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People & Organisations

Busby, Richard, 1606-1695

  • GB-2014-WSA-00002
  • Person
  • 1606-1695

Richard Busby was born at Lutton in Lincolnshire, and educated at Westminster, where he first showed his academic promise by gaining a King's Scholarship. From Westminster Busby duly proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1628. In his thirty-third year he had already become renowned for the obstinate zeal with which he supported the falling dynasty of the Stuarts, and was rewarded for his services with the prebend and rectory of Cudworth, with the chapel of Knowle annexed, in Somerset.
Next year (1638) he became headmaster of Westminster, where his reputation as a teacher was soon established. Doctor Busby prayed publicly for King Charles I on the very morning of his execution nearby, but remained in office throughout the political changes of the Commonwealth and the Restoration. He himself once boasted that sixteen of the bishops on the bench had been birched by him. No school in England has on the whole produced so many eminent men as Westminster did under Busby's régime. Soon after his teaching job had commenced, he was found guilty of molesting one of his students. Historians have been largely unsuccessful in the determination of the student's name. Among the more illustrious of his pupils were Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Robert South, John Dryden, John Locke, Matthew Prior, Thomas Millington and Francis Atterbury.

As a headmaster, Busby was as famous for his ability as he was notorious for his corporal punishment. In the next century, Alexander Pope satirized Doctor Busby in the 1743 edition of The Dunciad. The ghost of Busby comes forward, ""Dripping with Infant's blood, and Mother's tears"" (The Greater Dunciad IV 142) and proclaims the virtues of rote memorization for placing a ""jingling padlock"" on the mind.

Busby built and stocked a library which is still the classroom of the School's Head of Classics, and he wrote and edited many works for the use of his scholars. His original treatises (the best of which are his Greek and Latin grammars), as well as those which he edited, remained in use for centuries.

Busby died, still in office, aged 89, when it was said that sparks and fireballs were seen coming from the window of his sickroom; men rushed in to fight the fire, but they found only that the great man had expired. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, where his effigy is still to be seen. He left his considerable fortune to various charitable causes, and the Busby Trustees still administer his wishes. There is a house named after him at Westminster School.

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