Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/D'Ewes, Simonds

D'EWES, Sir SIMONDS (1602–1650), antiquarian writer, son of Paul D'Ewes, esq., of Milden, Suffolk, by Cecilia, daughter and heir of Richard Simonds of Coxden, in the parish of Chardstock, Dorsetshire, was born at Coxden on 18 Dec. 1602. Gerard D'Ewes [q. v.] was his grandfather. His early education was conducted by the Rev. Richard White, vicar of Chardstock, from whom, he says, 'the chief thing I learnt was the exact spelling and reading of English.' He continued to reside with his grandfather at Coxden till the spring of 1610, when, in consequence of a dangerous illness which had nearly proved fatal, it was thought advisable that he should remove into Suffolk for change of air. A year or two after his birth his father had been made one of the six clerks in chancery, and as the duties of this office kept him in London during the greater part of the year, father and son saw but little of one another. The boy was soon put to school at Lavenham in Suffolk, but on the death of his grandfather, Richard Simonds of Coxden, who left him a large fortune, he was removed to the care of a Mr. Christopher Malaker of Wambrook, Dorsetshire, with whom he remained for three years. It was while he was at Wambrook that Prince Henry died, and Sir Simonds has left on record a remarkable testimony to the grief that was felt and expressed by all classes on the occasion of this national loss. He remained under the charge of Malaker till November 1614, and by this time had become a good Latin scholar, his master having been an excellent teacher and a man of learning and taste. 'In one thing he was to blame, that he had no regard to the souls of his scholars, though he himself was a minister, never causing them to take notes of his sermons in writing, or so much as to repeat any one note they had learned out of them.' His next teacher was a Mr. Henry Reynolds, 'dwelling in St. Mary Axe parish in London,' whom he describes as a mere pretender, and whose reputation had been won for him by his daughter, Bathshua, a young woman of extraordinary ability who had 'much more learning than her father.' Nevertheless, D'Ewes tells us that he made good use of his time while at this school, acquired some knowledge of French and Greek, and 'to write a moderate good English phrase.' Above all, under Reynolds's influence he became strongly affected in favour of the puritan theology, 'and attained, even at my fourteenth year, to two or three several " Forms of Ex- temporary Prayer," which I was able not only to make use of in secret, being alone, but even in family also before others.' He had some disagreement with Reynolds in 1616, and as his parents had now removed to Stow Langtoft Hall in Suffolk, they were prevailed on to place him under John Dickenson, upper master of Bury School, with whom he remained for a year and a half, and to whom he gives the credit of having taught him more than any of his other teachers. It seems clear that Dickenson first stimulated in young D'Ewes that ardent enthusiasm for learning and that passion for research which characterised him through life. On 21 May 1618 he entered as a fellow commoner at St. John's College, Cambridge, under the tutorship of Richard Holdsworth, one of the fellows, who was subsequently professor of theology at Gresham College. Shortly after his entrance at Cambridge his mother died, and this event contributed to increase the somewhat sombre and ascetic habits of the young man. He gives a very dark picture of the manners of Cambridge at this time, but as he had no difficulty in finding congenial friends who were strongly inclined to his own puritanical opinions, it is probable that he exaggerates the follies and irregularities of those with whom he did not think fit to associate. For himself he was a hard student and a diligent attendant at lectures and the ordinary university exercises. In September 1620 his father, who appears to have been a very difficult person to get on with–passionate, obstinate, and avaricious–ordered him to remove from Cambridge and enter at the Middle Temple. Some dispute arose regarding the chambers to which he laid claim, and D'Ewes took up his residence with his father at the office of the six clerks in Chancery Lane. The office was burnt down next year, and his father lost nearly 6,000l. by the conflagration. After this he removed to the Temple, though no record of his admission at the inn has been found. He was called to the bar on 27 June 1623, but though he was indefatigable in his attendance at the 'moots' and disputations which were then part of a barrister's training in the Inns of Court, he never seems to have laid himself out for securing a large practice, and devoted himself rather to the study of history and legal antiquities. He tells us that it was on 4 Sept. 1623 that he first began 'studying records at the Tower of London,' and from that day till his death he never ceased to be an enthusiastic student of our ancient muniments and a constant copyist and analyser of such manuscripts as would throw any light upon English history. He had already conceived some very ambitious designs, intending, as he says, 'if God permit and that I be not swallowed up of evil times, to restore to Great Britain its true history the exactest that ever was yet penned of any nation in the Christian world.' If he erred, as antiquaries have been prone to err, by over-estimating their powers of carrying out their projects, it was not because he under-estimated the value and the completeness of the evidence which lay ready at hand. About this time he became acquainted with Sir Robert Cotton, who took great notice of him, gave him much encouragement, and introduced him to Selden, 'a man,' he says, 'exceedingly puffed up with the apprehension of his own