Lincoln College

Wesley at Lincoln

Elected in 1726, John Wesley was most active as a Fellow of the College in the late 1720s and early 1730s. Though he was increasingly absent with his travels and preaching, he returned to Lincoln to give sermons and participate in College business. Wesley formally resigned his Fellowship upon his marriage in 1751.

This section includes the following:

- John Wesley's Election

- Wesley's Rooms

Services of Commemoration

- Euseby Isham (1697-1755)

William Vesey (1677-1755)

Building a Life Around Routine

Conscientious Tutor

Wesley's Departure


John Wesley's Election: Wesley’s early Fellowship at Lincoln

The Archive at Lincoln holds a short series of College registers recording decisions taken at meetings, student discipline, ordinances and Fellows’ elections and resignations.  The medium register shown here dates from 1578 to 1739.

On 28 March 1726, John Wesley was admitted to a fellowship at Lincoln College with all the rights and privileges of the society. The entry is signed by John Morley, Rector of Lincoln, for whom Wesley held great affection. Click here to read more about John Morley.

Shortly after his election, John Wesley is given leave of absence until the end of September 1726. In the next item of business, he is nominated to preach the sermon for the feast of All Saints at the parish church of St Michael at the Northgate. As a Fellow of Lincoln, Wesley was nominated to preach numerous sermons, attended College meetings and held the following offices in the College: claviger, 1726-7, 1731-2; lecturer in logic, 1726-30; lecturer in Greek, 1726-7, 1729-34; and lecturer in philosophy, 1730-5, as recorded in the College registers.

Image: Medium Registrum, folio 292 verso


Wesley's Rooms

Sources show that John Wesley occupied rooms in Chapel Quad staircase 5 during his time at Lincoln. The artwork in this image is the original wall decoration from the early 17th century construction of this quadrangle. Wesley’s original rooms feature this wall painting which depicts an image with strong religious iconography. The largest figure is a bird, likely to be a cockerel. This alludes to the repentance of Peter following his denial of Jesus (Matthew 26: 73-75), with a rooster symbolising the Passion. A snake appears to its right, which can exemplify evil or sin.

Another interpretation may be that both animals combined could represent a basilisk: part rooster and part reptile. Another painted layer of a later date portrays two small brown animals, possibly weasels. These are situated on either side of a plinth at the bottom of the image, perhaps supporting a coat of arms no longer extant.

Image: 17th century wall art in John Wesley’s former rooms


Services of Commemoration

In the early 18th century, like today, Lincoln College commemorated the College founders and benefactors. During Wesley's time there was a full annual cycle of remembrance days. Obit masses had been abolished by the 1540s Chantries Acts, and it is unclear whether reformed services of commemoration took place in the College chapel on these days. The College accounts list the Fellows’ payments on remembrance days under the heading “Exposita pro Obitibus”.

This image from the 1730 Calculus (College account), records that John Wesley received payment on the following memorial days:

Edward Darby, Archdeacon of Stow, on 20 January.

John Southam, Archdeacon of Oxford, on 23 January.

John Crosby, Treasurer of Lincoln Cathedral, on 21 March.

John Forest, Dean of Wells, on 26 March.

Thomas Rotherham, Bishop of Lincoln, on 29 May.

Edmund  Audley, Bishop of Salisbury, on 23 August.

William Smith, Bishop of Lincoln, on 10 October.

William Dagville, Burgess of Oxford, on 29 October.

John Wesley’s allowance for these commemorations was £7 8s.

Image: Calculus 1730, folio 14 recto


Euseby Isham (1697-1755)

Isham was elected Rector of Lincoln in 1731, a position he held until 1755. It is clear that Wesley considered Isham a close friend and seems to have done what he could to ensure his election, recording in his diaries an unusual number of meetings with other Fellows in the days preceding the vote. Although Isham seems to have grown increasingly concerned about the activities of the Holy Club, and there is evidence he was occasionally reluctant to entrust Wesley with pupils because of this association, he and Wesley enjoyed a good relationship, reading each other’s sermons and discussing theological issues.

This portrait of Isham, which currently hangs in the Hall, was painted in 1737 by Thomas Gibson (c.1680-1757). Gibson’s sitters included a number of important figures and his work is particularly well represented in Oxford colleges.

