William Frere

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William Frere (1775–1836), was an English lawyer and academic, a law-serjeant and Master of Downing College, Cambridge.


Frere was the fourth son of John Frere of Roydon, South Norfolk, and younger brother of John Hookham Frere. He was born 28 November 1775, but spent much of his childhood at the house of his uncle John Fenn and aunt Ellenor Fenn whom he later described as 'looking up to my uncle and aunt as parents.'[1] He was sent to Felsted School and Eton College, and in 1796 obtained a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] In the same year he was elected to the Craven scholarship, and subsequently won several university honours, among them the senior chancellor's medal. He graduated fifth senior optime in 1798. In 1800 he became fellow of the newly founded Downing College.

He was called to the bar, and joined the Norfolk circuit in 1802. He was serjeant-at-law in 1809, and three years later was elected Master of Downing College, his appointment being unsuccessfully contested at law. In 1823 he edited the final fifth volume of Paston Letters begun by his uncle in 1787.

He was made recorder of Bury St. Edmunds in 1814, and in 1819 became vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. He lived for part of each year on an estate which he bought at Balsham, Cambridgeshire. He proceeded LL.D. at Cambridge 1825, and D.C.L. at Oxford 1834.

In 1826 he quit the bar. He died 25 May 1836.


He edited, with additions, Baron Glenbervie's Reports of Cases, 1813, and the fifth volume of the Paston Letters from the manuscript of Sir John Fenn (Original letters, written during the reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III. by various persons of rank or consequence; containing many curious anecdotes, relative to that period of our history, 5. vols. (1787-1823).

Some Latin and Greek verse by Frere was published with William Herbert's Fasciculus Carminum stylo Lucretiano scriptorum, 1797.


He married in 1810 Mary, daughter of Brampton Gurdon Dillingham. Philip Howard Frere was their son. During Frere's time, chiefly through his wife, Downing College was a social centre at Cambridge.


  1. ^ 'Advertisement containing notices of the life of John Fenn,' in J. Fenn, Original letters ... vol.5. (1823) p.ix.
  2. ^ "Frere, William (FRR793W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Frere, William". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

Academic offices
Preceded by
Francis Annesley
Master of Downing College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Thomas Worsley