BARLOW, Thomas (1607-91)

BARLOW, Thomas (1607–91)

cons. 27 June 1675 bp. of LINCOLN

First sat 13 Oct. 1675; last sat 16 Apr. 1689

b. 1607, s. of Richard Barlow (d.1637) of Orton, Westmld. educ. Appleby g.s.; Queen’s, Oxf. matric. 1625, BA 1630, MA 1633, fell. 1633, BD 1657, DD 1660. unmd. 8 Oct. 1691; will 29 Sept. 1691, pr. 3 Dec.1

Preb. Worcester 1660–75; adn. Oxf. 1664–75.

Reader in metaphysics, Oxf. 1635; keeper, Bodl. Oxf. 1652–60; provost, Queen’s, Oxf. 1658–60; Lady Margaret Prof. Divinity, Oxf. 1660–75.

Also associated with: Long-Gill, Orton, Westmld; Oxf., Oxon; Buckden, Hunts.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, attrib. Sir P. Lely, Bodl. Oxf.; oil on canvas, by unknown artist, c. 1657, Queen’s, Oxf.

The elevation in 1675 of Thomas Barlow, fervent royalist and ‘a very Hercules of orthodoxy’, did not meet with universal approval.2 According to Wood, Barlow had ‘truckled to the Independents … partly to keep himself safe and secure, and partly to gain popular applause’. He and Gilbert Sheldon, of Canterbury, had been in rival theological camps at Oxford before the civil wars and Sheldon remained suspicious of Barlow’s ‘thorough-paced’ Calvinism, which refused to bend to the theological emphases of the Restoration Church.3 Barlow’s intellectual and political framework was informed by a strident anti-Catholicism that echoed the prejudices of the sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Church.4 Hostile to ‘the unbridled profaneness and atheism of our age’, the ‘machinations of papists, nonconformists and fanatics’ and the hypocrisy of Church careerists, he found himself constantly at odds with Restoration religious politics.5 As Thomas Bruce, 2nd earl of Ailesbury, remarked, ‘it is incongruous to say that a bishop of the Church of England should be against prelacy, but so it was’.6

Barlow was an interested observer of the two failed comprehension initiatives of 1667 and 1668; his annotated collection of pamphlets on the subject provides one of the best sources for the abortive negotiations.7 He did not, however, support the proposals. In January 1669, when a possible dissolution of Parliament seemed likely, he wrote that,

all men believe that the Presbyterians and all nonconformists desire and endeavour the dissolution of this, and the call of another parliament hoping to choose such members as may give a toleration (if not a greater encouragement or establishment) of their sect and way, and also (to ease the people of taxes) give the king the Church lands to raise money out of the church’s ruins; and so rob God, and invest the pious donations of their ancestors to the paying of the public debts … I hope you and I shall not live to see that day. Sure I am this present parliament will never do an Act so manifestly sacrilegious, and if (quod absit) another parliament should endeavour it, I am persuaded his sacred majesty (on whose head may the crown flourish) will never consent.8

In February 1673, in the wake of debates in the Commons criticizing the king’s Declaration of Indulgence, Barlow also wrote approvingly to Sir Edward Harley about ‘the zeal of your House for the protestant religion’.9

Barlow’s Calvinist leanings and ability to survive relatively unscathed during the interregnum made him something of an object of suspicion. According to Wood, Barlow’s scholarly merits were exaggerated and he was a friend to none unless ‘the person is in capacity to do him service’. Wood may have been needlessly spiteful but Barlow certainly was careful to avoid making unnecessary political enemies. When he requested information about current affairs in 1669, for example, he explained that he needed it ‘so I might better know how to go myself: not that I mean to go along with world when it goes wrong, but that (being forewarned) I might endeavour to go well when it goes ill’.10 And two of Barlow’s friends, the secretaries of state Sir Joseph Williamson and Henry Coventry, were indeed in a capacity to do him service. It was through their influence that, despite the open hostility of Sheldon, Barlow was elevated to a bishopric in 1675.11 George Morley, of Winchester, also championed Barlow as a supporter of reformed orthodoxy and performed Barlow’s consecration when Sheldon refused to officiate.12 In a letter to Sir William Morrice, Barlow made his priorities clear: he wanted to tackle ‘the unbridled profaneness and atheism of our age’ and to protect the Church ‘from the unwearied machinations of papists, nonconformists and fanatics, and … some who pretend to be good sons of the Church of England (and as such enjoy great preferments and dignities) and yet publicly impugn her doctrine’.13

Over the course of 12 parliamentary sessions held during Barlow’s episcopate, he attended nine. There is no clear indication that he intervened in parliamentary elections and his ability to do so was circumscribed by his reluctance to visit his new diocese. He was, however, active in the business of the House. He was frequently named to the sessional committees and, as an active member of the Journals committee, helped to examine and amend the Journal on several occasions. In the course of his parliamentary career he was also named to more than 40 select committees.

