BLANDFORD, Walter (1615-75)

BLANDFORD, Walter (1615–75)

cons. 3 Dec. 1665 bp. of OXFORD; transl. 13 June 1671 bp. of WORCESTER

First sat 1 Oct. 1666; last sat 21 Mar. 1673

b. 1615/16 s. of Walter Blandford and ?Mary Sheppard (Shepherd) of Mere, Wilts.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. matric. 1635; Wadham, Oxf. BA 1639, MA 1642, fell. 1644, DD 1660. unm. d. 9 July 1675; will 4 July 1675, pr. 28 Nov. 1676.2

Chap. ord. 1660; clerk of the closet 1668–9; dean chapel royal 1669–d.

Chap. to John Lovelace, 2nd Bar. Lovelace, 1648, to Sir Edward Hyde, later earl of Clarendon, 1660; rect. Southrop, Glos. 1645-d.; Remenham, Berks. 1660, Witney, Oxon. 1665–71, Chinnor, Oxon. 1665;3 preb. Gloucester 1660–5.

Warden, Wadham, Oxf. 1659–65; univ. visitor Oxf. 1660;4 v.-chan. Oxf. 1662–4.

Also associated with: Melbury Abbas, Dorset; Oxf., Oxon; Hartlebury, Worcs.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, Wadham, Oxf.

Of obscure parentage, but from a family with deep roots in the border between Dorset and Wiltshire, Walter Blandford went up to Oxford as a servitor. He is not reckoned among the ‘suffering’ clergy and initially accommodated himself to the parliamentary regime during the Civil Wars.5 By the end of the second civil war his sympathies were clearly with the royalists, and in 1648 he left Oxford to tutor John Lovelace, 3rd Baron Lovelace. In 1659 Blandford succeeded John Wilkins, the future bishop of Chester, as warden of Wadham, the Oxford college especially popular with royalist families during the interregnum.6 At the Restoration, he was appointed as one of the Oxford University visitors and thus played an important role in the subsequent purge of the university. He also became chaplain to Sir Edward Hyde, the future earl of Clarendon, whose patronage brought him further preferment. In August 1665 Clarendon told Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, that he intended to use his influence to persuade Blandford to accept elevation to the bishopric of Oxford. Blandford appears to have been reluctant to accept, in part because of the cost of consecration but perhaps also because his health was not good.7 Nevertheless, on 3 Dec. 1665, with the court at Oxford, he was consecrated bishop of Oxford in New College chapel by Humphrey Henchman, of London, William Nicholson, of Gloucester, and Seth Ward, of Salisbury.8

Blandford took his seat in the House of Lords on 1 Oct. 1666, and attended for a quarter of the sittings in that session. On 12 Oct. he was named to a committee to prepare for the Lords’ conference with the Commons on French imports. He helped to manage both that and subsequent conferences on 23 and 30 Oct. 1666. He was not, however, named to any other select committees and his last attendance that session was on 10 Nov. 1666, when he entered his proxy (vacated at the end of the session on 8 Feb. 1667) in favour of Sheldon.

A more active period of parliamentary activity started in the autumn of 1667. Presumably spurred by the attack on Clarendon. Blandford attended for some two-thirds of all sittings between 10 Oct. 1667 and 1 Mar. 1669. In addition to the sessional committees he was named to a range of select committees, including that to consider the lead mines bill involving John Cosin, of Durham. He was present in the House on 20 Nov. 1667 for the debate on the impeachment of his former patron, Clarendon. Assuming that he was in the chamber for the vote, he maintained episcopal solidarity by supporting the chancellor and opposing the king.

The fall of his patron did not damage Blandford’s career. On the contrary, he benefitted from the associated eclipse of Sheldon and his episcopal allies. In February 1668 Blandford replaced Sheldon’s nephew, John Dolben, of Rochester, as clerk of the closet. Dolben’s duties had been carried out for some months by Ward, now bishop of Salisbury, who expected the appointment himself.9 Blandford’s new duties were time-consuming. George Morley, of Winchester, another who lost favour through his association with Clarendon, added to Blandford’s workload by arranging for the latter to succeed him as spiritual adviser to Anne, duchess of York.10 Theologically, Blandford stood at the moderate end of the spectrum; it would seem logical for him to have supported a broader national church, but there is no evidence to link him directly to the comprehension projects mooted at this time.

