Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Willis, Richard
WILLIS, RICHARD (1664–1734), bishop of Winchester, the son of William Willis, a journeyman tanner, and his wife Susanna, was baptised at Ribbesford in Worcestershire on 16 Feb. 1663–4. He was educated at Bewdley free grammar school, matriculated from Wadham College, Oxford, on 5 Dec. 1684, graduated B.A. in 1688, in which year he became a fellow of All Souls', and was granted the degree of D.D. at Lambeth on 27 March 1695 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714). After leaving Oxford he became curate to ‘Mr. Chapman at Cheshunt,’ and was in 1692 chosen lecturer of St. Clement's, Strand, where he became well known as a preacher. Nash speaks of his famous ‘extemporaneous preaching;’ but Richardson, with greater probability, of his ‘conciones memoriter recitandi.’ He accompanied William III to Holland in 1694 in the capacity of chaplain, and on his return on 12 April 1695 (Hennessy, Novum Repert. p. 448) was installed a prebendary of Westminster. He was one of the original promoters of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in 1699, subscribing 5l., and in December 1700 he received the thanks of the society for a charity sermon preached at St. Ann's, Westminster (Maclure, Journals, pp. 5, 103). On 26 Dec. 1701 he was promoted to the deanery of Lincoln. Four years later was printed one of his most elaborate sermons ‘preached before the queen on 23 Aug. 1705, being the thanksgiving day for the late glorious success in forcing the enemy's lines in the Spanish Netherlands, by the Duke of Marlborough.’ A good preacher and a good whig, having opposed the schism bill of 1714, Willis was made bishop of Gloucester by George I upon the death of Edward Fowler [q. v.] He was elected on 10 Dec. 1714, confirmed on the 15th, and consecrated on 16 Jan. following in Lambeth chapel. He was put upon the commission for building fifty new churches in and around London, was made a clerk of the royal closet, and allowed to hold his deanery in commendam. The king was gratified by his sermon, ‘The Way to Stable and Quiet Times,’ preached before the court on 20 Jan. 1714–15, ‘being the day of thanksgiving for bringing his majesty to a peaceable and quiet possession of the throne,’ which was translated into French for George's benefit. In 1717, when William Nicolson [q. v.] was translated from Carlisle to Derry, and had in consequence to resign the office of lord almoner, Willis was appointed to the post. After seven years at Gloucester, upon the translation of Talbot to Durham, Willis was on 21 Nov. 1721 translated to Salisbury, and thence he was on 21 Nov. 1723 promoted to the see of Winchester. His advancement was due, according to Bishop Newton, to the long and laboured oration which he made against Atterbury upon the occasion of the third reading of the bill to inflict pains and penalties. This speech was published in 1723. Willis, who was a martyr to the gout, died suddenly at Winchester House, Chelsea, on 10 Aug. 1734, and was buried in the south aisle of Winchester Cathedral, a little above Bishop Wykeham. The monument to him with a life-size figure of the bishop in pontificalibus is described by Milman as the most finished in the cathedral (Hist. of Winchester, i. 445; the long Latin inscription is reproduced in Ball's Historical Account of Winchester, p. 97). By his wife Isabella, who was buried in the north vault of Chelsea church on 26 Nov. 1727 (cf. Faulkner, Chelsea, p. 330), Willis left two sons—John of Chelsea, who married in 1733 the only daughter of Colonel Fielding; and William, who married on 11 Feb. 1744 ‘Miss Read of Bedford Row, with 40,000l.’ (Gent. Mag. 1744, p. 108).
There is an oil-portrait of the bishop by Michael Dahl in the palace at Salisbury, and the engraving of this in mezzotint by J. Simon depicts a handsome man with the mobile face of an orator (Smith, Mezzo Portraits, p. 1126).[Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Salisbury, 1824, iii. 202–9, and Lives of the Bishops of Winchester, 1827, ii. 215–22; Nash's Hist. of Worcestershire, ii. 279; Wadham Coll. Registers, ed. Gardiner, p. 339; Wood's Hist. and Antiq. of Oxford, ed. Gutch, p. 274; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Anglicanæ, i. 140, 146; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 103, 4th ser. iv. 480; Nicolson's Epist. Corresp. ed. Nichols, 1789, ii. 477; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 85; Willis's Cathedrals, ii. 82; Hearne's Collect. ed. Doble, i. 69; Abbey's English Church and its Bishops, 1887, ii. 30; Noble's Continuation of Granger, iii. 76; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, p. 273.]