Revd Professor Joseph Bosworth, 1788-1876

Joseph Bosworth, by Unknown artist, 1831 - NPG D31742 - © National Portrait Gallery, LondonJoseph Bosworth was Rector from 1858 to 1876, succeeding George Coleman, and rivals John Mason in distinction among our Rectors.  From quite humble beginnings he became an important scholar of European languages and a prolific author and translator.  At the same time as he was our Rector, he was also Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford, a post that was held by JRR Tolkien from 1925 to 1945, by which time it was called the Rawlinson and Bosworth professorship.  The professorship was first established in 1795 by Richard Rawlinson of St John's College, Oxford, and is associated with Pembroke College, though Bosworth was a fellow of Christ Church.  Another village connection with Tolkien is the descent of his publisher, Sir Stanley Unwin, from John Mason.

Bosworth was born at Etwall, Derbyshire and was given a place at Repton School as a 'Poor Scholar'.  He was not there long enough to receive more than a grounding in Latin and Greek and the good opinion of the headmaster, but that seems to have been sufficient to gain him a benevolent employer who could guide his academic development whilst presumably doing the sort of research himself that would inspire Bosworth's later work.  There is nothing to tell us who this enlightened man was but a possible candidate is Sharon Turner (1768-1847), a solicitor turned Anglo-Saxon historian in London, who is known to have encouraged Bosworth's mature work.  In the preface to his 1838 Dictionary, Bosworth refers to 'the admirable papers of Sharon Turner, Esq, FSA'.  Sir Walter Scott drew on Turner's research in writing Ivanhoe

Another possible candidate might be Rev Dr Alexander Crombie (1762-1840), a Scottish-born philologist and schoolmaster who ran his own school during this period, first in Highgate then in Greenwich.  Perhaps Bosworth was an usher (junior master) in this school, which could have made him realise the need to be ordained in order to achieve advancement.  But whatever happened to him early in the nineteenth century, it was sufficient for him to be made a clergyman ad literatus, meaning the church deemed him sufficiently learned to be ordained as a priest without having a degree.  He became a curate in Bunny, Nottinghamshire in 1814 and first came to Buckinghamshire in 1817 on his appointment as Vicar of Little Horwood.  His first marriage, to Sarah Renshaw, was in Nottingham on 10th July 1819.  

Aberdeen University awarded him an MA in 1822 on the recommendation of three fellow clergy in Bucks, and a Doctor of Law in 1838 on the recommendation of Alexander Crombie and Thomas Orger.  He published The Elements of Anglo-Saxon Grammar in 1823 and in 1829 began eleven years as British Chaplain in Holland, first in Amsterdam and then Rotterdam, publishing his most notable work, A Dictionary of the Anglo-Saxon Language, in 1838.  The University of Leyden awarded him a PhD in 1831 and Trinity College, Cambridge made him BD in 1834 and DD in 1839.  The title page of his dictionary shows that by 1838 he was a Fellow of the Royal Society (since 1829, the same year as Crombie), a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a Fellow of the Copenhagen Society of Antiquaries, and an Honorary Fellow of the Norwegian Royal Society of Sciences.  On his return from Holland he occupied the position of Vicar of Waith in Lincolnshire until 1858, although he was not there for either the 1841 or 1851 censuses, so it might have been something of a sinecure.  The portrait above, from the National Portrait Gallery, is dated 1831 and its inscription implies that he continued to hold the living at Little Horwood as well as the Chaplaincy in Holland, though other sources do not support this.

His first wife died in 1842 and in 1853, aged 65, he married Anne Margaret Elliot, the widow of Colonel John Hamilton Elrington, a director of railway companies.  In 1858 he was appointed Professor in Oxford and Rector in Water Stratford and divided his time between the two places for the rest of his life.  His second wife died in 1863 and is buried in our churchyard, and his gift of £10,000 in 1867 brought about the foundation of the Elrington and Bosworth professorship of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Cambridge.  The choice of name of this professorship suggests that the money came primarily from what Anne brought to the marriage from her first husband.  He appears to have been devoted to her and was given what we would now call compassionate leave from Oxford after her death.  But in 1867, at the age of 79, he married Emily Stonhouse, the widow of an Oxford don and clergyman who was a younger son of a baronet.  She retained her own home when they married and was obviously sufficiently well-off that Joseph made no mention of her in his will.  Emily lived on in Oxford until her death in 1896. 

Despite being 70 when he came to us, he did a lot to put the church affairs and possessions in order: most of our books by John Mason were procured by Bosworth, catalogued, and placed in the church chest.  He annotated our copy of Mason's Songs of Praise, and also had made a copy, in an exquisite hand (possibly that of his wife, Anne Margaret, but more likely his amanuensis Edgar Vernon Acott), of the baptisms, marriages and burials register from John Mason's time.  Both the original (in very poor condition) and his copy are in the County Record Office in Aylesbury.  Myres states that 'Dr Bosworth restored the chancel'.  A book of poems by Abel Kidd is dedicated to Bosworth and contains a poem to mark his 87th birthday in 1875.

Bosworth died at 20 Beaumont Street, Oxford on 27th May 1876 and was buried with Anne Margaret in our churchyard on 2nd June 1876.  Their large, well-preserved grave is quite hard to find, standing alone on the northern edge of the churchyard, hidden behind large yew and holly bushes and under the famous hornbeam, which might well have been planted in memory of either Anne or Joseph.  His will left the income from his assets to several nephews and nieces for their lifetime but as they died it was added to the endowment of his Oxford post, hence its renaming as the Rawlinson and Bosworth professorship.