Coxe, William, 1748—1828
by Benjamin Colbert
William Coxe, traveller, historian, and clergyman, was born 6 March 1747 in London, eldest son of Dr William Coxe (c.1710-1760), physician to the Royal household, and Martha Coxe, née D’Aranda (1723-1786). He attended Eton College from 1753 to 1765, and King’s College, Cambridge University in 1765, where he became a Fellow in 1768. He was ordained in 1771 and practiced briefly as curate of Denham, Middlesex, before becoming tutor to marquis of Blandford, later duke of Marlborough.
It was as travelling tutor (or ‘bearleader’) to Lord Herbert, later 11th earl of Pembroke, that Coxe set out for continental Europe in November 1775. He toured Switzerland in the summer of 1776, before travelling north through Poland and Russia. Coxe and Herbert resided in St Petersburg between October 1778 and January 1779, during which time Coxe researched the discoveries of Russian travellers. They then journeyed through Scandinavia before turning south, eventually reaching Italy, where they parted company. Coxe retraced his steps, visiting Switzerland again in the summer of 1779, before returning home.
Even before he returned to England, Coxe’s first travel book was published: Sketches of the Natural, Civil, and Political State of Swisserland (1779). In the early 1780s, the experiences and research undertaken with Herbert informed a number of others: Account of the Russian Discoveries (1780), Account of the Prisons and Hospitals in Russia, Sweden and Denmark (1781), and Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark (1784). He returned to the continent several times, again as tutor to young gentlemen. With Samuel Whitbread he revisited Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Russia, and Poland (1784-85) and with Henry William Portman, Switzerland and the Alps (1786). Coxe was a comparatist in method and incorporated new material gleaned during these tours into the various editions of his published writings, while drawing on his full stock of knowledge for new ones, particularly the influential sequel/rewrite to Sketches: Travels in Switzerland (1789; 4th ed. 1801).
In 1794, a year after declarations of war between France and Britain, Coxe visited the continent a final time in the company of the young Lord Brome, but their movements were restricted to friendly regions in Germany and Hungary. With Richard Colt Hoare (a friend rather than pupil) Coxe turned his attention then to South Wales, touring the region in autumn 1798 and the spring and autumn of 1799. The fruits of these travels appeared in his Historical Tour in Monmouthshire (1801), abridged by his sister, Emilia Henrietta Coxe, in 1802.
In December 1802, Coxe married Eleonora Shairp (1759-183), widow of Thomas Yeldham of the British Trade Factory at St Petersburg, and became canon residential of Salisbury Cathedral the following year. In 1805 he was appointed archdeacon of Wiltshire. Increasingly, Coxe turned his attention to historical and biographical research, and the works published over the remainder of his life were in these genres, including Memoirs of the Kings of Spain (1813) and Memoirs of John, Duke of Marlborough (1818). He died at Bemerton on 8 June 1828, aged eighty.
Colbert, Benjamin. ‘Coxe, William (1747-1828)’. Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Jennifer Speake. Vol. 1. New York and London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003. 287-89. Print.
Knight, Jeremy. 'Coxe, William (1748–1828), historian and Church of England clergyman'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 21 May 2009. Oxford University Press. Web. 8 Sept. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/6540
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