Dispensation of King James II in favour of John Massey, December 12, 1686
John Massey was born about 1650 in Wiltshire. He received the degree Bachelor of Arts from the University of Oxford in 1670, and in 1672 was admitted a probationer fellow at Merton College. In 1676 he received the degree Master of Arts. In 1685 he raised a regiment to fight against the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, and this action seems to have brought him to the attention of King James II.
In 1686 King James chose to honour Massey by granting him the deanship of Christ Church. At the time all the principal academic officials at Oxford and Cambridge were required to be ordained clergy of the Church of England. The office of dean of Christ Church was a peculiar one: it combined the position of head of a college with the position of senior clergyman in the cathedral of Oxford.
Since the office of dean of Christ Church was in the gift of the king, James could appoint any qualified candidate he chose. Since Massey was not an ordained clergyman, and also seems to have been about to declare his conversion to the Catholic Church (something he did not make public until March 1687), however, he was not a qualified candidate. So, by this declaration, James dispensed him from these required qualifications, and appointed him to the office.
James' intent seems to have been two-fold. He certainly wanted to make some provision for Catholics to receive degrees at the universities and to be appointed to senior academic positions. But he seems also to have been intent merely to exercise his royal prerogative and to prove that he had ultimate authority in the universities to appoint whomsoever he wished.
The subdean and canons of Christ Church (all clergymen of the Church of England) strenuously opposed the appointment. They even tried to embarrass Massey by forging a letter to him, purporting to be instructions from James to expel all non-Catholic students from the college. Massey, however, saw through the forgery and reported the action to James.
When the Prince of Orange invaded in 1688, Massey fled to St. Germains. In 1695 he was ordained a priest, and became chaplain to the Blue Nuns in Paris. He died in 1715.
A printed version of the text can be found on pages 278-282 of The State Letters of Henry, Earl of Clarendon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1763).
James the Second, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc., to all whom these presents shall come, greeting.
Whereas we have lately constituted and appointed our trusty and well beloved subject, John Massey, A. M. and Fellow of Merton College, to be Dean of Christ Church in our University of Oxon; and the said John Massey having humbly besought us that he may be admitted and installed Dean of Christ Church aforesaid, and enjoy the same dignity and preferment without being obliged to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, or either of them, or any test or sacrament, or making any declaration or subscription relating to religion, or going, performing, or subscribing any other act or acts in conformity to the doctrine, discipline or liturgy of the said Church of England; and we, being well assured of the ability, loyalty, and integrity of the said John Massey, are graciously disposed to grant his said humble suit:
Know ye therefore, that we, for the considerations aforesaid, and of our special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, have given and granted, and by these presents for us, our heirs and successors do give and grant unto the said John Massey our royal license and dispensation to absent himself from the church, chapel, or usual place of common prayer, as the same is now used in England; and to forbear using or reading the same, or declaring his assent or consent to the contents of the Book of Common Prayer now used in England, and to abstain from and forbear receiving and administering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the liturgy or usage of the said Church of England, and from taking the oath of allegiance and supremacy; and from reading and subscribing the Articles of Religion, commonly called the nine and thirty articles; and from making, subscribing, or repeating any declaration, acknowledgement, or recognition, or doing any other act or thing required by, or mentioned, or contained in one Act of Parliament made in the thirteenth and fourteenth years of the reign of our late royal brother, entitled "An Act for the uniformity of public prayers, and administration of the sacraments, and other rights and ceremonies; and for establishing the form of making, ordaining and consecrating bishops, priests and deacons in the Church of England", or mentioned, or contained in one other Act of Parliament, made in the five and twentieth year of the reign of our said late brother, entitled "An Act for the preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants", and from doing, declaring or subscribing all and every such other acts, or things in conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and liturgy of the Church of England, as he, the said John Massey, by reason of his being Dean of Christ Church aforesaid, by the laws and statutes of this our realm of England, or by any stature, constitution, or custom of the University of Oxford, or of the college called Christ Church aforesaid, or either of them, is, or shall be obliged to perform, make, or subscribe.
