BEVERIDGE, William (1637-1708)

BEVERIDGE, William (1637–1708)

cons. 16 July 1704 bp. of ST ASAPH

First sat 25 Oct. 1704; last sat 20 Jan. 1708

b. 11 Feb. 1637, 3rd s. of William Beveridge, vic. Barrow, Leics. educ. New Free Sch. Oakham, Rutland; St John’s, Camb. BA 1656, MA 1660, DD 1679; ord. deacon 1661, priest 1661. m. Lucy, da. of William Stanley of Hinckley, Leics. d.s.p.1 d. 5 Mar. 1708; will 11 May 1706, pr. 29 Mar. 1708.2

Chap. to Charles II 1683–5, James II 1685–8, William and Mary 1688–92.

Vic. Ealing, Mdx. 1661–72; chap. to Humphrey Henchman, bp. of London, c.1672;3 rect. St Peter Cornhill, London 1673-1704; canon, Chichester 1673, Chiswick, St Paul’s 1674, Canterbury 1684–1708; adn. Colchester 1681–1704.

Pres. Sion Coll. 1689; mbr. SPG, 1701.4

Also associated with: Westminster Abbey cloisters, c.1704-8.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, by B. Ferrers, Bodl. Oxf.; engraving by M. Vandergucht, after Ferrers, NPG D31440.

A patristic scholar well respected by his fellow high churchmen, William Beveridge is remembered almost exclusively as a pastor and theologian. He was born into a minor clerical dynasty and inherited from his father the Leicestershire estate of Hall Orchard in Barrow. At the time of his death, he bequeathed both Hall Orchard and other properties in Barrow worth an annual rental income of £53, in addition to more than £1,200 in cash. An inventory taken in 1712 revealed that his personal estate was worth over £2,500.5 Beveridge enjoyed the patronage of the bishops of London throughout his career, being presented by Gilbert Sheldon, then of London, later archbishop of Canterbury, to his first living.6 As a theologian in the same vein as John Pearson, of Chester, and George Bull, of St Davids, he was pivotal to the high churchmanship that developed in the early eighteenth century Church. He helped to develop the martyrology of Charles I and, as an outspoken advocate of Anglican royalist politics and religious uniformity, opposed the comprehension projects of 1668 and 1674. In 1681 he preached his famous sermon on the merits of the prayer book (perennially popular, it had gone into 44 editions by 1824) and he never retreated from the opinion that Anglican public worship fostered political loyalty.7

In 1672, Beveridge joined the ranks of influential London clergymen when he was presented to the City church of St Peter Cornhill. On 19 May 1688, he was one of 17 clergymen who gathered in London to co-ordinate their opposition to the second Declaration of Indulgence. He was nevertheless unhappy about the events of the revolution of 1688. In January 1689 he was one of several Tory clergymen who opposed the decision by Henry Compton, of London to omit the customary prayers for the royal family from the public liturgy. On 13 Sept. of that year Beveridge was named to the ecclesiastical commission to revise the liturgy along the lines agreed between John Tillotson, the future archbishop of Canterbury, and Hans Willem Bentinck, earl of Portland. The contentious debates in convocation in December 1689 showed that he was firmly allied to Tillotson.8

Beveridge’s elevation to the episcopate was widely anticipated and on 22 Apr. 1691 he was nominated to replace the non-juror Thomas Ken, at Bath and Wells.9 William Sancroft, of Canterbury, advised him to reject the appointment although he did not expect Beveridge to follow his guidance. Having first accepted the nomination Beveridge then changed his mind, claiming to be worried about accepting a post that was not canonically vacant, although he was also concerned about the strength of support for Ken in the diocese and the threat of an action in king’s bench. His refusal offended the king and provoked an attack in the press (attributed to Edward Stillingfleet, of Worcester).10 Beveridge nevertheless continued to make his mark as a Tory clergyman in convocation.11

It was only with the accession of Anne that his career fortunes changed. A favourite with the new queen for his stance on royal authority and supported by John Sharp, archbishop of York, Beveridge was elevated to St Asaph as one of four Tory bishops to be appointed in the first three years of Anne’s reign. He was consecrated on 16 July 1704 and went into his new diocese determined on pastoral reform. A prolific writer of learned doctrinal expositions and devotionals, he took a pragmatic stance towards the paucity of academically qualified clergy in his new diocese.12 He encouraged branches of the SPCK and the translation into Welsh of his publications.13 In an area dominated by Tories, his contribution to Welsh life was ecclesiastical rather than political. Even when other parts of the country were gripped with election fever in 1705 and 1706, there was no evidence of partisan activity to engage the new bishop.14

Beveridge took his seat in the House on 24 Oct. 1704, the first day of a new parliamentary session, when he was ordered to preach to the House on 5 November. He was also named to the committee to draw up a congratulatory address on the military successes of John Churchill, duke of Marlborough. His sporadic attendance during the session (only 12 per cent of sittings) marked the start of a lacklustre parliamentary career. A lack of interest in Parliament did not denote a lack of interest in national politics, however, for he used the pulpit to deliver political sermons of considerable partisanship. On 5 Nov. 1704, his sermon before the Lords foreshadowed the controversial Sacheverell sermon of 1709; he applied his text (Esther ix. 27–28) in such a way as to commemorate only the gunpowder plot and not William III’s landing at Torbay. Beveridge attributed the revolution to providence, rather than William III.15 On 14 Dec. he registered his proxy in favour of his fellow Tory George Hooper, of Bath and Wells. The following day, after a four-hour debate on the occasional conformity bill and the division on its second reading, William Nicolson, of Carlisle, noted that Beveridge (by proxy) was one of the 33 who voted in favour of the bill.16 Beveridge excused himself from the 1704 Christmas dinner at Lambeth Palace on the grounds of ill health. At the time he was also fretful at the prospect of the case of Thomas Watson, the deprived bishop of St Davids, coming before the Lords, fearing that it would have divisive consequences whatever the outcome.17 He returned to the House on 20 Feb. 1705 and attended for a further 12 days before the end of the session.