Barlow took his seat in the Lords at the start of business on 13 Oct. 1675 and attended for 86 per cent of sittings. He was present at the contentious opening of the 1677–8 session and attended 51 per cent of sittings thereafter. He opposed in print the denial by Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury, of the divine origins of ‘kingly power’.14 On 6 Mar. 1678 he was one of those named to attend the king with the resolution of the House refusing the claim of John Frescheville, Baron Frescheville, to precedence as if he were heir to a creation of the late thirteenth century.

After the revelations of a Popish Plot in the summer of 1678, the session that assembled on 21 Oct. was increasingly obsessed with the perceived Catholic threat. Again taking his seat at the start of business, Barlow attended 69 per cent of sittings in the two-month session. When the Test bill came before the Lords he voted that the declaration against transubstantiation should be under the same penalty as the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Four days later, he challenged William Sancroft, of Canterbury, Peter Gunning, of Ely, and John Dolben, then bishop of Rochester, for opposing the declaration in the Test that all image-worship was idolatrous.15 On 19 Nov. Barlow was one of only 11 members of the House who voted for the removal from Whitehall of the queen and her Catholic retinue. James Stuart, duke of York, was exempted from the Test Act on 21 Nov., a day on which Barlow (perhaps prudently) absented himself from the House. As the session drew to a close at the end of December 1678, Barlow voted against a Lords’ amendment to the disbanding bill. On 27 Dec. he also voted against the committal of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds). His support was not unequivocal: Barlow’s name is absent from Danby’s surviving calculations of probable supporters or opponents.

In March 1679 Barlow attended the first six days of the first Exclusion Parliament, when virtually no business was transacted; after the main session began on 15 Mar. he was present for 74 per cent of sittings. His ingrained hostility towards the ‘exorbitant jurisdiction’ of the prelates was revealed in the division on Danby’s attainder on 14 April. When Shaftesbury moved that the bishops were not entitled to vote in ‘cases of blood’, Barlow left the chamber rather than vote in a capital case. He went further, joining with Denzil Holles, Baron Holles, to argue in print against the bishops’ right to vote in cases of blood. He was dubbed ‘a bitter enemy of episcopacy’, his loyalty to the king was questioned and it was said that the ‘the sound of Tom of Lincoln is very pleasant to the people’s ears’.16

Early in 1680 Barlow complained of ill health and the frailties of old age.17 He arrived five weeks into the second Exclusion Parliament, answering a call of the House on 30 Oct. with the excuse that he was travelling to London. As a consequence, this long-time enemy of all things Catholic contrived to avoid upsetting York by missing the crucial vote on exclusion on 15 November. He attended the remainder of proceedings for just under one-fifth of all sittings, but was present every day of the short-lived Oxford Parliament in March 1681. He then chose to re-publish, with caustic annotations, the papal bulls which had pronounced the excommunications of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, demonstrating thereby that the Catholic Church had always denied that the Church of England was a true church and that it was therefore the enemy of Englishmen and English Protestants. Thereafter he largely retreated to Buckden, writing in anonymity as a ‘cordial friend’ of Protestantism.18 He nevertheless did visit London occasionally. In 1682–3, for example, he sat as a member of the court of delegates on the Hyde–Emerton affair, delivering a decision in favour of the Emerton marriage that was perhaps still influenced by his dislike of Danby.

Early in 1684 Barlow’s continuing crusade against Restoration Church aesthetics led to the commencement of an unsuccessful suit in the court of arches against Moulton parish church, where effigies of the 12 apostles had been set up. An outraged Barlow claimed in his breviate that images were outlawed by the Church and could only ‘defile and pollute’ her worship.19 Later that year his only response to a ‘sharp order’ made by the Bedfordshire quarter sessions against Dissenters was to send a circular letter to his clergy requiring them to publish the order ‘and diligently to advance the design of it’ by means that included ‘preaching and catechizing (to take away all excuses for their ignorance)’.20 This was in keeping with his tract on toleration, originally written in 1660, in which he had argued that individuals should be persuaded of truth, not forced into it.21 It was, however, the sort of response that his critics found deficient. In May 1684 he received a letter from Archbishop William Sancroft alerting him to reports that he favoured nonconformists and neglected his duties. In his response Barlow insisted that the accusations against him had been made ‘not because I am a favourer of non-conformists, but because I am not … a favourer of papists’. In late 1684 he was threatened with a metropolitan visitation for pastoral neglect, and was temporarily reprieved by the ‘undeserved charity and kindness of the excellent’ George Savile, marquess of Halifax, and the ‘prudence and diligence’ of his friend Sir Peter Pett. He excused his non-residence in Lincoln on the grounds of age and infirmity – in January 1685 he claimed to have been housebound for over a year – as well as the convenient location of Buckden for diocesan business.22

