Tuesday, 3 September 2013

George Hickes, Dean of Worcester (1683-91)

George Hickes the most famous of the 17th century Deans of Worcester, was born in 1642 at Newsham near Thirsk in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Hickes was the fourth of seven children and the second of three brothers.  He was educated at the grammar school at Northallerton, where he absorbed the conviction of the sacred status of Kings as representatives of God on earth, then studied first at St John’s College, Oxford, and later at Magdalen College.   In 1664 he became a Fellow of Lincoln College, where he served as a tutor for seven years and made the acquaintance of Thomas Marshall, a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon, who stimulated Hickes’ own interest in the Nordic languages.
Portrait of George Hickes. Photograph by Mr Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Hickes was ordained in 1666.  In 1676 he met John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, the secretary of state for Scotland, who had considerable influence with Charles II and offered Hickes a chaplaincy.   The Duke took him with him to Scotland and commissioned from him “Ravaillac Redivivus”,  an account of the trial of the covenanter James Mitchell who had attempted to assassinate the Archbishop of St Andrews.  Besides his official duties, which involved reporting to the English court on Scottish ecclesiastical affairs, he continued to pursue his philological interests. 

In 1679 Hickes married Mrs Frances Marshall, a widow, and later that year he was created an Oxford Doctor of Divinity.  In 1680 he was named a Canon of Worcester and was preferred by Archbishop Sancroft to the vicarage of All Hallows Barking,  where he became acquainted with Samuel Pepys, who later accompanying James II on a visit to Worcester presented a couple of volumes to the Cathedral.  In 1681 Hickes gave up his fellowship and became a chaplain to King Charles II, and in 1683 he was promoted to the Deanery of Worcester.  Upon the death of the Bishop of Bristol in 1684 the King was asked to confer that bishopric on Hickes, but Charles is reputed to have said that it was too mean a bishopric for such a man, saying that he could hold the see in commendam with his deanery if he so wished, but Hickes declined the offer.  Had the King lived longer he would no doubt have considered him for a more important bishopric.

Dean George Hickes' portrait pride of place in the Cathedral Library. Photograph by David Morrison, Worcester Cathedral librarian/ archivist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
In many ways Hickes’ churchmanship proved to be somewhat complex.  His father had been an adherent of Cromwell, while Hickes was always an ardent royalist.  Remarkably his elder brother, John, was a dissenting minister who became involved in the Monmouth rebellion and as a result was tried and executed despite his brother’s efforts to procure him a pardon.  Hickes was himself a strong supporter of the claims of the Church of England to legitimacy and was firmly anti-catholic.  However, after the exile of James II as a result of his loyalty to the Stuarts he became a non-juror, that is he felt unable to swear an oath of loyalty to William and Mary in contradiction of his oath to King James.  Ironically many of the non-jurors had earlier, like Hickes, crossed swords with James in opposition to his Declaration of Indulgence to catholics and non-conformists, but to them it was a matter of conscience.  There were a good many non-jurors in Worcestershire, among whom the best known, after Hickes, was Thomas Morris, a minor canon of the Cathedral, whose burial place in the cloisters is marked by a stone bearing the one word “Miserrimus”, so sad was he to have lost his position.     

George Hickes was deprived of office in February 1690, although he remained in possession for a further year.   Upon reading of the appointment of his successor, William Talbot, he affixed to the entrance of the Quire a statement of his right to the Deanery but withdrew to London and lived in seclusion for many years, moving about the country as an outlaw.  However, in 1699 Lord Somers, the Lord Chancellor, a Worcestershire man, convinced of Hickes’worth, procured an Act in Council ensuring that all legal proceedings against him should be stopped.

Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Anglo-Saxon script. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).
During these years Hickes continued his philological studies to include Old Icelandic as well as the Old English and Moeso-Gothic languages, culminating in the production of his major work, the Thesaurus Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium, and was in contact with many English, Danish and Swedish scholars.  He did not however turn his back on the Church but was intent on leading what he considered was the surviving remnant of the true apostolic church.  In 1693 he was sent to France by Archbishop William Sancroft to confer with the exiled James II about a continuation of the Episcopal Succession among those who shared their views.  He had several audiences with James, who readily agreed to all that was proposed.  On his return to England he was secretly consecrated Bishop of Thetford as suffragan to the Archbishop of Canterbury by Sancroft and the Bishops of Norwich, Ely and  Peterborough, all of whom had been deprived of office as non-jurors.  Eventually Hickes became the only surviving non-juring bishop, and he secured the aid of two Scottish Bishops in consecrating three new Bishops,  bur his branch of the Church did not really develop and was eventually absorbed into the regular church body.
Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Scandinavian runes. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

Hickes, who died in 1715, was generally regarded as an affable and courteous person.  His importance lies in the combination of religious and theological thought on the one hand with high principled antiquarian scholarship on the other.  There is a fine portrait in oils in the Library of Worcester Cathedral.  

Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Runic alphabet. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

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