abilities.' The example and countenance of Sir Robert Cotton acted as a great stimulus upon him, and led him to turn his attention to constitutional history. In 1625 he came upon ' an elaborate journal I had borrowed of the parliament held in the thirty-fifth year of Queen Elizabeth,' of which he seems to have made an analysis, and thus laid the foundation of his great work on the parliamentary history of the queen's reign. In this year too his attention was first turned to the importance of numismatics. In 1626 he joined with Sir Robert Cotton in investigating the claim of Robert Vere to the earldom of Oxford, as against Robert Bertie, lord Willoughby d'Eresby, who had assumed the title, and so completely established the right of his client that the earldom was confirmed to him by the House of Lords in the next parliament (the 'case' which D'Ewes drew up on this question is now among the manuscripts of Lord Mostyn at Mostyn Hall, Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. 356 b). In August of this year he gave up his practice at the bar just at a time when a brilliant career seemed to be opening for him. 'But,' he tells us, 'when I saw the church of God and the gospel to be almost everywhere ruined abroad, or to be in great peril and danger, and daily feared that things would grow worse at home, I laid by all these aspiring hopes, and ... I resolved to moderate my desires, and to prepare my way to a better life with the greater serenity of mind and reposedness of spirit, by avoiding these two dangerous rocks of avarice and ambition.' The real, or at any rate the moving cause of his retirement from the bar, however, was that at this time he had been fortunate enough to arrange a marriage for himself with Anne, daughter and heir of Sir William Clopton, late of Lutons Hall in Suffolk. The lady had a considerable estate, and her lands marched with his father's property. The love-letter in which he made his first advances to the young lady, though a ridiculous composition, D'Ewes was so proud of, that he has given it us in his 'Autobiography.' The marriage was solemnised in Blackfriars Church on 24 Oct. 1626, the bride being then in her fourteenth year. On 6 Dec. D'Ewes received the honour of knighthood at Whitehall, and shortly afterwards he took a house in Islington and devoted himself with extraordinary industry to the study of the 'Records,' copying out or analysing such manuscripts as could throw any light on English history and genealogy. But frightened by what he calls the ' terrible censure ' passed upon a Mr. Palmer by the Star-chamber, which inflicted upon the unhappy man a fine of a thousand pounds for staying in London during the last long vacation, notwithstanding the king's proclamation, D'Ewes removed in 1632 to Bury St. Edmunds, and occupied himself there in making copious extracts from the registers and other documents which had once formed part of the muniments of the great abbey, and had come into the possession of Sir Edmund Bacon of Redgrave. His father had died in March 1631, but D'Ewes did not take up his residence in the family mansion, Stow Langtoft Hall, till June 1633. Here he was much worried by the parson of the parish, who was a careless and quarrelsome man, and had no sympathy with D'Ewes's pronounced puritanical views, or his studious habits. From his boyhood he had kept an elaborate record of all he read and wrote and saw, and as these diaries had grown to some bulk, he appears to have conceived the design of summarising them in the form of an autobiography first in 1637 (cf. i. 402). If he ever continued this work after the death of his little son in 1636, the manuscript has not been preserved. In 1639 he was appointed to serve the office of high sheriff for the county of Suffolk, and when the Long parliament was summoned to meet at Westminster on 3 Nov. 1640 D'Ewes took his seat as M.P. for the borough of Sudbury, and soon began to play a part in the debates and became a person of consideration. He was one of the committee to whom Prynne's and Burton's petitions were referred in December (ii. 251), and he spoke on more than one occasion, siding with the puritan faction in the house, but already taking up ground which the more fiery spirits could not tolerate, inasmuch as it indicated a resolution to follow reason and law rather than passion. The king, always on the watch to secure the support of any among the moderate party, offered D'Ewes a baronetcy, which was accepted and conferred upon him 15 July 1641, Whatever satisfaction he may have felt on acquiring this barren honour, was speedily spoilt by the loss of his young wife, for whom he entertained a romantic affection, and who died a fortnight after her husband had been made a baronet. When the civil war began D'Ewes threw in his lot with the parliament, and took the solemn league and covenant in 1643. Nevertheless he was not considered a safe man by the party he had allied himself to. Though he had begun by taking notes of the business in parliament, he soon tired of it, and probably was no very assiduous attendant at the house during the stormy debates, that scarcely deserved to be called such, while the war was raging. On 6 Dec. 1648 D'Ewes was one of the first forty-one members who were expelled the house by Colonel Pride (Carlyle, Cromwell, i. 399). He never returned; perhaps he was glad to escape the duties which had become distasteful and odious to a man of earnestness and sobriety, and he retired to his estate in Suffolk, and died at Stow Langtoft Hall on 8 April 1650, in his forty-ninth year. D'Ewes married as his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Henry Willoughby, bart., of Risley in Derbyshire, by whom he had a son Willoughby, who succeeded him in his title and estates. The baronetcy became extinct in 1731 (Burke, Extinct Baronetage).

