Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bill, William

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BILL, WILLIAM (d. 1501), dean of Westminster, son of John Bill of Ashwell, Hertfordshire, and brother of Thomas Bill, M.D., of the same place, and of St. Bartholomew's, London, physician to Henry VIII and Edward YI, was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1532-3, was elected fellow 7 Nov. 1535, took the degree of M.A. in 1530, that of B.D. in 1544, and that of D.D. in 1547, havings (10 March 1546-7) been admitted master of the college. While an undergraduate he was a pupil of both Cheke and Smith, from whom he learned a more accurate mode of pronouncing Greek than that which was then in vogue. Strype (Life of Cheke, p. 8) says that it was only through the influence of Cheke and Parker, then (1535) one of the queen's chaplains, that Bill was able to raise sufficient funds to qualify himself for election to a fellowship by discharging his debts to the college. By an act passed in the year preceding Bill's elect ion (26 Hen. VIII, cap. 3) the first year's income of a fellowship was payable to the crown as 'first-fruits;' but (s. 23) in the case of fellowships of the annual value of not more than eight marks not until the fourth year from election, security being given in the meantime. Bill's fellowship was only of the annual value of five marks, and John Bill of Ashwell, presumably his father, gave security for the payment of the first-fruits. Probably the amount was never paid, as an act (27 Hen. VIII, cap.42) exempting the universities from the tax, which appears to have been retrospective, was passed in 1535-6. As fellow of St. John's, Bill was a contemporary of Ascham, in whose letters he is sometimes mentioned. At the date of his election to the mastership he held the Linacre lectureship in physic, which he retained for two years after. One of his first acts after his election was to give away two of the college leases, one to Cheke in consideration of his services to the college, the other to one Thomas Bill, doubtless his brother the physician, as a pure gratuity. In 1548-9, a year marked by the visit of a royal commission, he held the office of vice-chancellor. In November 1551 he resigned the mastership of St. John's to be elected master of Trinity, and in the following December he was appointed one of the king's itinerary chaplains, whose duty it was 'to preach sound doctrine in all the remotest parts of the kingdom for the instruction of the ignorant in right religion to God and obedience to the king.' For this service he seems to have received 40l. per annum. Next year (2 Oct.) he was placed on the committee to which the articles of religion were referred for consideration. Soon after her accession Queen Mary thought fit to deprive Bill of the mastership of Trinity. Her commands appear to have been executed in a rather brutal i fashion, the master being forcibly removed from his stall in the chapel by two of the fellows, Boys and Gray. It is curious that we find him mentioned as chief almoner under date 1 Jan. 1553-4. It seems likely that he held that office under Edward VI, but it is surprising that Mary should not have dismissed him immediately upon her accession. Probably she did m shortly afterwards, for he spent the greater part of her brief reign in retirement at Sandy, in Bedfordshire, of which one of his kinsmen, Burgoyne, was rector On 20 Nov. 1558, the Sunday after the proclamation of Elizabeth as queen, he preached at St. Paul's Cross, striving to allay the popular excitement which was manifesting itself in brutal outrages upon the catholics. The same year he was appointed to assist Parker in revising the liturgy of Edward VI, and was reinstated in the office of chief almoner and in the mastership of Trinity. In Lent of the following year he preached before the queen, and (20 June) was appointed, with Sir W. Cecil, Parker, and others, visitor of Eton College and of the university of Cambridge, and on 5 July following was appointed provost of Eton College, having been elected fellow on 20 June. On 20 Sept. of the same year he instituted himself to the prebend of Milton Ecclesia, in the county of Oxford and church of Lincoln, the advowson of which had been devised to him by his brother Thomas, who died in 1551-2. He again preached before the queen on March 1559-60, and in the same year was placed on a commission, of which Parker and the bishop of London were also members, for the revision of the prayer-book. On 30 June he was installed dean of Westminster. On his appointment he framed a set of statutes for the regulation of the collegiate church, which were adopted by his successor, Gabriel Goodman. In this year one of the hostages given by the Scots for the due fulfilment of their part of the treaty of Berwick (April 1560), Archibald, son of Lord Ruthven, was placed under his care. The boy was still with him at his death, which took place 15 July of the following year. He was buried on the 20th in the chapel of St. Benedict in Westminster Abbey, to which, as also to Trinity College, Cambridge, he was a donor by his will. Five couplets of Latin elegiac verse of no particular merit are still legible beneath his effigy in the abbey, and may also be read by the curious in Cooper's 'Athenæ Cantabrigienses' (i. 210), where also will be found an abstract of his will.

[Cussans's Hertfordshire, Hd. of Odsey, i. 28, 30; Neale and Brayley's Westminster, i. 109, 116; Dart's Westm. i. 101, Keepe's Westm. 53, 226; Strype's Cheke (8vo), 18; Strype's Smith, cap. ii. as fin., cap. vii. as init.; Strype's Grindal (fol.), 7, 24, 39; Strype's Cramner (fol.), 273, 301; Strype's Parker (fol.), i. 43, 79; Strype's Whitgrift, App. bk. i. No. vii.; Strype's Mem. (fol.). ii. pt. i. 297, pt. ii. 523. 529; Strype's Ann. (fol.), i. pt. i. 167, 199. 270, ii. pt. ii 490, App. bk. ii. No. x. iv., Suppl. No. ix.; Rymer's Fœdera (2nd ed.). xv. 494, 590; Machyn's Diary (Camd. Soc.), 264; Harwood's Alumni Eton. 9, 59; Ascham's Epist. 75, 87, 203, 311; Welch's Alumni Westmon. (1852), 4; MS. Baker, x. 151; T. Baker's Hist. of St. John's (Mayor), 127, 129, 146; Cal. State Papers, Dom. (1547-80), 56; Scotland, i. 138; Burnet's Reform. (Pocock), ii, 294, 600, ii. 59, 502; Froude, vii. 18.]

J. M. R.