MEWS, Peter (1619-1706)

MEWS, Peter (1619–1706)

cons. 9 Feb. 1673 bp. of BATH AND WELLS; transl. Nov. 1684 bp. of WINCHESTER

First sat 15 Feb. 1673; last sat 27 Mar. 1704

b. 25 Mar. 1619, s. of Elisha Mews of Purse Caundle, Dorset, and Elizabeth Winniffe. educ. Merchant Taylors’ sch. London; St John’s, Oxf. BA 1641, MA 1645, fell. 1641–8, 1661, DCL 1660. m. Mary, da. of Richard Baylie, pres. of St John’s, Oxf. d. 9 Nov. 1706; admon. 13 Dec 1706 to nephew Peter Mews.1

Chap. to Charles II.

Ord. deacon 14 Jan. 1645; adn. Huntingdon 1649 (installed 1660)–1666, Berkshire 1665–73; vic. St Mary, Reading 1661; rect. Farthingstone, Northants. 1645, S. Warnborough, Hants 1662–8, N. Moreton, Berks. 1667, Hanborough, Oxon. 1668–?1679; canon, ?Lincoln 1645, Windsor 1662–73, St Davids 1662; dean, Rochester 1670–3.

Capt. tp. of gds. (Roy.), 1642–8.

President, St John’s, Oxf. 1667–78; v.-chan. Oxf. 1669–73; gov. Charterhouse sch. 1687–?d.2

Likenesses: miniature on vellum by D. Loggan, c.1680, NPG 1872; oil on canvas, after 1684, Magdalen, Oxf.

Shortly after graduating and obtaining a fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford, Peter Mews joined the king’s army with the rank of captain. In January 1645 he was ordained deacon in the chapel of Trinity College, Oxford, by Robert Skinner, bishop of Oxford; his subsequent ordination as a priest has yet to be traced. Presumably ordination went hand in hand with an intention to return to academic life because canon law should have prevented him from continuing in arms. Yet when, in June 1645, he was wounded and captured at Naseby it was as a soldier rather than a clergyman. Mews was ejected from his fellowship at St John’s by the parliamentary visitors in 1648 and subsequently became involved in royalist activities in Scotland and Flanders, where he served under James Stuart, duke of York. He was friendly with Sir Edward Nicholas, who became secretary of state at the Restoration and to whom Mews considered himself ‘engag’d … more then to any other person living’.3 He also had useful Church connections through his uncle, Thomas Winniffe, bishop of Lincoln. It was Winniffe who appointed him archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1649, although subsequent events meant that he could not be installed until 1660. Winniffe probably also appointed him as a canon of Lincoln; the appointment is noted in Alumni Oxonienses but he may never have taken possession of his canonry. Unusually for a clergyman, Mews continued to be known by his military rank and at one stage during the Interregnum was contemplating settling a dispute by means of a duel.4

At the Restoration, Mews ‘came home’, as one early biographer put it, ‘with the tide’.5 As befitted a loyal royalist with excellent social, clerical, and political connections – or, as Gilbert Burnet, the future bishop of Salisbury put it, through the ‘obsequiousness and zeal’ that were necessary to make up for his intellectual shortcomings – he soon received rapid promotion in the Church.6 He was restored to his fellowship at St John’s at the king’s request and it was also the king’s influence that procured him the presidency of St John’s after the death of his father-in-law, Richard Baylie. His time at Oxford introduced him to potentially influential friends such as John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale [S] and later earl of Guilford, whose nephew was a student at the university.7 It was probably also at Oxford that he met Henry Coventry. Coventry played a pivotal role in nursing the Restoration settlement through the Commons, including the passage of the bill for the readmission of bishops to the House of Lords; he was later to act as Mews’s principal patron. Mews’s own political and religious outlook was deeply influenced by the events of the civil wars and led him to associate Dissent with rebellion. In September 1667 he was deeply dismayed by rumours of some form of toleration, insisting ‘that the Presbyterians generally are all schismatics’. He is known to have led campaigns against Dissenters as vicar of Reading in 1663 and as vice-chancellor of Oxford in 1670 but his antipathy to Dissent was so great that he was almost certainly far more deeply involved in prosecutions than these isolated examples suggest.8

The campaign against Dissent, 1673–8

By 1672 it had become clear that Mews was destined to be a bishop. In September of that year Nathaniel Crew, then bishop of Oxford (later bishop of Durham), tipped him off about the possibility of an imminent vacancy at Rochester, through the promotion of John Dolben, to York. Mews, who claimed to detest London and probably already had his eyes on a more lucrative see, was then faced with the need to write a tactful letter to his patron Sir Henry Coventry combining a modest disavowal of any ambition towards a bishopric with a refusal to accept one that had not been offered.9 His appointment as bishop of Bath and Wells was predicted within days of the death of his predecessor, Robert Creighton, on 20 Nov. 1672, and he was consecrated the following spring, barely six weeks before his 53rd birthday.10

Mews paid serious attention to his parliamentary duties. He took his seat soon after consecration and was then present for some 84 per cent of the remaining sitting days of the session. During the course of the session he was named to 11 committees whose subject matter ranged from estate bills to the prohibition of new buildings in London and the bill of advice to the king. Although in March 1673 it was reported that he was one of five bishops named to the committee to consider the bill for easing Protestant Dissenters, the Journal records that the committee stage of this bill was conducted over three days (22, 26, and 27 Mar.) in a committee of the whole House.11

