1659, Seth Ward, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, asks that ‘an augmentation’ promised by Oliver Cromwell be paid

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Seth Ward D.D., professor of astronomy in Oxford. SP 18/200 f. 29 (1659).

To his highnesse Richard Lord Protector and his honourable counsel, the humble petition of Seth Ward D.D. professor of astronomy in Oxford


That his late highnesse and this honourable counsel did (upon reasons wel knowne unto them) by their recommendation to the trustees for augmentation, cause an augmentation to be settled upon your petitioner which augmentation was settled after advice had with the counsel of the trustees, and hath bene for three quarters of a yeare paid to your petitioner.

That notwithstanding this, the said payment of the said augmentation is now suspended and respited by order from the said trustees.

Your petitioner humbly prays that the premisses may be taken into consideration and that he may not be deprived of the benefit of the favour conferred upon him by his late highness and counsel

And he shall ever pray etc 

[Paratext:] Doctor Ward Referred 9 November 1658

Report by Miranda Simond

In his petition, Seth Ward, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, recounted that ‘his late highness’ (Oliver Cromwell) had agreed ‘an augmentation’ for him. This was paid for three-quarters of a year but was now suspended. Ward sought its reinstatement.

Seth Ward (1617-1689)

Seth Ward was born in Hertfordshire, and educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1636 and MA in 1640, becoming a Fellow in that year. In 1643 he was chosen university mathematical lecturer, but was deprived of his fellowship next year for opposing (with Isaac Barrow, John Barwick and Peter Gunning) the Solemn League and Covenant.[1]

The Solemn League and Covenant

The Solemn League and Covenant was an alliance between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters and was sealed with the signing by both Houses of Parliament and the Scottish Commissioners on 25 September 1643. It was a military league and a religious covenant. Written by Alexander Henderson, the covenant was considered primarily a civil agreement by the English Parliamentarians, who needed military allies, but the Scots considered it a guarantee of their religious system. In January 1644, the Army of the Covenant marched into England to take the field against the Royalists. Parliament decreed that the Covenant was to be taken by every Englishman over the age of eighteen. Although no penalty was specified, the names of those who refused to sign were to be certified to Parliament. Signing the Covenant became a prerequisite for holding any command or office under Parliament. When Oliver Cromwell and the Independents gained control of England, they had little sympathy for the Presbyterians and ignored the Covenant.[2]

In order to ensure compliance parliamentary visitations of the University of Cambridge (1643) and Oxford (1647) were arranged. Seth Ward was involved in both. These visitations were a political and religious purge. Many Masters and Fellows of Colleges lost their positions.[3] Ward signed the Covenant, presumably to escape the consequences of the Oxford purges.


In 1643, Samuel Ward (no relation) was imprisoned in St. John’s College, and Seth Ward assiduously attended him until his death. Seth was a staunch churchman, and, with Peter Gunning, John Barwick and Isaac Barrow (1614–1680), he assisted in compiling ‘Certain Disquisitions and Considerations representing to the Conscience the Unlawfulness of the … Solemn League and Covenant’. The first edition was immediately seized and burned by the puritans. Seth was deprived of his fellowship by the committee of visitors in August 1644 for refusing the Covenant, he took refuge with Samuel Ward’s relatives in and around London, and afterwards with William Oughtred at Albury. While with him he improved his knowledge of mathematics, and on leaving his house lived with his friend Ralph Freeman at Aspenden, his birthplace, acting as tutor to Freeman’s sons. There he remained till 1649, when he paid a visit of some months’ duration to Lord Wenman at Thame in Oxfordshire. [4]

… and acceptance

In 1647 the visitation of Oxford University began. Among those ejected in 1648 was John Greaves – Savilian professor of astronomy. On Greaves’ recommendation Ward was appointed as his successor as Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University in 1649. To do this he had to take the oath to the English Commonwealth. He turned his attention to reviving interest in astronomical lectures, which had fallen into neglect and almost into disuse. He gained a reputation for his theory of planetary motion. He also gained fame as a preacher, though as a Savilian professor he was exempt from any obligation to the university to deliver discourses from the pulpit.[5]

The petition

According to the Dictionary of National Biography:

‘In 1657, on the resignation of Michael Roberts, Ward was elected principal of Jesus College, Oxford, through the influence of Francis Mansell, who had been ejected from the office by the parliamentary visitors. Cromwell, however, put in Francis Howell, with a promise of compensation to Ward, which he failed to make good’.[6]

This may be the money Seth Ward was trying to recover through the petition.

1660s – Bishop of Exeter and Salisbury

On 18 March 1659, Ward was incorporated Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge and on 14 September 1659 he was chosen president of Trinity College, Oxford. Unfortunately, he had none of the statutory qualifications for the office, and in August 1660 was compelled to resign.[7] After this final disappointment he resigned his professorship and retired to London. In 1661, King Charles II appointed him to the vicarage of St Lawrence Jewry in London, and rectory of Uplowman in Devonshire. He also became Dean of Exeter Cathedral in 1661 and Rector of St Breock, Cornwall in 1662. In 1662 he was consecrated Bishop of Exeter, and in 1667 he was translated to the see of Salisbury. The office of Chancellor of the Order of the Garter was conferred on him in 1671.

Seth Ward was also one of the original members of the Royal Society of London. He died, unmarried, at Knightsbridge on 6 January 1689, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral, in the south aisle of the choir, where a monument was erected to his memory by his nephew.[8]


[1] ‘Seth Ward (bishop of Salisbury)’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth_Ward_(bishop_of_Salisbury).

[2]Church & State/The First Civil War/The Solemn League & Covenant’, BCW Project, http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/first-civil-war/solemn-league-and-covenant; ‘Solemn League and Covenant’, https://library.eb.co.uk/levels/adult/article/Solemn-League-and-Covenant/68577.

[3] ‘Seth Ward (bishop of Salisbury)’, Wikipedia.

[4] E. Irving Carlyle, ‘Ward, Seth’, Dictionary of National Biography Volume 59 (1885-1900), https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ward,_Seth_(DNB00).

[5] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ward,_Seth_(DNB00).

[6] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ward,_Seth_(DNB00).

[7] ‘Trinity College’, in H. E. Salter and M. D. Lobel (eds.), A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford (1954), pp. 238-251. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol3/pp238-251.

[8] Carlyle, ‘Ward, Seth’ Dictionary of National Biography; ‘Seth Ward (bishop of Salisbury)’, Wikipedia.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the Interregnum, 1649-1660’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.