Sermons of William Benn

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 960
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      179 x 114 mm. 1 volume (445 folios); Condition: slightly imperfect, lacking the first three leaves; original numbering 7-896. Binding: full bound by Bramhall and Menzies in black book-cloth.

Scope and Content

Copies of sermons delivered between Autumn 1661 and Autumn 1662, at least in six cases and probably in all by the Puritan divine William Ben or Benn, Rector of All Hallows, Dorchester. One of the later sermons (on 3 Phil. xxi: folios 392-403) was copied within five weeks of being preached and the whole volume was completed by 9 October 1662. Subscribed in twelve places (folios 22, 50, 68, 87v, 137v, 305, 333, 379, 391 v, 403, 418, 445v), with the date of copying, Per me R.A., or Script. R.A., or Finis R.A. and, on folio 418, Finis R. Aleen, i.e. Richard Allein (1610/11-1681), clergyman and ejected minister.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Benn (1600-1681), clergyman and ejected minister, was born in November 1600 at Egremont, Cumberland. He was educated at St Bees School and Queen's College, Oxford, but took no degree. During the 1620s he was curate of Wokingham, Berkshire, then chaplain to Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, at Redlynch, Somerset. Benn was appointed rector of All Saints', Dorchester, in 1629. During the Civil Wars Benn preached vigorously against the king, but when a royalist army threatened Dorchester in August 1643 he fled to London. At the end of the war he returned to his former parish. By 1650 Benn was moving away from the mainstream Presbyterianism that he had embraced during the war, and formed a 'gathered church' within his parish, whose members alone were admitted to communion. During the protectorate he was an assistant to the commissioners for ejecting scandalous ministers, and in 1655 was one of the clergy asked by the council to help them in observing a special day of prayer.

At the Restoration Benn was immediately presented at Dorset's summer assizes for not using the Book of Common Prayer. He was imprisoned but soon released, and not until he refused the oaths required by the 1662 Act of Uniformity was he deprived of his living at All Saints'. From then until the end of his life Benn was one of the ejected clergy, sometimes preaching legally, sometimes illegally. He was briefly imprisoned after the discovery of the 1663 northern plot. Under the Five Mile Act he was forced to leave Dorchester in 1665, and started preaching at Maiden Newton, and later Fordington. On 1 May 1672, under the declaration of indulgence, he was licensed to preach as a congregationalist at the house of Philip Stansby, a former mayor of the borough. Benn died in 1681 and was buried on 7 March of that year at All Saints' Church in Dorchester.

Source: David Underdown, 'Benn, William (1600-1681)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Presented to the John Rylands Library by E. Johnson esq. of Irlam in April 1940.


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on William Benn.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951 (English MS 960).

Custodial History

Former owner: Nicholas Belbin, 1682 (folio 445v).