I indeed was not one of these, nor did I think that it would be well if it should be so. For, indeed, the University had almost ceased to be; there were few or none that lectured and very few to hear, had teachers been ever so many; such as remained were much debauched by the loose companionship which they had taken up during the war; the colleges were half empty or rented out to laics lest they should altogether fall into ruin. It cannot be doubted therefore but that there was need of some visitation; nor was that which followed of a harsher sort than was to be looked for. 'Tis ever the rule in this world that it goes ill with the conquered, and the conquerors divide the spoil. I say not that there was no harshness used, nor none driven out that might have been kept, not only with advantage to the University, but without loss to the new rulers; but this only, that the victors bore themselves less haughtily and cruelly than might have been looked for, especially when it is considered what some of them had themselves suffered.

Porch of St. Mary's, Oxford


And now to speak of what was done. In the month of May, in the year 1647, came the visitors to Oxford, twenty-four in number, though of these not a few were content from the beginning to stand aloof from the business, leaving it to the management of the clerics. They made but an ill beginning of their work. First, they delayed their coming over long after their appointment, and this they did because the Parliament soldiers in Oxford, vexed at certain grievances they had in respect of their pay and other matters, made a mutiny, so that they feared to show themselves. And next, on the day which they had appointed for the University to appear before them, which was the fourth day of June, they themselves failed of their time. Their citation to the Vice-Chancellor, Doctors and Masters was, "You shall appear before us between nine and eleven of the clock in the forenoon of the day afore-said." So the Vice-Chancellor with the others assembled duly in the Convocation House. But the visitors went to St. Mary's Church, where, after prayers, there was a sermon preached by Master Robert Harris, of Magdalen Hall, who was one of them. But Master Harris, being full of his office, and having much to say concerning the iniquities of the prelatical party and the like things, was more than ordinary long in his discourse. When, therefore, the clock struck eleven and the visitors were not yet come, Master Vice-Chancellor leaves the house, the bedels with their staves, as the custom is, walking before. And it so chanced that at this very time the visitors were about to enter. Then cries the bedel, a bold fellow that was afterwards resolute not to give up his staff, "Room for Master Vice-Chancellor;" to whom the visitors, being thus taken unawares, gave place. As they passed, Master Vice-Chancellor very civilly moved his cap to them, saying, "Good-morrow, gentlemen, 'tis past eleven of the clock," and so passed on, nor took any further heed of them.

[Illustration] from With the King at Oxford by Alfred J. Church


'Twould be tedious to relate all the hindrances that after this were put in their way, how their notices and citations were torn down so soon as they were put up, and the books which they called for were not delivered up, so that, what with opposition from without, and divisions within (the Independents now having the great power and being minded to thrust down the Presbyterians from the first place), nothing was done. Nay, though my Lord Pembroke, that was Chancellor of the University, came down in his own person, and stormed at the Vice-Chancellor, telling him with many oaths (in which he was said to be proficient beyond all men of his time), that the devil had raised him to that office, and that it was fit that he should be whipped, nay, hanged; even so they made no progress. Nor could they gain possession of the keys of the University, for these the clerks obstinately kept (as for the register they took it by force from the Registrar's room) and the gold and silver staves were, as I have said, denied them, so that they were sadly shorn of the dignity which should have belonged to them. And this, I understand, vexed them as much as anything.

But at last, in the month of March, 1648—at is to say, nigh upon two years after the surrender of the city—the visitors did set to their work in earnest, and beginning with Magdalen College, demanded of every one whether he submitted to the authority of Parliament in this present visitation. And to this demand a lain answer was required. Truly it was piteous to see the straits to which honest men were reduced, that were loath to offend their conscience and yet would willingly have kept their means of livelihood. Some, especially among the cooks, butlers, porters, and other servants of the College, pleaded that they were ignorant and unlearned, and did not rightly understand how to answer that which was demanded of them. And some of the younger sort pleaded their tender age why they should not answer so hard a question. Others, again, hedged themselves in with sundry conditions and reservations, if by any means they could satisfy both their own consciences and the visitors. Here I have transcribed some of the answers.

"I am not of the understanding (my years being so tender) to hold your thesis which you propose, either affirmative or negative."

"Whereas very learned and judicious men have desired time, I shall think it presumption in me to answer it extempore."

"It is beyond my weak apprehension to give you any positive answer."

"My weak capacity cannot resolve you of this so hard a question."

"I submit in all cases not exempted by oath."

"I submit so far as my oath giveth me leave."

"When I shall be satisfied in conscience that may lawfully do it, I will willingly submit."

"I do submit to King and Parliament in this visitation, so far as lawfully I may."

"I do not conceive that this visitation doth at all concern me."

"Whereas" (this was made by a gentleman of Christ Church) "I, being a Commoner here, do receive no benefit from the House, but living at great expense, and daily expecting to be taken home by my friends, I think this visitation doth not concern me."

"Sirs, to acknowledge the authority of Parliament in this visitation were to acknowledge you lawful visitors, and to acknowledge you lawful visitors were to say more than I know; and also to acknowledge many visitors, whereas I can but acknowledge one."

For myself I rather admired such answers as were given by Francis Dixon and Joseph Carricks, students of Christ Church, whereof the one said:

"I, Francis Dixon, shall not submit to any visitors but the King, and do acknowledge no visitor but the King."

And the other:

"I, John Carricks, will not submit to the visitation; I will not."

And, indeed, the reservations of the others served them but little, for the visitors shut them at last to a plain "Yes" or "No."

On the seventh day of May came the visitors to Lincoln College, and set us the same question. The greater part submitted; these I name not, nor say that they sinned against their conscience. There is One that judgeth, to whom they shall answer. As for me, I met the visitors with a plain "No," and having before, as knowing what should follow, prepared all things against my departure, left Oxford that very same day,