OXENDEN, George (1651-1703), of Doctors’ Commons and Trinity Hall, Cambridge
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Family and Education
bap. 31 Oct. 1651, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Sir Henry Oxenden, 1st Bt.†, of Deane, Wingham, Kent by his 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir William Meredith, 1st Bt., of Leeds Castle, Kent; bro. of Sir James Oxenden, 2nd Bt.* educ. Trinity Hall, Camb. 1667, LL.B. 1673, MA 1675, LL.D. 1679; Oxf. Univ. incorp. 1674; Doctors’ Commons 1679. m. c.1690 (with £2,000), Elizabeth (d. 1704), da. of Sir Basil Dixwell, 1st Bt., of Broome House, Barham, Kent, sis. of Sir Basil Dixwell, 2nd Bt.*, and maid of honour to Queen Mary II, 3s. (1 d.v.p.).1
Fellow, Trinity Hall, Camb. 1671, master 1689–d.; regius prof. of civil law, Camb. Univ. 1684–d., vice-chancellor 1692–3; pres. Doctors’ Commons 1689–d.; vicar-gen. to abp. of Canterbury and dean of arches 1689–d.; judge of Admiralty 1689–d.2
Commr. rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral 1692–d.3
A worldly, and indeed intensely ambitious, academic, Oxenden recovered from several false starts at the outset of his career to win for himself a cornucopia of temporal rewards. Prior to the accession of James II he had apparently committed the kind of indiscretions (probably verbal) that might almost have been expected from one of his Whiggish background and aggressive personality. Yet, as a critic of Oxenden’s conduct was later to observe, King James,
being as gracious as any sovereign ought or could well be, and withal more credulous and easy of belief than turned eventually to his safety, did on that alone motive not only overlook and pass by his actual transgressions, as well as pardon the guilt which he had derived ex traduce, but took him into his royal favour, and preferred him.
The last remark would seem to have been an unwarranted embellishment. Oxenden received his regius chair (for which there is no suggestion that he was unfitted) under Charles II, and although he applied for a vacancy as Admiralty judge in January 1688, and no doubt sought to press his claims with his contribution to a Cantabrigian verse-tribute to the newborn Prince of Wales in the following summer, he had to wait for this preferment until after the Revolution. Further advancement was not long in coming, from the hands of Archbishop Tillotson, under whom Oxenden was appointed vicar-general and dean of the arches. His previous poetic effusion in honour of the infant prince, and of the ‘great virtues’ of the King his father, proved less of an embarrassment under the Williamite regime than might have been supposed. The unequivocal pro-Revolution stance of Oxenden’s elder brother cast a reflected glow, and he himself did all he could to curry favour with the new King and Queen, whose coronation he celebrated in another set of verses. Marrying one of Queen Mary’s maids of honour was also a help: the Queen’s goodwill was shown by the granting of £2,000 from the privy purse as a portion for Oxenden’s wife, and subsequently by the gift of 100 ounces of gilt plate on the birth of their first child.4
Oxenden’s ambition to sit in Parliament was first made apparent in 1692, when on the death of one of the university Members he travelled quickly back from London to Cambridge to carry down ‘the news of the vacancy’, and ‘desired the university would pay him with the place for his pains’. He was opposed by, among others, a fellow of his own college: perhaps a comment on the unpopularity which an absentee master might bring upon himself. More important, however, was the wish of the university’s chancellor, the Duke of Somerset, to secure the return of his (Somerset’s) cousin, Hon. Henry Boyle*. Oxenden not only withdrew from the contest, but, having been chosen as vice-chancellor for the ensuing year, which would in normal circumstances have meant his acting as returning officer at the parliamentary election, contracted what was possibly a diplomatic illness, thus enabling Somerset to preside in person and guarantee Boyle’s return. This may have been no more than bowing to the inevitable. There is no indication that Oxenden and Somerset had come to an understanding, and indeed at the general election of 1695, when Oxenden did put up, neither Somerset nor Boyle endorsed his candidature. In a three-cornered contest Boyle stood aloof, sure of his own return, while Oxenden battled it out with a Tory for the other seat. