Bedford, Hilkiah (DNB00)

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BEDFORD, HILKIAH (1663–1724), a nonjuring divine, was born in Hosier Lane, near West Smithfield, where his father was a mathematical instrument maker. The family originally came from Sibsey, near Boston, in Lincolnshire, whence Hilkiah's grandfather, a quaker, removed to London and settled there as a stationer in the early part of the seventeenth century. He was educated at Bradley in Suffolk, and in 1679 proceeded to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was elected as the first scholar on the foundation of his maternal grandfather, William Plat. In due time he was elected fellow of St. John's, and having received holy orders was instituted to the rectory of Wittering. At the revolution he refused to take the oaths, and was consequently ejected from his preferment. Like many other nonjurors he had recourse to tuition, and kept a boarding house at Westminster for the scholars of Westminster school. The venture was successful, and he made a considerable fortune by it. He became chaplain to Dr. Ken, the deprived bishop of Bath and Wells, and also employed himself busily in the field of literature. He wrote a translation of ' An Answer to Fontenelle's History of Oracles,' edited Peter Barwick's 'Vita Joannis Barwick,' and made an excellent translation of the same work, enriching it with many valuable notes on the lives and characters of the various persons mentioned therein. He also published in 1710 a 'Vindication of the Church of England,' and also an 'Essay on the Thirty-nine Articles;' but, oddly enough, the book which made Hilkiah Bedford's name most famous and brought him into most trouble was one which he did not write. In 1713 a folio volume was published anonymously, entitled 'The Hereditary Right of the Crown of England asserted,' in an answer to Mr. Higden, who had been a nonjuror, but recanted, and defended his recantation in a work entitled 'A View of the English Constitution.' Bedford was suspected of having written the 'Hereditary Right,' and having been tried, according to one authority, at the court of King's Bench, according to another at the Guildhall, was found guilty of writing, printing, and publishing it. He was fined 1,000 marks and imprisoned for three years, and after the expiration of the period was to find sureties for his good behaviour during life. He was also condemned to appear before the court with a paper on his hat confessing the crime; but this part of the sentence was remitted in consideration of his being a clergyman. It is said that the real author was George Harbin, also a nonjuror, the chaplain of Lord Weymouth, and friend of Bishop Ken. In fact, according to one authority, Harbin himself avowed the authorship. It is also said that Hilkiah Bedford knew who was the true author, but generously preferred to suffer unjustly rather than betray his friend. The most curious part of the story is that Lord Weymouth, who knew nothing of the true state of the case, actually sent Harbin to Bedford with 100l. to relieve him under his sufferings. Hilkiah Bedford became a bishop among the nonjurors; he left a son Thomas (d. 1773) [q. v.]

[Bedford's Works; Lathbury's History of the Nonjurors; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 167-170.]

J. H. O.