Cheynell, Francis (DNB00)
CHEYNELL, FRANCIS (1608–1666), fanatic, was the son of John Cheynell, an Oxford physician, some time fellow of Corpus Christi College. He lost his father when very young, was probably educated at the grammar school in Oxford, and became a student at Merton College in 1623. Through the interest of his mother, who after the death of his father had married Allen, bishop of Salisbury, and so was connected with Dr. Brent, then warden of Merton, Cheynell became aptrobationer fellow in 1629, and afterwards obtained a fellowship. After proceeding to the degree of M.A., he was admitted to orders, and held a curacy in or near Oxford, in conjunction with his fellowship. He continued to reside at Merton until qualified for the degree of B.D., for which be was denied the necessary grace, having, contrary to the king’s injunction, disputed concerning predestination. Upon this refusal he reflects in the dedication to his book, ‘Chillingworth Novissima,' wherein he also alludes bitterly to a visitation by which he suffered the ‘plundering of my use and little library.' This was probably on account of the open way in which be had espoused the cause of the parliament, and had denounced bishops and ecelesiastical ceremonies. About 1640 he was presented to a valuable living near Banbury, where he had some dispute with Archbishop Laud, of which no particulars have been discovered. In 1641 Cheynell avowed himself a presbyterian, and an enemy to liturgies and ceremonies; his knowledge of books and his acute intellect causing his adhesion to be gladly welcomed by the uritans. Upon the outbreak of the civil war he openly chose the side of the parliament, and exerted himself to promote the interests of his party, and, after taking the covenant, he was nominated one of the members of the Westminster assembly. This, coupled with the violence of his temper, drew upon him the hatred of the cavaliers, and, his living being in the vicinity of a royalist camp, the troops plundered and drove him from his house. He was then non-resident for so long that his living was held to have been forfeited, and he retired to a hamlet in Sussex, in which county he complained that religion was neither preached nor practised.
In 1643 he was chosen three times to preach before the parliament, and during the November of that year, while on a journey to Colchester, with a guard of sixteen soldiers, the party was attacked by about two hundred cavaliers, whom Cheynell's generalship put to flight. During this journey he met with Chillingworth, who was then in the custody of some parliamentary soldiers, and with whom he kept up an incessant and acrimonious dispute. He, however, tended Chillingworth during his illness with assiduous kindliess, and after his death procured for him the rites of christian burial, which most of the presbyterians were anxious to deny him; but at the funeral he took occasion to express his detestation of the dead man's Socinian opinions in no measured language (Des Maizeaux, Life of Chillingworth, p. 360, ed. 1726).
About this time Cheynell became a chaplain in the army of the Earl of Essex, and is said to have gained such skill in the art of war as to be consulted by the colonels. In recognition of the value of these services, the parliament in 1643 conferred on him the valuable living of Petworth in Sussex. When in 1646 the parliament resolved on the reformation of the university of Oxford, he was one of the ministers chosen to 'prepare the way' for a visitation. He was authorised to preach in any pulpit he might choose, and, besides availing himself fully of this permission, he instituted a meeting for the settlement of scruples, which became known throughout Oxford as the 'scruple shop.' During this year he had his famous dispute with Erbury as to whether in the christian church the office of minister is committed to any particular persons, and also one with Henry Hammond [q. v.], the author of the 'Practical Catechism. In the following year, parliament having resolved that the 'reformation of the university be proceeded with,' Cheynell was nominated one of the body of visitors. He was the most detested, as well as the most active and meddlesome of all. Upon the appointment of the Earl of Pembroke to the chancellorship of the university, Cheynell was selected to present him with the seals of office, and shortly after obtained the degree of B.D., which he had previously been refused. He seems to have proceeded to D.D. almost immediately afterwards, and about the same time to have been invested with the office of president of St. John's College, upon Dr. Bailey's deprivation, of whose lodgings he took possession by the summary process of breaking open the door. He was also, by the recommendation of the committee of parliament, made Lady Margaret professor. Of his large powers he made such