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Ralph Bathurst

Portrait of Bathurst, 1676, by David Loggan.
Born 1620 (1620)
Hothorpe, Northamptonshire, England
Died 1704 (aged 83–84)
Alma mater Trinity College, University of Oxford
Occupation Theologian, physician
Title Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Term 1673-1776
Predecessor Peter Mews
Successor Henry Clerke
Religious beliefs Church of England

Ralph Bathurst (1620 – June 14, 1704) was an English theologian and physician.


Early life

He was born in Hothorpe, Northamptonshire in 1620.[1]

He graduated with a B.A. degree from Trinity College, Oxford in 1638, where he had a family connection with the President, Ralph Kettell (1563–1643).[2]

Oxford science and medicine

He originally intended a career in the Church of England, and was ordained in 1644, but his prospects were disrupted by the English Civil War, and he turned to medicine. He collaborated with Thomas Willis, and worked on rewriting Willis's major publication Cerebri Anatomi.[2]

Bathurst was active in the intellectual ferment of the time, and very well connected. In the account given by John Wallis of the precursor groups to the Royal Society of London, Bathurst is mentioned as one of the Oxford experimentalists who gathered from 1648–9. Also in that group were Willis, William Petty and Seth Ward.[3] The group expanded in the 1650s when it gathered around John Wilkins of Wadham College, close however to Oliver Cromwell, and then included also Jonathan Goddard, Thomas Millington, Laurence Rooke, and Christopher Wren.[4] Later Robert Boyle joined.

Bathurst belonged also to the overlapping circle of physicians following the tradition of William Harvey, and which included again Willis, George Ent , Walter Charleton, Nathaniel Highmore, and Charles Scarburgh;[5] these were royalists who had attended Charles I of England.[6] In the celebrated case of Ann Green, who survived a hanging, the physicians intending to dissect the cadaver were Bathurst, Petty, Willis, and Henry Clerke.[7]

He worked in practical medicine under the physician Daniel Whistler (1619–1684). This was during the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1652 to 1654, when Whistler was in charge of wounded naval personnel.[2] He theorised fruitfully in 1654 on respiration, in a dissertation for his higher medical degree, and his ideas were later taken up, by Boyle and John Mayow.[2][8]

Later life

On the English Restoration in 1660 he reverted to a career in the church. There is a story that he had acted as archdeacon and deputy to Robert Skinner, Bishop of Oxford, who was imprisoned by the Parliamentarians.[9] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1663, and was made President of Trinity College in 1664, where he initiated building work to designs by Christopher Wren, a personal friend.[10] He also swayed Samuel Parker from Presbyterian views to an Anglican outlook.[11]

In 1670, he was Dean of Wells Cathedral. For three years from 1673, he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, earning a complimentary reference in a John Dryden poem.[12] John Harris, a Trinity student in the 1680s, wrote about the intellectual and scientific atmosphere of the college under Bathurst.[13]

A biography was written by Thomas Warton.


He was one of thirteen sons of George Bathurst.[14] This large royalist family suffered greatly in the Civil War, with six of Ralph Bathurst's brothers being killed.[2]

Theodore Bathurst (died 1651), known as a neo-Latin poet, was a nephew.[15] Another nephew was Ralph Bohun (1639–1716), a poet and experimentalist.[16]



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Andrew Pyle (editor), Dictionary of Seventeenth Century British Philosophers (2000), pp. 74-5.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke (2003), p. 69.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Lisa Jardine, On a Grander Scale (2002), p. 54.
  7. ^ Jane Shaw, Miracles in Enlightenment England (2006), p. 58.
  8. ^ Nicholas Tyacke, The History of the University of Oxford: Volume IV: Seventeenth-Century Oxford (1984), p. 15.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Jon Parkin, Science, Religion and Politics in Restoration England (1999), p. 37.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  16. ^ Jardine, On a Grander Scale, p. 240.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Hannibal Potter
President of Trinity College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Thomas Sykes
Preceded by
Peter Mews
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University
Succeeded by
Henry Clerk


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