Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mews, Peter
MEWS, PETER (1619–1706), bishop of Winchester, son of Elisha Mews, was born at Purse Candle, near Sherborne, Dorset, on 25 March 1618–19 (Hutchins, History of Dorset, 1774, ii. 345). He was sent to Merchant Taylors' School at the charge of his uncle, Dr. Winniffe, then dean of St. Paul's. He was elected scholar of St. John's College, Oxford, 11 June 1637, and graduated B.A. on 13 May 1641, and M.A. in 1645. In 1642 he took service in the force raised by the university for the king's service, and served in his majesty's guards throughout the war, obtaining the rank of captain (Godwin, De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, p. 244). ‘He received several times near thirty wounds, and was taken prisoner at Naseby’ (Nicholas Papers, ii. 19). In 1648 he retired to Holland, and was constantly employed during the Commonwealth as an agent of the royalists, being chiefly employed by his intimate friend, Secretary Nicholas. He was an adept at disguising himself (ib. p. 236). In August 1653 Nicholas applied to the Princess of Orange to use her influence to gain him the post of philosophy reader at Breda (ib. p. 19), but was assured by Hyde that the place required a man ‘that hath not bene a truant from his bookes’ (Hyde to Nicholas, 22 Aug. 1653, Cal. Clarendon State Papers, ii. 242). The statement that at this time he sent a weekly letter from Leyden to the parliamentarians (Bunce to Ormonde, 27 Nov. 1653, ib. p. 27) was unquestionably a slander; as a stout Anglican he was much disliked by the ‘presbyterian gang’ (Hyde to Nicholas, 16 Jan. 1654, ib.) In the winter of 1653–4, when Middleton took command of the insurrection of the highlanders, Mews was designated his secretary, with a special recommendation from Charles II (2 Jan. 1654, ib.; Burnet, Hist. of my own Time, ed. 1753, ii. 435). He bore a number of letters to the Scots nobility, and it was probably on this mission that he had a narrow escape of being hanged by the rebels (Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy, p. 119; Hist. MSS. Comm., Duke of Hamilton's MSS., 1887, p. 137; Clarendon State Papers, passim). Before the end of the year he returned to Holland (Nicholas Papers, ii. 93, 138), and shortly afterwards fell out with Hyde, but continued to be intimate with Nicholas, with whom he was in constant correspondence (Hyde to Nicholas, Clarendon State Papers, iii. 30, 31, 33; Nicholas Papers, ii. passim, especially 275, 311, 329; and Cal. State Papers, 1657–8, pp. 341, 358, 366). He again undertook a mission to Scotland in 1655, and sent a gloomy but valuable account of affairs to Nicholas (Nicholas Papers, ii. 187). He served also under the Duke of York in Flanders (Cal. State Papers; Wilson, History of Merchant Taylors' School, p. 729).
The date of his ordination is uncertain, but he is said to have been collated archdeacon of Huntingdon on 19 Nov. 1649, though he was not installed until after the Restoration (Cassan, Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, ii. 188–99). He was also presented, but not instituted, to the rectory of Lambourne, Essex, during the Commonwealth (Granger, Biog. Hist. iii. 237). On the Restoration he returned to England, and petitioned the king for money to pay debts contracted in the royal service, and to furnish him with books to prosecute his studies at the university (Cal. State Papers, September, 1660). He took the degree of D.C.L. on 6 Dec. 1660 (Wood, Fasti, ii. 809). Preferments were rapidly heaped upon him. He was installed archdeacon of Huntingdon on 12 Sept. 1660, and was made vicar of St. Mary's, Reading, where he was active against conventicles (Cal. State Papers, 14 and 19 Jan. 1662–3, and 26 Sept. 1667), rector of South Warnborough, Hampshire, and chaplain to the king. In September 1661 he was presented to the rectory of Worplesdon, Surrey. He was readmitted to his fellowship at St. John's College on the special recommendation of the king (29 Dec. 1661, ib.) On 30 Oct. 1662 he was installed canon of Windsor, and shortly afterwards canon of St. Davids. He resigned the archdeaconry of Huntingdon in 1665, and on 30 Aug. was made archdeacon of Berkshire. During this period Mews was a constant correspondent of Williamson, who then edited the ‘London Gazette.’