excessive use that Wood states he was called 'arch-visitor.' His unrestrained zeal and bitter temper led him to exercise great severity against any whose views did not coincide with his own, and to increase his authority he persuaded about half a dozen members of the parliament to meet privately and constitute themselves a committee, and then to grant the visitors the extraordinary power of forcing the solemn league and covenant and the negative oath upon all members of the university they might think proper, as well as to prosecute such as did not appear to a citation. By these means he was enabled to oust a large number of university officials from their places, which he filled up with persons of his own opinions, without overstrict examination into their educational qualifications. He was directed by parliament in 1649 to draw up a confutation of the Socinian denial of the Trinity, and in the following year another against the tenets advanced by John Fry, a member of the House of Commons, who had been expelled for his Socinian opinions. In 1650 he either resigned, or was dismissed from, the presidency of St. John's, and his professorship, on account of his refusal to take the 'engagement' (Calamy says because he was found 'an improper person,' presumably as the holder of a valuable living), and retired to his rectory at Petworth, where he is said (Calamy, Non. Mem.) to have been a zealous and successful minister. Cheynell was deprived of his living some short time before the general ejection of the nonconforming ministers, possibly on account of occasional fits of insanity, but this is uncertain (see Neal, Hist. Pur. ed. 1736, iii. 404), and after this deprivation resided at Preston in Sussex, on an estate which was either patrimonial (Gent. Mag. April 1755), or which he had purchased (Athenæ Oxon.) In 1655 he represented to the authorities the need of increasing the number of soldiers in Sussex, on account of the numerous cavaliers in the county, and the general fear of a foreign invasion (Thurloe, State Papers, iii. 324), and from this time till his death, which occurred in 1665, nothing further is known about him. He was buried at Preston. Bishop Hoadly says of Cheynell that he was exactly orthodox, and as pious, honest, and charitable as his bigotry would permit, and Eachard allows that he had considerable learning and great ability, and this dictum is corroborated by his writings. He was, however, obstinate, violent, and revengeful, yet not self-seeking; for although he had many opportunities, he never attempted to benefit his own fortunes, which suffered from his habits of lavish hospitality. Wood states that he died distracted, but this Calamy denies, affirming that, he was 'perfectly recovered before his death.' Many or Cheynell's writing are interesting as examples of the points of view taken by the more narrow-minded among the presbyterians. The following is a list of the more important: 1. 'Sion's Memento and God's Alarum,' 1643, 2. 'The Rise, Growth, and Danger of Socinianisme, together with a plaine Discovery of a desparate Designe of corrupting the Protest Religion,' 1643. 3. 'Chillingworth Novissima, or the Sicknesse, Heresy, Death, and Buriall of W. Chillingworth (in his own phrase), Clerk of Oxford, and in the conceit of his fellow-soldiers, the Queen's Arch-Engineer and Grand Intelligencer,' &c., 1643. 4. 'Aulicus; his Dream,' 1644. 5. 'The Man of Honour,' 1646. 6. 'A Plot for the good of Posterity,' 1646. 7. 'Truth triumphing over Errour and Heresie; or a Relation of a Publicke Disputation at Oxford . . . between Master Cheynell and Master Erbury ' &c., 1646. 8. 'Account given to the Parliament by the Ministers sent by them to Oxford,' 1647. 9. 'Copy of some papers passed at Oxford between the author of the Practical Catechism (H. Hammond) and Mr. Cheynell,' 1647. 10. 'Divers Letters to Dr. Jasp. Mayne concerning False Prophets,' 1647. 11. 'The Divine Triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . declared,' &c., 1660. 12. 'The Beacon flaming with a Non-obstante,' etc., 1652. 14. 'A new Confession of Faith . . . , represented by a Committee of Divines, Francis Cheynell, and others. . .unto the Grand Committee for Religion,' 1654. The following are believed to be also by Cheynell: 1. 'The sworne Confederacy between the Convocation at Oxford and the Lover of London,' 1647. 2. 'A Discussion of Mr. Frye's Tenets, latelv condemned by Parliament, and Socinianism proved to be an unchristian Doctrine,' no date.
[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, vol. ii.; Neal's Hist. of Puritans (ed. 1738), vol. iv.; Des Maiseaux's Life of Chillingworth; Brook's Lives of the Puritans; Calamy's Nonconf. Mem. ii. 487; Gent. Mag., March and April 1755 (the articles are by Dr. Johnson); Thurloe's State Papen, iii. 324; Barrow's Parliamentary Visitation of Oxford.]