Napier, Richard (DNB00)

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NAPIER or NAPPER, RICHARD (1559–1634), astrologer, born at Exeter on 4 May 1559, was third son of Alexander Napier, by his wife Ann or Agnes Burchley. The father, who was sometimes known by the alternative surname of ‘Sandy,’ was elder son by a third wife of Sir Archibald Napier, fourth laird of Merchiston (d. 1522) [see under Napier, Alexander (d. 1473)]; he settled at Exeter about 1540. Richard matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, as a commoner on 20 Dec. 1577, but took no degree, although he was occasionally described at a later date as M.A., and he sent a donation to the fund for building the college kitchen in 1624. On leaving the university he was ordained, and on 12 March 1589–90 was admitted to the rectory of Great Linford, Buckinghamshire, which he held for forty-four years. According to Lilly, he broke down one day in the pulpit, and thenceforth ceased to preach, ‘keeping in his house some excellent scholar or other to officiate for him, with allowance of a good salary.’ But he was always ‘a person of great abstinence, innocence, and piety; he spent every day two hours in family prayer … his knees were horny with frequent praying’ (Aubrey).

In his youth Napier had been attracted by astrology, and before settling at Great Linford apparently spent some time in London as the pupil of Simon Forman [q. v.] Forman ‘was used to say he would be a dunce’ (Lilly), but Napier ultimately developed so much skill that Forman on his death in 1611 bequeathed to him all his manuscripts. He claimed to be in continual communication with the angel Raphael (Aubrey). With the practice of astrology he combined from an early period that of medicine, and thus made a large income, great part of which he bestowed on the poor (ib.) On 20 Dec. 1604 he received a formal license to practise medicine from Erasmus Webb, archdeacon of Buckingham (Ashmol. MS. 1293). Throughout the midlands his clients were numerous. His medical patients included Emanuel Scrope, eleventh baron Scrope of Bolton and earl of Sunderland [q. v.], who resided at Great Linford in 1627 (ib. 421 ff. 162–4, and 1730, f. 186). He also ‘instructed many ministers in astrology, would lend them whole cloak-bags of books; protected them from harm and violence by means of his power with [Oliver St. John, first] earl of Bolingbroke.’ William Lilly, who occasionally visited him in 1632 and 1633, describes his library ‘as excellently furnished with very choice books.’ Like all the popular astrologers of the day, he had his enemies, and John Cotta [q. v.] is said to have attacked him obliquely in his ‘Triall of Witchcraft,’ 1616. He died, ‘praying upon his knees,’ at Great Linford on 1 April 1634, and was buried on 15 April. He left all his property to his nephew and pupil Richard, second son of his elder brother Robert [see below]. Napier's property included, besides the advowson of Great Linford, manuscript books and notes of his astrological and medical practice between 1597 and the year of his death, his correspondence, and some manuscript religious tracts. A portrait is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

The astrologer's brother, Sir Robert Napier (1560–1637), born in 1560, established himself in Bishopsgate Street, London, as a successful Turkey merchant, and was a member of the Grocers' Company. He purchased an estate at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, and was high sheriff of that county in 1611. He was knighted in 1612, and was created a baronet on 25 Nov. of the same year. He declined to serve the office of sheriff of London when elected to it on 24 June 1613, and was fined four hundred marks. On 24 Oct. 1614 he protested that he would be more beneficial to the city if the common council relieved him of the liability of serving either as alderman or sheriff (Overall, Remembrancia, pp. 461–2). Sir Robert died in April 1637. By his will, dated 15 April 1637, he left charities to the poor of Luton. He married thrice. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by Robert, his eldest son by his third wife (cf. Ashmol. MS. 339, No. 29). Sir Robert, the second baronet (1602–1660), matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1619, became a student of Gray's Inn in 1620, was knighted at Whitehall in 1623, and was M.P. for Corfe Castle (1625–6), and Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (1627–8). He represented Peterborough in the Long parliament till 1648, when he was secluded (cf. Letters of Lady B. Harley, Camden Soc., p. 86). Dying in 1660, he was succeeded by his grandson Robert, heir of his eldest son, who had died before him. With the death of the third baronet in 1675 the title expired. But meanwhile a new baronetcy was granted, 4 March 1660–1, to John, the second baronet's son by a second marriage. That title became extinct on the death of Sir John Napier, the grandson of the first holder, in 1747.

