John Aubrey on Seth Ward

In Lives of Eminent Men (1813) Aubrey describes the life of Seth Ward. In the version we have given below we have modernised the spelling and made other minor additions and adjustments.

Seth Ward (1617-1689).

Birth and education.

Seth Ward, lord bishop of Sarum, was born at Buntingford, a small market-town in Hertfordshire, Anno Domini 1618, December the ..., (when the great blazing star appeared). His father was an attorney there, and of a very honest repute. At (16) year old he went to Sydney College in Cambridge; he was servitor to Dr (Samuel) Ward (Master of the College, and Professor of Divinity), who, being much taken with his ingenuity and industry, as also with his suavity of nature, quickly made him scholar of the house, and after, fellow. Though he was of his name, he was not at all a kin to him (which most men imagined because of the great kindness to him); but the consimility of their dispositions was a greater tie of friendship then that of blood, which signifies but little, as to that point.

Mathematical studies.

His father taught him common arithmetic, and his genius lay much to the mathematics, which being natural to him, he quickly and easily attained. Sir Charles Scarborough, M.D. (then an ingenious young student, and fellow of Caius College in Cambridge), was his great acquaintance; both students in mathematics; which the better to perfect, they went to Mr Willam Oughtred, at Albury, in Surrey, to be informed by him in his "Clavis Mathematica," which was then a book of enigmas. Mr Oughtred treated them with exceeding humanity, being pleased at his heart when an ingenious young man came to him that would ply his Algebra hard. When they returned to Cambridge, they read the "Clavis Mathematica" to their pupils, which was the first time that that book was ever read in a university. Mr Laurence Rooke, a good mathematician and algebraist, (and I think had also been Mr Oughtred's disciple) was his great acquaintance. Mr Rooke (I remember) did read (and that admirably well) on the sixth chapter of the "Clavis Mathematica" in Gresham College.

Ejected from Cambridge.

Anno Domini 164(4), at the breaking out of the civil wars, he was a prisoner, together with Dr (Samuel) Ward, Dr (Samuel) Collins, Sir Thomas Hatton, &c. for the King's cause, in St John's College in Cambridge, and was put out of his fellowship at Sydney College. Being got out of prison, he was very civilly and kindly received by his friend and neighbour, Ralph Freeman, of Apsten, Esq., a virtuous and hospitable gentleman, where he continued ...

Professor in Oxford.

Anno Domini (1648) the Visitation of the Parliament was at Oxford, and turned out a great many professors and fellows. The Astronomy Reader (Dr (John) Greaves) being sure to be ejected, Seth Ward, A.M. (being then with my Lord Wenman, in Oxfordshire, and Greaves was unwilling to be turned out of his place, but desired to resign it rather to some worthy person, whereupon Dr Charles Scarborough and William Holder, D.D. recommended to Greaves, their common friend, Mr Seth Ward) was invited to succeed him, and came from Mr Freeman's to Oxford, had the Astronomy Professor's place, and lived at Wadham Colledge, where he conversed with the Warden, Dr John Wilkins.

First ecclesiastical dignity.

Anno Domini 165- he had from Brownrigg bishop of Exon, the grant of the chanter's place of Exon, which then signified nothing.

President of Trinity College , Oxford.

Anno Domini 165(9) William Hawes, then president of Trinity College in Oxford, having broken in his lungs a vein (which was not curable), Mr Ward being very well acquainted and beloved in that college; by the consent of all the fellows, William Hawes resigned up his presidentship to him, and died some few days after. Anno 1660, upon the restoration of King Charles II, Dr Hannibal Potter (the president sequestered by the Parliamentary Visitors) re-enjoyed the presidentship again.

His doctorate.

I should have said that, anno 165(4), he took his degree of doctor in Divinity, at the Act, at Oxford, at the same time with Dr John Wallis.

Church preferment.

He then enjoyed his chanter's place at Exeter, and, I think, was certainly minister of St Laurence Jewry church in London. Anno Domini 166(1), the Dean of Exon died, and then it was his right to step in next to the Deanery.

Becomes bishop of Exeter.

Anno Domini 1663, the Bishop of Exon died: Dr Ward, the Dean, was in Devonshire at that time, at (I think it was) Taverstoke, at a visitation, where were a great number of the gentry of the country. Deane Ward was very well known to the gentry, and his learning, prudence, and comity had won them all to be his friends. The news of the death of the bishop being brought to them, who were all very merry and rejoicing with good entertainment, with great alacrity ,the gentlemen cried all, in unison, "We will have Mr Dean to be our Bishop." This was at that critical time when the House of Commons were the King's darlings. The Dean told them that for his part he had no interest or acquaintance at Court; but intimated to them how much the king esteemed the members of parliament (and a great many Parliament men were then there), and that his Majesty would deny them nothing. "If 'tis so, gentlemen" (said Mr Dean), "that you will needs have me to be your Bishop, if some of you make your address to his Majesty, 'twill be done." With that they drank the other glass, a health to the King, and another to their wished-for Bishop; had their horses presently made ready, put foot in stirrup, and away they rode merrily to London; went to the King, and he immediately granted them their request. This is the first time that ever a bishop was made by the House of Commons. Now, though envy cannot deny, that this worthy person was very well worthy any preferment that could be conferred on him, yet the old bishops (e. g. Humphrey (Henchman), Bishop of London; John Cosins, Bishop of Durham) were exceedingly disgruntled at it, to see a brisk young bishop that could see through all their formal gravity, but 40 years old, not come in at the right door but leapt over the pale. It went to their very hearts. Well, Bishop of Exeter he was, to the great joy of all the diocese; being bishop he had then free access to his Majesty, who is a lover of ingenuity and a discerner of ingenious men, and quickly took a liking to him.

Translated to Salisbury.

Anno 1667, Alexander Hyde, the Bishop of Sarum, died, and then he was made Bishop of Sarum.

Personal characteristics.

He is (without all manner of flattery) so prudent, learned, and good a man, that he honours his preferment as much as the preferment does him; and is such a one that cannot be advanced too high. My Lord (Lucius) Falkland was wont to say that he never knew any one that a pair of lawn sleeves had not altered from himself, but only bishop Juxon; had he known this excellent prelate, he would have said he had known one more. As he is the pattern of humility and courtesy, so he knows when to be severe and austere; and he is not one to be trampled or worked upon. He is a bachelor, and of a most magnificent and munificent mind. He hath been a benefactor to the Royal Society, (of which he was one of the first members and institutors), gave them, Anno Domini. ...

He also gave a noble pendulum clock to the Royal Society (which goes a week), to perpetuate the memory of his dear and learned friend, Mr Laurence Rooke. He gave anno 167-, ... towards the making of the river at Salisbury navigable to Christ Church. Anno 1679 he gave to Sydney College a thousand pounds.

He has perused all the records of the Church of Sarum, which, with long lying, had been conglutinated together; read them all over, and taken abridgements of them, which has not been done by any of his predecessors I believe for some hundreds of years. He had an admirable habit of body (athletic, which was a fault), a handsome man, pleasant and sanguine; he did not desire to have his wisdom be judged by the gravity of his beard, but his prudence and ratiocination. This, methinks, is strange to consider in him, that being a great student (and that of mathematics and difficult knotty points, which does use to make men unfit for business), he is so clear and ready, as no solicitor is more adroit for looking after affaires.

Last Updated February 2017