BEAW, William (1616-1706)

BEAW (BEW), William (1616–1706)

cons. 22 June 1679 bp. of LLANDAFF

First sat 6 Nov. 1680; last sat 12 Nov. 1705

b. Dec. 1616, s. of William Bew (Beaw), clergyman and Elizabeth Twysse of Newbury, Berks. educ. Winchester Sch.; New Coll. Oxf. fell. 1637 (ejected 1648), 1660–1, BA 1639, MA 1643, BD 1666. m. Frances, da. of Alexander Bowsier of Southampton, Hants, 3s. (2 d.v.p.), 9da.1 d. 10 Feb. 1706; will 17 May 1703, pr. 18 Feb. 1706.2

Maj. royalist regt. horse, 1644; overseas military service with Swedish and Russian forces 1648–?57;3 royalist agent, Copenhagen ?1652.4

Vic. Adderbury, Oxon. 1660–1706 (rect. from 1691); rect. Bedwas, Mon., St Andrew’s, Glam. 1679-d.;5 preb. Llandaff 1682.

Proctor, Oxf. 1647.

Also associated with: Hagbourne, Berks.; Mathern, Monm.; Adderbury, Oxon.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, diocese of Llandaff; oil on canvas, National Trust, Croft Castle.

Despite his early education under the influence of the puritan divine William Twysse, Beaw ‘out of zeal to my religion and my king … took up arms in the cause of both’ and was subsequently captured and imprisoned by the parliamentary forces. After his release and ejection from Oxford he embarked on a series of military and diplomatic adventures. In his own account of his life he claimed that at the Restoration there was no preferment in the Church that was not his for the asking – except that he was not in orders. It was presumably the ‘long and earnest solicitations’ of Robert Skinner, bishop of Oxford, that persuaded him to accept ordination; it was certainly Skinner who ordained him deacon and priest on 8 Aug. 1660.

Although Beaw claimed to have been satisfied with the lucrative living of Adderbury, he was, or so he said,

forced … by some who thought it an indignity (other wise than I thought myself) that my past services should continue unrewarded. Whereupon I was sent so to pitch upon any preferment in the Church (I know not whether a bishopric was intended in the message … it was not excepted) and it should be secured with me.6

Anthony Wood gave the credit for Beaw’s elevation to John Wilmot, 2nd earl of Rochester, whose residence at Adderbury House indicates a physical proximity to Beaw. A more recent account emphasizes the importance of the Hyde connection and suggests that it was Laurence Hyde, created earl of Rochester in 1682, who acted in Beaw’s interest.7 In 1699 Beaw was coy about the identity of his patrons, merely confirming that he was persuaded to accept Llandaff by two letters, one ‘from a person of quality yet living to whom I am the most obliged of any in the world’ and who had assured him that it would be merely the start of a career in the episcopate.8 Expecting imminent translation out of Wales, he found himself stranded there for 26 years and, despite his valuable living at Adderbury and several commendams, spent much of his episcopate complaining about his poverty and failure to secure further promotion.

On 6 Nov. 1680 Beaw took his seat in the House, two weeks into the second Exclusion Parliament. His parliamentary career of more than 25 years was constrained by both age and the rigours of travel to Westminster. Of 20 sessions, he attended 11 (and of those only three for more than half of all sittings) and was named to fewer than 30 select committees. He attended his first session for 64 per cent of sittings and was a consistent supporter of the king and his fellow bishops. In November 1680 he rejected exclusion and voted against the appointment of a joint committee to consider the state of the kingdom. The following year, he made three appearances at the week-long Oxford Parliament in March 1681 before the dissolution. In the summer of 1683 Beaw suffered a compound fracture of the ankle which permanently impaired his mobility and put him in such ‘great torment’ that he ordered prayers to be said throughout his own diocese and instructed a diocesan official to beg William Sancroft, of Canterbury,for additional intercessions.9

When Henry Compton, of London, issued a summons for the coronation of James II in April 1685, Beaw refused to attend (citing his difficulty in walking) but indicated that he intended to be present for the new king’s Parliament at the start of the session.10 He arrived at Westminster on 22 May 1685, the third day of business, and attended the session for just over half of all sittings. Perhaps his attendance was linked to his attempt, in July 1685, to improve his finances under the new regime. At this point he wrote an account of his ‘sufferings’ in the service of two previous kings, asking Francis Turner, of Ely, to mediate with James II and represent his ‘forlorn’ situation.11 Meanwhile, he ran into difficulties both in Adderbury and in his diocese. The churchwardens of Barford presented Beaw in 1686 for his failure to provide divine service and he was accused of allowing his congregation to lapse into indifference.12 In 1687 his decision to appoint his son, also named William Beaw, as chancellor of Llandaff in succession to Sir Richard Lloyd, dean of arches, was challenged in the courts by John Jones, who claimed the post under a grant from Beaw’s predecessor.13

