William Levett (Dean of Bristol)
The Very Rev. Dr. William Levett (also spelled William Levet) (ca. 1643-1694) was the Oxford-educated personal chaplain to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, whom he accompanied into exile in France, then became the rector of two parishes, and subsequently Principal of Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now Hertford College, Oxford) and the Dean of Bristol.
Levett was born in Ashwell, Rutland, where his father Rev. Richard Levett, born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and a graduate of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, was the intruding rector from 1646 until 1660. After Rev. Richard Levett was turned out of the parish of Ashwell, he wrote to Edward Heath of London, soliciting the rector's job in Cottesmore, Rutland, which Heath's family owned.
After his graduation from Oxford with a doctorate of divinity, William Levett entered the service of the Earl of Clarendon, English historian and statesman who went into exile in France. Levett accompanied him there. Levett returned to England in 1672 and became rector of Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire. Four years later he became vicar of Flore, Northamptonshire. Levett held all four positions—his appointments to both parishes, as well as his Magdalen Hall principalship and his Deanship of Bristol—until his death.
In 1681 he was named Principal of Magdalen Hall at Oxford, and in 1685 he became Dean of Bristol. Levett was well-known to many Oxford contemporaries of his day, and remained friends with the Earl of Clarendon and his second son Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester for the rest of his life. Among his fellow churchmen, Levett seems to have been held in high regard.
At Oxford, William Levett had succeeded James Hyde (1618–1681) as Principal of Magdalen Hall. Hyde, who was the eleventh son of Sir Laurence Hyde of Heale, near Salisbury, was a barrister and a physician as well as Member of Parliament. Hyde himself had been nominated Principal by his relation, the Earl of Clarendon, who was Chancellor of the University, and he took office in 1662. On his death in 1681, the Principal's slot passed to Dr. Levett, another favorite of the Hydes.
In his will Levett directed his body be decently interred, "without any manner of speech, or funerall oration, or either good or bad verses, and without any opening of it, or the least dissection of it whatever" in the Cathedral at Christ Church. The invitations should be sent out and the body carried in such a way, Levett directed, so as to permit the service to be carried out at the "canonical houre" of 4 p.m. exactly. When word of Dean Levett's death reached Oxford on 11 February 1694, a Sunday morning, bells were rung in honour of the late Principal.
Levett left bequests of £50 for the Christ Church library; £20 to Magdalen Hall; £5 for books at Corpus Christi College, Oxford library; and monies to the poor apprentice boys of Husband's Bosworth and Flore. The will mentions his namesake nephew William Levett, second son of his brother Sir Richard Levett. The sole executor of Levett's estate was Dr. Henry Levett of the London Charterhouse, fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and son of Dean Levett's uncle, courtier William Levett Esq. of Swindon and Savernake, Wiltshire. Dean Levett was survived by five daughters.
Dean William Levett's brother Sir Richard Levett, merchant and Lord Mayor of London lived at his home Kew Palace at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. A third brother, Francis Levett, was in business with Sir Richard, overseeing a trading empire, principally of tobacco but also textiles. Dean Levett's uncle William Levett was a courtier and groom of the bedchamber to King Charles I and accompanied to the monarch to his execution. Later Levett set off a firestorm when he provided a letter stating that he had seen the late King write the Eikon Basilike.
- Hertford College, Sidney Graves Hamilton, F. E. Robinson & Co., London, 1903
- Sir Richard Levet, Lord Mayor of London, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, John Strype, 1720, John Strype's Survey of London Online, hrionline.ac.uk
- Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry erroneously states that Dean Levett of Bristol and his brother Sir Richard Levett, Lord Mayor of London, were the sons of courtier William Levett, groom of the bedchamber to King Charles I. The two brothers were, in fact, the sons of Rev. Richard Levett, brother of courtier William Levett. Levett family historian Dyonese Haszard, who lived at Milford Hall, Staffordshire, delineated the relationship and hacked away the confusion.
- Apparently Rev. Richard Levett, father of William, was sympathetic to the Parliamentary cause. He was installed in place of the Royalist rector when Cromwell and Parliament came to power. He was later immediately ejected in favour of the legitimate rector in 1660 at the Restoration.
- Admissions to the College of St. John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge, St. John's College (University of Cambridge), John Eyton Bickersteth Mayor, Robert Forsyth Scott, Published by the College, 1903
- Verney (Lords Willoughby de Broke) of Compton Verney, Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, The National Archives, nationalarchives.gov.uk
- Le Neve's Pedigree of the Knights Made by King Charles II, King James II, King William III, and Queen Mary, King William Alone and Queen Anne, Peter Le Neve, George William Marshall, Mitchell & Hughes, London, 1873
- The Oxford Historical Society, London Record Office, Horace Hart, Oxford, 1900
- It is doubtful, according to the Victoria County History of Leicestershire, whether Levett ever visited his parish of Husbands Bosworth, where he was Rector from 1672 until his death, indicating the appointment may have been largely ceremonial. The same may be true of Flore, where he contributed silver towards the church service.
- The Church Plate of the County of Northampton, Christopher Alexander Markham, Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd., London, 1894
- Memorials of Oxford, James Ingram, John Le Keux, Frederick Mackenzie, John Henry Parker (pub.), Oxford, 1837
- The Cathedral Church of Bristol, Henri Jean Louis Joseph Masse, G. Bell & Sons, London, 1901
- The Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, and of His Brother, Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, Henry Colburn, London, 1828
- Letters of Humphrey Prideaux, Sometime Dean of Norwich, to John Ellis, Sometime Under-Secretary of State, 1674-1722, The Camden Society, Nichols and Sons, Westminster, 1875
- James Hyde, Physician of Oxford, Oxford Medical Men, headington.org.uk
- The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, antiquary, of Oxford, 1632-1695, described by Himself, Vol. III, Andrew Clark, The Oxford Historical Society, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1894
- "Levett, Henry". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- That one brother, William Levett, escorted King Charles I during his captivity and accompanied him to his execution, while another was a rector acceptable to a Puritan congregation speaks to the divisions that the English Civil War caused. Rev. Richard Levett was apparently installed in Ashwell, Rutland, at the insistence of local Puritans, and immediately turned out when King Charles II came to the throne.
- Oxford Historical Society, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1894
- The Levetts of Staffordshire, Dyonese Levett Haszard, privately printed