On the death of Dr. Richard Baylie, president of St. John's College, Arlington, by the king's command, addressed a letter to the vice-president and fellows, recommending Mews (who had married Baylie's daughter) for the post on account of his ‘orthodox learning and sober life’ and his loyal service to the crown during the rebellion. A similar letter was sent by the Bishop (Morley) of Winchester (both letters in St. John's College manuscript Register). He was accordingly elected president on 5 Aug. 1667, and on 26 Sept. was admitted, according to the ancient custom, by the dean and canons of Christ Church (Joseph Taylor, history of the college in St. John's College MSS.) At the time of the election he was absent at Breda as one of the royal commissioners to treat for the peace (Cal. State Papers, 25 Aug. 1667). During the same year he received the ‘golden prebend’ of St. Davids, and was made canon of Durham. He was vice-chancellor of the university of Oxford 1669–73, and in 1670 he became dean of Rochester. On 9 Feb. 1672 he was consecrated bishop of Bath and Wells (Kennett, Register, 1728, i. 752). He resigned the presidency of St. John's 3 Oct. 1673, at the expiration of his vice-chancellorship (St. John's College MSS.) In his diocese he was ‘greatly beloved by the loyal gentry, who were almost unanimous in all elections and public affairs during his residence among them’ (Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii. 345). Early in November 1684 the king gave him the bishopric of Winchester (Cassan, Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, ii. 189). In the next year he was one of the first to offer an energetic resistance to Monmouth (Ranke, Hist. of England, iv. 257), and at Sedgmoor his own horses drew the royal cannon to the point whence he himself directed their fire with decisive effect. He received a wound in the battle, from which he suffered for the rest of his life (Life of Ken, by a Layman, pp. 282, 409). After the victory he interceded for the lives of the rebels.
In the famous contention between James II and Magdalen College he played an important part (cf. Bloxam, Magdalen College and James II, Oxford Historical Society). As visitor of the college he supported the fellows in their adherence to the statutes, telling them that he ‘admired their courage,’ and in spite of the king's known wishes he admitted Dr. Hough to the presidency, 16 April 1687, and stoutly defended his action in a letter to Sunderland. At the end of the long contest, 25 Oct. 1688, he restored the ejected fellows, making ‘a Latin speech every way becoming his function and character.’ ‘Never was visitor received with greater joy or with greater favour’ (Dr. T. Smith to Sir W. Howard, ib. p. 261). Mews was known to approve of the petition of the seven bishops, and was only prevented by illness from taking part in their meeting (Macaulay). Yet James, in the crisis of the revolution, sought his advice, and was strongly urged by him to call a parliament (Life of Ken, p. 476). When William landed, the king thought of taking refuge at Farnham Castle (Reresby, Memoirs, 4to edit. p. 178). Mews took the oaths to William and Mary, and served for a time on the royal commission on toleration, but withdrew when it was proposed to allow the holy eucharist to be administered to communicants sitting (Macaulay; Birch, Tillotson, i. 127). On Whit-Sunday 1691 he was, in the absence of Compton, bishop of London, chief consecrator of Tillotson as archbishop.
After the revolution he does not appear to have taken much part in politics. Among the protests of the lords to which his signature is attached are those against an alteration of the marriage laws, 19 Nov. 1689; against confirming the laws passed in the convention, 8 April 1690, and against the expunging of the said protest as an act unprecedented and unconstitutional; against the bill of attainder for Sir John Fenwick, 23 Dec. 1696, and against Montague's bill annulling the privileges of the old East India Company, 1 July 1698 (Protests of the Lords, ed. J. E. T. Rogers, i. 89, 97, 98, 128–30, 133–4). He died 9 Nov. 1706, aged 89, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where a monument commemorates his fidelity to king and church.
Mews was versatile and energetic. His correspondence shows a clear and acute intellect and considerable political sagacity. The extraordinary lavishness with which his services were rewarded at the Restoration bears witness alike to the value of his past work and the importance that was attached to his future support. His unwearied activity and the bonhomie of his manners rendered him a most useful agent of the government of Charles II. At the same time he never subordinated his principles to his partisanship. He was a loyal soldier and a good bishop. An ardent loyalist (one of his sermons before the king was quoted in the defence of Sacheverell), he was firm in resisting the unconstitutional action of James II, to whom he was bound by long ties of personal service. Without being himself learned he was the patron of learned men. Lowth received his first preferment at his hands. While Burnet speaks sneeringly of his obsequiousness and zeal, Wood praises his hospitality, generosity, justice, and frequent preaching. Hearne briefly describes him as ‘an old honest Cavalier.’
Mews published: 1. Some laudatory hexameters prefixed to ‘Phasaurus sive Libido Vindex,’ by T. Snelling, London, Andrew Pennycook, 1650. 2. ‘The Ex-ale-tation of Ale (in verse), written by a Learned Pen,’ London, 1671. ‘'Tis said the author was Dr. Peter Mews, bishop of Winchester’ (Hearne, ed. Doble, Oxford Hist. Soc., iii. 219). 3. His ‘Articles of Visitation,’ 1676 (L. Lichfield, Oxford) and 1679 (no printer's name).
There are portraits of him at Farnham Castle, St. John's and Magdalen colleges, Oxford, and in the National Portrait Gallery, London. The last was engraved by Loggan. He is represented in the robes of prelate of the Garter, and with a black patch covering a scar on the left cheek.