In July he was back in his diocese, where he found himself having to deal with a group of local Catholics who had taken to taunting a Protestant convert as he walked through the streets. Although Mews was determined to proceed against them he made sure that the government knew of his actions for fear that his enemies would misrepresent him to the king. He also noted that talk of the bill for easing Dissenters had led to a resurgence in the activities of the ‘fanatics’. He remained in his diocese throughout the summer, conducted a visitation there in September, and stayed on into mid-October in order to be present at the opening of quarter sessions. Comments scattered throughout his correspondence reveal that he regarded his role at the various quarter sessions of his diocese as one of the utmost importance. They gave him an opportunity to act as the hinge between local and central government. It was also at quarter sessions that he had an opportunity to meet the gentry of the locality and to impress upon them the necessity of acting against Dissenters and to communicate the king’s policies to them. He took a similar attitude to the meetings of the twice-yearly assize courts, taking great care to instruct, influence, and advise whichever local clergyman had been selected to deliver the assize sermon.12

Mews was back in London by late October and attended all four remaining days of the brief autumn session. He was named to the committees for privileges, petitions, and the Journal and to the select committee on English manufactures. During the December recess the proxy of William Lucy, bishop of St Davids, was registered in his favour. Presumably he held it until the end of the following session in February 1674. He was present on all but three of the sitting days of the 1674 session and was again named to the sessional committees. Sir Ralph Verney reported that he had been named to the committee of both Houses to inspect the treaty with France, but this is not recorded in the Journal.13 He was named to eight further committees.

During the summer recess Mews continued his campaign against Dissenters in his diocese. He reported that there was an expectation of some form of toleration and that as a consequence ‘they bear themselves very high’. He was particularly affronted by an attack on one of his officers by those who ‘triumph in their victory, wishing as I am told that the bishop had been there’.14 He was also asked to draft an act of Parliament that would confirm the power of the Church – rather than of the justices of the peace – to enforce catechizing and the regulation of schools, which together formed ‘the best expedients for preservation of unity both in the Church and commonwealth’.15 Catechizing was but one weapon in what Mews clearly believed was an ongoing battle against Dissent. Excommunication was another. In August 1674 when rumours of a toleration were circulating once again, Mews was horrified, declaring that: ‘until they have it they shall have no quarter from me (I mean the ringleaders) for when they have it (which God forbid ever they should) I expect none from them’. The willingness of the court of arches to overturn some of Mews’s sentences of excommunication suggests that at times his enthusiasm for the cause of the Church led him to overstep the mark and meant that his attempts at prosecution proved counter-productive, for ‘This hath so encouraged the rest of the faction that they now plainly say they care not for our proceedings here, indeed, they need not if absolutions from above be so easily obtained’.16 Accounts of his treatment of Quakers suggest that he was equally willing to bend the law when dealing with Dissenters in his secular jurisdiction as a justice of the peace. He was assisted in this campaign against Dissenters by his chancellor and brother-in-law, John Bailie.17

During the session of spring and summer 1675 Mews was present every day and was as usual named to the sessional committees. His signature at the inspection of the Journals confirms that he was an active member of the committee for the Journal. He was also named to 12 select committees, ranging in topic from naturalization to the regulation of watermen on the Thames and the augmentation of small vicarages. He held William Lucy’s proxy from 10 April. At the end of the session he returned to his diocese, where he ‘discoursed’ the ‘principal and most knowing part of the clergy’ on Church issues and somewhat conveniently (given his own beliefs) discovered a demand among the clergy for ‘the ordinary assistance of the law to countenance them’ in their fight against Dissent.18

Mews was present on all but one of the sitting days of the autumn 1675 session. He was named to the committees for privileges and petitions and to nine other committees. Only one of the committees was politically controversial: its remit was to discover the publisher of A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country.

Electoral influence, 1673–84

Mews’s interest in Parliament extended to an interest in parliamentary elections and candidates. According to Boyer, he was much loved by the gentlemen of his diocese, ‘who were in a manner unanimous in their county elections, and other public concerns during his residence amongst them’.19 In reality Somerset, as home to noted nonconformists such as the Spodes and Spekes, was the focus of intense political activity. The corporations too were the scene of much political commotion. Bridgwater was ‘a Presbyterian stronghold, remarkable for the acrimony between churchmen and Dissenters’. The town surrendered its charter in 1683 under pressure from Mews, acting in concert with Sir John Stawell.20 In Wells, the cathedral city, it has been noted that non-Anglicans stood little chance of election but the corporation was nevertheless remodelled in 1683.21 Mews, with his outspoken views on Presbyterians and fanatics, was incapable of standing aside from such conflicts. He was said to be the ‘great patron’ of the court supporter Sir William Bassett, who, with the exception of the second Exclusion Parliament, sat for Bath from 1669 until his death in 1693.22

By August 1676, when Parliament had been prorogued for nearly a year, Mews noted that there was already something of a local election campaign in anticipation of the news of a dissolution. Predictably it was the court’s opponents who were most active: ‘some members who have not gone very right for the king was very busy in caressing the places for which they serve and others using all industry to keep out those that are loyal from being elected’. He also warned the government against alienating the local gentry by allowing governors of towns and castles to bestow their patronage on relatives ‘for it gives great disgust and is pressed on hard by some that favour the fanatic party’.23

Mews was not the only person in the diocese to be haunted by memories of the civil wars. More than 30 years after the event the residents of the former parliamentary stronghold of Taunton were still celebrating the anniversary of the lifting of the royalist siege of their town (11 May 1645). Taunton remained a hotbed of Dissent and was notoriously anti-royalist. It was seemingly impossible to close down the conventicles there, one of ‘which is kept up with greater solemnity and impudence then anywhere in England’. Mews was convinced that ‘Were the place reduced to order (which how it can be done but by a corporation or a military power I know not) I durst be responsible for the whole county’s being immediately made at the king’s devotion.’24

Mews was present on over 90 per cent of sitting days in the 1677–8 session and was named to the three sessional committees. Perhaps appropriately, in view of his concerns about electioneering in Somerset, he was named to the committee to discover the author and contriver of the pamphlet Some Considerations upon the Question, whether the Parliament is Dissolved by Prorogation for Fifteene Monthes, as well as to another 58 committees over the session. He held the proxy of James Fleetwood, bishop of Worcester, from 10 Feb. 1677 and that of Anthony Sparrow, bishop of Norwich, from 1 Jan. 1678 to the end of the session on 13 May 1678. On 14 Feb. he entered a dissent to the resolution to dismiss Barret’s petition in Barret v Viscount Loftus.

