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Robert South

Robert South, prebendary of Westminster, is buried in the lantern area of Westminster Abbey, just before the steps up to the Cosmati pavement and next to his great friend Richard Busby. A small stone marks his grave but his large monument is nearby in the south transept. This is by sculptor Francis Bird and shows the reclining figure of South, his right arm on a cushion and hand on a skull, with a closed book in his left hand. Two fluted columns flank the inscription surmounted by a glory and two cherubs on drapery. His coat of arms (a silver shield with a red bar across it on which is a gold chaplet, between three black squares of turf) is shown at the top.

The Latin inscription can be translated:

Not far from this monument Robert South D.D. gave orders his ashes should rest near those of his master Busby: a man of learning, piety and simplicity of manners. He was a scholar of Westminster School, then a student of Christ Church [Oxford], and after the restoration of King Charles, by the interests of Lord Clarendon, prebendary of both colleges where he was educated. A firm and indefatigable champion for the church, in her flourishing and afflicted state. A stout asserter of the Christian faith. Excellent in his sermons for a new method entirely his own, but illustrious and admirable; insomuch that, versed in all these qualities, there is room to doubt whether he was most excellent in his fine turn of thought, or force of argument, the richness of his doctrine, or the beauty and weight of his language. With these assistances, being undoubtedly at the same time possessed, he not only gained upon the souls of his audience but inflamed and moved them. In orthodox divinity, as well as human learning, he was scarce equalled; and, at the same time, familiar with the schoolmen, out of whom he made use of whatever was wholesome and nourishing, and having relieved it from their nice and intricate distinctions, and cloud and jargon of words, he set if off in fine language. If at any time he was severe in his exposing the vices of men, or the times, it ought not to be ascribed to party, or ill nature; for in all these cases he openly expressed what he had before deliberately weighed in his mind; and, being well assured by his own innocence, he, warmed with a generous indignation, exposed whatever was base in life, or superficial, or affected in religion. Intent on these studies, and his mind working that way, when he was more secluded from men in his conversation, he was not wanting to them in his assistance. How munificent, how pitiful he was in his temper to those in distress, is evident from his extended charity, and legacies at his death. He was rector of Islip, where he rebuilt the rectory and founded and endowed a school for the education of poor children. An encourager of learning, both at this place and Christ Church, for the enlarging the buildings of which college he left by his will the sum of one thousand pounds, three hundred of which were to be paid in one year after his decease; lasting monuments of his piety to God and beneficence towards men. He died 8 July 1716 aged 82.

His life

He was the son of Robert South a merchant of Hackney in London and his second wife Elizabeth (Berry). He was born on 4th September 1634 and was a King's Scholar at Westminster School. Privately ordained he was chaplain to Lord Clarendon, chancellor of Oxford university and became a prebendary, or canon, of Westminster in 1663. He travelled to Poland as chaplain to the ambassador Laurence Hyde, afterwards Earl of Rochester, and became chaplain in ordinary to Charles II. He was rector of Islip in Oxfordshire from 1678 and declined the Deanery of Westminster. Prior to his funeral his body lay in the Jerusalem Chamber within the Deanery and the coffin was carried into College Hall where the captain of the scholars read a funeral oration.

Further reading

"Robert South. An introduction to his life and sermons" by Gerard Reedy, 1992

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Born

4th September 1634

Died

8th July 1716

Occupation

Priest/Minister; philanthropist

Location

South Transept

Memorial Type

Statue

Material Type

Marble

Robert South
Robert South monument

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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