In the parliamentary session from 19 Oct. 1669 to 11 Dec. 1669 Blandford again attended for some two-thirds of all sittings. His pattern of activity remained unchanged and, although he was appointed to the committee for privileges on the first day of the session, he was named to no other committees. His attendance pattern for the session from 14 Feb. 1670 to 22 Apr. 1671 was almost identical to the previous two sessions, but his name started to appear more regularly on committee nominations and he attended when the House went into committee on the second conventicle bill. On both 17 Mar. 1670 and 28 Mar. 1670 he registered his dissent against legislation to grant a divorce to John Manners, styled Lord Roos (later 9th earl of Rutland). Following the death of Robert Skinner, of Worcester, court gossip was rife about the likely translation of Blandford to the see of Worcester but the royal directive for this was not issued for almost a year.11

Blandford attended for the first day of the resumed session on 24 Oct. 1670, but on 14 Nov. was excused attendance at a call of the House; he returned the following day. He was again named to a number of select committees, including (on 17 Jan. 1671) the committee on the Welsh lead mines bill promoted by Robert Morgan of Bangor and Isaac Barrow of St Asaph. On 10 Feb. 1671 he was again excused attendance when he baptized Katherine, the infant daughter of James Stuart, duke of York, in the duke’s private chapel.12 In March he became involved in a controversy surrounding catholicism at court when he was summoned to attend the dying duchess of York.13 In the judgment of Gilbert Burnet, the future bishop of Salisbury, Blandford’s behaviour was habitually ‘modest and humble, even to a fault’ and he failed to say the appropriate Anglican prayers at the bedside. York’s recollection was slightly different. He recalled that he had refused Blandford admission unless he agreed not to try to force a deathbed conversion. Accordingly Blandford simply ‘made her a short Christian exhortation suitable to the condition she was in’. The incident hardened the perception that Blandford was a court stooge, called to the bedside ‘to blind the world’ to her conversion.14

In April 1671 he joined Peter Mews,of Bath and Wells, and eight other commissioners to examine charges of abuse at Oxford, and the following month the king issued the directive for his translation to Worcester.15 Blandford took his seat as bishop of Worcester on 16 Apr. 1672, when the only business was a further prorogation to the following October. During the first session of 1673 he attended for some 30 per cent of sittings, but was named to no committees. Given his deteriorating health, it is perhaps not surprising that he now found himself to be less useful to the court. On 13 Feb. 1673, at a call of the House, he was registered as sick and he did not attend again after 29 March. On 12 Jan. 1674 it was noted that he had registered his proxy (vacated at the end of the session) in favour of Nathaniel Crew, then bishop of Oxford, two days previously.

From the summer of 1673 Blandford appears to have been confined at Worcester in declining health; by August 1674 he was at Bath as part of his latest attempt ‘to support a frail and ruinous body’.16 A royal summons in October to consider the interests of the Church with John Pearson, of Chester, Richard Sterne, of York, and George Morley, of Winchester, included a personal proviso that Blandford should not make the journey to London to the detriment of his health, and it is unlikely that he did so for the bishops’ subsequent report does not bear his name.17 He again registered his proxy in favour of Nathaniel Crew on 8 Apr. 1675, in time for the parliamentary debate on Danby’s non-resisting Test.

Blandford died at Hartlebury on 9 July 1675. He had never married and had already distributed part of his estate to his relatives. The residue – some £1,600 and his library – included a bequest for the refurbishment of Church property, though it is unclear whether the legacy was put to this purpose.18 His most trusted contacts, Sir Leoline Jenkins, John Fell, of Oxford, and his dean at Worcester, William Thomas, then of St Asaph, were appointed executors of his estate. Blandford was buried in his cathedral. Like his predecessor, he left ‘little trace’ of his government as bishop of Worcester, but he appears to have been popular in the region and the mayor of Worcester ordered a special ‘funeral knell’ to be rung throughout the city in his honour.19


  • 1 Wilts. Registers Marriages ed. Phillimore and Sadler, i. 16.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/352.
  • 3 VCH Oxford, viii. 73.
  • 4 Seventeenth Century Oxford, 769.
  • 5 VCH Oxford, iii. 281.
  • 6 Seventeenth Century Oxford, 766.
  • 7 Bodl. Add. C 303, ff. 104, 106; Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 58.
  • 8 Lansd. 986, f. 120.
  • 9 NLS, Yester pprs. ms 14406, f. 46.
  • 10 CCSP, v. 635.
  • 11 Add. 36916, f. 184; Cosin Corresp. ii. 246.
  • 12 CSP Dom. 1671, p. 78.
  • 13 CCSP, v. 633.
  • 14 Burnet, i. 537–9; Life of James II, i. 453; Add. 36916, f. 217.
  • 15 CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 192, 248.
  • 16 CSP Dom. 1673–5, p. 150; Bodl. Tanner 42, ff. 181, 123.
  • 17 CSP Dom. 1673–5, pp. 390, 416, 549–50.
  • 18 Bodl. Tanner 140, ff. 145, 150.
  • 19 VCH Worcs. ii. 79; Lansd. 986, f. 120; CSP Dom. 1675–6, p. 209.