Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allestree, Richard
ALLESTREE, RICHARD, D.D. (1619–1681), royalist divine, was born, in March 1619 (according to Wood 1621), at Uppington, near the Wrekin, Shropshire. He came of an ancient stock, but owing to the lavish expenditure of his ancestors the family estate had become so impoverished that his father, Robert Allestree, had been reduced to serve as steward to Sir Richard (afterwards Lord) Newport. After being educated under Philemon Holland at the Free School, Coventry, he became in 1636 a commoner of Christ Church, Oxford, where his tutor was Richard Busby, afterwards so conspicuous as master of Westminster School. When he had been in residence six months, Dr. Samuel Fell, the dean, ‘observing his parts and industry,’ made him a student. He took his degree of B.A. on 24 Oct. 1640, and soon afterwards was chosen moderator in philosophy. In the following year Allestree took up arms for the king, serving, with many other scholars, under Sir John (afterwards Lord) Biron. When Biron was called away to join Prince Rupert, Allestree returned to his studies. Shortly afterwards the parliamentary forces, under Lord Say, entered the city, and proceeded to rifle the colleges of such of their plate as had not been put to the king's use. On breaking into Christ Church treasury the soldiers discovered nothing but a groat and a halter. Then they went to the deanery, collected everything of value, locked up their prize in a chamber, and retired. The next morning the chamber was found empty; and it appeared on inquiry that Allestree, who, in the absence of the dean and his family, had a key to the lodgings, had removed the spoils. Allestree was seized, and, if the forces had not been suddenly called away by the Earl of Essex, would probably have suffered severely. In the following October he again took arms, and was present at the battle of Kineton Field; after which he hurried back to Oxford, in order to prepare for the reception of Charles I, who was intending to hold his court at Christ Church deanery. On the way he fell into the hands of a party of parliamentarians from Broughton House, which had been garrisoned by Lord Say; but he was shortly afterwards released, as the garrison surrendered to the king's forces. On 2 June 1643 Allestree took the degree of M.A., and in the same year he was severely attacked by the pestilential disease that raged in the garrison. On his recovery he again took arms; but when (in the language of his biographer, Bishop Fell) ‘carnal weapons proved frustrate, and Divine Providence call'd his servants to the more christian exercises of praiers and tears for the defence of the king and the church,’ Allestree entered into holy orders. He was afterwards made censor of the college, and became (as Anthony à Wood says) ‘a noted tutor.’ Before the parliament visitors, on 5 May 1648, he refused submission to the authority of parliament (Register of the Visitors of the University of Oxford, 1647–1658, p. 32, ed. Prof. M. Burrows). He was therefore expelled from the university, with difficulty obtaining time to set his affairs in order. On leaving Oxford he became chaplain to the Hon. Francis Newport, on the death of whose father, Richard, Lord Newport, in France, Allestree was sent across ‘to clear accounts, and see if anything could be preserved from the inhospitable pretence of the droit d'Aubeine, which pillages those strangers who happen to die in the French dominions.’ Having satisfactorily accomplished his mission, he returned to Shropshire, where he remained until the defeat of the royalists at the battle of Worcester. He was then sent with despatches to King Charles II at Rouen. On his return he found that his two friends, Dolben and Fell, archbishop of York and bishop of Oxford respectively, were living privately at Oxford, and were venturing to perform the offices of the Church of England. Having stayed with them for a short time, he was induced to reside in the family of Sir Antony Cope, of Hanwell, near Banbury, a royalist gentleman of fortune. For the next few years he was frequently employed in carrying messages to and from the king. The winter before the Restoration, as he was returning from Flanders with the king's instructions for the filling up of the vacant bishoprics (Life of Barwick, ed. 1724, pp. 201, 250; MS. Coll. Vigorn. No. liv.), he was arrested at Dover, brought to London, and, after being examined before a committee of the Council of Safety, imprisoned at Lambeth Palace. After six or eight weeks' imprisonment, during which time his health suffered severely, he obtained his release. Having spent a little time among his relations in Shropshire, he designed on his return to visit his friend Dr. Hammond, at Westwood, near Worcester. At the gate of the house he was met by the body of his friend, which was being carried out to burial. As a mark of his esteem, Dr. Hammond had left Allestree his library.
