Bushnell, Walter (DNB00)

BUSHNELL, WALTER (1609–1667), ejected clergyman under the Commonwealth, was the son of William Bushnell of Corsham, Wiltshire. He became a batler of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1628, at the age of nineteen. He proceeded B.A. 20 Oct. 1631, and M.A. 11 June 1634. He afterwards was appointed vicar of Box in his native county. He appears to have escaped disturbance through the civil wars, but he suffered much perseution at the hands of the commissioners appointed in August 1654 to eject 'scandalous, ignorant, and insufficient ministers and schoolmasters.' According to his own account he was summoned before the commissioners at Marlborough on 21 Jan. 1655-6, and charged with profaning the sabbath, gambling, drunkenness, a specific act of immorality, with using the common prayer and baptising with the sign of the cross, and with general disaffection to the existing government. The charges were preferred against Bushnell by a profesional informer named John Travers, and Bushnell insisted on a public trial. On 28 April 1666 a court was held for the purpose at Market Lavington. A large number of parishioners were called as witnesses to support the case for the prosecution, but their testimony, even if genuine, merely proved that Bushnell conducted much parish business in alehouses, but was not known to drink to excess. The commissioners adjourned till 4 June, when they met at Calne. More testimony of the vaguest character was there adduced against Bushnell, and at the defendant's request a further adjournment took place. On 1 July the court met at Marlborough, and Bushnell called witnesses for the defence, but their testimony was refused on the ground that they were ‘against the Commonwealth and present government,’ and their places were taken by more witnesses on the other side. On 14 July at Lavington the scene was repeated; on 23 July at Salisbury Bushnell was privately examined ‘touching his sufficiency,’ and was finally ejected from his living. Under a recent ordinance Bushnell could claim ‘the fifths’ of his living, and this pittance he obtained with some difficulty. His case does not differ from that of many other beneficed clergymen, but it is regarded as a typical one because Bushnell described his experience at full length in ‘A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Commissioners appointed by Oliver Cromwell for ejecting scandalous and ignorant Ministers in the case of Walt. Bushnell, clerk, vicar of Box in the county of Wiltshire.’ Under the Commonwealth the publication of this work was prohibited, but in 1660 it was printed and became popular. Humphrey Chambers, the chief commissioner concerned, answered the charge somewhat lamely in a pamphlet published in the same year. To this answer was also appended a ‘Vindication of the Commissioners,’ by an anonymous writer. At the Restoration Bushnell was restored to his living. He died at the beginning of 1667, and was buried in the church at Box, ‘having then,’ says Wood, ‘lying by him more things fit to be printed, as I have been informed by some of the neighbourhood.’

[Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iii. 760, and Fasti (Bliss), i. 460, 474; Walker's Sufferings of Clergy, pt. i. 189–94, where Bushnell's pamphlet is summarised at length.]

S. L. L.