Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Thomas (1645-1714)

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TURNER, THOMAS (1645–1714), president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, second son of Thomas Turner (1591–1672) [q. v.], was born at Bristol on 19 or 20 Sept. 1645. He was a younger brother of Francis Turner [q. v.], bishop of Ely. Thomas originally matriculated at Hart Hall on 10 May 1662, but on 6 Oct. 1663 he was admitted to a Gloucestershire scholarship at Corpus, of which he became fellow in 1672. He graduated B.A. on 15 March 1665–6, M.A. in 1669, B.D. in 1677, and D.D. in 1683. From 1672 to 1695 he was vicar of Milton, near Sittingbourne, Kent, and from 1680 to 1689 rector of Thorley, Hertfordshire. He became rector of Fulham, Middlesex, in 1688, archdeacon of Essex in 1680, canon of Ely in 1686, canon of St. Paul's in 1682, and precentor in 1690. These accumulated preferments, except the sinecure rectory of Fulham and the canonry and precentorship of St. Paul's, he resigned at or shortly after his election to the presidency of Corpus, an event which occurred on 13 March 1687–8. The election, which took place within a week of his predecessor's death, was possibly hurried on in order to diminish the chance of any interference from the court of James II. On the accession of William III he did not, like his brother Francis, refuse to take the oaths; but many circumstances, coupled with the ascription to him of the title 'honest man' by Hearne, make it plain that he had Jacobite proclivities. It is not, however, true, as insinuated by Whiston, and, after him, stated positively by Bentham in his 'History of Ely' and Alexander Chalmers in his 'Biographical Dictionary,' that he skilfully evaded taking the oaths so as to retain his preferments. Hearne, who seemed disposed to accept the story and had actually written in his 'Diary,' 'He is said never to have taken the oaths to King William and Queen Mary and the present Queen Anne, which, if so, it makes me have a much better opinion of him,' adds subsequently in the margin: 'Tis a mistake. He took all the oaths, as appears since his death.' This positive statement by Hearne and the silence of Wood (see Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark, iii. 307) seem completely to dispose of the allegation.

Turner appears to have ruled his college well, wisely, and peaceably; and under his administration it rapidly regained the efficiency and reputation which had been impaired under his predecessor, the restored president, Robert Newlyn [q. v.] Being both rich and generous, he seems to have spent his money freely on college objects. In 1706, with rare munificence and much taste, he set about the erection of the handsome pile of buildings which faces the college garden and Christ Church meadow, formerly called Turner's and now called the Fellows' buildings, the design, it is said, being given by Dean Aldrich. They were completed in 1712, and, according to Hearne, cost about 4,000l., a sum which, in the altered value of the precious metals, would of course now be represented by a much larger amount.

Turner died on 29 April 1714, and is buried in the college chapel, where, as also at Stowe Nine Churches in Northamptonshire, there is a lengthy inscription, the main contents of which relate to the disposal of his property. After providing for his relatives, for the college—to which, among other legacies, he bequeaths his whole 'study of books,' many of them very rare and valuable—and for various other objects, he leaves the residue of his property, which he thinks will be 'pretty considerable' (said on the monuments at Corpus and Stowe Nine Churches, where his executors bought a large estate, to have amounted to 20.000l.), to be settled upon 'the governors and trustees of the corporation for the relief of poor clergymen's widows and orphans,' i.e. the corporation which, originally founded in 1655, now goes by the name of the 'Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy.' Thus Turner may almost be said to be a second founder of this society.

The only publication bearing Turner's name is a single sermon preached at Whitehall on 29 May 1685 before James II, to whom he was chaplain. In this sermon there is an acute criticism of Hobbes's position, that a 'state of nature is a state of war.' But in the Bodleian Library there are some fragments of manuscript sermons (Rawlinson MSS. C. 626) which seem to be of a plain practical character; and also two printed tracts, published anonymously, which are attributed to him. The two latter are entitled respectively 'The Christian Eucharist no Proper Sacrifice' (London, 1714), and 'A Defence of the Doctrine and Practice of the Church of England against some Modern Innovations' (London, 1712). If these tracts were really written by Turner, they show unmistakably that not only was he not romishly inclined, but that he had no sympathy with the extreme high-church developments of the nonjurors.

[Fowler's History of Corpus Christi College, p. 261-72; Registers of C. C. C.; Hearne's Diaries, under 4 Dec. 1706, 7 May 1708, and 29 April 1714; Whiston's Memoirs, 2nd edit, pp. 178-86; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Turner's will and codicil in the Oxford University Archives.]

T. F.