William Beaw: Bishop and Secret Agent

John R. Guy introduces the soldier, churchman, and Royalist Fellow of New College who served Russia and Sweden during Cromwell’s years of power, and who returned to post-Restoration Britain to become a prominent parson in the Church of Wales.

The Reverend Dr William Beaw was an Englishman, the son of Mr William Bew of Newbury, in the county of Berkshire. His father seems to have been a nonconformist, and the Oxford antiquary Anthony a Wood called him a ‘minister of God’s word.’ That the family had nonconformist connections is definitely established, for Beaw’s maternal uncle was Dr William Twysse, of Speenland (or Speenhamland) in Berkshire - a Fellow of New College, Oxford in 1598, and subsequently Vicar of Newbury. Dr Twysse, before his death in 1646, had formed one of the number of the ‘Westminster Assembly’ of divines in 1643, which had sought to establish presbyterianism in England. That he was obnoxious to the Royalists is evident from the fact that after the Restoration his remains were disinterred on September 14th, 1661 from Westminster Abbey, where he had been buried.

It was therefore in a non-conformist atmosphere that the young William lived and grew up between his birth at Hagbourne and the time that he matriculated, aged eighteen, at New College, Oxford on November 6th, 1635. The choice of college was no doubt dictated by the connection between his uncle and the foundations of William of Wykeham; before 1635 Beaw had received his schooling at Winchester College, which his uncle had also attended. It would certainly seem that at this period of his life Dr Twysse was the major influence upon him rather than his father, who remains a rather insubstantial figure.

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