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An Account of King's College's Recovery of their Right to chuse their own Provost.

In 1689, the year after the Revolution Dr Copleston, Provost of Kings College in Cambridge {illeg}ty, when the College thought they had a fair Opportunity of recovering the right their Founders Statutes gave them of chusing their own Provost, of which the Kings their Founder's successors had long deprived them; & accordingly appointed a Day of Election. But in the mean time a false Brother by name Hartlif, rode up to Court & acquainted them that by the Provosts Death a place was become vacant in the Kings gift, hoping thereby to make some interest for himself as it afterwards appeared: Soon after which came down a Mandamus to the College from the King, to chuse for their Provost Master Upman Fellow of Eton. In answer to this the College sent up a Remonstrance, setting forth, the Right they had of themselves to choose their Provost granted by their Founder his Majesty's Predecessor in his Statutes, which they hoped his Majesty would not infringe; much less impose upon them a Man that had reached to {destroy} that Constitution which his Majesty came in to preserve. For he had preached a Sermon in Eton Chapel in favour of the Toleration granted by King Iames's Proclamation to Christians in favour of Christians of all Denominations Roman Catholics as well as Protestant Dissenters, which Proclamation was commanded to be read in all Churches, & the Bishops wich protested against it were sent to the Tower. I, who was then in the sixth Form was present at the Sermon, & I remember well that the Boys could not help observing in the Faces of the Fellows & Masters then present, Scorn in some, and Indignation in others. Upon this Remonstrance the Court immediately dropped Master Upman, but presently sent down a new Mandamus to the College to chuse Sir Isaac Newton, their Provost. In answer to which the College represented that to chuse Sir Isaac Newton would be acting contrary to their Founders Statute, which expressly enjoins them to chuse for Provost one that was or had been a Member of one of his royal Foundations either of Eton or Kings, still insisting on their own right of chusing. Upon this the Government sent down a third Mandamus to chuse Master Hartliff, but of this the College being aware, every Officer took care to be out of the way, every Fellow's door was shut, & no one at home, so that when the Messenger came, finding none to deliver the Mandamus to, he laid it upon the Hall Table, from whence at night by an unknown hand it was thrown over the Wall. Within a Day or two after this the Election came on when Master Roderick, Upper Master of Eton School, had the unanimous votes of all the Electors, but three, of which last Hartliff was one. And when this was done the College could not but be sensible that they had incured the high Displeasure of the Court, who, they heard, threatened them with Vengeance. Nor was the Person they had chosen, duly qualified for by the Statute he ought to be in Orders, & a Doctor, neither of which was Master Roderick. But this was soon rectified, for the University at the Intercession of the College immediately gave him a Doctors Degree for which he was to perform his Exercises the following Term, & the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Sprat, gave him private Ordination at Westminster, assisted by Dr Annsley, Dean of Exeter, & Prebend of Westminster, as he our Dean, himself told me. And then to defend themselves in Case of a lawsuit, with which they were threatened the Society passed a Vote, that there should be no Dividend till the lawsuit was at an End, and if that should not be sufficient, next to convert all the College Plate into Money, for the same use, and lastly, if more was still wanting, to strike off the second Dish for a time, at the same time they applied to all the Men of Quality <1v> then living that had been bred at Kings College, craving their aid to enable them to carry on this Lawsuit in which they met with good Success, Lord Dartmouth alone the College's Lord High Steward subscribing a thousand Pound towards supporting the Lawsuit. However they thought it most prudent to prevent a Lawuit if they could, and therefore used their utmost endeavours to pacify the Court, and reconcile them if possible to their Election. By the Interest of their friends they prevailed so far as to obtain an hearing, which was appointed to be at Hampton Court. To be their Agents there the College chose out of their body three Representatives; Oliver Doyley, who had been Secretary to the Embassy at Constantinople; Doctor Stanhope afterwards Dean of Canterbury, the best Disputant of the whole College & generally reputed the best Proctor of his time in the University of Cambridge, & my Tutor, Iohn Layton, as reckoned the best Scholar of the College, but deaf & purblind. When they came to Hampton Court they were admitted into a Room which opened into the Gallery, where the Attorney & Sollicitor General came to them, to whom they clearly proved that the right of electing the Provost was fixed in the College itself, by the Grant of the King their Founder, as is evident by his Statutes. To this the Attorney General replied, that, notwithstanding the Founder's Grant to the College, the Kings his successors had from time to time put in the Provosts, & then pulled out a long list of all the Provosts, of this put in by one King, of that by another, & so on to the present time, concluding with some warmth, that the King could not but highly resent their disputing with him what had never been disputed with any of his Predecessors: At this Iohn Layton, not a little nettled, rose up, when at the very instant was an Hush & a Whisper that the Queen was coming through the Gallery, & all the company rose up; but he through the defect of his Eyes and Ears observed neither, & knocking down his hand upon the Table, cried out with a loud voice. Master Attorney General If we must bear the Grievances of the former Reigns, then is the King in vain come in. Which words the Queen heard, not a little startled. They were soon ordered to depart, & threatened with no less than Expulsion. They did not however put their Threats in Execution which the College soon knew, for the King going to the Races at Newmarket, took Cambridge in his way, where amongst other things he visited Kings College Chapel, attended by the Chancellor the Duke of Somerset, & many others of the Nobility, when he told the College, who there received him that at the Intercession of the Duke of Somerset, he consented that the Man they had chosen should be their Provost. On this Iohn Layton who was before prepared, made a Speech to the King on his knees, which being ended the Chancellor came from the King to the College, & said it was his Majesty's Pleasure that the Person who had made the Speech, should go out Doctor in Divinity. But Iohn Layton begged the Chancellor to return his most humble & Dutifull Thanks to his Majesty, for the great favour he intended him, of which he should ever retain the highest & most dutifull sense, but to intercede with his Majesty to excuse him from taking it, that he might not go over the head of many persons more worthy than himself. –

Dr Roderick was admitted Provost by Master Geering, who, saving the intermission of one year had been elected Vice Provost for forty years successively, & had admitted Roderick Scholar.

This account is given by the late Master Reynolds, Fellow of Eton College, & Canon of Exeter, who went to Kings from the Election 1689.

© 2017 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

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