Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Boswell (c.1565–1637)

Mayor of Oxford 1622/3

William Boswell (or Bosvile/Bosvill/Bosville/Boseville) was born in about 1565, 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 William Boswell 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

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 a nearby house in the same parish, 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.

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).

William Boswell was elected on to the Common Council on 3 October 1597.

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

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

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

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 (James I) 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. His son William Boswell junior was nominated as one of the early fellows, and was matriculated at the University of Oxford from that college on 20 April 1613.

Boswell was eventually elected as a Mayor’s Assistant on 3 April 1618, paying £5,.

On 16 September 1622 Willilam Boswell was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1622/3). He nominated Walter Wilkins as his Chamberlain.

On 21 November 1627 Boswell was elected as 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 register for All Saints’ Church on 3 March 1630 stated that he was given a dispensation to eat meat, even though it was Lent:

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 William Boswell was elected Mayor again, but refused to serve, paying a fine of £10. 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.

His younger surviving son Edward Boswell (32) was matriculated as a privileged tradesman of the University on 18 November 1636, described as a “collector reddituum pro Coll. Wad.”: he was presumably the Bursar of Wadham College

It was only when he refused a third time on 18 September 1637 that the Council accepted that William Boswell really was too ill to serve a second term as mayor:

This house beinge now satisfied 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 Boswell 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.

† Alderman William Boswell died in 1638 and and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 5 April that year. 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, just a year before his death, Alderman William Boswell built a fine residence in the long narrow back garden of his house at 130 High Street on the site of the former Kemp Hall. The date of 1637 can be seen 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.)

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


Left: Kemp Hall, left, looking up towards the High

Boswell’s two surviving children
  • William Boswell, his heir, known as “Dr Boswell”, was a Fellow of Wadham 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 Boswell (born 1603), who was known as “Edward Bosvile of Temple Cowley”. He had at least three children:
    William Boswell, who was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Wadham College on 25 October 1659 and eventually inherited Alderman Boswell’s Oxford property
    Thomas Boswell, who was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Pembroke College on 4 May 1668
    Dionysia Boswell, who married Edward Frankish of Newport Pagnell.

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/176/474 (Will of William Boswell, Alderman of Oxford, proved 18 April 1638)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 June, 2021

Oxford Mayors home Small Shark Oxford History home