Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bonwicke, Ambrose (1652-1722)

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BONWICKE, AMBROSE, the elder (1652–1722), schoolmaster and nonjuror, son of the Rev. John Bonwicke, B.D., rector of East Horsley, Surrey, was born on 29 April 1652, and entered the Merchant Taylors' School, London, at the age of eleven. The head-master at that time was John Goarl, who had a high reputation for scholarship, but was suspected of being too favourably disposed towards the Romish communion, which he joined at 11 later period of life. Bonwicke passed creditably through the school, and on 11 June 1669, being then head monitor, was elected to St. John’s College, Oxford. Of his career at the university we have st somewhat curious picture drawn by his own hand in letters to his father. These are filled with complaints of his poverty, due chiefly, it would seem, to the embarrassed condition of the college revenues. ‘Vestes nostræ,’ he writes in 1670, ‘undique fatentur vetnstatem et. subter togam gestiunt latere ne suam indicarent raritatem, nec diutius multo dominum tegent, cum ipsae dudum nudæ fuerunt.' A little later he complains ‘non tam librorum inopia laboro, quam indusiorum.’ In 1672 his entreaties ior help become more urgent: ‘pecuniolam aliquam emendico . . . mittas igitir, obsecro, viginti saltem, utinam triginta, ne diutius sim in ullo ære præterquam tuo.’ Through the favour of Peter Mews, bishop of Bath and Wells, he was made tutor to Lord Stawell. Still retaining his fellowship, he proceeded to the degree of B.A. in 1673, M.A. in 1675, and to that of B.D. in 1682; but though ordained deacon in 1676, he did not take priests orders until 1680. In 1686 Dr. Hartcliffe was elected to the head-mastership of Merchant Taylors' School, and King James, in pursuance of his settled policy, recommended ‘in the most effectual manner . . . not doubting of ready compliance’ (Minutes of the Court of the M.T. Co.), a Mr. Lee for the vacant post. The Merchant Taylors' Company, however, were not disposed to surrender their rights of patronage, and ultimately the king gave way, and Bonwicke was appointed. He entered upon his duties on 9 June 1686, and immediately obtained at license from the Bishop of London on signing the Articles and taking the oath of allegiance. His mastership promised well. Among his pupils were several who rose to distinction, the most noteworthy bein Hugh Boulter, archbishop of Armagh, and Sir William Dawes, archbishop of York. Unfortunately, with the change of dynasty there came also a change in the relations between himself and the company which had control of the school. It was required of him to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereign, or show cause for his refusal. Time was given him for deliberation, and ‘to provide for himself ’ (ib.), and several of his old school and college friends tried to overcome his scruples. In this they wholly failed, and accordingly his notice of dismissal took eiibct at Michaelmas, 1691. He then opened a private school at Headley, Surrey, where William Bowyer was among his pupils, and from his evidence (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i, 65-6) we gather that Bonwicke inspired both affection and respect in those with whom he had to do. His grateful pupil transcribed man of his letters, which were published by John Nichols in 1785 under the title of ‘Miscellaneous Tracts,’ and to his care as executor was consigned the manuscript life of Ambrose Bonwicke the younger, which presented ‘A Pattern the Young Students in the University,’ first published by Bowyer in 1729, and carefully edited by Professor J. E. B. Mayor in 1870. Bonwicke died on 20 Oct. 1722, having had twelve children by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Philip Stubbs of St. Peter's, Cornhill, and sister of his old schoolfellow, Archdeacon Stubbs, whom Steele has eulogised in the ‘Spectator.’

[Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodl. Libr.; Wilson's Hist. of Merchant Taylors’ School; Robinsons Registers of the same; Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes; Professor Mayor's Life afBonwicke, Camb. 1870.]

C. J. R.