Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Sir John Boyce (1673–1755)

Mayor of Oxford 1722/3, 1727/8, and 1739/40

John Boyce appears to have been born in 1673 at Headington Quarry, which was then in the same parish as Old Headington and Barton. The surviving parish registers for St Andrew's Church do not start until 1678, but Thomas Hearne recorded on 19 September 1727:

This Mr. Boise is a civil courteous man, and is 54 years of age, being born at Heddington Quarry near Oxford in the year 1673.

It is possible that he grew up at Barton Manor in what is now Barton Village Road: he certainly owned this house, as it was put up for sale by his widow a few years after his death.

Boyce was an Oxford mercer, and he first came on to the Common Council on 30 September 1703.

On 10 February 1704/5 at Lewknor, near Stokenchurch, Oxfordshire, John Boyce, described as being of Oxon (Oxford), married his first wife,  Mary Huish She was a widow several years his senior, whose husband George Huish had died in 1702. They appear to have had only one child, born more than six years after their wedding:

  • John Boyce junior (baptised on 8 July 1711 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church, Oxford)

In March 1706 Boyce took on John Crooke as his apprentice.

In September 1706 Boyce was elected Junior Chamberlain, and in September 1709 Senior Bailiff. On 21 February 1718, and again on 21 July, he was fined a shilling for coming to a council meeting without his gown.

In 1719 Boyce was granted a lease by the council of a house in Oxford opposite St Mary-the-Virgin Church in the High Street, at a rent of 26s. 8d. and two capons. This would have been Boyce’s shop as well as his home, and had formerly been occupied by another mercer, Thomas Fifield. H. E. Salter identifies the premises as two former small houses (the one to the east belonging to the city council and the one to the west to Magdalen College) which by 1624 had been rebuilt and made one large new house.

In July 1722 Boyce was chosen as one of the eight Assistants on the Council, and in September 1722 was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1722/3). As his only son was still a child, he chose Hercules Osbaldeston, a young chandler, to be Mayor’s Child and made him a Chamberlain. The following July, during his mayoralty, Boyce was elected an Alderman.

Boyce’s first wife Mary Boyce died on 22 March 1727, and was buried at Lewknor, probably with her first husband, so there is no memorial to her in St Mary-the-Virgin Church. Thomas Hearne wrote in his diary:

On Wednesday last died of a Cancer in the mouth, Mrs. Boyce, Wife of Alderman Boyce of Oxford, near 60, being several years older than the Alderman. She was a widow when the Alderman marryed her, but the Alderman had never been marryed before. She was an excellent Wife. She was carried out of Town to be burried somewhere near Stoken Church on Sun. Mar 26 following.”

On 7 July 1727 Boyce’s only surviving son, John, was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Christ Church at the age of 16. It appears that he was taught by Charles Wesley.

In September 1727 Alderman Boyce was elected a second time as Mayor (for 1727/8). According to Thomas Hearne, he was opposed by Alderman Henry Wise who lost by a great majority. He selected George Wentworth as Mayor’s Chamberlain and John Dandridge as his Child.

The claim of the city for the Mayor to serve in his customary role of butler was at first “rejected by the Court of Claims of Geo. II., being not agreable to any since the Restoration”; but it was eventually allowed, and Boyce attended the coronation of George II “en l’office de Botelary” on 11 October 1727 and was duly knighted.

On 26 October 1727 at Christ Church Cathedral, just seven months after his first wife’s death, Sir John Boyce (54) married his second wife, Mrs Mary Holmes, née Tewell, a widow. According to Thomas Hearne's diary entry for 28 October 1727, she was thirteen  years his senior and had had two earlier husbands named Rapley and Tewell:

On Thursday last (being the 26th inst.), Sir John Boyce, Knight & Mayor of the City of Oxford, was married at Christ Church to the Widow Holmes, a Woman of near 70 Years of age (all agree that she is 67), who hath lived for some time in St. Peter’s Parish in the East, where she had furnished a House very finely.

… [After the death of her second husband], being a very ambitious, proud, lecherous Woman (that she might be a Lady), she married Sir John Boyce…. Sir John hath only one Child (by his first wife, who died but on March 22nd last), a boy, of about sixteen years of age, who is now Commoner of Christ Church. By this marriage Sir John thinks to get a farther advantage, and that is, to have his son married to Mr More’s daughter (a very pretty girl) & only child. Mr More is very rich.

“Mr More” was the husband of Mary’s sister, but this marriage never happened.

In September 1732 Sir John was again elected Mayor, but this time he asked to be excused, paying the mandatory fine of £50.

John Boyce junior and his marriage in 1731

Boyce's only son John Boyce junior obtained his BA in 1731 when he was 20, and that same year (the precise date is missing from the register) he married Margaret Hudson at Cowley. She was the only child of Dr John Hudson (Principal of St Mary Hall and Keeper of the Bodleian Library, 1662–1719) and his wife Margaret (daughter of the former mayor Sir Robert Harrison). It appears that they went to live in the house in Oxford immediately to the west of that of Sir John Boyce.

Thomas Hearne reports that a court case on 9 June 1733 brought by the Revd Mr Goole, a schoolmaster of Witney, regarding a breach of contract prior to John Boyce junior's marriage to Margaret. Sir John Boyce allegedly gave Goole £200 “not to stir the case”, and on the day of the marriage John Wesley, who later acted as an envoy getting legal advice in London, recorded in his diary, “Mr. B. married Mr. G.’s wife”. When he judgment came down in favour of his son, Sir John had the bells of St Mary-the-Virgin Church rung for joy. The Vice-Chancellor requested that a local bookseller sold no transcripts of the case.

On 21 March 1736/7 John Boyce senior's second wife Mary Boyce died at the age of 73 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 24 March.

