Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/King, Richard John
KING, RICHARD JOHN (1818–1879), antiquary, eldest son of Richard King, who married at Berry Pomeroy, Devonshire, in April 1816, Mary Grace Windeatt, was born on 18 Jan. 1818 at Montpelier, Pennycross, a chapelry attached to St. Andrew, Plymouth. His father died in April 1829; his mother survived until 13 Jan. 1884. He matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, on 17 Nov. 1836, and graduated B.A. in 1841. On his father's death he inherited a considerable property, including the estate of Bigadon in Buckfastleigh, Devonshire, where he lived until 1854; but the lands were heavily mortgaged, and in that year they were sold under pecuniary pressure, when he was also forced to part with his father's collection of pictures and the magnificent library which he himself had amassed. King then withdrew to The Limes, Crediton, and supported himself by his writings. No one has in this generation equalled him in the knowledge of the literature and history of the west country, and he was gifted with the art of interesting others in the fruits of his researches. He was elected a member of the Devonshire Association in 1874, and filled the office of president in 1875, when his address dealt with the early history of Devonshire. He contributed several papers to its ‘ Transactions,’ and at the time of his death was on no less than eight of its special committees. With several of its members he was engaged in translating and editing the ‘Devonshire Domesday.’ King died at The Limes, Crediton on 10 Feb. 1879, and was buried in its churchyard the east window of the lady-chapel being filled with stained glass in his memory. The east window and four smaller windows in Buckfastleigh Church were given by him when he was residing at Bigadon.
When an undergraduate King printed in 1840, for private distribution, thirty-three copies of two lectures read before the Essay Society of Exeter College. Their subjects were ‘The Supernatural Beings of the Middle Ages’ and ‘The Origin of the Romance Literature of the XII and XIII Centuries,’ and they were dedicated to the Rev. R. C. Powles, the schoolfellow and friend of Charles Kingsley. To the ‘Oxford Essays’ for 1856 (pp. 271–94) he contributed a paper on ‘Carlovingian Romance,’ which was afterwards included in his ‘Sketches and Studies.’ His first separate work consisted of ‘Selections from Early Ballad Poetry,’ 1842, to which were added many notes and preliminary observations. A novel by him, entitled ‘Anschar: a Story of the North,’ Plymouth, was published anonymously in 1850. It depicted the apostle of the north while engaged on his mission of converting the Norsemen to Christianity, but its success was not great. At one time he contemplated tracing ‘The History of Devonshire from the British Period to our own Time,’ but this enterprise proved too ambitious, and he contented himself with publishing the first two chapters, under the title of ‘The Forest of Dartmoor and its Borders: an Historical Sketch.’
To Murray's series of handbooks to the English counties King was a large contributor. He prepared ‘Handbooks to Kent and Sussex’ (1858), ‘Surrey and Hampshire’ (1858), ‘Eastern Counties’ (1861), and ‘Yorkshire’ (1866–8). Those for ‘Northamptonshire’ (1872–7) and ‘Warwickshire with Hertfordshire’ (1872–5) were partly written by him, though the last volume has not yet been published, and the fifth and later editions of that for ‘Devon and Cornwall’ were supervised by him. He was the chief writer in the same publisher's series of ‘Handbooks to the Cathedrals of England,’ which were issued during 1861–9, and in the subsequent volume on the ‘Cathedrals of Wales’ (1873). The ‘Handbook to Hereford Cathedral’ was struck off separately in 1864, and the account of the three choirs, Gloucester, Hereford, and Worcester, appeared in one volume in 1866. For many years he was a constant contributor to the ‘Saturday Review,’ the ‘Quarterly Review,’ and ‘Fraser's Magazine.’ A delightful selection from his articles was published in 1874 under the title of ‘Sketches and Studies,’ and in them his extensive learning was embodied in a permanent form. He frequently wrote in the ‘Academy’ and in ‘Notes and Queries,’ and to the ninth edition of the ‘ Encyclopædia Britannica’ he supplied accounts of Cornwall and Devon. The first five parts of ‘Our Own Country’ were written by him for Cassell & Co., and he assisted in the compilation of ‘Picturesque Europe.’ His paper on ‘Bristol Cathedral’ appeared in the ‘Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archæological Society,’ iii. 99–105, and a letter by him ‘On the Family and Parentage of Judhael de Totnais’ is in Cotton's ‘Totnes,’ App. pp. 77–88.
[Devon. Assoc. Trans. xi. 58–60; Academy, 1879 p. 165; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 180 (1879); information from Miss King, his sister, of Crediton, and from Mr. John Murray.]