Woodroffe, Benjamin (DNB00)


WOODROFFE, BENJAMIN (1638–1711), divine, son of the Rev. Timothy Woodroffe, was born in Canditch Street, St. Mary Magdalen parish, Oxford, in April 1638. He was educated at Westminster school, and was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1656, matriculating on 23 July 1656. He graduated B.A. 1 Nov. 1659, M.A. 17 June 1662, and he was incorporated at Cambridge in 1664. From about 1662 he was a noted tutor at Christ Church, and in 1663 he studied chemistry with Antony Wood, John Locke, and others, at Oxford under Peter Sthael from Strasburg. He was admitted F.R.S. on 7 May 1668. Early in 1668, as Balliol College had no statutable master of arts to hold the office of proctor, he entered himself there as a commoner and was elected by the college as proctor. The validity of his election was referred to the king and privy council, but was remitted to the university and given by convocation against him.

Woodroffe was appointed chaplain to the Duke of York in 1669, and served with him when the duke was in command of the Royal Prince in the engagement with the Dutch off Southwold on 28 May 1672. This led to his appointment as chaplain to Charles II in 1674, and to his advancement in the church. He became lecturer to the Temple in November 1672, and through the influence of the Duke of York was installed canon of Christ Church on 17 Dec. 1672. On 14 Jan. 1672–3 he proceeded B.D. and D.D. Through the favour of Theophilus, earl of Huntingdon, a former pupil, he was instituted in 1673 to the vicarage of Piddleton in Dorset, but resigned it in the next year, when he was made subdean of Christ Church. At this time Woodroffe was a frequent preacher at Oxford, but, if the testimony of Humphrey Prideaux can be relied upon, his sermons were the subject of much ridicule (Letters to John Ellis, Camden Soc.) In 1675 he was appointed to the vicarage of Shrivenham, Berkshire, on the nomination of Heneage, earl of Nottingham, to whose three sons he had been tutor at Christ Church; but Prideaux asserts that he got the living through tricking Richard Peers [q. v.]

On 15 Nov. 1676 Woodroffe obtained a license to marry Dorothy Stonehouse of Besselsleigh, Berkshire, a sister of Sir Blewett Stonehouse, with a reputed fortune of 3,000l., and they went to live at Knightsbridge so as to be near the court. He had been appointed to the rectory of St. Bartholomew, near the Royal Exchange, London, on 19 April 1676, and he was collated to a canonry in Lichfield Cathedral on 21 Sept. 1678. These preferments he held with his canonry at Christ Church until his death.

In 1685 Woodroffe was considered a likely person for the bishopric of Oxford, but he did not obtain the appointment. He was nominated dean of Christ Church by James II on 8 Dec. 1688, but was not installed, the deanery being given to Aldrich. Woodroffe was admitted on 15 Aug. 1692 principal of Gloucester Hall, which was in complete decay, and by his interest among the gentry drew to it several students. He began rebuilding it in the hope of drawing to it the Greek youths brought to England by the advocates of reunion with the Greek church. About 1697 he commenced the erection, on part of the adjoining site of the college of Carmelite friars, of a large house to be called the Greek College. It was of flimsy construction, no one would live in it, and it was known as ‘Woodroffe's folly’ till its destruction in 1806. By February 1698–9 five young Greeks had been brought from Smyrna, and the number was afterwards increased to ten. The mismanagement of the college and other defects came under the censure of the Greek ecclesiastics at Constantinople, and the youths were forbidden to study at Oxford. One of them, Franciscos Prossalentes, printed in 1706 the work, which was reproduced in 1862, in the Greek language exposing the paradoxes and sophisms of the principal. Details of the manner in which some of these boys were drawn off to the Roman church, and of the outlay incurred by Woodroffe in maintaining the establishment, are set out in the calendar of treasury papers (1702–7, pp. 42, 207–209, 362, 399–400, 407) and in ‘Notes and Queries’ (2nd ser. ix. 457–8). He received grants from William III and Anne for the Greek college.

