Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Thomas Dennis (c.1602–c.1662)

Mayor of Oxford 1642/3 and 1657/8

Thomas Dennis (or Dennys) was born in c.1602, the son of Thomas Dennis, a yeoman of Ingatestone in Essex. He was apprenticed to the mercer William Bowell for ten years from 21 December 1616.

Thomas Dennis was admitted free on 17 September 1627, and probably married his first wife Elizabeth soon afterwards, when she would only have been about 16. They had four children:

  • Thomas Dennis junior (listed in the register of All Saints’ Church as having been “christened in the country” on 3 November 1632)
  • Elizabeth Dennis (baptised on 1 March 1634/5 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Richard Dennis (baptised on 18 August 1636 at All Saints’ Church, buried there 6 November 1643)
  • Joan Dennis (baptised on 1 September 1637 at All Saints’ Church).

at his business on the site of the present 127–9 High Street, where he was a tenant of Magdalen College. The University accounts for 1639–40 show several payments to Dennis that indicate the kind of things he sold: “to Mr Dennis for ribbon and sattin for the bookes, 2li. 16s.”; “to Mr Dennis for sattin and plush for their covers, 3li. 2s.”; and “to Mr. Thomas Dennis, mercer, for plush and sattin to bind the bookes in, 4li.

On 21 December 1633 Thomas Dennis took on Thomas Harrison as his apprentice.

Thomas Dennis was elected on to the Common Council on 19 September 1633, and paid 40s. for the navigation scheme and the usual fine of 3s. 4d. for not serving as Constable. On 21 August 1634 (at the request of the Mayor, Francis Harris) he was given a Bailiff’s place.

On 12 October 1635 Harris was nominated by the Mayor, Martin Wright, to be one of the two money-masters for Dame Margaret Northern’s charity.

On 18 September 1637 he was elected as Junior Bailiff for the coming year

His first wife Elizabeth Dennis died at the age of 26 on 12 November 1637 or 1638 and was buried at All Saints’ Church. Anthony Wood describes a memorial that used to stand in the former church on the site depicting a man with a great purse by his side and his wife, with a white marble fastened to a blue one reading:

Here lyeth the body of Elizabeth Dennis, the late wife of Thomas Dennis [Hutton adds “mercer”],
who departed this life the 12 of November, an. dom. 1637 [Dingley says 1638] in the 27 yeare of her age.

The parish register states that Elizabeth was buried on 15 November 1638, suggesting that Dingley was right; but that burial could refer to Dennis’s daughter Elizabeth, who probably died some time between her own baptism in 1635 and the baptism of a second Elizabeth in 1642.

Thomas Dennis probably married his next wife, Ursula, in about 1639, and he had another six children by her:.

  • Edward Dennis (baptised on 27 January 1640/1 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Elizabeth Dennis (baptised on 21 November 1642 at All Saints’ Church)
  • James Dennis (baptised on 1 September 1644 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Mary Dennis (baptised on 21 December 1645 at All Saints’ Church)
  • John Dennis (baptised on 24 August 1648 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Anne Dennis (baptised on 6 May 1650 at All Saints’ Church).

In 1639, 1644, and 1653 Dennis leased from Magdalen College a tenement in All Saints parish called Swinbrook's (now 127–9 High Street), and this was probably his home.

On 17 August 1640 Thomas Dennis was elected one of the Mayor’s Assistants.

On 12 October 1640 his apprentice mercer, Richard Peirce, was admitted free.

On 19 September 1642, during the brief parliamentary occupation of Oxford, the city rejected John Nixon, Lord Say’s candidate for Mayor, and elected Thomas Dennis instead (for 1642/3), because (as Anthony Wood wrote), “they would have a mayor that should not flie out of the towne if occasion served” (Nixon having fled to Abingdon at the coming of the king’s troopers).

Dennis chose Francis Sherwood as his Child. He did not put in an appearance at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on St Scholastica’s Day, 1643 and when the Vice-Chancellor of the University asked for the reason, the council stated that they had decided not to attend again unless compelled to do so by law because “the originall was superstitious and besides they are often jeared by the Schollars that the mayor weres a halter about his neck on that day”.

On 7 April 1643 Dennis as Mayor and the councillors were called together at the court of King Charles I at Christ Church concerning the stationing of a garrison in Oxford. On Friday 14 July 1643 the King and Queen came to Oxford after the Battle of Edgehill. Anthony Wood (I:103) records:

Mr Dennys, the mayor of the towne, accompanied only with his mace bearer on horse backe, brought his majestie into Christ-church, the mayor in scarlett bearinge the mace uppon his owne shoulder, ridinge with Garter the chiefe of the heraldes &c. but no other of the towne came with him; and of the Universitie there rode none at all.

At the end of his year of office, Dennis was excused riding the franchises because of the “troublous times”.

In 1644 Thomas Dennis, along with Humphrey Whistler and Alderman Martin Wright, was imprisoned by Charles I’s government, but they were all released in December and were reimbursed by the Council for the money they were forced to pay out as a result of their imprisonment, as they had suffered for the City.

In 1646 Dennis petitioned to compound, and in 1640 was accused of being “a great opposer of parliamentary proceedings”. In 1650, however, the mayor, George Potter, testified that he had acted under constraint and had since shown “great affection” to Parliament.

On 19 September 1653 Dennis’s eldest son, Thomas Dennis junior, was admitted free, and on 30 December 1664 was himself elected on to the Common Council.

On 14 September 1657 Thomas Dennis was elected Mayor of Oxford for the second time (for 1657/8). He asked that John Spurr might be the Senior Chamberlain, and chose Thomas Widdowes as his Child. At the end of his year of office, he should have put in an appearance at the council meeting on 30 September 1658 to resign his office formally, but “being afflicted with much lamenesse and thereby disabled to appeare in person”, the Senior Alderman acted as his deputy.

He continued to serve as one of the Mayor’s Assistants until 17 September 1660, when he was elected an Alderman. He was sworn on the Exchequer Table on 1 October 1660 and gave the Macebearer a purse and 20s. and paid £10 for the City to one of the late keykeepers.

In August 1661 when King Charles II visited Oxford, Dennis rode out with the Mayor to meet him, wearing a scarlet gown and tippet with footmen and footclothes.

On 30 September 1661 Dennis was listed as Alderman for the North-West ward. On 27 December 1662 he surrendered his place as Alderman and Assistant, and the council ordered that £20 should be paid to him by the City in recognition of his services.

† Thomas Dennis appears to have died in about 1662, but no burial is recorded in the All Saints burial register, as in July that year his lease of Swinbrook's was granted to another person. By 1665 his former apprentice Thomas Harrison had taken over both his business and home.

His widow Ursula Dennis was buried at All Saints’ Church on 9 January 1678/9.

See also:

  • H. E. Salter, Surveys and Tokens, p. 401, and token numbered 42 with “THOMAS DENNIS AT THE” around an image of the Three Kings on the obverse, and “3 KINGS IN OXON 1652” around the initials T.A.D. on the reverse

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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