At the Restoration he was made a canon of Christ Church, and on 3 Oct. 1660 took the degree of D.D. He also undertook one of the lectures of the city, declining, however, to receive the salary, which he ordered to be distributed among the poor. In 1663 be became one of the chaplains in ordinary to the king, and in December of the same year was appointed regius professor of divinity. Two years afterwards, on 10 Aug. 1665, he was made provost of Eton College. By careful control of the expenditure he did much to restore the prosperity of the college; and at his own expense he built the west side of the outer court. In 1679, owing to ill-health, he resigned his professorial chair. Wood says of him that ‘he was a good and most affectionate preacher; and for many years, by his prudent presiding in the professor's chair, he did discover perhaps as much learning as any, and much more moderation, as to the five controverted points, than most of his predecessors.’ His biographer, Bishop Fell, observes that ‘few of his time had either a greater compass or a deeper insight into all parts of learning; the modern and learned languages, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, history, antiquity, moral and polemical divinity.’ For several years he was treasurer of Christ Church, and by his skilful administration helped to repair the losses sustained during the civil wars.
Towards the end of his life his eyesight and general health suffered from his close application to study. He died of dropsy in London, on 28 Jan. 1680–81, at the age of sixty-one, and was buried in Eton College chapel, where a monument, with a Latin inscription, was raised to his memory. He left his library to the university, for the use of his successors in the chair of divinity.
Allestree is the author of: 1. ‘The Privileges of the University of Oxford in point of Visitation,’ 1647 (a tract sometimes attributed to Dr. John Fell), which was answered by Prynne in his ‘University of Oxford's Plea refuted.’ 2. ‘A Sermon on Acts xiii. 2,’ 1660. 3. ‘Eighteen Sermons, whereof Fifteen [were] preached before the King, the rest upon publick Occasions,’ fol. 1669. Some of the sermons in this collection (which was printed for the benefit of the author's relative, James Allestry, the bookseller, who had been ruined in the great fire) had previously appeared in pamphlet form. 4. ‘Forty Sermons, whereof Twenty-one are now first published,’ 2 vols. fol. 1684. Prefixed to this collection is a biographical sketch by Dr. John Fell, bishop of Oxford, and a portrait of the author. Allestree joined with Abhraham Woodhead and Obadiah Walker in the composition of ‘A Paraphrase and Annotations upon all the Epistles of St. Paul.’ The first edition, 1702, merely states that the work was ‘done by several eminent men at Oxford;’ the names of the three contributors appear on the title-page of the third edition, 1708. In Bishop Barlow's ‘Cases of Conscience,’ 1692, Allestree's judgment on ‘Mr. Cottington's Case of Divorce’ is recorded. It has by some been supposed that Allestree joined with Bishop Fell in writing the books put forth under the name of the author of the ‘Whole Duty of Man’ (Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, ii. 603). Sloane MS. No. 4275 contains an autograph letter from Allestree to Bishop Fell. Allestree's lectures were not published. Bishop Fell, whom he had appointed his literary executor, wrote to ask that they might be presented for publication; but Allestree replied that he was dissatisfied with some of them, and, as he had no time for revision, he could not countenance their publication; that the bishop, however, might make what use he pleased of them, provided they were not issued as an authoritative expression of the writer's views.
A Richard Allestry, of Derby, a kinsman of the divine, was the author of several almanacs, ranging from 1624 to 1643.[Fell's Preface to the Forty Sermons, 1684; Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, iii. 1269; Fasti, i. 480, 514, ii, 57, 241, 343, 370, 381; Life of Barwick, ed. 1724, pp. 201, 250, &c. There are occasional references to Allestree in the State Papers, 1660–1665.]