Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boys, John (1571-1625)

BOYS, JOHN (1571–1625), dean of Canterbury, was descended from an old Kentish family who boasted that their ancestor came into England with the Conqueror, and who at the beginning of the seventeenth century had no less than eight branches, each with its capital mansion, in the county of Kent. The dean was the son of Thomas Boys of Eythorn, by Christian, daughter and coheiress of John Searles of Wye. He was born at Eythorn in 1571, and probably was educated at the King's School in Canterbury, for in 1585 he entered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where Archbishop Parker had founded some scholarships appropriated to scholars of that school. He took his M. A. degree in the usual course, but migrated to Clare Hall in 1593, apparently on his failing to succeed to a Kentish fellowship vacated by the resignation of Mr. Coldwell, and which was filled up by the election of Dr. Willan, a Norfolk man. Boys was forthwith chosen fellow of Clare Hall. His first preferment was the small rectory of Betshanger in his native county, which he tells us was procured for him by his uncle Sir John Boys of Canterbury, whom he calls 'my best patron in Cambridge.' He appears to have resided upon this benefice and to have at once begun to cultivate the art of preaching. Archbishop Whitgift gave him the mastership of Eastbridge Hospital, and soon afterwards the vicarage of Tilmanstone, but the aggregate value of these preferments was quite inconsiderable, and when he married Angela Bargrave of Bridge, near Canterbury, in 1599, he must have had other means of subsistence than his clerical income. The dearth of competent preachers to supply the London pulpits appears to have been severely felt about this time, and in January 1593 Whitgift had written to the vice-chancellor and heads of the university of Cambridge complaining of the refusal of the Cambridge divines to take their part in this duty. The same year that the primate appointed Boys to Tilmanstone we find him preaching at St. Paul's Cross, though he was then only twenty-seven years of age. Two years after he was called upon to preach at the Cross again, and it was actually while he was in the pulpit that Robert, earl of Essex, made his mad attempt at rebellion (8 Feb. 1600-1). Next year we find him preaching at St. Mary's, Cambridge, possibly while keeping his acts for the B.D. degree, for he proceeded D.D. in the ordinary course in 1605; the Latin sermon he then delivered is among his printed works. Whitgift's death (February 1604) made little alteration in his circumstances; Archbishop Bancroft soon took him into his favour, and he preached at Ashford, on the occasion of the primate holding his primary visitation there on 11 Sept. 1607.

Two years after this Boys published his first work, 'The Minister's Invitatorie, being An Exposition of all the Principall Scriptures used in our English Liturgie: together with a reason why the Church did chuse the same.' The work was dedicated to Bancroft, who had lately been made chancellor of the university of Oxford, and in the 'dedicatorie epistle' Boys speaks of his 'larger exposition of the Gospels and Epistles 'as shortly about to appear. It appeared accordingly next year in 4to, under the title of 'An Exposition of the Dominical Epistles and Gospels used in our English Liturgie throughout the whole yeere,' and was dedicated to his 'very dear uncle,' Sir John Boys of Canterbury. In his dedication Boys takes the opportunity of mentioning his obligations to Sir John and to Archbishop Whitgift for having watered what 'that vertuous and worthy knight ' had planted. The work supplied a great need and had a very large and rapid sale ; new editions followed one another in quick succession, and it would be a difficult task to draw up an exhaustive bibliographical account of Boys's publications.

Archbishop Bancroft died in November 1610, and Abbot was promoted to the primacy in the spring of 1611. Boys dedicated to him his next work, 'An Exposition of the Festival Epistles and Gospels used in our English Liturgie,' which, like its predecessors, was published in 4to, the first part in 1614, the second in the following year. Hitherto he had received but scant recognition of his services to the church, but preferment now began to fall upon him liberally. Abbot presented him with the sinecure rectory of Hollingbourne, then with the rectory of Monaghan in 1618, and finally, on the death of Dr. Fotherby, he was promoted by the king, James I, to the deanery of Canterbury, and installed on 3 May 1619. Meanwhile in 1616 he had put forth his 'Exposition of the proper Psalms used in our English Liturgie,' and dedicated it to Sir Thomas Wotton, son and heir of Edward, lord Wotton of Marleigh. In 1620 he was made a member of the high commission court, and in 1622 he collected his works into a folio volume, adding to those previously published five miscellaneous sermons which he calls lectures, and which are by no means good specimens of his method or his style. These were dedicated to Sir Dudley Digges of Chilham Castle, and appear to have been added for no other reason than to give occasion for paying a compliment to a Kentish magnate.

On 12 June 1625 Henrietta Maria landed at Dover. Charles I saw her for the first time on the 13th, and next day the king attended service in Canterbury Cathedral, when Boys preached a sermon, which has been preserved. It is a poor performance, stilted and unreal as such sermons usually were ; but it has the merit of being short. Boys held the deanery of Canterbury for little more than six years, and died among his books, suddenly, in September 1625. There is a monument to him in the lady chapel of the cathedral. He left no children ; his widow died during the rebellion. Boys's works continued to be read and used very extensively till the troublous times set in ; but the dean was far too uncompromising an Anglican, and too unsparing in his denunciation of those whom he calls the novelists, to be regarded with any favour or toleration by presbyterians, or independents, or indeed by any who sympathised with the puritan theology. When he began to be almost forgotten in England, his works were translated into German and published at Strasburg in 1683, and again in two vols. 4to in 1685. It may safely be affirmed that no writer of the seventeenth century quotes so widely and so frequently from contemporary literature as Boys, and that not only from polemical or exegetical theology, but from the whole range of popular writers of the day. Bacon's 'Essays' and 'The Advancement of Learning,' Sandys's 'Travels,' Owen's, More's, and Parkhurst's 'Epigrams,' 'The Vision of Piers Plowman,' and Verstegan's 'Restitution,' with Boys's favourite book, Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas's 'Divine Weeks,' must have been bought as soon as they were published. Indeed Boys must have been one of the great book collectors of his time. Boys's works are full to overflowing of homely proverbs, of allusions to the manners and customs of the time, of curious words and expressions.

[The works of John Boys, D.D., and Dean of Canterbury, folio, 1622, pp. 122,491,508, 530, 972, &c. ; Remains of the Reverend and Famous Postiller, John Boys, Doctor in Divinitie, and late Dean of Canterburie .... 4to, 1631 (this contains 'A Briefe View of the Life and Vertues of the Authour,' by R. T.) ; Fuller's Worthies, Kent ; Masters's History of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 334, 459; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 860; Fasti, ii. 276, 345 ; Nasmith's Catalogue of Corpus MSS. Nos. 215, 216 ; Le Neve's Fasti ; Camb. Met. Soc. Proc. ii. 141 ; Fuller's Church Hist B. x. cent. xvi. sec. 19-24.]

A. J.