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William Poynter

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Born 20 May, 1762, at Petersfield, Hants; died 26 Nov., 1827, in London. He was educated at the English College at Douai, where he was ordained in 1786. He remained as professor, and afterwards prefect of studies till the college came to an end during the Terror. After undergoing eighteen months imprisonment, the collegians were set free, and returned to England in March, 1795. Poynter with the students from the South went to Old Hall, where he took a leading part in the foundation of St. Edmund's College, being first vice-president, then (1801-13) president. In 1803, Bishop Douglass of the London district being in declining health, Dr. Poynter was consecrated his coadjutor, remaining at the same time president of the college. On the death of Bishop Douglass in 1812, Bishop Poynter succeeded as vicar Apostolic. His position was rendered difficult by the persistent attacks of Bishop Milner in pamphlets and even in his pastorals (see JOHN MILNER). Dr. Poynter endured all Milner's accusations in silence, having the support of all the other English and Scotch bishops; but when in May, 1814, on the issue of the famous Quarantotti Rescript, which sanctioned all the "security" restrictions, Milner went to Rome to obtain its reversal, Dr. Poynter followed him there and wrote his "Apologetical Epistle" defending himself to Propaganda. Quarantotti's Rescript was withdrawn, and in its place was substituted a "Letter to Dr. Poynter", dated from Genoa, where the pope had taken refuge. A limited veto was sanctioned, but the exequatur was refused. Milner was directed to abstain from publishing pastorals or pamphlets against Dr. Poynter. He obeyed this injunction, but continued his attacks in letters to the "Orthodox Journal" until he was peremptorily prohibited by order of the pope, under pain of being deposed.

During his episcopate Dr. Poynter paid four visits to Paris of several months each (1814, 15, 17, and 22), with the object of reclaiming the property of the colleges at Douai and elsewhere, which had been confiscated during the Revolution. He received the support of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh, and of the British commissioners appointed to deal with the claims. He succeeded eventually in recovering the colleges themselves and about £30,000 which had been kept in the names of the bishops, but the main claim amounting to £120,000 was lost. The French indeed paid it to the British commissioners, but these refused to hand it over, on the plea that it would be applied to purposes considered by English law as "superstitious". The final decision was given in November, 1825. It is said that the disappointment of the failure of his long labours notably shortened the bishop's life. His principal works are: "Theological Examinations of Columbanus" (London, 1811); "Epistola Apologetica", tr. by Butler (London, 1820), also appeared in Butler, "Hist. Mem.", 3rd edition; "Prayerbook for Catholic Sailors and Soldiers" (London, 1858); "Evidences of Christianity" (London, 1827); "New Year's Gift" in Directories (1813-28); numerous pamphlets, pastorals etc. There is a portrait of him by Ramsay (1803) at St. Edmund's College, another in "Catholic Directory" for 1829; also a bust by Turnerelli and another at Moorfields.


COOPER in Dict. Nat. Biog.; GILLOW, Dict. Eng. Cath.; KIRK, Biographies (London, 1909): BRADY, Episcopal Succession (London, 1877) AMHERST, Cath. Emancipation (London, 1886); WARD, Hist. of St. Edmund's College (London, 1893); Catholic London a Century Ago (London, 1905); IDEM, Dawn of Catholic Revival (London, 1909); HUSENBETH, Life of Milner (Dublin, 1862); BUTLER, Hist. Mem. (3rd ed., London, 1822); Laity's Directory (1829); Cath. Miscellany; Orthodox Journal, etc.

About this page

APA citation. Ward, B. (1911). William Poynter. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ward, Bernard. "William Poynter." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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