As the reign progressed Beaw opposed the repeal of the Test Acts and resisted the catholicizing drift of James’s religious policies. In the spring of 1688 he sympathized with the Seven Bishops in their challenge to the second Declaration of Indulgence. When a copy of their petition reached Beaw via Robert Frampton, of Gloucester, Beaw described himself as being ‘absent in body only’. He forbade the reading of the Declaration in his own diocese and expressed a hope that the bishops should all ‘be of one mind, and dare to do well in evil times’.14

Following the Revolution, Beaw attended the Convention for 47 per cent of sittings. Although he did not join Sancroft as a non-juror, he was clearly uncomfortable with the new political situation, supporting a regency and voting against declaring William and Mary to be king and queen. On 4 Feb. 1689 he voted with the opposition in the abdication debates and, two days later, joined with 11 of his fellow bishops in the formal dissent. He was nevertheless present at the coronation on 11 April.15 On 19 June he registered his proxy in favour of Henry Compton and attended the House for the last time that session on the following day. Beaw was now identified with the high church faction in the House. He attended the second session of the Convention for 44 per cent of sittings; on 19 Nov. 1689 he joined the dissent to the third reading of the bill to prevent clandestine marriages, arguing that when a marriage had been ‘religiously contracted and consummated, it cannot be nulled’.

Thomas Osborne, marquess of Carmarthen classed him as an opponent of the court in a list compiled between October 1689 and February 1690, adding that he was to be approached by the bishop of London to be absent. In the spring of 1690, however, Beaw attended the House more regularly than at any other time in his career – for nearly 83 per cent of sittings. On 8 Apr., as a reliable ally of Rochester, he objected to the wording of the bill that confirmed the acts of the Convention as ‘destructive of the legal constitution of this monarchy’.16 He was, though, present at the winter session of 1690–1 on only 14 occasions and failed to attend the session at the end of 1691, quite possibly preoccupied with the continuing dispute over the appointment of his son as diocesan chancellor in 1688. In May 1691 Jones won his case; the younger William Beaw then appealed to the Lords, where the case was heard, and dismissed with costs, on 18 Feb. 1692.17 It was almost certainly this that prompted Beaw to register his proxy in favour of Peter Mews, of Winchester, on 27 Jan. 1692 (vacated at the end of the session). The Beaws would not accept the decision and perhaps this was why the bishop attended the autumn 1692 session more regularly than usual (63 per cent of sittings). On 19 Nov. 1692 Beaw’s son petitioned the House unsuccessfully for an abatement of costs. Further difficulties arose when Sir Adam Ottley, a master in chancery, pointed out that the younger Beaw, as a diocesan official, could claim protection under his father’s privilege of Parliament. Jones petitioned the House on 9 Feb. 1693 to discharge the offending protection but the bishop’s privilege was upheld.18 Meanwhile, in January 1693 Beaw had opposed both the Place bill and the committal of the bill to prevent dangers from disaffected persons. On 17 Jan. he also protested against the Lords’ dismissal of the Banbury peerage claim.

Beaw had long had hopes of a translation to Hereford but, unfortunately for him, Herbert Croft although

old and feeble and sick, and dropping every hour off … thought not good to go out of the world in King Charles’ reign, nor in King James’ reign neither, but deferred his departure till this government when a brother of mine, who was upon the watch, and too quick for me, made the first catch at the bishopric, and caught it.

In 1692 the death of Thomas Wood, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, encouraged Beaw to try again for translation. Realizing that Lichfield was beyond his grasp he made it clear that he was prepared to settle for St Asaph and sought Compton’s help to secure it, but ‘it had been buzzed into the queen’s ears … that a Welsh bishop ought to be a Welshman’, an argument with which John Tillotson, archbishop of Canterbury, agreed. Beaw was incensed, claiming that Tillotson had insulted former kings and primates who had imposed English bishops on the Welsh Church. English, he insisted, was the primary language in Welsh market towns, where a sermon in Welsh would not be understood. He claimed that he had tried to overcome his anger towards Tillotson, not least since the archbishop often sat close to Beaw on the bishops’ bench ‘as if to invite’ Beaw into conversation. Tillotson subsequently promised that a ‘worthy’ commendam would be added to the bishopric to ease Beaw’s acute financial difficulties but the archbishop’s unexpected death left Beaw’s hopes ‘extinct’.19

For the following seven sessions of Parliament, alienated politically from the government and disgruntled with his circumstances, Beaw failed to attend. Nor, according to surviving records, did he ever send a proxy. On 23 Nov. 1696, when the House was enforcing attendance in preparation for the forthcoming proceedings against Sir John Fenwick, he was excused after informing the House that he was almost 80 years old and that his age ought to bring ‘a full discharge from all other labour and sorrow than what itself brings’.20

