St. Edmund Hall expulsions

Six students of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford were expelled from the university in March 1768. They were associated with Lady Huntingdon and one of them had been tutored by John Fletcher. They were Calvinistic Methodists and were accused by their tutor of preaching in conventicles, of holding 'dangerous views on Justification by Faith' and extreme forms of Calvinism, as well as lacking social and educational standards. The Vice-Chancellor examined them and they were expelled, despite the fact that the Principal of St. Edmund Hall pleaded their case. Two of them became students of Lady Huntingdon's college at Trevecka. The incident reveals the attitude towards Methodism in university circles at that time. It provoked widespread protests in evangelical circles, including Sir Richard Hill's pamphlet Pietas Oxoniensis and a fierce controversy resulted. Samuel Johnson's later comment probably represented the majority view. John Wesley appears to have avoided getting involved, beyond a passing reference in his Journal for 19 November 1768.


'I talked of the recent expulsion of six students from the University of Oxford, who were methodists, and would not desist from publickly praying and exhorting. JOHNSON. "Sir, that expulsion was extremely just and proper. What have they to do at the University, who are not willing to be taught, but will presume to teach? Where is religion to be learnt, but at an University? Sir, they were examined, and found to be mighty ignorant fellows." BOSWELL. "But was it not hard, sir, to expel them, for I am told they were good beings?" JOHNSON. "I believe they might be good beings; but they were not fit to be in the University of Oxford. A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden." Lord Elibank used to repeat this as an illustration uncommonly happy.'

James Boswell, The Life of Dr. Johnson, April 14, 1772

  • WHS Proceedings, 14 pp.46-7
  • John S. Simon, John Wesley the Master Builder (1927) pp.213-15