Another disappointment in connection with Gloucester Hall befell its principal. Sir Thomas Cookes [q. v.], a Worcestershire baronet, determined in July 1697 upon spending 10,000l. as an endowment for a college at Oxford. Gloucester Hall was the favourite object, though the money was all but diverted elsewhere mainly through Woodroffe inserting in the charter a clause that the king might put in and turn out fellows at his pleasure. This was withdrawn, but Cookes still refused on various grounds to carry out his intention, and Woodroffe preached a sharp sermon on 23 May 1700 at Feckenham before the trustees of the Cookes charity. The baronet died in 1701, and the bill for settling his charity upon Gloucester Hall was defeated in the House of Commons after passing through the House of Lords on 29 April 1702. Three pamphlets were issued by Woodroffe in its support, and an anonymous reply was written by John Baron. The matter was not carried through until the principal's death.

Woodroffe married, as his second wife, Mary Marbury, sister and one of the three coheiresses of William and Richard Marbury. He was ‘proprietor of one of the salt-rocks in Cheshire,’ and he bought the manor of Marbury in 1705 for 19,000l., but could not complete the purchase. Two actions concerning these estates were carried to the House of Lords, and he lost them both. He was for some time confined in the Fleet prison, and his canonry was sequestrated in April 1709. He died in London on 14 Aug. 1711, and was buried on 19 Aug. in his own vault in the church of St. Bartholomew (Malcolm, Lond. Redivivum, ii. 428). He was a learned man, knowing several languages, including Italian, Portuguese, and ‘some of the Orientals.’ Mr. Ffoulkes mentions a letter by him as ‘in excellent Greek and beautifully written.’ He read in February 1691–2 at the Guildhall chapel ‘the service of the Church of England in the Italian language’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. p. 382). But he wanted judgment, and his temper was unsettled and whimsical. A portrait of him hangs in the provost's lodgings at Worcester College.

Woodroffe's writings consisted, in addition to single sermons and poems in the Oxford collections, of: 1. ‘Somnium Navale,’ 1673. This is a Latin poem on the engagement in Southwold Bay. 2. ‘The Great Question how far Religion is concerned in Policy and Civil Government,’ 1679. 3. ‘The Fall of Babylon: Reflections on the Novelties of Rome by B. W., D.D.,’ 1690. The licenser would not allow its publication in March 1686–7. 4. ‘O Livro da Oração Commun’ (English prayer-book and Psalms translated into Portuguese by Woodroffe and R. Abendana, Judæus), 1695. 5. ‘Examinis et examinantis examen, adversus calumnias F. Foris Otrokocsi,’ 1700. Prefixed is the author's portrait by R. White. 6. ‘Daniel's Seventy Weeks explained,’ 1702. 7. ‘De S. Scripturarum Aὐταρκείᾳ, dialogi duo inter Geo. Aptal et Geo. Marules præside Benj. Woodroffe Græce,’ 1704.

[Union Review, i. 490–500, ii. 650, by E. S. Ffoulkes; George Williams's Orthodox Church in the Eighteenth Century, pp. xviii–xxv; Pearson's Levant Chaplains, pp. 43–5, 66–8; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 640–2; Wood's Fasti, ed. Bliss, ii. 218, 262, 301, 332–3; Clark's Oxford Colleges, pp. 436–42; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 625, ii. 513–18, iii. 581; Welch's Westm. School, pp. 145–6; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark, i. 472, 484, ii. 129, 193, 255, iii. 398, 399, 426; Hearne's Collections, passim; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Baron's Case of Gloucester Hall; The Case of Dr. Woodroffe (Bodleian); Barker's Life of Busby; Lords' Journals, xvii. 27–95, xviii. 19–100; Commons' Journals, xiii. 843, 863; Daniel and Barker's Hist. of Worcester College.]

W. P. C.