When Parliament was adjourned for six weeks on 28 May 1677, Mews feared that the adjournment might be used as a propaganda weapon against the king but assured Henry Coventry that ‘I have not, nor shall be wanting to do my duty in undeceiving those who have been misinformed.’ (He was relieved to discover at the July meeting of gentry at Bridgwater sessions that the king’s service had not been prejudiced after all.) In the same letter he broached the subject of his own future. Rumour suggested that Henry Compton, would be translated from London to Canterbury and that Mews would be Compton’s replacement. In a letter reminiscent of the one he had written about the potential vacancy at Rochester five years earlier, he conveyed both his modesty – ‘I am not so vain as to believe I am thought worthy of that province’ – and his total unwillingness to accept the post. Presumably there was some pressure on him to accept for he had to repeat his refusal in September and again in November.25

During the long adjournment he also kept Coventry informed of the state of affairs in the neighbouring diocese of Bristol, where problems with Dissenters and the mayor had driven the bishop, Guy Carleton, to despair. Mews considered the problems of Bristol to be his own, for ‘the greatest trouble I receive in my diocese proceeds from those schismatical preachers which receive protection and encouragement there’.26 Within his own diocese he was confident that Taunton was at last set to come under control when a new charter, naming Mews as one of the aldermen, was imposed on the town in November 1677.27 In practice he soon discovered that it was going to take rather more than a charter to change the character of the town. Conventicles continued to spring up, the locals threw libels into the houses of the clergy and magistrates, and they ‘are resolved to persist in their faction’ in the belief that the Cavalier Parliament was about to be dissolved and that a new Parliament ‘will do as they will have them’. Mews advised that the right of election should be vested in the new corporation and he blamed the failure to do so for the return of two exclusionists in the spring of 1679.28

The Plot and the Tory reaction, 1678–84

From the first session of 1678 to the dissolution of the 1681 Parliament on 28 Mar. 1681 Mews was present on all but four sitting days and also attended the prorogation days in March 1679 and on 26 Jan. 1680. At the opening of the May–July 1678 session he was predictably named to the three sessional committees; he was also named to 25 other committees and reported one of them (on the bill to unite the Essex churches of Beaumont and Mose) to the House. On 25 June 1678 he was named as one of the managers of the conference to discuss the refusal of the House to accept a proviso to the supply bill offered by the Commons. He held Sparrow’s proxy from 22 May to the end of the session.

At the opening of the last session of the Cavalier Parliament in October 1678 Mews was again named to the three sessional committees. Sparrow’s proxy was registered in his favour on 14 Oct. before the session had opened and Mews held it until the session closed on 30 Dec. 1678. On 23 Oct. he was named to the committee to enquire into the Popish Plot and the death of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. The following day he was named to the committee to examine whether any of the constables of London and Westminster were papists. He clearly played an active role in these committees for he reported from the committee to examine the plot on 7 Nov. and asked the House to administer an oath to a fresh witness, one Mr Whitehall. He was also named to the committees for Conyers’ attainder, for raising the militia, for popish recusants, and for preventing the children of popish recusants being sent overseas. Throughout this period he was an unflinching supporter of the anti-Catholic measures of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later marquess of Carmarthen and duke of Leeds) but also an equally staunch anti-exclusionist. In November 1678 he was content that the declaration against transubstantiation should be under the same penalties as the oaths designed to prevent papists from sitting in Parliament. The following month he voted to insist on the Lords’ amendments to the supply bill. He is also presumed to have voted against the commitment of Danby; Danby’s canvassing lists compiled in April 1679 indicate that he regarded Mews as a supporter.

During the election campaign of February 1679 Mews canvassed energetically for government candidates in an attempt to counter-balance the ‘great arts’ of those who were trying to brand ‘all those who have any employment under his majesty as unfit to be chosen’. He was amused and somewhat surprised to discover that his support for the court and the duke of York, had led his opponents to brand him a papist. The allegation simply confirmed his belief that lying was ‘a presbyterian grace’ for he remained in no doubt that popery was ‘a false religion’.29

When the first Exclusion Parliament opened in March 1679 Mews was named to the three sessional committees, to the committee to receive informations concerning the plot, and to the select committee considering the bill requiring members of convocation to take the oaths. Mews reported from both committees on 20 and 26 Mar. respectively. He was present at 98 per cent of sittings in the Parliament’s main session, which began on 15 March. He brought Prance’s revelations of a plot to kill Antony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury, to the House from the former and requested leave to bring in another bill to include more of the clergy from the latter. He was also named to ten other committees, several on politically contentious issues such as the bills to force all clergymen to subscribe to the declaration, for habeas corpus, and to clear London and Westminster of papists, as well as the committee to consider the objections of the House of Commons to the answers of the impeached lords. It was presumably a sign of his active membership of such committees that he was named as one of the managers of the conferences on the habeas corpus bill on 3 May and on the refusal of counsel to appear for Danby on 10 May.

