Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Farmer, Anthony

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FARMER, ANTHONY (fl. 1687), president-designate of Magdalen College, Oxford, born in 1658, was son of John Farmer of Frowlesworth, Leicestershire. He matriculated at St. John's College, Cambridge, as a pensioner 14 Aug. 1672, aged 14; became a scholar of Trinity College 21 April 1676, and proceeded B.A. 1676–7, and M.A. 1680. He was noted for his riotous life as a student, and on 11 June 1678 received a severe admonition from the master of Trinity College for creating a disturbance in the dancing-school at Cambridge. On leaving the college he received the customary testimonial, and went to Chippenham, Wiltshire, where his father was then living, and taught in the school of a relative, Benjamin Flower, a nonconformist minister, who was without a license. Farmer declared that he assisted Flower while ill for four or five months without pay. On 13 July 1680 Farmer was incorporated M.A. of Oxford, and in September 1683 joined Magdalen Hall. There he quarrelled with the fellows, and the principal, Richard Levett, stated that he was of ‘an unpeaceable humour.’ Two tutors charged him with deliberately leading a gentleman commoner of the college into immoral courses in London. Finally he was induced to migrate to Magdalen College (13 July 1685). His name appears in the list of the members of the scientific society established in the newly erected university laboratory in 1682 (Wood, Life, ed. Bliss, p. 258). As early as January 1687 Farmer was credited with being a ‘papist.’ His friends included Humphrey Brent of St. John's and Obadiah Walker of University College, who were avowed converts to Roman catholicism, and he was said to boast that through his pretended agreement with their views he anticipated preferment. Farmer's life did not grow less riotous as he advanced in age. The porter at Magdalen College deposed that he often let Farmer in at late hours and very drunk. Early in April 1687 he was reported to have engaged in a drunken frolic at Abingdon, and to have thrown the town stocks into Madman's Pool. Meanwhile a new distinction was in store for him. On 24 March 1686–7 Henry Clarke, president of Magdalen College, died, and on 5 April 1687 James II sent down his mandate to the college directing the fellows to elect Farmer to the vacant place. This infringement of the fellows' privileges, especially when the character of the king's nominee was known, roused very warm resentment. The visitor, the Bishop of Winchester, wrote that the appointment was directly contrary to the statutes, seeing that Farmer was not, and had never been, a fellow of the college. On 9 April the fellows petitioned the king to allow them to exercise their full rights, and denounced Farmer as ‘in several respects uncapable.’ On 15 April the fellows elected John Hough, and on 7 May Dr. Aldworth, the vice-president, drew up a list of ‘reasons against Mr. Farmer,’ in which he was declared to be ‘a person of no good fame,’ and ‘a stranger wholly unacquainted and unexperienced in the affairs of the college.’ These ‘reasons’ were expanded on 27 June 1687 into a long list of serious charges, which were placed with proofs before the high court of commission meeting at Oxford to inquire into the contumacy of the fellows. Farmer prepared a written reply, 1 July, denying many of the charges and palliating others. On 29 July he was summoned before Lord-chancellor Jeffreys, the presiding commissioner, who decided that the charges were true, and that ‘the court looked upon him as a very bad man.’ On 14 Aug. a royal mandate directed the fellows to elect as their president Samuel Parker, bishop of Oxford. Nothing further is known of Farmer.

[Dr. Bloxam's Magdalen Coll. and James II (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), p. 12 note and passim; Cartwright's Diary (Camd. Soc.); An Impartial Relation of the whole Proceedings against St. Mary Magdalen Colledge in Oxon. in 1687, 1688; see also Charnock, Robert; Fairfax, Henry; Parker, Samuel.]

S. L. L.