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Holmes, William (1689-1748) (DNB00)


HOLMES, WILLIAM (1689–1748), dean of Exeter, son of Thomas Holmes, gentleman, of London, born in St. Swithin's parish, London, on 5 April 1689, was admitted into Merchant Taylors' School on 12 Sept. 1696 (information from the Rev. Dr. Bellamy; Rawl. MS.), and was elected to St. John's College, Oxford, on 11 June 1707, matriculating on 2 July. He was admitted fellow in 1710, and graduated B.A. 16 May 1711, and M.A. 9 April 1715. After filling the office of proctor in 1721 he took the degree of B.D. 13 April 1722, and that of D.D. 5 March 1725. He held in succession the livings of Northleigh, near Oxford (1725–6), and of Henbury, Gloucestershire (1726–8), and was elected president of St. John's College on 3 June 1728. On 24 Sept. he was instituted to the rectory of Boxwell, Gloucestershire, and on the 24th to the college living of Handborough, Oxfordshire. From 1731 to 1737 he was proctor for the clergy of the diocese of Oxford in convocation. During the three years 1732–5 he was vice-chancellor of the university, and was in 1734 appointed one of the king's chaplains. While vice-chancellor he presented addresses from the university on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess Royal to the Prince of Orange in 1734. The Prince of Orange had resided at Oxford, and had been in some way under Holmes's care while there. From 1736 to 1742 he was regius professor of history. He caused to be printed, so that it might be given to every scholar at his admission, the last letter of Sir Thomas White, founder of St. John's College, in which he exhorts the fellows to live at peace with each other, and bids them ‘take a coppye of yt for my sake;’ copies of the letter are still presented to the scholars. He is ridiculed as servile in an imitation of the first satire of Juvenal, printed in London in 1740, and in a letter purporting to be written from Oxford, and published in ‘British Champions, or the Impartial Advertizer’ (10 Jan. 1743), ‘that ornament of learning and politeness H—es’ is given as an example of those who ‘steer judiciously between all extremes’; he was no doubt the first president who was loyal to the house of Hanover. He seems to have been well affected towards sound learning, was civil to Thomas Hearne the antiquary [q. v.], and professed a desire to see a large plan set on foot for printing Oxford manuscripts. While vice-chancellor he revived, on 9 July 1733, the ceremony of the act, which had fallen into some decay, but gave offence to Hearne, and probably other lovers of the past, by inviting ‘one Handel, a foreigner,’ to play at Oxford before and after the ceremony, and allowing him to perform on his own account in the theatre, and to charge 5s. admission. On the other hand, he forbade a company of players to visit Oxford. On 4 June 1742 he was nominated by the crown to the deanery of Exeter.

Holmes died, 4 April 1748, at the age of fifty-nine, leaving considerable property (two farms and 200l. a year) to St. John's College, and was buried in the college chapel. He married Sarah, widow of Robert England, who survived him, and died 3 Dec. 1750. She was also a benefactor to the college, and portraits of both of them are in the college hall. A monument was erected to Holmes in the college chapel at her direction. The only work which has been ascribed to him is ‘The Country Parson's Advice to his Parishioners of the Younger Sort,’ published anonymously at Oxford, 1742, 12mo; other editions, with title slightly varied, 1764, 12mo, and 1783, 8vo (Bodleian Library).

[MS. Rawl. (Bodl.) J. f. 17, 296; information from Mr. C. E. Doble, Worc. Coll., Oxford, and the Rev. Dr. Bellamy, St. John's Coll., Oxf.; Robinson's Reg. of Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 5; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, ed. Gutch, pp. 164–7; Reliquiæ Hearnianæ, pp. 779, 852, 854, ed. Bliss; Oxford Graduates, 1659–1850; Oliver's Lives of the Bishops of Exeter, p. 277; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 215, viii. 404.]

W. H.