George Hickes 1642-1715

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George HICKES 1642-1715

Biographical Note

Born at Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire, son of William Hickes, a landowning farmer. After briefly being bound as apprentice to a Plymouth merchant in 1658, he went to Oxford where he graduated BA from Magdalen College in 1663. He became a fellow of Lincoln College in 1664, MA 1665, BD 1675, DD 1679. He travelled in Europe with Sir George Wheler in 1673-74, and became chaplain to the Duke of Lauderdale in 1676. He was appointed prebendary of Worcester and vicar of All Hallows, Barking, 1680; Dean of Worcester 1683, vicar of Alvechurch, Worcestershire 1686. Unable to accept the legitimacy of William III as king, he was deprived of his preferments in 1690 and spent the following decade moving between various sympathetic households until a guarantee of freedom from prosecution in 1699 allowed him to return and live in London. He was secretly consecrated suffragan bishop of Thetford by the deprived nonjuring bishops in 1694.

Although Hickes was an important figure in ecclesiastical and political developments in the late 17th century, his fame rests more on his scholarship and publications in advancing Anglo-Saxon and philological studies, interests which developed during his time in Oxford. He was encouraged by others in this field, including John Fell, and became the leading exponent of his generation. His Institutiones grammaticae Ango-Saxonicae (1689) were developed into his best-known work, the Linguarum veterum septentrionalium thesaurus (1705), a massive work on the grammar, philology and history of the north European languages, written with the help of many scholars. Hickes also published numerous sermons and tracts on contemporary theological and controversial topics.


Hickes directed in his will that all his books should be sold after his death, with the proceeds divided among a number of personal legatees. He specified that they should be sold “by themselves pure and unmixed with any other books whatsoever”. His manuscripts, papers and letters were left to his friend and fellow nonjuror Hilkiah Bedford, together with “such printed books … as I have published or to which I have prefixed prefaces, letters or dedications, as also such books as are therein answered by me” (suggesting that he had a personal collection of such books, separately identified).

Hickes’s library was sold by auction in London by Nathaniel Noel, 15 March 1716; the catalogue claimed the books were “well bound, and most of them gilt and letter’d”. It contained 2108 lots, divided between Latin and Greek theology (319), Latin law (23), Latin and Greek classics (273), Latin miscellaneous (including history, lexicography, numismatics, geography, philology, bibliography, mathematics and medicine: 509), Belgian, French and Italian books (178), miscellaneous English books (790) and English law (16). The absence of pamphlets from the catalogue suggests that these were separately disposed of (it being unlikely that there were none).

Hickes was instrumental in organising the gift of three 6th-century manuscripts to the Bodleian Library by Henry Justell in 1675, and he himself gave coins]] to the Bodleian in 1680, and printed books in 1705. Many of his papers passed to the Bodleian later in the 18th century. A number of manuscripts from Hickes’s collection passed into the Harleian Library.