On 7 Apr. when John Sidway (or Sedway) repeated allegations that Mews was one of the bishops who was sympathetic to the introduction of popery into England, he was committed to the Gatehouse. It was perhaps an interesting commentary on the anxieties of the House that the vote was carried by a majority of only four.30 Mews held Carleton’s proxy from 3 May 1679 to the end of the session on 27 May. On 10 May he voted against appointing a joint committee of both Houses to consider the way of proceeding against the impeached lords. His known contributions to the debates that month over the right of the bishops to sit and vote in blood cases are tantalizingly ambiguous: he referred to the role of the bishops in the trial of Thomas Becket (archbishop of Canterbury 1162–70) but also asked that ‘we may stand in statu quo [for] we are divided betwixt modesty and courage’.31

Over the summer of 1679 Mews was once again involved in protecting court interests during the election campaign for what was to become the second Exclusion Parliament. He reported that those opposing the court interest were bent upon traducing the king and were trying to convince the voters that the king, the House of Lords, and especially the bishops were all implicated in attempts to protect the imprisoned Catholic peers from trial. He also began to voice criticisms of the clumsy and uninformed implementation of government policies, claiming that a local purge of the commission of the peace had removed a loyal and upright friend of the crown and that rumours of toleration in Scotland were having a negative impact on public opinion. By August he was in despair, accurately predicting that the county would return the exclusionist George Speke, who ‘hath all the fanatics for him to a man’ and declaring that ‘we are ruined unless other counsels be speedily taken …. God help us is not enough for wise men.’32

Mews himself inflamed local opinion still further by his intransigence over the burial of Alice Gifford, whom he had excommunicated as a popish recusant. Mews was horrified to learn that she had been buried in the aisle of St Cuthbert’s, the parish church of Wells. He ordered that her body be exhumed and reburied. Mews claimed that the new grave was in a disused part of the churchyard that was reputed to be unconsecrated; his opponents insisted that she had been buried in a dunghill. Protests on both sides revealed that Mews used excommunication readily and that he regularly refused burial in consecrated ground to the excommunicated. Mrs Gifford’s case caused uproar because her family were prosperous, with impeccable royalist antecedents, and of unquestionable ‘quality’.

The timing of the incident and Mrs Gifford’s family’s complaints were particularly unwelcome. Mews had long coveted a translation to Winchester and believed that the incumbent bishop, George Morley, was in imminent danger of death. Stressing the difficulties of his diocese – ‘Betwixt papists and fanatics (both of them being now more insolent than ever) I have a very hard province’ – and his disdain of Catholic threats against him, he was nevertheless extremely anxious to explain and excuse his conduct in order to remain in the king’s favour. It was perhaps as an offering to prove his continued usefulness to the government that he also reported plans to bring in a second Exclusion bill and to secure the king’s divorce.33

During December 1679 Mews attended the sessions at Wells ‘in order to his Majesty’s service, which I shall ever zealously promote’.34 He sent the government increasingly bleak reports about his never-ending struggle with the seditious. At Taunton local people were so afraid to testify against a particularly notorious offender that Mews asked for a detachment of troops to attend the assizes. Matters were made still worse by the government’s having listened to advice from others, leading to the restoration of disaffected men such as Essex Strode to the commission of the peace. Ilchester, ‘a place of which I can give no good character’, also posed problems because of the influence there of the Speke family, ‘the greatest encourager of sedition in this country’. Furthermore, the whole county still suffered from the constant danger of contagion from Bristol.35

During the 1680–1 session Mews was absent on 23 Oct. when the usual sessional committees were named. He was added to the committee for the Journal on 25 Oct. but not to the others. During the course of the session he was named to eight other committees, including politically sensitive ones such as those to enquire into abuses in commissions of the peace, to inspect the laws against papists, and to examine fines on delinquents. Carleton’s proxy was registered in his favour on 15 Nov. 1680, presumably for potential use in the vote on the Exclusion bill later that day. All surviving copies of the division on Exclusion agree that Mews voted to reject it on its first reading. The following week he voted in favour of the unsuccessful motion of George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham to appoint a joint committee with the Commons to consider the state of the kingdom. He was the only bishop to do so.36

During the short-lived Oxford Parliament of 1681 Mews was again named to the three sessional committees. He was also named to the committee to receive informations about the plot. In the long interval between the end of the Oxford Parliament and the calling of James II’s first Parliament in 1685 Mews continued to be active in enforcing the laws against Dissenters. Over 80 Quakers were summoned to Somerset sessions accused of having attended ‘riotous assemblies’ and it was reported that, although the court appeared moderate, many were thrown out of work by the arrest of Quaker employers and that Mews sat on the bench encouraging his fellow justices to convict them. Those who were found not guilty were re-arrested at Mews’s instigation and convicted of unlawful assembly instead.37

The cathedral interest in Wells was strengthened under a new charter issued in 1683 in which the bishop and chancellor of the diocese were named as justices by virtue of their office.38 In 1683, he helped Ralph Stawell, Baron Stawell in having the 1628 charter of the corporation of Bridgwater surrendered. The new charter enabled the removal of the recorder, and ten burgesses, which ensured a Tory majority in the elections of 1685.39 In September 1684 Mews started to clamp down on members of his own Church, issuing a letter to his clergy admonishing them to conduct services according to the and to train their parishioners about when to stand and when to kneel. Those who ‘obstinately’ refused to follow instructions were to be reported for prosecution.40