Beaw again asserted his privilege of Parliament on 27 Feb. 1697 when he petitioned against two men who had ‘forcibly entered’ his estate in an attempt to recover unpaid debts from his tenants. In August 1699 anticipation of an imminent vacancy in the episcopate through the deprivation of Thomas Watson, bishop of St Davids, prompted him to compile a long letter to Thomas Tenison, of Canterbury, rehearsing details of his career and his thwarted expectations of preferment, and complaining of the ‘indignity’ of a ‘little bishopric’ where living according to his dignity rather than his income left him in need of charity.21

With the accession of Anne in 1702, the 86-year-old Beaw made one last ‘pitch’ at translation. On the day of her coronation he drafted a memorandum to the queen and attended the ceremony, walking ‘all the way both forward and backward’.22 There is no evidence that he delivered this letter or, if he did, that he received any reply. Nevertheless, in April 1702 Beaw reappeared on the episcopal bench but he attended only eight sittings before the end of the session. On 11 Oct. he informed Humphrey Humphreys, of Hereford, that he had intended to stay away from Parliament but that he now planned to ‘hasten up’, leave a proxy and return to Hereford, where he was staying.23 He attended the House twice in December 1702 but then absented himself until a final visit three years later. Although William Nicolson, of Carlisle, recorded Beaw as voting with the Tories on 16 Jan. 1703 on the Lords’ amendments to the Occasional Conformity Bill, he was not listed as being in attendance that day.24 It is possible that he voted by proxy but this cannot be confirmed as the proxy book is defective. A printed list of the division on the bill on 14 Dec. 1703 does indicate that Beaw voted for the bill by proxy. It was probably cast by Henry Compton but again this cannot be confirmed because the proxy book for the 1703–4 session is missing. Beaw’s proxy was registered in Compton’s favour on 6 Oct. 1704; it was vacated at the end of the session. He attended the winter 1705 session on one day only, 12 Nov., his final appearance in the House of Lords. On 28 Nov. he registered his proxy once again in favour of Compton.

From 1697 Beaw had exchanged his pinched life in Monmouthshire for the relative comfort of his Oxfordshire vicarage. The medieval bishop’s palace at Mathern slipped into disuse; Beaw was the last bishop to live there. In 1704 the ageing bishop petitioned the queen for assistance for his ‘destitute’ family; the following spring he approached Sidney Godolphin, Baron Godolphin, with a new plea for additional income by appropriating to the bishopric the income of a vacant archdeaconry. All he got, in 1705, was a pension of 20 shillings as ‘royal bounty’.25

Beaw died on 10 Feb. 1706 and was buried not in his cathedral but at Adderbury. He bequeathed only five shillings to each of his children and made his wife sole executrix and the residuary beneficiary. Anne granted his widow a yearly pension of £40, but her various costs and debts after the death of the bishop exceeded £500 and she claimed to be owed in excess of £800 by Henry Somerset, 2nd duke of Beaufort, for a lease granted by her husband. With three unmarried daughters still without provision and Beaufort attempting to avoid payment of his debt, she was reduced to a ‘deplorable condition’.26 Nor did Beaw’s eldest son thrive: he fell into debt and, following a short and lacklustre career as a Member of the Commons, died in the Fleet prison in 1738.27 Beaw himself left a poor pastoral legacy and is not remembered kindly by the Welsh, not least because it was ‘manifest that in upwards of 26 years he never gave any dignity in this Church, but to one native and that on a particular consideration’.28 Browne Willis also remarked on the poverty of Beaw’s legacy to Llandaff, the bishop having spent ‘not one farthing’ towards the Church.29


  • 1 TNA, QAB 1/3/20.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/486.
  • 3 LPL, ms 930, f. 49.
  • 4 Ibid.
  • 5 Bodl. Tanner 146, f. 161.
  • 6 LPL, ms 930, f. 49; CCED.
  • 7 WHR i. 402, 404.
  • 8 LPL, ms 930, f. 49.
  • 9 Bodl. Tanner 34, f. 88.
  • 10 Bodl. Tanner 31, f. 23.
  • 11 Bodl. MS Rawl. Letters 94, f. 29.
  • 12 TNA, DEL 1/120; N. Allen, Adderbury: A Thousand Years Of History, 23.
  • 13 TNA, C9/98/43; HMC Lords, iv. 15–16.
  • 14 Bodl. Tanner 28, f. 44.
  • 15 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. v. 85.
  • 16 Timberland, i. 402.
  • 17 Wood, Life and Times, iii. 361–2.
  • 18 HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 16–17.
  • 19 LPL, ms 930, f. 49.
  • 20 HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 264.
  • 21 LPL, ms 930, f. 49.
  • 22 WHR i. 409.
  • 23 NLW, Plas yn Cefn, 2749.
  • 24 Nicolson, London Diaries, 175.
  • 25 CTB, xix. 31; xxviii. 429–38; Add. 70022, f. 57; HMC Portland, iv. 166.
  • 26 CTB, xxi. 230; TNA, PROB 5/825; TNA, QAB 1/3/20.
  • 27 HP Commons, 1690–1715, iii. 162.
  • 28 Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 9, f. 17.
  • 29 NLW, Ottley corresp. 1879.