D'Ewes was the beau-ideal of an antiquary; with no masculine tastes or interests, his very political opinions were the result of his researches. With a power of continuous application that knew no weariness, and an insatiable curiosity which kept him always on the watch for new evidence that might throw some light on the past, with ample means, which he never grudged spending when there was a coin to buy or a manuscript to get copied, and so courageous a belief in his own capacity of work that he was not afraid to map out undertakings which would have required three such lives as his own, he yet died without having printed anything hut a few speeches of no great merit and a dull essay (published in 1645) entitled 'The Primitive Practice for Preserving Truth.' His great and very valuable work, 'Journals of all the Parliaments during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth,' was not published till 1682: the work was edited by his nephew, Paul Bowes of the Inner Temple, and dedicated to his son. Fifty-five years after D'Ewes's death all his collections were sold by his grandson to the Earl of Oxford, then Sir Robert Harley. There is a story that Harley advised Queen Anne to purchase them, and that on her refusal Harley secured them for himself at the cost of 6,000l. (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 181). The sum named must be very much exaggerated. Certainly the library was offered to Wanley, Harley's agent in the matter, for 500l., but how much was included in this agreement does not appear. A list of D'Ewes's manuscripts, apparently drawn up by himself, has come down to us (Harl. MS. 775), and a brief but sufficient analysis of those now in the British Museum may be found in the Harleian catalogue. The collection is very miscellaneous, embracing even such trifles as his school exercises, a large number of letters to his sisters and family, and a great deal else that is really worthless. On the other hand, the voluminous transcripts from cartularies, monastic registers, early wills and records, and from public and private muniments which he ransacked with extraordinary diligence, constitute a very valuable apparatus for the history of English antiquities and law. Among other of his projects was the compilation of an Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. This work, which he undertook in conjunction with Francis Junius, has never been printed, though it is among the Harleian MSS. and seems to have been made ready for the press. D'Ewes's 'Diaries,' now in the British Museum, written some in Latin and some in cipher, extend from January 1621 to April 1624, and from January 1643 to March 1647. From an earlier diary, preserved at Colchester (Baker, Hist. of St. John's, by Professor Mayor, p. 615, 1. 35), Mr. Marsden in 1811 compiled a work which he calls 'College Life at the Time of James I,' and from the original manuscript in the Harleian collection (No. 646) Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps published in 1845 'The Autobiography and Correspondence of Sir Simonds D'Ewes during the Reign of James I and Charles I.' There are some judicious omissions from the author's lengthy narrative, and the letters are few but interesting. From D'Ewes's own reminiscences almost exclusively are any sources for his biography to be drawn. He was on intimate terms with all the great antiquaries of that antiquarian age, but, unlike such men as Selden, Twysden, Dugdale, Holdsworth, and many others who were more or less associated with him, D'Ewes had very little constructive ability; he was a mere copyist and collector, though as a collector he has rarely been surpassed for conscientiousness, industry, and accuracy. With the captiousness which is the vice of narrow minds, he was not above disparaging the work of others; he sneered at Selden, and found much fault with Camden's work (see p. xlv of the Life of Camden, by Thos. Smith, prefixed to Camdeni Epistolae, 1691). Perhaps the most valuable of his transcripts which remain to us are those which he made from monastic cartularies and registers, the originals of which have fallen into other hands since his day, and some of them have perished, or at any rate disappeared.

[D'Ewes's Autobiography, ed. Halliwell, 1845.]

A. J.