Portrait: Portrait of Euseby Isham by Thomas Gibson, 1737
Image: Novum Registrum I, folio 1 recto


William Vesey (1677-1755)

William Vesey was a Fellow of the College from 1703 until his death in 1755. Vesey was a scholar and antiquarian with a keen interest in the history of the College and the marks of his scholarship can still be found in both the Library and the Archive. On his death he left his books to Lincoln, a collection of several thousand volumes that covers many pages of the donors’ book and includes (rather unexpectedly) over 500 play texts from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Vesey was one of Wesley’s closest friends in College and it is tempting to see his influence in the number of plays Wesley read in his early years as a Fellow of Lincoln (Wesley noted in his diaries that he had read works by Jonson, Wycherly and Beaumont  and Fletcher, among others).

Vesey’s copy of An extract of the Rev. Mr. John Wesley’s journal from his embarking for Georgia to his return to London (Bristol, [1740]) was given to Vesey, perhaps as a Christmas gift, by Wesley: it is inscribed, in Vesey’s hand, with the words “W. Vesey Dec. 26. 1740. D[ono] Authoris.”  (Image below left).

Vesey has annotated the volume in several places, adding dates and correcting small factual errors. He has also carefully noted that the letter published at the beginning of the volume, addressed only to “Sir”, was in fact written to Richard Morgan. It is in this letter that Wesley persuasively refuted the charge that the death of Morgan’s son William, one of the founder members of the Holy Club, was caused by the austerities of the religious life he had embraced. For more about Richard Morgan click here.

For the SOLO record for this book click here.

Image: William Vesey’s copy of Wesley’s 1740 Journal.


Building a Life Around Routine

Lincoln College occupies two quadrangles along Turl Street, and had completed its chapel over one hundred years before John Wesley's election as Fellow. This view from the 1743 Oxford Almanack held in the Archive shows the layout of the College during Wesley’s time, along with depicting the founders and the two collegiate churches in Oxford: All Saints and St Michael’s at the Northgate.

The Almanack also gives the term dates for the Oxford academic year. This would have provided the framework for John Wesley’s schedule as Fellow. We know from his diary entries that he created a rigorous daily routine of teaching, reading, theological study and sermon preparation around the University’s termly pattern. He developed this ordered existence further with members of the Holy Club, earning them the nickname "Methodists".

Despite his self-imposed and increasingly punitive schedule, Wesley regularly saw his colleagues in the evenings in the Senior Common Room, writing to his brother Samuel shortly after his election in 1726, “I never knew a college besides ours whereof the members were so perfectly satisfied with one another…".

Image: Oxford Almanack, 1743, showing Lincoln College, engraved by Vertue


Conscientious Tutor






Images: Pages from the College Matriculation Register

Evidence from John Wesley’s diaries and College and University records demonstrate that he took his duties as Fellow seriously, particularly with regard to teaching. In June of 1730, eleven men were assigned to Wesley for tutoring: John Westley, Jonathan Black, Thomas Waldegrave, Thomas Hylton, Robert Davison, John Bartholomew, John Sympson, Edward Browne, Richard Bainbridge and George Podmore. The College Bible Clerk, Joseph Green, was already his pupil by this time. Wesley noted in his diary that he lent money to pay Green’s caution money and expenses. Later pupils included Westley Hall, Johnny Whitelamb, Richard Morgan and James Hervey. Wesley records regularly hearing disputations in the College Hall most days of the week, reading the set texts with his pupils, marking their work and occasionally accompaning them on outings. (Click here to read more about Wesley and Hervey’s correspondence).


Wesley's Departure

John Wesley relinquished his fellowship at Lincoln College when he married Molly Vazeille in February 1751, as was the requirement of Fellows who wished to marry at that time. His letter of resignation is inserted in the College register. It reads:

Ego Johannes Wesley Collegii Lincolniensis in Academia Oxoniensi Socius, quicquid mihi juris est in praedicta Societate eiusdem Rectori & Sociis sponte ac libere resign: Illis universis et singulis perpetuam pacem ac omnimodam in Christo felicitatem exoptans.

Johannes Wesley

Kalendis Junii
Anno Salutis Millesimo Septingentisimo Quinquagesmo Primo

Translation: I John Wesley a Fellow of Lincoln College in the University of Oxford, do freely and of my own will resign: to the Rector and Fellows of the same whatever is lawfully mine in the aforementioned fellowship. To each and every one of them I wish eternal peace and lasting happiness in Christ.

John Wesley

1 June  1751

Though Wesley’s official connection with the College ended with his marriage, he often signed correspondence throughout his life: John Wesley, Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College.    

Image: Novum Registrum I, folio 15 verso