Sir Richard Napier (1607–1676), nephew and heir of the astrologer and second son of the first Sir Robert Napier, was born in London in 1607. He became a student of Gray's Inn in 1622; entered Wadham College, Oxford, as a fellow-commoner in 1624; graduated B.A. on 4 Dec. 1626, and on 31 Dec. 1627 was created M.A. by virtue of letters of the chancellor, which described him as a kinsman of the Duchess of Richmond. (The Napiers claimed connection with the Stuarts, earls of Lennox, from whom the duchess's husband (d. 1624) was descended.) He was elected a fellow of All Souls College in 1628, and proceeded B.C.L. on 16 July 1630. He was the favourite nephew of his uncle Richard, who instructed him in astrology and medicine during his vacations. As early as 1625 he attended some of his uncle's patients at Great Linford. In 1633 he obtained from John Williams, bishop of Lincoln, a license to practise medicine, and next year he inherited all his uncle's property and manuscripts. He settled at Great Linford, the manor of which his father appears to have purchased for him. On 1 Nov. 1642 he took the degree of M.D. at Oxford. He was knighted on 4 July 1647. He was incorporated M.D. at Cambridge in 1663, and in December 1664 became an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in London; he had given to the college library in 1652 the Greek commentators on Aristotle in thirteen finely bound volumes. Wood describes him as ‘one of the first members of the Royal Society, and a great pretender to virtu and astrology.’ His name does not figure, however, in the lists of the members of the Royal Society. He ‘made,’ Wood adds, ‘a great noise in the world, yet he did little or nothing towards the public.’ While on his way to visit Sir John Lenthall at Besselsleigh, near Abingdon, Berkshire, in January 1675–6, he rested at an inn where, according to Aubrey, as soon as the chamberlain had shown him his chamber, he ‘saw a dead man lying upon the bed; he looked more wistly and saw it was himself.’ He died shortly after his arrival at Lenthall's house on 17 Jan. 1675–6, and was buried in Great Linford Church (Wood, Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 437, ii. 47). He married, first, Ann, youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Tyringham (Le Neve, Knights, p. 24); and, secondly, in 1645, Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Vyner, lord mayor in 1653. The estate of Linford he left, with all his medical and astrological books, papers, and correspondence, to Thomas (born in 1646), his eldest son by his second wife. Thomas sold the estate in 1679 for nearly 20,000l. to Sir William Pritchard, lord mayor in 1682. The manuscript collections of his father and great-uncle he made over to Elias Ashmole, and they are now preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Sir Richard's eldest son by his first wife, Robert, after spending some time at Oriel College, Oxford, travelled in Italy, and graduated M.D. at Padua on 29 Aug. 1662. He was admitted an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in December 1664, and, dying in 1670, was buried at Great Linford on 6 Oct. A few of his papers are among the Ashmolean MSS.

[For the astrologer and his relatives Black's Cat. of the Ashmolean MSS. is the main authority. See also for the astrologer Lilly's Life, 1774, pp. 23, 77–80; Aubrey's Miscellanies, 1857, pp. 90, 159–61; Lysons's Bedfordshire; Lipscombe's Buckinghamshire, iv. 222 seq. For other members of the family see Overall's Remembrancia, p. 76; Burke's Extinct Baronetage; Munk's Coll. of Phys. i. 328–9; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Wadham Coll. Reg. ed. Gardiner, and the authorities cited.]

S. L.