Robert Thistlethwayte

From C.S.L. Davies’s ODNB article on Robert Thistlethwyate (1690-1744), wardon of Wadham College, Oxford:

Thistlethwayte’s wardenship of a college that was, and had been for some time, at a low ebb would doubtless have been undistinguished had he not become involved in accusations of sexual impropriety, which led him to resign. On 3 February 1739 an undergraduate, Philip French, was found by his colleagues in great distress; he eventually revealed that he had been sexually assaulted by the warden. His father was sent for and counsel’s opinion sought. French resisted strenuous attempts by Thistlethwayte and others to get him to drop the charges. On 19 February the vice-chancellor, the decidedly tory master of Balliol College, Theophilus Legh, acting as a justice of the peace, bound over French to make good his allegation at the next assize and ordered Thistlethwayte himself to appear there on a bond of £200. Thistlethwayte resigned the wardenship on 22 February, and left Oxford six days later. There were rumours that he had committed suicide; alternatively, that he was about to marry ‘Carew Reynold’s sister … a buxom lass with a small fortune and that [he] hopes to wipe off the stain by this means’ (Hants. RO, MS 9M73/9627/3). He did not appear at the assize, held on 9 March, when the grand jury found a true bill against him. He resigned his Westminster prebend on 25 April, and his Winterslow benefice at about the same time. On 5 July he was at Dover, where he drew up his will, evidently en route for the continent. Meanwhile George Baker, a scholar of Wadham College, proceeded to a further accusation of homosexual activities against John Swinton, fellow of the college. This accusation was dismissed by the vice-chancellor, but led to the publication of a pamphlet, A faithful narrative of the proceedings in a late affair between the Rev. Mr. John Swinton, and Mr. George Baker (1739), which included an account of the evidence against Thistlethwayte in lascivious detail. Robert Langford, the college butler, told of repulsing several attempts to kiss and fondle him, until Langford had ‘wondered why gentlemen of his fortune did not provide themselves with women, or wives’; Thistlethwayte answered that ‘he would not give a farthing for the finest woman in the world; and he loved a man as he did his soul’. William Hodge, a barber, similarly claimed to have been attacked while he was shaving the warden (Faithful Narrative, 15–18). A burlesque poem, College-Wit Sharpen’d, added to the amusement of the reading public by recycling the same material.

Thistlethwayte seems to have spent the next four years in exile, probably at Boulogne, where he died in or about January 1744. He was buried at St Mary the Virgin, Dover, on 4 February 1744.

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