Francis Cheynell

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Francis Cheynell[1] (1608–1665) was a prominent English religious controversialist, of Presbyterian views, and President of St John's College, Oxford 1648 to 1650, imposed by the Parliamentary regime.

His Aulicus of 1644 is accounted the first work of speculative fiction to be set in a hypothetical future,[2] in this case the return of Charles I of England.


He became a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1629,[3] and took an M.A. in 1633. He was a vicar in Hertfordshire and then at Marston St Lawrence, Northamptonshire from 1637; he lost his position in Oxford, as an opponent of William Laud, in 1638.[4] Pushed out by Royalist forces, he became a chaplain to the New Model Army, and a member of the Westminster Assembly.[3]

He became Rector of Petworth, Sussex, imposed by Parliament in 1643, in place of Henry King, the bishop of Chichester,[3][5] and ‘in practice though not in name bishop of the diocese,’[6] until the Restoration.

He acted as Visitor to the University of Oxford, from 1647.[7]

Heresy hunter

He has been characterized as ‘One of the foremost heresiographers of the 1640s’.[8] He attacked, under the name of Socinianism, early non-Trinitarian thinkers, tending to Unitarianism.[9] He was very much an alarmist in tone, and at times perhaps afflicted by mental illness.[10]

He assailed Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, his failed convert William Chillingworth,[11] Henry Hammond, John Webberley,[12] William Erbery,[4] Gilbert Sheldon, Jasper Mayne,[13] John Bidle[14] and John Fry.[15]


  • Sions Memento and Gods Alarum (1643)[16]
  • The Rise, Growth, and Danger of Socinianisme (1643)[17]
  • Aulicus his Dream, of the King's Sudden Coming to London (1644)[18]
  • Chillingworthi Novissima (1644)[19]
  • The Man of Honor described. Sermon to the House of Lords, 1645
  • Truth triumphing over errour and heresie. Or, A relation of a publike disputation at Oxford in S. Maries Church on Munday last, Jan. 11. 1646: between Master Cheynell, a member of the Assembly and Master Erbury, the Seeker and Socinian (1646)[20]
  • An account given to the Parliament by the ministers sent by them to Oxford (1647)[21]
  • The sworne confederacy between the convocation at Oxford, and the tower of London (1647)
  • The Divine Triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1650)
  • A Plot for the good of Posterity.
  • Divers Letters to Dr. Jasp. Mayne, concerning false Prophets.
  • A copy of some Letters which passed at Oxford between him and Dr. Hammond
  • A Discussion of Mr. Fry's Tenets lately condemned in Parliament, and Socinianism proved to be an Unchristian Doctrine.


  1. Cheynel, Chenell, Channell.
  2. Science Fiction: The Early History
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  4. 4.0 4.1 Statesman1
  5.  [ "King, Henry" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. East Hoathly Parish Church in History
  7. House of Commons Journal Volume 5 - 10 February 1647 | British History Online
  8. Adriana McCrea, Constant Minds (1997), p. 154.
  9. Book Table
  10. Dr. Francis Cheynell is now chiefly known by his very extraordinary conduct when he attended the last hours and the burial of Chillingworth; and other comments at [1]. From: 'Guibon Goddard's Journal: September 1654', Diary of Thomas Burton esq, volume 1: July 1653 - April 1657 (1828), pp. XVII-XLIV. URL: Date accessed: 13 July 2007.
  11. PDF, p. 112.
  12. PDF, p. 116.
  13. Pamphlet exchange after Sermon against False Prophets (1647) by Mayne, see e.g. [2], under Jasper Main.
  14. PDF, p. 7.
  15. Fry was defending Bidle; see for example Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (1977), p. 291.
  16. Sions memento and Gods alarum in a sermon at Westminster, before the honorable House of Commons on the 31 of May 1643, the solemne day of their monethy fast []
  17. The rise, growth, and danger of Socinianisme together with a plaine discovery of a desperate designe of corrupting the Protestant religion, whereby it appeares that the religion which hath been so violently contended for (by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his adherents) is not the true pure Protestant religion, but an hotchpotch of Arminianisme, Socinianisme and popery : it is likewise made evident, that the atheists, Anabaptists, and sectaries so much complained of, have been raised or encouraged by the doctrines and practises of the Arminian, Socinian and popish party []
  18. Aulicus his dream, of the kings sudden coming to London []
  19. Chillingworthi novissima, or, The sicknesse, heresy, death and buriall of William Chillingworth in his own phrase, clerk of Oxford and in the conceit of his fellow souldiers the Queens arch-engineer and grand-intelligencer : set forth in a letter to his eminent and learned friends a relation of his apprehension at Arundell a discovery of his errours in a briefe catechism and a shorr oration at the buriall of his hereticall book []
  20. Truth triumphing over errour and heresie, or, A relation of a publike disputation at Oxford in S. Maries Church on Munday last, Jan. 11, 1646 between Master Cheynell, a member of the assembly and Master Erbury, the seeker and Socinian : wherein the Socinian tenents maintained by Master Erbury are laid down, and Master Cheynels clear confutation of them to the joy and satisfaction of many hundreds there present is declared. []
  21. An account given to the Parliament by the ministers sent by them to Oxford in which you have the most remarkable passages which have fallen out in the six moneths service there ... particularly ... two conferences in which the ministers ... have suffered by reproaches and falshoods in print and otherwise : the chief points insisted on in those conferences are 1. whether private men may lawfully preach, 2. whether the ministers of the Church of England were antichristian ... 3. and lastly divers of Mr. Erbury's dangerous errours. ... []

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Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard Baylie
President of St John's College, Oxford
Succeeded by