Bishop of Winchester, 1685–8

Mews’s loyalty was again rewarded in November 1684 when he was translated to the see of Winchester. He attended the first session of the 1685 Parliament daily until 18 June 1685, the day that James Scott, duke of Monmouth, was proclaimed king at Taunton. He was named to the three sessional committees and eight others. News of Monmouth’s landing had been given to Parliament on 13 June but it took Mews nearly a week to return to his old diocese. Morrice somewhat unkindly suggested that when Mews learned that there were rebels in Wells he ‘returned in great haste and safety to Bath’, but the story was almost certainly apocryphal for a few weeks later he reported Mews’s presence in the king’s army on the moors near Bridgwater.41 It is generally accepted that Mews not only joined the king’s forces but used his military training to good effect by advising on and assisting the deployment of the artillery. In September he was sufficiently undistracted by the aftermath of the Rebellion to be able to recommend a candidate for election to Parliament in the place of the recently deceased Sir Leoline Jenkins.42 The bloody reality of the king’s vengeance was soon to strike home, however. In October he was approached by the justices of Bath to back their petition for clemency for the convicted rebel William Plumley. It was said that the extent of Plumley’s offence was to send a horse to the rebel army when ‘sick in his bed, and not able to escape from their fury’.43 Despite Mews’s intervention, Plumley was hanged. According to Morrice, Mews did successfully mediate for Francis Speke, youngest son of George Speke, but it is difficult to understand why Mews would have wished to save a member of a family he had long regarded with horror. Morrice’s story seems to be somewhat garbled: George Speke’s youngest son was not Francis but Charles, who was executed for no more (so it was said) than shaking hands with Monmouth as he passed through Ilminster.44

Mews returned to Parliament on 9 Nov. for the second session of 1685; he was present on every sitting day and was added to one further committee. Initially he remained firmly loyal to James II and in February 1686 wrote confidently to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, that the king’s policy of giving directions to preachers rather than simply suppressing all afternoon preachers would commend him ‘to all who love his interest’.45 Less than a year later, however, a canvassing list included his name as an opponent of the repeal of the Test Acts. Subsequent lists also identified Mews as opposed to the king’s policies. In April 1687, as visitor of Magdalen College, he encouraged the fellows there to defy the king and to elect John Hough, the future bishop of Oxford. The following month he refused to sign the address from the Church of England for the king’s kindness to them.46 He also found himself in opposition to the king over the wish of Charles West, 5th baron De la Warr, to appoint his son to a rural prebend. Although De la Warr’s son was not in orders, De la Warr had obtained a royal dispensation with an injunction to Mews to grant induction and institution. Mews’s refusal to do so left him ‘not a little threatened’.47

In May 1688 when Sancroft began orchestrating the bishops’ response to the Declaration of Indulgence, Mews was invited to join them. He ascribed his inability to do so to his need for medical treatment.48 Although it is tempting to wonder if the illness were strategic, he had complained of ill health in March, more than a month before the declaration had been issued and he was more than willing to add his signature to the seven bishops’ petition at a later date.49 He did not merely discourage the reading of the king’s Declaration in his diocese, he forbade it, and it was with some relief that he was able to report that when he met the king in August their conversation passed off without ‘any the least reflection’.50 It was perhaps a significant indicator of Mews’s standing within the Church and the royalist community that he was one of the first to be told of the king’s decision to reverse his policies and of his resolution ‘to support the Church of England; and that the world should see, he would not lay aside his old friends’. It was Mews who, on leaving a meeting with his fellow bishops and the king in September 1688, responded to anxious enquirers with the words ‘Omnia Bene’ (all is well).51

Clearly uneasy at opposing his king after a lifetime of loyalty, Mews was relieved at the king’s change of policy and chose to interpret it as a genuine change of heart. By the end of October 1688 he had ejected all of the newly installed popish fellows from Magdalen College.52 When James II met the bishops and demanded that they condemn William of Orange’s invasion, Mews was one of the few who was prepared to do so. He also acted with Compton and the seven bishops to draw up heads of advice for the beleaguered king.53 Still committed to the king’s service, he attended James at Salisbury, where he used ‘all imaginable arguments to call a Parliament as the most visible way to put a stop to those confusions that threatened the government; and I left him in a far more inclinable disposition to it than I found him’.54 On 27 Nov. he was one of the members of the House summoned to Whitehall to advise the king. On 11 Dec. he attended the meeting of lords spiritual and temporal at the Guildhall and signed the ensuing declaration. He continued to attend meetings of what was in effect the provisional government throughout the crisis.

On 18 Dec. Mews was one of the bishops who met William of Orange at St James’s to thank and congratulate him for ‘his great enterprise for the redeeming of religion, liberty laws &c’. He was one of the 67 peers and bishops who attended the prince at St James on 21 December. Nevertheless he also attended James II at Rochester to advise him against flight and it was through Mews that the king made an abortive approach to the bishops for a promise of security should he return to London.55

Final years, 1689–1706

Mews was present on 80 per cent of sitting days in the first session of the Convention Parliament, with the majority of his absences concentrated in two periods during February and March and July 1689. Despite the king’s flight he found it difficult to accept the logic of the new constitutional situation. In January 1689 he supported the proposition that a regency would be the best way to preserve the Protestant religion and the nation’s laws, and opposed attempts to declare William and Mary king and queen. The following month he voted against the use of the word abdicated and the attempt to declare the throne vacant. On 4 and 6 Feb. he was also named as one of the managers of the two conferences to discuss the peers’ insistence on the word ‘deserted’ rather than ‘abdicated’.

Yet for all his misgivings he was as active in Parliament as ever and soon came to accept the reality of the new situation. By 1698, and probably much earlier, he prayed daily for the preservation of the government.56 He was appointed to the three sessional committees and to another 31 committees during the course of the session. Some of these were associated with the changes required to establish the new regime, such as the committees to inspect the prayer book, to unite Protestants, to abrogate the old oaths, to appoint commissioners of the great sea, to make it treasonable to correspond with the exiled king, and to suspend habeas corpus. Others – such as the bill to prevent simoniacal promotions, to encourage the recovery of small tithes, and to prevent the clandestine marriage of minors – related to Church issues. The remainder were a miscellaneous collection of public and private matters ranging from abolishing the Welsh court of marches to Yarmouth pier and the exportation of wool. He was also named to the committee to draw an address to the crown to put the garrisons in repair.