Boyce, © OFHS

The triangular memorial to Mary on the wall of St Mary-the-Virgin Church (left) describes Mrs Boyce in Latin as “Anna”, and gives her date of death at the age of 74 as 21 March 1736/7; Yet the burial register confirms that she was actually called Mary Boyce.

In piam Memoriam Dominæ Annæ
Nuper uxoris Johannis BOYCE
Equitis, E Civitate Oxoniensi,
Quæ ex hac Vita migravit
Martii 21⁰
Anno Salutis 1737
Anno Ætatis 74.
Fuit Illa Omnibus Benevola,
Fidis Servis Munifica,
Et Pauperum numquam Immemor
Fuit uxor Pia, et Casta,
Amans Mariti, Marito Amata,
Donec Annis plena,
Et Virtutibus matura,
Sponsum Mortalem in Terris,
Immortali, mutavit, in Cælis.

The diamond stone in the floor in her memory reads: A. B. / Mar. 21 / 1736”:

Memorial to Ann Boyce

Once again Boyce did not remain a widower for long: in 1738 at St George’s, Hanover Square, when he was 65, he married his third wife, Sarah Bayley of Exton, Hampshire. Sarah, described as a spinster, would have been about 64 at the time of the marriage.

In September 1739, Boyce agreed to take on the role of Mayor of Oxford for the third time (for 1739/40), selecting William Holdship as his Child. During his Mayoralty war was declared against Spain (the War of Jenkins’ Ear), and the following appeared in the “Country News” section of Weekly Miscellany for 3 November 1739:

Oxford, Oct. 27. Last Night, Sir John Boyce, Mayor of our City, receiv’d his Majesty’s Writ and Declaration for proclaiming War against the King of Spain: The next Morning he ordered a meeting of the Aldermen and the rest of his Brethren, to attend him at the Guildhall, and there signifying to them the Occasion, it was unanimously agreed to proceed at Two in the afternoon (before which Time the Streets, being the publick Market-Day, would be fill’d) to proclaim the said declaration on horseback in the following Manner: First the Drummers and Trumpeters were order’d to ride two and two; after them Mr. Mayor’s Officers, and the Bailiff’s Serjeants at Mace in their long Cloaks; next the Town Clerk, and the Macebearer bearing the Mace, and then Mr Mayor, the Aldermen, assistants, Bailiffs, and the Members of the council-Chamber, two and two, according to their Order and Seniority in the House. At the Time appointed they met at the Public Hall on Horseback, the Mayor, Aldermen, assistants and Bailiffs, robed in their Scarlet Gowns, and the other Members of the Chamber in their Black Gowns, and so proceeding in regular Order, the Drums beating and Trumpets sounding to the Market-Cross, (Proclamation being first made by one of the Mayor’s Serjeants at Mace) the Declaration was read; after which there was such a general Shout and Acclamation of the People, who appear’d in such incredible Numbers, crying out God save the King, and Success to his Majesty’s Arms, that the publick Streets became almost impassable, and the People shew’d a thorough Satisfaction in being confirmed now in what they had so long desired. From thence they proceeded in like Manner to the four Gates of the City, at every one of which the said Declaration was read, being still attended with an innumerable Company of People, the Country joining with the City, who all the while continued their Shouts and Acclamations. Mr. Mayor after this, with his Company, returned to the Hall, and concluded the Evening with drinking a Glass of Wine to his Majesty’s and his Royal Family’s Health, and Success to his Majesty’s Arms. It was generally taken Notice of throughout the whole City, that there never before were seen such Demonstrations of Joy shew’d upon such a solemn and extraordinary an Occasion.

In 1746 The Monthly Chronologer has the following entry in its list of “Persons declar’d Bankrupts: “Sir John Boyce, of Oxford, Knight, Mercer, Draper, and Dealer”. It looks as though his son may have bailed him out, as in March 1747/8, the lease on Sir John’s shop is described as being held by “John Boyce of Saintbury in Gloucestershire”.

† Alderman Sir John Boyce died on 26 September 1755 at the age of about 78.

On 30 June 1759 in Jackson's Oxford Journal, his widow Sarah, Lady Boyce advertised Barton Manor for sale or rent:

Barton Manor for sale in 1759

Stone commemorating Sarah Boyce


Just six weeks later on 13 August 1859, Lady Boyce died at the age of 77. Described in the parish register as “Dame Sarah, relict of Sir John Boyce, Kt.”, she was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church in Oxford on 15 August 1759.

A diamond tile in the floor of the church (right) reads:

died August 13
Aged 77


The three images on this page of memorials in St Mary-the-Virgin Church are © Oxfordshire Family History Society and are reproduced with their kind permission

Boyce’s only son, the Revd John Boyce (1711–1776)

On 6 August 1734 “John Boyce of Blechington”, clerk, was granted a 40-year lease of newly erected messuages in Oxford that lay between a tenement of University College in the tenure of Richard Long, hatter to the west and a tenement of Magdalen College in the tenure of John Wollumes, grocer to the east.

Soon after this, John Boyce junior left Oxford with his wife Margaret to become rector of Saintbury in Gloucestershire, a position he held for forty years until his death. They had eight children: their first child survived to young manhood; two other boys, including their second child, William, entered the Anglican ministry and served their father’s parish for a time; and three of their sons died in 1748. His only daughter married a Gloucestershire Rector, the Revd Scott, at Copthorn, Worcestershire.

The Revd Boyce died at Saintbury in February 1776, seventeen years after his wife Margaret.

See also:

  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entry numbered 473
  • Octavius Ogle, Royal Letters addressed to Oxford, p. 3, footnote 8 for the replies to the claims made for Boyce to serve in the Butlery at the Coronation

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 15 May, 2022

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