Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boswell, William

BOSWELL, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1649), diplomatist, was a native of Suffolk. He was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, of which he was elected fellow in 1606. He subsequently entered the diplomatic service, and was appointed secretary to Sir Dudley Carleton, then ambassador at the Hague, to whose post he eventually succeeded, receiving the honour of knighthood in 1633.

There is an interesting tract entitled 'A True Narrative of the Popish Plot against King Charles I and the Protestant Religion,' in which a scheme of the Jesuits to raise up Scotland and overthrow Charles I is described, and details are given of how the plot was discovered to Sir William Boswell by one Andreas ab Habernfeld, and communicated by the former to Archbishop Laud, who immediately took steps to thwart the conspiracy. On account of the promptitude shown by Sir William in this affair he was much commended by the king.

A large share of Sir William's attention while ambassador at the Hague was taken up with the religious controversy at that time raging between the Gomarists and the 'remonstrants.' In this matter, for political reasons, he adopted the policy of Sir Dudley Carleton, and supported Prince Maurice and the Gomarists against Barneveldt and the 'remonstrants,' who advocated the more liberal doctrines of Arminius. When the civil war broke out. Sir William's efforts were directed towards preserving the neutrality of Holland, whose leanings were in favour of the parliamentary party, and despite the efforts of Walter Strickland, who was sent over by Cromwell to counteract his influence, was not altogether unsuccessful in his mission.

Besides being a successful diplomatist, Sir William was a man of letters and a scholar, as is shown by his correspondence with John de Laet, which touches upon subjects ranging from Oriental literature and the compilation of an Arab dictionary to Edward VI's treatise 'De Primatu Papae,' and Sir Simon d'Ewes's Saxon vocabulary.

In the Additional MSS. in the British Museum there are two large volumes of letters addressed to Sir William Boswell and a few written by him. The first volume is mainly taken up with matters relating to the state and condition of the English church in the Netherlands, and includes many letters from Stephen Goffe; the second volume contains the correspondence of John de Laet, and comprises letters on theology and literature, as well as on social and political affairs. Sir William Boswell died in 1649.

[Tableau de l'Histoire générale des Provinces-Unies, 1777; Letters from and to Sir D. Carleton, 1775; Grattan's History of the Netherlands, 1830; Add. MSS. 6394, 6395.]

N. G.