And we do hereby, of our further special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, for us, our heirs and successors grant, declare and direct that the said John Massey shall be admitted, and installed Dean of Christ Church aforesaid. And we do hereby authorize, empower and enable him to be, and continue Dean of Christ Church aforesaid; and to have, hold, use, exercise, and enjoy the said place and dignity of Dean of Christ Church with all the rights, profits, powers, privileges, authorities, and advantages whatsoever to the same belonging; and to travel to the cities of London and Westminster, and to come, remain, and be in our presence, or in the presence of our royal consort the Queen, or of Katherine, Queen Dowager of England, or in our court, or in the court or house where we or they are, or shall be, or reside; although the said John Massey has not taken the order of priesthood, or has not done or performed, or shall at any time hereafter omit, neglect or refuse to do, or perform any thing or things enjoined, required, or enacted to be done or performed by the said Acts of Parliament, made in the thirtieth year of the reign of our said late royal brother King Charles II, or in the 1st, 5th, 13th, 23rd, 27th, 29th, and 35th years of the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth, or in the 1st or 3rd years of the reign of our late royal grandfather King James over England, etc. or in, or by any statute, constitution, or custom of or in the University of Oxford, or of or in the said college called Christ Church; and although the said John Massey has committed or done anything contrary unto the said Acts of Parliament, or any or either of them, or contrary unto any clause, or article, or thing in them, or in any of them contained, or contrary to any statute, constitution, or custom of the said University of Oxford, or the college called Christ Church aforesaid: hereby also requiring and enjoining the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of our said university, and the Subdean and canons of Christ Church aforesaid, and all other officers and persons whatsoever, whom it may concern, that they, and every of them, in their respective places do act and perform all, and whatsoever is or ought to be acted, done and performed by them respectively for the admitting, installing, and establishing the said John Massey in the said place or dignity of Dean of Christ Church aforesaid; notwithstanding his not having taken the order of priesthood, or his not doing or performing what by the said acts of Parliament, or any of them, or the statutes, constitutions, or customs of the university or college aforesaid, or any of them, he is enjoined or required to do or perform; and as if he had fully and effectually done or performed the same.
And to the end that this our royal licence, dispensation, and grant may have its due effect, we do hereby, of our further special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, pardon, remit, exonerate, and discharge the said John Massey of and from all offences, pains, penalties, suspensions, and deprivations, sentences, censures, or disabilities by him incurred, or to be incurred, or whereunto he now is or hereafter may be liable for or by reason of his not having done or performed, of for that he has omitted, neglected, or refused, or shall at any time hereafter omit, neglect, or refuse to do, execute, or perform any thing or things enjoined or required to be done, executed, or performed in or by the said acts of Parliament, or any of them, or in or by the statutes, constitutions, or customs of the University of Oxford, or the said colleges of Merton or Christ Church, or either of them: hereby enjoining and requiring all and singular courts and judges, as well ecclesiastical as civil, to supersede and forbear at all times hereafter all prosecutions and proceedings whatsoever against the said John Massey for or by reason of any matter or thing hereby dispensed with, licensed and remitted.
And our pleasure is, and we do hereby of our more abundant grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion grant and declare, that these presents shall be in and by all things firm, valid, and effectual in the law; and shall be available for the purposes aforesaid, notwithstanding the said acts of Parliament, or any of them, or any of the statutes, customs or constitutions of the university or colleges aforesaid; and notwithstanding the not reciting or mentioning, or not sufficiently or particularly reciting or mentioning, or misreciting the statutes, constitutions, or customs of the said university or colleges aforesaid, or the said acts of Parliament, or any of them, or the title or contents thereof; and notwithstanding that the said John Massey is not consecrated priest, or is, or at any time hereafter shall be a convict recusant; and notwithstanding any misdemeanour, misrecital, or other defect or imperfection in these presents, and any act, ordinance, provision, proclamation, disability, or restriction to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.
In witness whereof we have caused these our letters to be made patent: witness ourself at Westminster the sixteenth day of December in the second year of our reign.
By writ of Privy Seal.
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