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Edmund Castell

In Higham Gobion church is a memorial to one of its rectors – Edmund Castell [Z1244/29]. A summary of the Latin inscription reads: Edmund Castell S.T.D Regius Master of Charles II, canon of Canterbury Cathedral, Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University, Fellow of the Royal Society, author of the Lexicon Heptaglotton, and rector of this church. His mortal remains lie with those of his wife Lady Elizabeth Bettelworth, widow first of Sir Peter Bettelworth and then of John Herris esquire (whose one son with Elizabeth, William, also lies here). In the year 1674, Edmund aged 68 and Elizabeth aged 64. The text ends with an Arabic inscription: 'The living here reads the buried'. The monument was put up by Castell during his lifetime, eleven years before his death in 1685.

Edmund Castell was baptised on 4th January 1606 at East Hatley [Cambridgeshire]. He went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1621, receiving his BA in 1625 and MA in 1628. In 1635 he received his Bachelor of Divinity and became Vicar of Hatfield Peverel [Essex], which he resigned in 1638. The next record of him is in 1647 when appointed Rector of Woodham Walter [Essex]. He married his wife Dorothy (née Fytch) in 1648 but she pre-deceased him without children.

From 1653 he resided in London: he had acquired knowledge of Arabic and other languages and was engaged in helping to produce a Bible in various languages, being responsible for correcting text in Samaritan, Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopian and translating sections into Ethiopian and Syriac. He also produced, with Samuel Clarke and Alexander Huish though most of the work was his, a lexicon in the seven languages into which the Bible had been translated: Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldean, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian and Persian. This was finished in 1670 but nearly bankrupted him in the process; he claimed it cost him £12,000 of his own money, millions by today's standards. As partial recompense Charles II (1660-1685) made him a royal chaplain and Canon of Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1666 Castell was appointed Professor or Arabic at Cambridge but he only seems to have had one pupil! In 1671 he finally left London for Higham Gobion, to which rectory he had been appointed in 1663. He held the living in plurality with Woodham Walter until resigning the latter in 1670. He spent his last years in some poverty and by 1684 he was effectively blind. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1674, resigning in 1682.

He married his second wife, Elizabeth Herris, widow, before 1666. He had no children of his own but she had several children from a previous marriage. Castell died at Higham Gobion in January 1686 and was buried in the church on 5th January, eighty years and one day after his baptism. On 1st June 1986 the four hundredth anniversary of his death was marked with a service at the church [CRT130Higham2].