Aware that his record made him suspect to the new regime, Mews was anxious to explain away any action that might be construed as opposition. When the House was informed on 8 Mar. 1689 that some ministers in his diocese did not pray for William and Mary according to the order of council, Mews – then ‘unhappily disabled’ from attending in person – nevertheless wrote immediately to George Savile, marquess of Halifax, insisting that he had circulated the order and asking for details of the parishes concerned so that he could write to the ministers personally.57 In March he participated in the consecration of Burnet as bishop of Salisbury, and, despite his initial opposition to declaring William and Mary king and queen, he attended the coronation in April. During April he was also active as a member of the committee for privileges, which was considering the etiquette of wearing hats in the presence of the monarch. The issue may now seem trivial but at the time it was highly contentious since it reflected the hierarchical values of society. Mews told the committee that when Charles I put his hat on in the chapel he made a sign to the peers that they might also wear hats.58

His first major absence from the House – from 18 Feb. to 11 Mar. – was broken by his attendance on 4 Mar. to take the oaths to the new regime. On 31 May he voted against reversing the judgments of perjury against Titus Oates. On 2 July he entered his protest against the decision to proceed on the impeachment of Sir Adam Blair and others. His absences from 13–20 July coincided with debates over the succession but this may not be significant as he was present on 29 July to hear the report of the conference on the disagreement with the Commons over naming the House of Hanover to the succession and he was present for similar debates in the following Parliament. The following day he voted in favour of adhering to the Lords’ amendments to the bill to reverse the perjury verdicts against Oates. On 14 Aug. the House was besieged by silk-weavers protesting against the bill to enjoin the wearing of woollen. Mews, together with several other members of the House who were all said to have set themselves up as ‘Publicolas’ (friends or lovers of the people), addressed the crowd ‘but their eloquence prevailed very little’ and they were forced to promise that nothing would be done until counsel had been heard against the bill.59 Members of the House were sufficiently worried by this expression of popular demands to order a guard of troops from the trained bands in order to prevent a similar incursion in the future. Having made a stand in this way, the House then went on to reject the bill in its entirety. In September 1689, a rumour that Mews had died may indicate that his health was in decline, but he was well enough to be appointed to the new ecclesiastical commission.60 He went to one or two meetings of the commissioners but by November 1689 was said to have ceased attendance ‘for some time past’.61

Mews’s attendance remained high during the second (1689–90) session of the Convention Parliament, when it averaged just over 83 per cent of sitting days; his single most significant absence was in the first week of January 1690. He was again named to the three sessional committees and also to six select committees. On 19 Nov. he joined with eight fellow members of the House in a protest against the third reading of the bill to prevent clandestine marriages of minors, for ‘though we approve the design of the bill, yet we enter our dissent, because we believe marriage to be so sacred an ordinance of God, that, after it is religiously contracted and consummated, it cannot be nulled’. His absence on 4 Dec. 1689 was almost certainly attributable to his attendance at Convocation, where an unpleasant dispute broke out between the houses over Dean Annesley’s attempts to discover whether the bishops had voted unanimously in favour of the address of thanks to the king. Roger Morrice was probably not the only person to suspect that Mews had opposed it.62 Carmarthen (as Danby had now become) classed him among the supporters of the court on a list compiled between October 1689 and February 1690.

Mews was present every day of the first session of the 1690 Parliament except for the prorogation on 7 July. Unusually he was not named to the three sessional committees but he was named to 11 other committees. He reported from two of them (the bills to render the children of John Lewkenor as illegitimate and to enable Sir Edwin Sadler to sell lands for his debts). On 8 Apr. 1690 he dissented to the passage of the bill recognizing William and Mary as right and lawful sovereigns, and when the House voted to expunge the reasons for the protest on 10 Apr. he protested again, partly on grounds of privilege and precedent but also because expunging the reasons meant that ‘it appears that we have protested against the whole bill, which is contrary to our sense and intentions’. On 12 May he was named as one of the managers of the conference on the bill for the queen to be regent.

A short absence between 14 and 30 Oct. 1690 together with two single-day absences later in the session brought Mews’s attendance during the 1690–1 session down to just under 87 per cent of sitting days. He was appointed to the three sessional committees and to seven other committees. He was also named to the committee to examine precedents on carrying over impeachments from session to session. In May, during the recess, he was one of six bishops who consecrated John Tillotson, as archbishop of Canterbury on the same day that the deposed archbishop, William Sancroft, gave the sacrament at Lambeth.63

During the 1691–2 session Mews was present on nearly 96 per cent of sitting days and was again added to the sessional committees, besides being named to 34 select committees. On 12 Jan. he protested against the resolution to receive the divorce bill presented by Henry Howard, 7th duke of Norfolk, and on 22 Feb. he was named as one of the reporters of the conference on small tithes. He held the proxy of William Beaw, of Llandaff, from 27 Jan. to the end of the session.

Mews was present for 93 per cent of sitting days during the 1692–3 session, and was added to the usual sessional committees. He was named to 27 committees on a wide variety of subjects. He reported from one committee, that considering the bill to make parishioners of united churches liable to contribute to repair and ornaments. In January 1693 he opposed Norfolk’s attempts to divorce his wife, as well as the place bill and the bill to prevent dangers from disaffected persons. On 17 Jan. he entered two dissents to decisions concerning the rejection of the Banbury peerage claim. He was present for prayers on 1 and 2 Feb. 1693 but withdrew before the business of the day, which was the trial of Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun.

