King, Peter

, chancellor of England, and famous for his ecclesiastical learning, as well as his knowledge in the law, was born in 1669 at Exeter, Devonshire, where his father, an eminent grocer and salter in that city, though a man of considerable substance, and descended from a good family, determined to bring up his son to his own trade. With this view, he took him into his business and kept him at his shop for some years however, the son’s inclination being strongly bent to learning, he took all opportunities of gratifying his passion, laying out all the money he could spare in books, and devoting every moment of his leisure hours to study; so that he became a scholar of very great accomplishments, which were hid under the appearance of an attention to the business of the shop. This, | however, was discovered by the celebrated Locke, who was his uncle by his mother’s side, and who, after some discourse, being greatly surprised and pleased with the prodigious advances his nephew had made in literature, advised him to commence a regular course of study at Leyden: and it is said to have been by his advice, that Mr. King afterwards entered himself a student at the Inner-Temple, and applied himself to the law; in which profession his talents and industry soon rendered him celebrated.

In the mean time, he attracted the notice of the learned world, by a publication on a subject somewhat foreign from those which were connected with his professional studies, but which occupied no small portion of the time which he could spare from them. When he was in his twenty-second year, he published the first part of a work entitled, “An Inquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity, and Worship, of the Primitive Church, that flourished within the fi*st three hundred years after Christ, faithfully collected out of the extant writings of those ages,1691, 8vo. This was written with a view to promote what was then thought very promising, the scheme of a comprehension with the dissenters: and the author had at least the merit of showing that spirit of peace, unity, and moderation, which would have done honour to all parties concerned; but his attempt to prove bishops and presbyters of the same order was not successful. He afterwards published the second part of the “Inquiry into the Constitution, &c.” and having solicited, in a modest and unaffected way to be shewn, either publicly or privately, any mistakes he might have made, that request was first complied with by Mr. Edmund Elys; between whom and our author several letters were exchanged upon the subject in 1692, which were published by Mr. Elys in 1694, 8vo. under the title of “Letters on several subjects.” But the most formal and elaborate answer to the “Inquiry”' appeared afterwards in a work entitled “Original draught of the Primitive Church,” by a Mr. Sclater, which is said to have made a convert of Mr. King himself.

Mr. King had not been many years at the Temple, when he had acquired as high a reputation for his knowledge in law, as he had before for his knowledge in divinity; and, in 1699, obtained a seat in the House of Commons, as representative for the borough of Beer- Alston, in. | Devonshire; and the same honour was continued to him, not only in the ensuing and last parliament of king William, but in the five succeeding parliaments of queen Anne. In the mean time he published his inquiries into church history, and the history of early opinions, and having completed some collections he had already made, and digested them into proper order, he published, in 1702, “The History of the Apostles’ Creed, with critical Observations on its several articles,” 8vo; a treatise written with judgment and learning. Peter de Coste, who sent an abstract of it in French to Bernard, to be published in his “Nouvelles de la Republique de Lettres” for November and December, 1702, has related a very remarkable particular concerning it. He tells us that an English prelate, distinguished for his erudition, fancying it could only be a compilation from several discourses already printed, or perhaps an abridgment of Pearson’s “Exposition of the Creed,” who seemed to have exhausted the subject, began to read it with this disadvantageous prepossession; but was quickly convinced of his mistake, and surprized to find so many curious things, not to be met with in Pearson, and to observe so little borrowed from that writer’s “Exposition.

From this time, however, our author found himself under a necessity of relinquishing pursuits of this kind, on account of the increasing and urgent business which his abilities as a lawyer brought into his hands; and in a fevr years his merit in the law was distinguished by the highest honours. July 1708, he was chosen recorder of London; and knighted by queen Anne September following. In 1709, he was appointed one of the managers of the House of Commons, at the trial of Sacheverell. Upon the accession of George I. he was appointed lord chief-justice of the court of common-pleas, and soon after sworn of the privy-council. He was created a peer May the 25th, 1725, by the title of lord King, baron of Ockharn, in Surrey; and the great seal being taken from lord Macclesfield, was delivered to him the 1st of June following. He did not, however, make that figure as chancellor, which was expected from the character that raised him to it; and it is said that more of his decrees were repealed by the House of Lords than of any other chancellor in the same space of time. Yet it is allowed that he took extraordinary pains in the discharge of his office, which, impairing his constitution by degrees, brought on atan a paralytic disorder | and his distemper increasing, he resigned the seals the 26th Nov. 1733, and died July the 22d following, at his seat at Ockham, leaving behind him two sons and two daughters, and a widow, the daughter of Richard Seys, of Boverton, in Glamorganshire, esq. Lord King was a man of great integrity, knowledge, and diligence, although not of transcendant abilities. He was interred in Ockham church, Surrey, where a monument was erected to his memory. 1


Biog. Brit.—Whiston’s Life.—Gent, Mag. vol. LXII. and LXX.