Following the accession of James II, Barlow composed an address of thanks to the king for the declaration to preserve the Church, explaining to a friend that to court the anger of a Roman Catholic prince was no way to sustain the English Reformation.23 He attended Westminster for the opening of Parliament on 19 May 1685 and was present for 82 per cent of sittings. On 16 Nov. he was added to the committee for privileges. He was present on 19 Nov. for the controversial debate on the king’s decision to retain Catholic officers in the army, but (perhaps with a sense of self-preservation) does not appear to have contributed to the debate. Nevertheless he found himself under attack. While in London he was accused before Sancroft and many of his fellow bishops of behaving ‘in a way unbecoming a good Christian, a bishop and a brother’, with the result that by the spring of 1686, on the instructions of the king, Sancroft had asked Thomas White, of Peterborough, to conduct a visitation of Barlow’s diocese. White regretted that ‘so grave and learned a person’ as Barlow should have invited unwelcome attention. James II’s involvement was further underlined when White felt obliged to ask ‘what enquiry should be made about Catholics and whether his majesty will suffer them to be presented though the censures of the Church do not pass upon them’.24 Barlow protested that Sancroft should have given him a chance to rectify any faults before ordering the visitation, declaring that it was strange,

that I should be the only man to be brought upon the stage, and my faults publicly examined; especially at this time, and in those circumstances the Church of England now is; when prudence and Christian charity would rather hide and conceal our faults, then publicly expose them, to the scandal of our Church, and gratification of our adversaries.25

Throughout 1687 and 1688 Barlow was classified as an opponent of James II’s policies. Nevertheless, in 1687 he signed an address of thanks to the king for the first Declaration of Indulgence and encouraged others to do likewise, ‘that he might not seem backward in so acceptable a service’. He was so anxious to appease the king that in July 1687 he offered to omit an argument against idolatry from his latest pamphlet in case it proved offensive. Barely a month later, in the midst of the Magdalen College affair, he presented the son of James II’s appointee, Thomas Cartwright, of Chester, to a living that had long been promised to one of his archdeacons but which was now withdrawn, ‘he having offended the bishop in the business of addressing’.26 Yet Barlow’s underlying beliefs had not changed. In a letter to the staunch Anglican Christopher Hatton, Viscount Hatton, in March 1688, he wrote of his frustration at being forced to omit proof of the ‘stupid idolatry’ of Rome in order to get his pamphlet licensed.27 His ability to play both sides of the game was again demonstrated after the second Declaration of Indulgence when, in response to a query from one of his clergymen, he wrote that,

By his Majesty’s command I was required to send that declaration to all churches in my diocese. In obedience whereto I sent them. Now the same authority which requires me to send them, requires you to read them. But whether you should, or you should not read them, is a question of that difficulty in the circumstances we now are, that you cannot expect that I should hastily answer it, especially in writing. For myself I shall neither persuade or dissuade you, but leave it to your prudence or conscience, whether you will, or you will not read it.

He went on to say that, if the recipient decided to read it against his conscience, ‘it will be your sin, and you to blame for doing it’.28 He did not sign the petition of the Seven Bishops and remained hostile to Sancroft’s prelatical leadership of the Restoration Church.29 Perhaps this hostility to Sancroft was enough to secure the king’s support, for in August 1688 it was rumoured that he would be translated to York.30

On 22 Jan. 1689 the 80-year-old Barlow attended the opening of the Convention, but was present thereafter for only 31 per cent of sittings. On 29 Jan. he voted for a regency and on the 31st against a motion declaring the prince and princess of Orange king and queen. When the Lords came to debate the wording of the offer of the crown on 4 and 6 Feb., Barlow remained in the ‘loyal’ camp, opposing both the use of the word ‘abdicated’ and the expression ‘that the throne is thereby vacant’. He was canvassed by Ailesbury, who reported that Barlow was ‘very likely’ to lend his support; in the event, he was one of 54 lords who ‘made all good in the House of Lords, and most strenuously opposed the question’.31 Barlow joined Ailesbury as one of the conference managers on the abdication question. When the critical vote was lost on 6 Feb. he was one of 38 to register his protest. He absented himself from the House on 13 Feb. 1689 when William and Mary were proclaimed joint monarchs but attended the next sitting, on 15 February. On 8 Mar. he was named to the delegation to attend the new monarchs with thanks for his answer to the address of both houses. He took the oaths of fealty to the new monarchy and even attended the coronation.32