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was Oxenden who finished at the head of the poll. As a leading ecclesiastical lawyer, Oxenden assisted in the management of the mortmain bill, reporting on 3 Mar. 1696 and carrying the bill to the Lords on 9 Mar. He also told against committing the Quaker affirmation bill on 3 Mar. Although forecast as likely to oppose the ministry in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, he signed the Association promptly (and organized a local Association for Kentish clergy), and voted in March in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. The first of several grants of absence was accorded him on 15 Apr., the second occurring at the outset of the following session, on 4 Nov. 1696, allowing him to attend a funeral. He was back at Westminster later that month, however, to speak in a debate on the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†, offering a somewhat legalistic argument in favour of admitting as evidence the testimony given by Peter Cook. At the third reading of the bill on 25 Nov. he voted in its favour. In the next session, on 20 Apr. 1698, Oxenden was given three weeks’ leave of absence. In the meantime he had further antagonized the High Tories by his conduct at the hearing in the archbishop of Canterbury’s court in February 1698 of the case of the high-flying bishop of St. David’s, Thomas Watson, who had been deprived following accusations of simony. Watson wrote that he had personally rebuked Oxenden for ‘his partiality, enmity, and acting more like an advocate on the other side than assistant of the judge’, while a Tory writer, discussing the proceedings, remarked that
with respect to the forementioned doctor, as it is morally impossible the world should be altogether unacquainted with his character . . . if they will allow themselves the comparing his Congratulatory Poem on the Birth of the Prince of Wales, with the manner and methods of his treating him since the Revolution,
Oxenden’s ingratitude and hypocrisy would (in the writer’s view) be clearly set forth. In his capacity as an Admiralty judge he also presided over another political trial, that of Captain Kidd for piracy, heard in May 1701. On this occasion his conduct does not seem to have excited comment.5
Oxenden had left Parliament at the 1698 election, being listed probably as a Court placeman in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. In January 1702 he offered his services to his brother’s constituency of Sandwich in the event of a by-election, writing:
I had the honour to be in the Parliament when the war with France was ended, and since the peace is likely to be of so short a continuance I am desirous to serve my nation in Parliament again in this extraordinary conjuncture of affairs.
At the following general election he contested the university again without success. According to his will, drawn up in 1697, his personal estate was ‘great part out in funds in the Exchequer and Bank of England’. At his death this amounted to over £11,000, of which only £40 was left to his college, to buy books, the rest being divided between his sons.6
Oxenden died at his house in Doctors’ Commons on 21 Feb. 1703, and was buried in the family vault at Wingham. Each of his sons succeeded in turn to their uncle’s baronetcy and to the family’s parliamentary seat at Sandwich.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. The Gen. n.s. viii. 40; Berry, Kent Gen. 225; Top. and Gen. i. 44; G. D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 117; IGI, London.
- 2. Squibb, 117; HMC Downshire, i. 305; Boyer, Anne Annals, ii. app. p. 19; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 138; xviii. 133; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 47.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 267; 1702–3, p. 313.
- 4. [F. Hargrave], A Large Review of the Summary View of the Articles Exhibited against the Bp. of St. David’s . . . (1702), preface; HMC Downshire, i. 25; Academiae Cantabrigiensis Affectus . . . (1685); Illustrissimi Principis Ducis Cornubiae et Comitis Palatini &c. Genethliacon (1688); Musae Cantabrigienses . . . (1689), n.p.; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 706; x. 221, 700.
- 5. Add. 28931, f. 61; 42593, ff. 75–76; Diary of Samuel Newton (Camb. Antiq. Soc. xxiii), 106; HMC Portland, iii. 571–2; Bull. IHR, sp. supp. 7, p. 11; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 152; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1045; HMC Hastings, ii. 306; Hargrave, preface, 54; London Post, 7–9 May 1701.
- 6. Add. 33512, ff. 180–1; Centre Kentish Stud. Kent Arch. Soc. mss U47/1/L4; PCC 55 Dogg.
- 7. Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 54.