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William Holmes
Born April 5, 1689(1689-04-05)
parish of St Swithin, City of London
Died April 4, 1748 (aged 58)
Resting place Chapel of St John's College, Oxford
Nationality British
Education Merchant Taylors' School
Alma mater St John's College, Oxford
Occupation Historian
Title Regius Professor of Modern History
Term 1736–1742
Predecessor David Gregory
Successor Joseph Spence

William Holmes (April 5, 1689 – April 4, 1748) was a British academic, Vice-Chancellor and Regius Professor of Modern History of the University of Oxford.[1]

Holmes was born on 5 April 1689 in the parish of St. Swithin, in the City of London, the son of Thomas and Margaret Holmes of London. He began his education at Merchant Taylors' School, London, on 12 September 1701 and went up to St John's College, Oxford, on 11 June 1707, matriculating on 2 July. In 1710, he became a fellow and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree on 16 May 1711, and was awarded the Master of Arts degree on 9 April 1715.

In 1721, Holmes was appointed as a proctor of the University. He took the Bachelor of Divinity degree on 13 April 1722 and the Doctorate of Divinity on 5 March 1725. Holmes held two college livings; between 1725 and 1726 that of North Leigh, near Oxford, and of Henbury, Gloucestershire from 1726 to 1728. He was elected President of St John's College on 3 June 1728. Holmes became the Rector of Boxwell, Gloucestershire, on 24 September and was given the college living of Hanborough, a few miles north of Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire, and between 1731 and 1737, he was proctor for the clergy of the diocese of Oxford in convocation.

Holmes was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University between 1732 and 1735, and in this post, was appealed to by John Wesley about the concerns of the critics of the Holy Club. In 1734, he became a King's Chaplain. In his role as Vice-Chancellor, Holmes presented addresses from the university on the the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal to William, Prince of Orange, the Prince having been under Holmes's care whilst in Oxford.

In 1736, Holmes was appointed as the Oxford Regius Professor of Modern History, a post he held until 1742. Whilst President of St John's, Holmes had the last letter of Sir Thomas White, the founder of college, printed to give every scholar on entering college, urging the fellows to peacefully with each other and suggests they "take a coppye of yt for my sake".

Holmes was ridiculed as "time-serving" in an imitation of the first satire of Juvenal, printed in London in 1740, and in a letter purporting to be written from Oxford, published in British Champions, or, The Impartial Advertizer on 10 January, 1743, which printed "that ornament of learning and politeness H—es" is an example of those that "steer judiciously between all extremes". Holmes was the first president of St John's to be loyal to the House of Hanover.

Holmes was supportive of sound learning and met with Thomas Hearne, who wished the University to plan the printing of Oxford manuscripts. On 9 July 1733, acting as Vice-Chancellor he revived the ceremony of "the act", which had been discontinued, and invited George Frideric Handel to play before and after the ceremony. However, his allowing Handel to perform inside the Sheldonian Theatre on several occasions outside of University ceremonies and to charge 5 shillings. for admission, offended Hearne and other traditionalists. Hearne stated that "Handel and (his lousy crew) a great number of foreign fiddlers".[2] At another time, Holmes refused a company of players from visiting Oxford.

Holmes was nominated by George II to the deanery of Exeter Cathedral on 4 June 1742. Only one work is ascribed to Holmes, The Country Parson's Advice to his Parishioners … of the Younger Sort, which was an anonymous publication of 1742. On his death on 4 April 1748, Holmes left an estate of two farms and £200 a year to St John's College. Holmes was buried in the college chapel, and on the instruction of his wife, Sarah, a monument to him was erected in the college chapel.


Academic offices
Preceded by
Edward Butler
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University
Succeeded by
Stephen Niblett


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