During the 1693–4 session Mews’s attendance dropped to a little under 62 per cent of sitting days. He was added to the committees for privileges and the Journal and to 13 other committees. On 23 Nov. 1693 he joined in a cross-party protest against the resolution that the House would not receive any petition for protecting their majesties’ servants. On 22 Jan. 1694 he joined the opposition to Gulston’s waterworks bill on the grounds that it would be prejudicial to his tenants in Southwark. He had last been present in the House on 10 Jan. and sent his objections by letter, explaining that ‘I am confined to my bed by the distemper of my old wounds, so that I cannot attend my duty in the House.’ On 3 Feb. he was reported to be dangerously ill but he was able to resume his attendance on the 19th.64 On 16 Apr. 1694 he was appointed one of the managers of the conference to discuss issues arising from the bill for the more easy recovery of small tithes.

The 1694–5 session saw Mews’s attendance back to its usual high levels: he was present on nearly 88 per cent of sitting days. Although he attended on 12 Nov. when the committee for privileges was named he was not added to that committee. He was, however, named to the committee for the Journal when the House next met on 20 November. On 23 Jan. 1695 he entered a dissent to the resolution that the provisions of the bill for regulating treason trials be postponed until 1698. During the course of the session he continued to prove himself to be an all-purpose committee man, being named to 18 committees including a somewhat predictable nomination to the committee on the bill for small tithes, as well as a large number of estate bills.

During the first session of the 1695 Parliament Mews was present on 82 per cent of sitting days. He was named to the committees for privileges and the Journal and to eight other committees, and signed the Association on 27 Feb. having first declared, in common with his fellow bishops, that the word ‘revenging’ did not oblige him to any action inconsistent with his clerical status. On 31 Mar. he entered a dissent to the passage of the bill to encourage the bringing in of plate to the mint. In April he signed the repugnance at the absolution of Sir William Parkyns and Sir John Freind by two non-juring clergymen.65 Later that month, on 25 Apr., he was named as one of the reporters of the conference on the Greenland trade bill.

The second session of the 1695 Parliament, 1696–7, saw Mews attending for nearly 93 per cent of sitting days. He was again named to the committees for privileges and the Journal and during the course of the session was named to 14 other committees, including the committees to consider the answers of the admiralty commissioners and the state of trade. During the debates over the attainder of Sir John Fenwick in December 1696 he entered dissents against the resolution to read Goodman’s information and against the second reading of the bill itself. Not surprisingly, on 23 Dec. 1696 he went on to vote against the bill’s third reading and entered a protest at its passage.

With the immediate threat of rebellion receding, Mews’s attendance during the 1697–8 session dropped to 61 per cent of sitting days. By now nearly 80 years old, the deterioration in his handwriting suggests that he was somewhat frail.66 He was absent when the committees for privileges and the Journal were named but his name was added to the committee for the Journal just before the prorogation on 5 July. On 15 Mar. 1698 he voted in favour of the bill to punish Charles Duncombe, entering a dissent when the bill failed. On 1 July he entered another dissent, this time protesting at the resolution to give a second reading to the bill to establish the two million fund and to settle the East India trade. Despite what for him was a somewhat low attendance he was named to 22 committees, including that to consider his own bill for Alverstoke Water Works, which received the royal assent on 5 July.

The first session of the 1698 Parliament opened on 6 Dec. 1698 but Mews did not appear until 13 December. His last attendance for this session was on 4 Apr., a full month before the adjournment. He was also absent on a number of days in between. Overall his attendance averaged 64 per cent of sitting days. On 27 Jan. 1699 he was named as one of the managers of the conference on the bill to prohibit the export of corn and during the course of the session he was named to 15 committees.

He arrived at the second session of the 1698 Parliament for its opening on 16 Nov. 1699. He was named to the committees for privileges and the Journal and to the committee to consider whether counsel for Thomas Watson, bishop of St Davids, could be present when the attorney general made his arguments to the House concerning the king’s prerogative in ecclesiastical affairs. He was also named to seven other committees. He was absent for the whole of January and the first week of February 1700, but returned to the House on 8 Feb., possibly drawn by the debates on the proposed union with Scotland and the Darien scheme. On 23 Feb. he voted in favour of discussing amendments to the bill to continue the East India Company as a corporation. His attendance became sporadic after 8 Mar. and his final attendance of the session was on 23 Mar. 1700. Overall his attendance averaged 41 per cent of sitting days. It is likely that the fall in Mews’s attendance was caused by ill health for, although he managed to attend the funeral of the young duke of Gloucester in August 1700, by October he was said to be ‘much indisposed’.67

By the time the 1701 Parliament opened on 6 Feb. 1701, Mews had rallied. He was present for the opening ceremonials and was named yet again to the committees for privileges and the Journal. Although his attendance faltered in early March he was present fairly consistently until 4 April. He returned to the House on 14 Apr. but was then absent until 13 June, when the impeachment of the Whig lords was looming. His overall attendance rate was just under 30 per cent of sitting days but he was nevertheless named to five committees, including that on the state of the fleet.

His attendance fell still lower during the 1701 Parliament, averaging just 10 per cent of possible sitting days, his attendances being concentrated in the second half of March 1702. He was named to six committees. During the 1702–3 session he was present on just 16 days, 11 of which were in December 1702 when the main business was the occasional conformity bill. On 9 Dec. 1702 he signed the resolution against tacking and on 17 Dec. he was named to the committee to consider the journals of James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond and the flag officers. His last attendance of the session was on 23 Dec. 1702.

Despite the clear decline in Mews’s health and activity his support was still considered a valuable asset. During the summer of 1703 there was a dispute over the election of the warden for New College, Oxford. The partisans of Charles Trimnell, (later bishop of Norwich and of Winchester), hoped to involve Mews in his capacity as visitor, believing that this would secure the post for Trimnell. Trimnell lost the election.68 Mews attended the House for 25 days during the 1703–4 session. Many of his attendances coincided with discussions of Ashby v White and later the Scotch conspiracy, but he may also have had had an interest in the progress of the bill promoted by Sir George Wheeler DD to authorize the making of leases for property in Westminster; he was named to the committee for Wheeler’s bill. He made his final appearance in the House shortly after his 84th birthday on 27 Mar. 1704, when the Lords declared their judgment in Ashby v. White. His parliamentary life was not quite over for shortly after the beginning of the next session on 27 Nov. 1704 he entered a proxy in favour of his fellow Tory Thomas Sprat, bishop of Rochester.

