Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Boswell

Mayor of Oxford 1622/3

William Boswell (or Bosvile/Bosvill/Bosville/Boseville) (c.1567–1637) was the son of Thomas Boswell, a weaver of Caldecott, Rutland.

On 7 June 1579 he was apprenticed to the mercer Thomas Rowe, with the promise of double apparel at the end of term. He was admitted free on 19 September 1588 (paying 4s. 6d.). On 22 September 1590 he was one of the group of “foure poore younge men occupyers free and inhabitants of this cytie” who were each awarded £25 for ten years of Sir Thomas White’s money.

130 High Street

Between 1591 and 1600 Boswell took on six apprentices: Kenelm Chambers of Leicestershire (24 June 1591); William Curteise of Northants (2 February 1593); Everard Boswell of Caldecott, Rutland, who was doubtless a relation (29 September 1675); William Hicks of Berkshire (30 November 1597); Robert Cockram of Devon (24 June 1599); and John Browne of London (1 May 1600).

Boswell was elected on to the Common Council on 3 October 1597. On 3 October 1600 it was agreed that he need not serve as a chamberlain, and he was advanced to the position of a bailiff, paying £5.

in 1593 Boswell was leasing a tenement on the site of the present 134 High Street in All Saints parish; but from about 1600 he owned 130 High Street (left), which was built in about 1500 and has the oldest front in the High Street.

The “poore yonge man” of 1590 became very prosperous, leasing estates in Osney, South Leigh, Stanton Harcourt, and other Oxfordshire villages, mostly from Oxford colleges.

Boswell married Mary Buttell or Botill in the 1590s, and they had at least four children:

  • William (probably born by 1600)
  • Mary (baptised at All Saints Church on 4 October 1601, died aged 15, buried there on 2 June 1616)
  • Edward (baptised at All Saints Church on 9 February 1603)
  • Thomas (baptised at All Saints Church on 22 June 1606, died aged 4, buried there on 13 July 1610).

In 1604, 1606, 1609, 1611, 1615. 1616, 1624, and 1625, the followings apprentices of Boswell were respectively admitted free: Kenelm Chambers, Everard Boswell, Robert Cokeram, William Hicks, John Dixon, Henry Horne, John Parsons, and William Harris.

In 1611 Boswell won the most votes in an election to fill a vacancy as one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, but there was a dispute over whether a bailiff could be chosen as an Assistant. William Lord Knollys, High Steward of the City, was asked to adjudicate and ruled that Boswell was ineligible.

The site of Wadham College had been city property until 1610, when according to the wishes of the King the city sold it for £600 to provide a site for the college. In return the college promised that in the foundation of the college the city could nominate a fellow and two scholars. Boswell’s son William was nominated as one of the early fellows, and was matriculated on 20 April 1613.

Boswell was eventually elected as a Mayor’s Assistant on 3 April 1618, paying £5, and on 16 September 1622 he was elected Mayor. He nominated Walter Wilkins as his Chamberlain.

On 21 November 1627 Boswell was elected an Alderman for the North-West ward, and was confirmed in his place on 20 May 1628, giving the Mace-bearer the customary purse containing twenty shillings. At the same council meeting Boswell was elected “Commissioner for Conveyinge of the Barges to Oxon”.

By 1630 Boswell was ill. An entry in the parish registers for All Saints Church on 3 March 1630 reads:

Memorandum that according to the statue of 2 Elizabeth then was (upon Mr Feild the phisitians hand) a license granted to Mr Alderman Boswell by reason of his weaknesse to eat flesh prescribed by me provyded yt he shold pay to ye poor man’s boxe according to ye order of ye Statute.

In September 1633 Boswell was elected Mayor again, but refused to serve, paying a fine of £10, and on 28 January 1634 he resigned his position as Commissioner of the Barges, as he felt himself unable to do the work, paying five marks towards the cost of the new Commission. None the less in 9 September 1634 he was again elected Mayor, and again refused to serve, paying £10. It was only when he refused the mayoralty a third time on 18 September 1637, that the Council accepted that he really was too ill:

This house beinge now satified that Mr Alderman Boswell is now altogeather unable of bodie to undergoe the place of Mayoraltie of this Cittie to which he was lately elected, and therefore they have accepted of his fyne beinge Tenne pounds…. And doe hereby promise and agree that untill God shall [e]nable the said Mr Aldeman Bowell to undertake the said place hee shalbee spared by this house from beeinge put in eleccon any more into that office.

Boswell died seven months later, and was buried in All Saints Church on 5 April 1638. Anthony Wood says of him:

William Boswell was alderman of Oxon and a draper by trade and was buried [at All Saints Church] the 5 April 1638 with these armes on his hearce, viz., “argent, 3 beare’s heads erased on cheif sable muzled argent, a fess of 5 lozenges gules”: but his son had upon his hearce a martlet or on every lozenge or fusill.

Kemp Hall


In 1637, only a year before his death, Alderman Boswell had built a fine residence (Kemp Hall, left, looking up to the High) in the long narrow back garden of his house at 130 High Street: the date remains over the doorway of the building, which is now the Chiang Mai Restaurant.

Boswell left the house to his son, Dr William Boswell, who lived there until his death in 1678, when it passed to his nephew (another William Boswell), the son of his brother Thomas. (In 1689 this nephew sold 130 High Street in front to Thomas Reeve, tobacco pipe maker, and Reeve left it to the City in 1697 for the benefit of poor widows.)

Boswell’s widow Mary was buried at All Saints Church on 4 May 1640.

Boswell’s two surviving children
  • William, his heir, known as “Dr Boswell”, was matriculated from Wadham College on 20 April 1613. He was a Fellow of that college from 1622 to 1639, and became a Doctor of Civil Law on 30 June 1630 and Sub-Warden in 1636. He was also an Advocate in the Court of Arches, and High Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1650. He died unmarried on 5 April 1678, and was buried at All Saints Church three days later. His will was proved at Oxford on 22 April 1678 (as Bosvile).
  • Edward (known as “Edward Bosvile of Temple Cowley”), was baptised at All Saints Church on 9 February 1603. He is described in Alumni Oxonienses as a “collector reddituum pro Coll. Wad.”, and as such was admitted as a privileged tradesman of the University on 18 November 1836, when he was 32. He had at least three children: William (who matriculated at Wadham College on 25 October 1659 and eventually inherited Alderman Boswell’s Oxford property), Thomas (who matriculated at Pembroke College on 4 May 1668), and Dionysia (who married Edward Frankish of Newport Pagnell).

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/176 (Will of William Boswell, Alderman of Oxford, proved 18 April 1638)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 November, 2012

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