Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hoskins, John (1566-1638)

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HOSKINS, JOHN (1566–1638), wit and lawyer, born in 1566 at Monton or Monkton, now known as Monnington-upon-Wye, in the parish of Llanwarne, Herefordshire, an estate of which his family had long possessed the leasehold interest, was the son of John Hoskins, who married Margery, daughter of Thomas Jones of Llanwarne. He was at first intended for trade, but his desire for learning was so keen that his father complied with his wish that he should be taught Greek. For one year he was educated at Westminster School, but when his father discovered that his family was akin to that of William of Wykeham, the boy was, in order to obtain the advantages of the relationship, admitted a scholar at Winchester College in 1579. He matriculated at New College, Oxford, on 5 March 1584–5, having obtained a scholarship there 22 June 1584, and after two years became a full fellow 22 June 1586. He graduated B.A. 6 May 1588, and M.A. 26 Feb. 1591–2, when he also served as terræ filius, but with such bitterness of satire that he was forced to resign his fellowship, and was driven from the university.

Hoskins withdrew into Somerset, and supported himself by teaching. For a year he taught in a school at Ilchester, where he compiled a Greek lexicon as far as the letter M, and was probably engaged afterwards in a similar position at Bath. His fortune was made when he married in Bath Abbey, on 1 Aug. 1601, Benedicta, commonly called Bennet, daughter of Robert Moyle of Buckwell, Kent, and the rich widow of Francis Bourne of Sutton St. Clere, Somersetshire, who was buried in Bath Abbey on 24 Feb. 1600. Bourne left his widow for her lifetime the manor of Sutton and other lands in the same county, and as their only son, Walter Bourne, was buried in the abbey on 17 April 1601, and their daughter Frances married the younger brother of her mother's second husband, also John Hoskins (see below), the family of Hoskins obtained complete control over the property (Fred. Brown, Somerset Wills, 1st ser. p. 29). Hoskins now entered himself as a student at the Middle Temple, and was in due course called to the bar. On 6 March 1603–4 he was returned to parliament for the city of Hereford, and was re-elected in 1614 and in 1628. During a debate in the second of these parliaments an allusion made by Hoskins to Scottish favourites and to the possibility of a repetition of the Sicilian vespers led to his committal to the Tower of London on 7 July 1614 (Gardiner, Hist. of England, ii. 246, 249). A Latin poem, in which he appealed to James I for liberty after he had been confined in prison for more than two hundred days, is among the Balfour MSS., Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, and was printed in the ‘Abbotsford Club Miscellany,’ i. 131–2. Several more sets of Latin verses by him (1), on his committal to prison, 8 July 1614, (2) after his liberation, 8 July 1615, and (3) de seipso, 1634, belong to Miss Conway Griffith of Carreglwyd, Anglesey (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 409). After a year's restraint he was set at liberty, but in February 1616 he was again in trouble through a ‘rhyme or libel’ made a year and a half previously (Court and Times of James I, i. 390). He became Lent reader of his inn in 1619, and was created serjeant-at-law on 26 June 1623. At a later date he was appointed justice itinerant of Wales and a member of the council of marches, and composed, in conjunction with Dr. Sharpe, some courtly lines ‘on the appearance of a star (6 June 1630) in the sermon-tyme at Paules-cross,’ when the king was there and a prince was born (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 409). He died on 27 Aug. 1638 at Morehampton in the parish of Abbey Dore, Herefordshire (which he had purchased about 1621), and was buried on the south side of the choir in the church, under an altar-monument on which had been engraved twenty-four verses by Thomas Bonham. His wife died in October 1625, aged 50, and was buried at Vowchurch, Herefordshire, where a monument in the church was erected to her memory. Their issue was a son, Bennet, and a daughter, Benedicta.

Hoskins was a wit, and lived in the company of wits. Anthony à Wood possessed a volume of his epigrams and epitaphs. Many of his pieces are scattered among the Ashmolean and other collections, and some of his manuscript writings are reported to be in the possession of the present head of his family. His memory was considered the strongest in that age, and among his works was a treatise on the art of memory. He revised, according to tradition, the ‘History of the World’ by Sir Walter Raleigh, with whom he became very intimate during his confinement in the Tower, and ‘polished’ the verses of Ben Jonson so zealously as to be called Ben's father. Such writers as Sir John Davies, Donne, Selden, Camden, and Daniel were among his chief friends. John Owen addressed some of his Latin epigrams to him, and Hoskins in return sent four Latin lines to be prefixed to his friend's printed collection, and as many more to be added to the third edition. Much information transmitted through him was embodied in Aubrey's ‘Lives,’ and the Rev. J. E. Jackson, on the authority of a letter by that antiquary, claims for the serjeant the authorship, while at Winchester School, of the familiar lines on the ‘Trusty Servant’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vi. 495). He was one of the wits who ridiculed the travels of Coryat of Odcombe. The meeting of veteran morris-dancers at Hereford races in 1609, which is described in the rare tract of ‘Old Meg of Herefordshire,’ is said by Fuller to have been arranged by ‘the ingenious Serjeant Hoskins;’ but the tradition that James I was then on a visit to the serjeant and attended the show does not rest on any foundation (Nichols, Progresses of James I, pp. xix–xx). The Latin verses on the monument in the Temple Church to Richard Martin, recorder of London, were by him, and he is said to have fought a duel with Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, who was wounded in the knee. Hoskins and Rudyerd were afterwards intimate friends.

John Hoskins, the younger (1579–1631), apparently from the pedigrees younger brother of John Hoskins the elder, was educated at Winchester, and in 1599 matriculated from New College, Oxford, where he graduated B.C.L. January 1505–6 and D.C.L. 1613. He was fellow of New College from 1600 to 1613. In 1613 he was chaplain to Robert Bennett, bishop of Hereford and rector of Ledbury, Herefordshire. In 1612 he was made prebendary of Hereford, and about the same time became chaplain to James I. In 1614 he received the mastership of the hospital of St. Oswald's near Worcester. He died at Ledbury 8 Aug. 1631, and was buried in the church there, where is an epitaph. He married Frances, daughter of Francis Bourne (whose widow married John Hoskins the elder), and by her had four sons and a daughter. Hoskins wrote ‘Sermons preached at Paul's Cross and Elsewhere,’ 1615, 4to. Wood also mentions a catechism published 1678–9.

[Woolrych's Serjeants, i. 242–8; Bell's Lives of Poets, ii. 143–7; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), ii. 208, 250, 510, 624–9; Wotton's Baronetage, vol. iii. pt. iii. p. 604; Robinson's Herefordshire Mansions, pp. 2–3, 131–3; Kirby's Winchester Scholars, pp. 148, 155; Clark's Oxford Reg. vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 141, pt. iii. p. 148; J. Hunter's Bath and Literature, pp. 92–3; Prince's Worthies, 1810, p. 578; information from the Rev. Dr. Sewell of New College, Oxford.]

W. P. C.