Beveridge arrived at the October 1705 session six days after the start of business. He attended 30 per cent of sittings and was named to eight committees. On 8 Jan. 1706, he was ordered to give the annual sermon commemorating the execution of Charles I. His sermon (on the Christian martyr Stephen) repeated his apology for the sainthood of Charles I, who, he claimed, had died defending the Church from puritans inspired by the devil.18 On 1 Feb. the House ordered its publication. Beveridge attended again on 19 Mar. 1706 but missed the last two months of the session.

On 3 Dec. 1706, Beveridge arrived on the first day of the 1706–7 session and attended 35 per cent of sittings (a total of 30 days). Throughout December 1706 he did the social round in London with his nephew Dean William Stanley and with William Nicolson.19 Parliamentary business in the new year revolved around the union with Scotland. Francis Annesley, the Member for Preston, informed the archbishop of Dublin that Beveridge, Hooper, Compton, and Sharp were opposed to the ‘Scotch Acts’.20 Beveridge in particular feared that Scottish Presbyterianism would in some way contaminate the Church of England. On 3 Feb. 1707, he supported Sharp’s unsuccessful amendment that the Test Act should be an integral part of the Act of Union. On 3 Mar. he was again among the minority trying to block the article that would give official recognition to the Scottish kirk. He thanked George Bull for his speech affirming the Church of England as the ideal Protestant church, wishing that he and Bull had responsibility for writing the bill themselves; faced with arguments that national security was of a higher priority than the Anglican monopoly, however, Beveridge and other like-minded bishops duly voted for the offending article.21

Beveridge consistently devoted more time to ecclesiastical than parliamentary business. On 8 Mar. 1707, the fifth anniversary of the queen’s accession, he was not in the House but with the two archbishops in the royal chapel. The House rose on 8 Apr. and Beveridge failed to attend the subsequent short session that began on 14 Apr. 1707. He arrived 18 days after the start of the 1707–8 session. Attending only nine per cent of sittings, he was absent from the House between 12 Dec. 1707 and 20 Jan. 1708 but was seen on Christmas Day receiving communion at St Margaret’s Church, and he attended the St Stephen’s dinner at Lambeth.22 His health was now in decline and on 20 Jan. 1708 he attended the House for the final time. He died in his apartments in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey on 5 Mar. 1708 and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral with no memorial inscription.23 In addition to his bequests of Leicestershire land and legacies to friends, family, and the poor, he bequeathed £100 to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, his books to a library for London clergy, and the advowson of Barrow vicarage to his Cambridge college.


  • 1 Nichols, Leics. iii, pt. i. 77–81.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/500.
  • 3 A. Tindal Hart, Life of Sharp, 57.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 357–8.
  • 5 TNA, PROB 5/820.
  • 6 Lansd. 987, f. 181.
  • 7 [W. Beveridge], Submission to Governors. Or, the Doctrine of St Peter (1710); A Sermon Concerning the Excellency and Usefulness of the Common-Prayer (1714).
  • 8 Morrice Ent’ring Bk. iv. 260–1, 463; v. 302–3.
  • 9 CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 342-3, 349, 357–8.
  • 10 Evelyn Diary, v. 52; Add. 70015, f. 72; HMC 7th Rep. 197–8; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 227; A Vindication of Their Majesties’ Authority to Fill the Sees of the Deprived Bishops (1691).
  • 11 G. Every, High Church Party, 98, 104, 107.
  • 12 Bodl. Tanner 20, f. 72.
  • 13 History of the Church in Wales, ed. D. Walker (2nd edn.), 101–2.
  • 14 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 798, 802–4, 810.
  • 15 Nicolson, London Diaries, 121; W. Beveridge, A Sermon Preach’d before the House of Peers in the Abbey Church of Westminster (1704), 25–26.
  • 16 Nicolson, London Diaries, 253.
  • 17 Ibid. 260.
  • 18 W. Beveridge, A Sermon Preach’d before the Lords Spiritual and Temporal (1706), 3–10, 12.
  • 19 Nicolson, London Diaries, 404, 406.
  • 20 TCD, King mss 1246, Annesley to King, 8 Mar. 1707.
  • 21 Nicolson, London Diaries, 415, 422; R. Nelson, Life of Bull, 335; Conflict in Stuart England, ed. W.A. Aiken and B.D. Henning, 243–4.
  • 22 Nicolson, London Diaries, 423, 436-7; LPL, ms 1770, f. 54v.
  • 23 Nichols, Leics. iii, pt. i. 77–81.