Philip Morant’s Colchester

One of Rev. John Clubbe’s books, the 1758 The history and antiquities of the ancient villa of Wheatfield, in the county of Suffolk, was a satirical response to Rev. Philip Morant’s, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex, In Three Books, published ten years earlier. Morant’s worthy, if somewhat dull, antiquarian tome was published in 1748, the same year as Kirby’s Historical Account (this was also the year that Gainsborough painted a portrait of Kirby’s father, John, and probably the Hadleigh painting as well). Rev. Morant was a subscriber to the Historical Account, and three of the Kirbys were subscribers to Morant’s book. In fact, Kirby may have drawn part of one of the plates illustrating Morant’s collection of Roman coins.

Philip Morant was born in 1700 in Jersey and grew up bilingual in English and French. He went to Abingdon school in Oxfordshire and then on to Oxford, graduating from Pembroke College in 1721. He was ordained in 1722 and became a curate at Great Waltham in Essex where he assisted the Rector, Nicholas Tindal with his translation of Paul de Rapin’s Histoire d’Angleterre. Morant’s own first published work seems to have been The cruelties and persecutions of the Romish church display’d,wherein is shown how contrary the persecuting spirit of the church of Rome is to the temper of the Christian religion of 1728, and in 1729 he obtained an M.A. from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

Morant’s next work was the magnificently-titled, The tapestry hangings of the House of Lords: representing the several engagments between the English and Spanish fleets in the ever memorable year MDLXXXVIII, With the Portraits of the Lord High – Admiral, and the other Noble Commanders, taken from the Life. To which are added, from a book entitled, Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio, A.D. 1588, done, as is supposed, for the said Tapestry to be work’d after. ten charts of the sea coasts of England, And a General One of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, &c. Shewing the Places of Action between the two Fleets; Ornamented with medals struck upon that Occasion, And other suitable Devices. Also an historical account of each day’s action, Collected from the most Authentic Manuscripts and Writers. By John Pine, Engraver. The book was dedicated to the King by John Pine (Morant wrote the text; Pine did the engravings) and boasted a glittering array of subscribers. It went through several editions.

In 1732, Queen Caroline nominated Morant to the English chaplaincy at Amsterdam, although he only stayed there for two years. He held several posts over the next few years before being appointed Rector of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester in 1738. He married Anne Stebbing in his church the same year.

Morant’s major work was his monumental The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, which occupied him for fifteen years and emerged in installments from 1763 to 1768. His wife died in 1767, and Morant died in 1770 and was buried next to her in Aldham, whose Rector he had been since 1745.

His DNB article has more biographical information.

We’ll close with one of his more pleasing asides from the History and Antiquities of Colchester, where he is ploughing steadily through the history of Roman Colchester.

To secure their conquest, the Romans took a most effectual method; that was, To draw the flower of the British youth out of this island ; which forming into twelve large bodies, or more, they sent to the most distant provinces, and continually recruited them from Britain. This was no less than draining the strength and vigor of this island ; and depriving the inhabitants of all disposition, at least of all power, of shaking off their yoke. A most infallible method to keep a mutinous and revolting Province in due subjection!

There is a portrait of Morant done by Charles Head (1850–1926), and he has a school in Colchester named after him.

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3 thoughts on “Philip Morant’s Colchester

  1. Pingback: Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1709/10—1781) | Kirby and his world

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