By now an extremely frail old man, Mews seems to have spent the rest of his life in his diocese. His death in November 1706 was reputedly hastened by taking hartshorn (which contains ammonia) in mistake for a medicinal cordial but the state of his health (and of his income, which was reputed to be £7,000 a year) was such that at least two other bishops were eagerly awaiting his demise. Burnet fired a letter off to Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury, as soon as he heard the news, while Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Exeter, made it equally clear that he expected the bishopric for himself. It was also said that Dr. Godolphin, brother to Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, hoped for the post. Faced with so many conflicting demands, Godolphin decided to keep the see vacant. It was to be a full year before Trelawny got his wish.69


  • 1 TNA, PROB 6/82, f. 172v.
  • 2 G.S. Davies, Charterhouse in London, 355.
  • 3 Eg. 2539, f. 116.
  • 4 Nicholas Pprs. ii. 311.
  • 5 Salmon, Lives, 348.
  • 6 Burnet, i. 590–1.
  • 7 Add. 23134, f. 86.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1663–4, pp. 11, 18; 1667, p. 484; HMC Hastings, ii. 315–16.
  • 9 Longleat, Bath mss, Coventry 7, f. 10.
  • 10 Add. 21948, ff. 427–8; Verney ms mic. M636/25, Sir R. to E. Verney, 25 Nov. 1672.
  • 11 Bodl. Tanner 43, f. 190.
  • 12 Longleat, Coventry 7, ff. 18, 26, 72, 111, 190, 202.
  • 13 Verney ms mic. M636/27, Sir R. to E. Verney, 12 Jan 1673/4.
  • 14 Longleat, Coventry 7, f. 30.
  • 15 Harl. 7377, f. 53.
  • 16 Tanner 42, f. 119.
  • 17 Whitehead, George, A Brief Account of Some of the Late and Present Sufferings of the People Called Quakers (1680), 70–73, 85–86.
  • 18 Tanner 42, f. 167.
  • 19 Boyer, Anne Annals, 497.
  • 20 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 372–3; VCH Som. vi. 223–8.
  • 21 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 380.
  • 22 Morrice, Entring Bk, iii. 493.
  • 23 Longleat, Coventry 7, f. 78.
  • 24 Ibid, ff. 66, 78, 82.
  • 25 Ibid, ff. 90, 92, 124, 130, 192.
  • 26 Ibid. ff. 126, 128.
  • 27 HMC Portland, iii. 357.
  • 28 Longleat, Coventry 7, ff. 130, 132, 150.
  • 29 Ibid. ff. 148, 150.
  • 30 Morrice, Entring Bk, ii. 126.
  • 31 Bodl. Carte 81, ff. 561, 566.
  • 32 Longleat, Coventry 7, ff. 152, 154, 158, 164, 168, 170.
  • 33 Ibid. ff. 168, 173–4, 180, 186.
  • 34 Tanner 38, ff. 111, 116; Longleat, Coventry 7, f. 190.
  • 35 Longleat, Coventry 7, ff. 198, 202.
  • 36 Morrice, Entring Bk, ii. 249–50.
  • 37 John Whiting, Persecution Exposed in Some Memoirs Relating to the Sufferings of John Whiting and Many Others of the People Called Quakers (2nd edn. 1791), 211–14.
  • 38 Tanner 34, f. 271.
  • 39 VCH Som. vi. 223-8.
  • 40 Longleat, Coventry 7, f. 223.
  • 41 Morrice, Entring Bk, iii. 21, 30.
  • 42 Bodl. Carte 220, f. 125.
  • 43 Add. 41804, ff. 66, 68.
  • 44 Morrice, Entring Bk, iii. 36; G. Roberts, The Life, Progresses, and Rebellion of James, Duke of Monmouth, ii. 222.
  • 45 Tanner, 31, f. 270.
  • 46 Verney ms mic. M636/42, Dr. Paman to Sir R. Verney, 4 May 1687.
  • 47 Tanner 29, f. 38.
  • 48 Tanner 28, ff. 30–311; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 171–2; J. Gutch, Collectanea Curiosa, ii. 330.
  • 49 Tanner 29, f. 145; Tanner 28, f. 36; Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 43, f. 110.
  • 50 Add. 34510, f. 132; Tanner 28, f. 166.
  • 51 Clarendon Corresp. ii. 188, 191.
  • 52 HMC Le Fleming, 217.
  • 53 Life of James II, ii. 211.
  • 54 Tanner 28, f. 262.
  • 55 Morrice, Entring Bk, iv. 353, 421, 461; Life of James II, 270–2.
  • 56 Add. 28927, f. 85.
  • 57 HMC 12th Rep. vi. 46.
  • 58 Ibid. 86.
  • 59 Hatton Corresp. ii. 138–9.
  • 60 Verney ms mic. M636/43, C. Gardiner to Sir R Verney, 12 Sept. 1689; CSP Dom. 1686–7, pp. 262–3.
  • 61 Morrice, Entring Bk, v. 220.
  • 62 Morrice, Entring Bk, v. 301–2.
  • 63 Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 238.
  • 64 HMC Lords, n.s. i. 304–9; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 264.
  • 65 State Trials, xiii. 413.
  • 66 Add. 28927, f. 85.
  • 67 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 675–6, 693.
  • 68 CSP Dom. 1703–4, pp. 35, 42.
  • 69 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 106, 110; Godolphin–Marlborough Corresp. 733–4.