Barlow attended the House for the final time on 16 Apr. 1689. On 22 May he was given leave of absence for the last four months of the 1689 session, his proxy having been entered in favour of Henry Compton, of London, on 7 May. He remained at Buckden, immersed in his books. This conservative bishop viewed the new regime’s religious policy with contempt and he claimed that the passage of the 1689 Act of Toleration served Dissenters despite their having ‘ruined church and state, and murdered their king’.33 He believed fervently that no state should tolerate any religion ‘which may be destructive to the civil peace’ and was particularly unhappy with toleration for Quakers, whose abrasive behaviour put them beyond the bounds of ‘reason and civility’.34

On 12 Nov. 1689 Barlow registered his proxy in Compton’s favour for the winter 1689 session. There is no record of a further proxy for the sessions from 1690 to 1691. Shortly before his death in October 1691 at Buckden, he made his final will. In 1689 he had valued his personal estate as worth £300.35 The contents of his personal library were divided between the Bodleian and Queen’s College, Oxford. Controversy pursued Barlow even after death. His friend Sir Peter Pett published assorted manuscripts as The Genuine Remains, only to be accused by William Offley and Henry Brougham, Barlow’s executors, of injuring the bishop’s reputation for financial gain.36 His posthumous standing was however irreparably damaged by Anthony Wood, who described the bishop somewhat simplistically as one who had ‘flattered and run with the times’.37


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/407.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1670 and Addenda 1660–70, p. 376.
  • 3 Wood, Life and Times, i. 364.
  • 4 LPL, ms 930, no. 32; The Genuine Remains of That Learned Prelate Dr Thomas Barlow, Late Lord Bishop of Lincoln (1693), 157–8.
  • 5 Add. 37021, f. 69.
  • 6 Ailesbury Mems, i. 229.
  • 7 Bodl. B.14.15.Linc.
  • 8 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. C 328, f. 509.
  • 9 Add. 70012, f. 22.
  • 10 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. C 328, f. 509.
  • 11 Wood, Life and Times, 365.
  • 12 Evelyn Diary, iv. 66; Seventeenth-century Oxford, 608–9, 834-5.
  • 13 Add. 37021, f. 69.
  • 14 T. Barlow, Genuine Remains (1693), 237–9.
  • 15 HMC Ormonde, ns. iv. 473; Evelyn Diary, iv. 159; Timberland, i. 221.
  • 16 T. Barlow, A Discourse of the Peerage and Jurisdiction of the Lords Spiritual in Parliament (1679); [Anon], A Rejoynder to the Reply Concerning the Peerage and Jurisdiction of the Lords Spiritual in Parliament (1679), 14; CSP Dom. 1679–80, pp. 25–26.
  • 17 Bodl. Tanner 314, f. 30; Tanner 38, f. 134.
  • 18 T. Barlow, Brutum Fulmen (1681); A Discourse Concerning the Laws Ecclesiastical and Civill, Made Against Hereticks by Popes, Emperors and Kings (1682).
  • 19 Stowe 1058, f. 167; Bodl. Tanner 280, ff. 144–7.
  • 20 Barlow, Genuine Remains, 641–3.
  • 21 T. Barlow, Several Miscellaneous and Weighty Cases of Conscience (1692), 36–62.
  • 22 Barlow, Genuine Remains, 255–7; Bodl. Tanner 30, f. 131.
  • 23 Barlow, Genuine Remains, 340–1.
  • 24 Ailesbury Mems. i. 229; Bodl. Tanner 31, ff. 265, 286, 289; Tanner 30, f. 29; Tanner 130, f. 115.
  • 25 Bodl. Tanner 31, f. 286.
  • 26 Verney ms mic. M636/42, H. Paman to Sir R. Verney, 10 May 1687 and 17 Aug. 1688, draft reply 22 May 1687; Bodl. Tanner 29, ff. 12, 47.
  • 27 Add. 29584, f. 66.
  • 28 Add. 70053, Barlow to T. Lodington, 29 May 1688.
  • 29 Political Studies, xxxi. 78.
  • 30 Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 43, f. 168; HMC Hastings, ii. 186.
  • 31 Ailesbury Mems. i. 229.
  • 32 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. v. 85.
  • 33 Seventeenth-century Oxford, 606.
  • 34 T. Barlow, Cases of Conscience, 21, 23, 35–36.
  • 35 Chatsworth, Halifax Collection B.97.
  • 36 H. Brougham, Reflections To a Late Book, Entituled, The Genuine Remains of Dr Thomas Barlow, Late Bishop of Lincoln (1694), epistle dedicatory.
  • 37 Wood, Life and Times, ii. 202, 312.