Dawes, William (1671-1724) (DNB00)

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DAWES, Sir WILLIAM (1671–1724), archbishop of York, the youngest son of Sir John Dawes and Jane, daughter of Richard Hawkins of Braintree, was born in August 1671 at Lyons, near Braintree in Essex. The family of Dawes was an ancient and rich one, but lost much of its property in the civil war through attachment to the royal cause. After the Restoration a baronetcy was conferred upon Sir John Dawes, father of Sir William, ‘in memory of many services conferred, and hardships undergone, by the family in the civil confusion, and in acknowledgment of several sums of money annually transmitted to the royal family in exile.’ Sir William entered Merchant Taylors' School 11 Sept. 1680, where he showed great precocity in his studies; he is said to have been not only a good classical scholar, but also ‘a tolerable master of the Hebrew tongue’ before he was fifteen years of age. His masters were, first, John Hartcliffe, and then Ambrose Bonwicke; but he owed much of his proficiency to the interest which Dr. Richard Kidder, afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells, took in his education. Before he was eighteen he wrote a poem on rather an ambitious subject, ‘The Anatomy of Atheisme,’ which, though a raw, juvenile performance, without even any promise of poetical power, shows a certain precocity of talent; and before he was twenty-one he wrote a devotional work entitled ‘The Duties of the Closet,’ which is an exceedingly well-written work, and a really wonderful performance for a mere boy. From Merchant Taylors' he went to Oxford, being elected scholar of St. John's College on 1 July 1687 (Robinson, Merchant Taylors' School, i. 303; Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 714). In due time he became fellow of that society; but, his two elder brothers dying, he became heir to the family estates, and removed from Oxford to Cambridge, entering as a nobleman at St. Catharine's Hall in 1689, and occupying his eldest brother's chambers there. He had always intended to receive holy orders, and had made divinity his special study; but, as he was not yet old enough to enter the ministry, he determined to employ the interval in visiting his estates and making a tour of other parts of the kingdom. On his way he met with Frances, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas D'Arcy of Branstead Lodge, Essex, fell in love with her, and married her. In 1697 he was unanimously elected to the mastership of his college, St. Catharine's Hall, vacant by the death of Dr. John Eachard [q. v.], author of ‘Grounds for the Contempt of the Clergy.’ The degree of D.D. was conferred by royal mandate, as he was too young to take it in the regular course. Vice-chancellor of Cambridge University in 1698, he was a considerable benefactor to St. Catharine's Hall, contributing liberally to the restoration of the college chapel, which had been begun by his predecessor, and, later on, obtaining through his interest with Queen Anne an act of parliament for the annexation of the first prebend of Norwich which should become vacant to the mastership of St. Catharine's Hall for ever. In 1696 he was also made chaplain in ordinary to William III; and in 1697 he so pleased the king by a sermon on 5 Nov. that his majesty appointed him without solicitation, and ‘merely,’ he said, ‘by way of pledge of his future favour,’ to a prebend in Worcester Cathedral. He was instituted to the prebend on 26 Aug. 1698, and on 10 Nov. of the same year he was collated by Archbishop Tenison to the rectory, and on 19 Dec. to the deanery of Bocking. Bocking was in the neighbourhood of Dawes's estates, and it is an instance of his popularity as a country gentleman that the people were so anxious to have him among them, that they expressed a unanimous wish to petition the archbishop to confer the appointment upon him; this, however, he would not suffer them to do. His life at Bocking was that of a good country parson; every Sunday he invited ‘some of the better sort’ to dine with him; and he established at once a monthly celebration of the holy communion, which before his time had only been celebrated at the three great festivals. To prepare the way for this obviously necessary change he wrote ‘The great Duty of Communicating explain'd and enforc'd,’ one of the many useful sacramental treatises which were published at this period, when a vigorous revival of church life was going on. On the death of King William in 1702 he became one of the new queen's chaplains, and was a great favourite; but on 30 Jan. 1705 he preached a bold sermon which lost him the bishopric of Lincoln, that see being conferred on William Wake, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. On being told by a nobleman that he had lost the bishopric by his preaching, he replied ‘that, as to that, he had no manner of concern upon him, because his intention was never to gain one by preaching.’ He did not, however, forfeit by his courage the favour of the queen, who, of her own accord, named him for the see of Chester on the death of Bishop Stratford in 1707. His appointment gave great offence to the whigs. He was consecrated 8 Feb. 1707–8. Nothing could show more clearly his efficiency at Chester than the fact that Archbishop Sharp, the most high-minded, discriminating, and experienced prelate of his day, recommended him on his deathbed as his own successor at York. He was accordingly translated to the archbishopric in 1713–14, and during his incumbency much improved the buildings at Bishopthorpe. On the death of Queen Anne he was appointed one of the regents of the kingdom until the new king's arrival in England. After ten years' active work in his diocese Dawes succumbed to an attack of inflammation of the bowels 30 April 1724. He was buried in the chapel of St. Catharine's Hall near his wife, who died in 1705.

Dawes was a good specimen of the aristocratic prelate; he was a high-bred gentleman of a handsome and dignified appearance, and courteous and amiable manners. He had the reputation of being the best preacher of his day. He is said to have owed this reputation ‘to the comeliness of his person, the melody of his voice, the appropriateness of his action, and the majesty of his whole appearance;’ but, apart from these adjuncts, the matter of his sermons is exceedingly good. His simplicity is evidently studied, and in their homeliness and directness his sermons remind one forcibly of those of his predecessor, Archbishop Sharp. After his death, the ‘Whole Works of Sir William Dawes, in 3 vols., with Preface and Life of the Author,’ were published in 1733. They include: (1) ‘An Anatomy of Atheisme,’ a poem, London, 1693; (2) the ‘Duties of the Closet,’ noticed above; (3) the ‘Great Duty of Communicating,’ also noticed above; (4) Sermons preached on several occasions before King William and Queen Anne, 1707; (5) Preface to the works of Offspring Blackall, bishop of Exeter, edited by Sir W. Dawes, in 2 vols. fol. 1723. In this preface he bears enthusiastic, and evidently sincere, testimony to the excellence of Bishop Blackall. Dawes appears in Theophilus Cibber's ‘Lives of Poets.’

[Works of Sir W. Dawes, with life prefixed.]

J. H. O.