Death and Burial

Death and Burial

On the 23rd of December 1691 Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, died and Robert Boyle died one week later on the 30th of December.  Both were buried in the Church of St-Martin-in-the-fields, where Nell Gwynne William Hogarth Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Chippendale are also buried.  When the church was demolished in 1721 the bodies of Robert Boyle and Katherine were moved and reburied in an unknown grave.  Surprisingly, in the crypt of the new Church there is a monument to Frances Jones daughter of Katherine which reads:

Here lyes the body of
Mtris FRANCES IONES daughter of ARTHVR
Lord vicecount of Ranelagh, by his wife ye
Lady KATHERINE BOYLE who was daughter
To Richard Boyle, Earl of Corke, and Lord  high Tresuror of Ireland.
She dyed in the prime of her Age, haueing neuer been marryed, the XXVIII of
March in the yeare MDCLXXII.
Enough; and leue the rest to Fame;
‘Tis to Commend her but to name.
Courtship, which Lieueing she declin’d,
When dead to offer; were unkind.
Where neuer any could speake ill,
Who would officious Praises spill?
Nor can the truest Wit or Friend
Without Detracting her Commend.
To say she liu’d A Virgin Chast.
In this Ahe loose and all unlac’d;
Nor was, where vice is so allow’d
Of virtue or Asham’d or Proud;
That her Soule was on heu’n so bent,
No minute but it Came and Went,
That, ready her last debt to pay,
She summ’d her life vp euery day;
Modest, as Morne, as Midday, Bright;
Gentle, as Euening, Coole, as Night;
‘Tis true, but all so weakly said,
‘Twere more Significant: She’s Dead.”

The funeral service for Robert Boyle took place on the 7th of January 1692 and the sermon was preached by Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, [1643-1715] who had known Robert for “nine and twenty years.”  He numbered Boyle among men

“who have lived in constant contempt of Wealth, Pleasure, or the Greatness of this world; whose minds have been in as constant a pursuit of Knowledg, in all the several ways in which they could trace it; who have added new Regions of their own discoveries, and that in a vast variety to all they had found made before them; who have directed all their enquiries into Nature to the Honour of its great Maker:” (21) 

Burnet indicated that scientific research exposed the works of God and “gives insensible a greatness to the soul.”( 22) In such a scenario, knowledge is not so much the product of labour as much as a “gift of God” and a “means of making both himself and others wiser and happier, greater and better.”(23) Burnet sets out many of the events and actions mentioned subsequently in biographical tracts on Boyle as for example his many charitable bequests, translations of bibles etc. which “charity went beyond a thousand Pounds a year.”( 24)  He also tells us that Boyle for “almost Forty years laboured under such a feebleness of Body, and such lowness of Strength and Spirits…” (25) and also suffered from serious “feebleness in his sight.”
Inadvertently he provides a unique insight into the personality of the scientist:

 “As for Joy, he had indeed nothing of Frolick and Levity in him, he had no Relish for the idle and extravagant Madness of the Men of Pleasure; he did not waste his Time, nor dissipate his Spirits into foolish Mirth…” (26)

As part of his will, Boyle bequeathed his papers, which were held in the house of Katherine Boyle, to his sister.  But as she predeceased him they passed to his “servants” John Warr and Thomas Smith.   While Henry Miles was carrying out some research on the papers many years later when he discovered that William Wotton had retained a significant quantity of the papers and following Wotton’s death these passed to his son-in-law William Clarke.  Miles re-unified the collection and when he died in 1763 his widow donated them to the Royal Society in 1769 where they have remained ever since.

(21) Burnet, Gilbert, 1643-1715.  A sermon preached at the Funeral of the Honourable Robert Boyle: at St. Martins in the Fields, January 7. 1691/2 London: Printed for Ric. Chiswell, at the Rose and Crown, and John Taylor, at the Ship, in St. Paul’s Church Yard, 1692. 40p. pg. 8
(22) Do. Pg. 14 
(23) Do pg. 20
(24) Do pg. 32
(25) Do pg. 30
(26) Do pg. 38

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