John Horsley was the son of Samuel Horsley (17 March 1669 - 4 July 1735) and his wife Ruth (née Davidson). Samuel was in turn the second son of William Horsley of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, who was born in 1647 and died on 10 February 1709, and his wife Elizabeth (née Lewin).
John was born on 13 November 1699, and was educated at the then College of Edinburgh, which was to become the University of Edinburgh under the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1858. An item in the University's Library Accounts 1695-1746, dated 14 February 1723, records the application of Isaac Maddox for the degree of Master of Arts, and notes that John Horseley in the same circumstances (now a Preacher in London) had an Ample Diploma granted him for the degree of Master of Arts & the Person who appeared for him gave in a Guiney.
John Horsley's father had been a dissenter, that is a Protestant who did not accept the doctrines or practices of the Church of England, but had subsequently conformed. Isaac Maddox's father had also been a dissenter. Isaac was orphaned at a young age, and brought up by an aunt who sent him to a charity school before apprenticing him to a pastry cook. Proving too studious for an apprenticeship, he was tutored by an uncle and the Revd Hay, Curate and later Vicar of St Stephen's, Coleman Street, London (destroyed in the Fire of London of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, destroyed again by bombing in 1940 but not rebuilt). Isaac and John Horsley became friends when both were studying for the dissenting ministry at Edinburgh. Neither appears to have held any dissenting pastorates, both instead conforming to the Church of England.
Isaac Maddox was ordained Deacon on 10 March 1723 and Priest on 9 June 1723. In 1736 he was elevated to the Bishopric of St Asaph in North Wales, and in 1743 translated to that of Worcester, where he served until his death in 1759.
John Horsley was for many years Lecturer at St Martin's in the Fields, London, and, in 1745, was additionally instituted as Rector of Thorley, where he lived until his death on 27 November 1777. In 1754 he was also appointed Rector of St Mary's, Newington Butts, Surrey, a Peculiar, that is a Church outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop in whose Diocese it is located, in the gift of Isaac Maddox as Bishop of Worcester.
John Horsley was married twice. His first wife was Ann, the daughter of William Hamilton, the Principal of the College of Edinburgh. They had a dauugther, Martha, who was born on 12 December 1730 but died whilst still a baby on 23 September 1731, a son Samuel, born on 15 September 1733 at St Martin's Place by St Martin's in the Fields, and a son William who was born in 1735 but died in the same year. Samuel entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1751 and was awarded the degree of LL.B. in 1758. His Father then appointed him Curate of St Mary's, Newington Butts, resigning as Rector of the living in his favour in 1759. Samuel was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, and served as its Secretary from 1773-1778. He was also Rector of Thorley, from 1779-1782, being installed as Archdeacon of St Alban's in 1781. He ultimately become Bishop, first of St Davids, then of Rochester, and finally St Asaph.
Ann Horsley died in the prime of life on 19 February 1735.
On 16 June 1739 John married Mary, the daughter of George Leslie of Kincraigie, Scotland. They had three surviving sons and four daughters, John (born 1741), George (1745-1792), Francis (1751-1826), Ann (1740-1806), Sarah (1742-1820), Mary (1747-1824) and Elizabeth (1748-1811). A fourth son William, a twin of Elizabeth, died young. George became Commissary of the Army in Bombay. Francis became a merchant in both the Far East and West Indies, and served as a member of the Honourable East India Company's Civil Service . Mary married William Palmer, of Nazeing Park, Essex, a London merchant, magistrate and High Sheriff of Essex. Their third son, William Jocelyn Palmer (1778 - 1853), was the father of Roundell Palmer (1812 - 1895), the first Earl of Selborne who twice served as Lord Chancellor. Their fourth son, John Horsley Palmer (7 July 1779 - 7 February 1858), became Governor of the Bank of England.
Mary Horsley Snr died on 21 October 1787.
John and Mary are buried under the chancel of St James the Great, Thorley.
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