CARTWRIGHT, Thomas (1634-89)

CARTWRIGHT, Thomas (1634–89)

cons. 17 Oct. 1686 bp. of CHESTER

First sat 28 Apr. 1687; last sat 28 Apr. 1687

b. 1 Sept. 1634, s. of Thomas Cartwright, DD, master of Brentwood g.s., Essex. educ. Northampton g.s.; Magdalen, Oxf.; Queen’s, Oxf. matric. 1650, BA 1653, MA 1655, DD 1661. m. (1) 25 Mar. 1656, Mary Halldanby (d. 3 Dec. 1661) of St Clements without Temple Bar, 2s. 2da.;1 (2) lic. 27 May 1662, Sarah, da. of Henry Wight of Barking, Essex, 4s.; (3) 1684, Frances Barnard.2 d. 15 Apr. 1689; will 1 Sept. 1687, pr. 12 June 1689.3

Chap. to Henry, duke of Gloucester, 1660, to Charles II 1672.

Vic. Walthamstow, Essex 1657, Barking, Essex 1660–88; chap. to alderman John Robinson, bt., sheriff of London, 1659; preacher, St Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, London 1659; rect. St Thomas Apostle, Queen St., London 1665, Wigan 1686–9; canon Wells 1660-84; prebend, St Paul’s 1665-86, Durham 1672-86; dean Ripon 1675–86.

Commr. for ecclesiastical causes 1687–8.

Also associated with: Northampton, Northants.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, after G. Soest, c.1680, NPG 1090; oil on canvas by unknown artist, c. 1686-9, NPG 1613.

Thomas Cartwright, staunch political ally of James II, was shunned both in life and after his death by those who assumed that he was part of a conspiracy to reunite the churches of England and Rome. The son of Presbyterian parents and grandson of the famous Elizabethan puritan Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603), Cartwright’s religious background is more easily defined than his social status. By the time of his death he was using the arms of the Nottinghamshire Cartwrights of Ossington, a family that included a former servant of Archbishop William Laud.4 Yet, apart from the use of similar forenames, there is little evidence of a direct family connection and Cartwright’s immediate family is difficult to trace. His diary speaks of extended family networks and social contacts both in his native Northamptonshire and in Essex.5 These latter connections were almost certainly a legacy of his father’s position in Brentwood, his own time as a parish priest in Essex and his second marriage to an Essex woman. In the course of his lifetime, he acquired position, wealth and estates, bequeathing to his large family nine separate properties scattered through Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Essex and money in excess of £3,000.

Cartwright’s active political career has been subsumed into the historiography of the 1688 revolution. As he was deeply unpopular with his contemporaries, it became the received wisdom that he actively undermined the Church of England and was a dynamic force in promoting the catholicizing policies of James II. According to Anthony Wood, as a student at Oxford he identified himself closely with the parliamentary cause.6 Yet he sought episcopal ordination and by 1660 it is clear that he was well regarded at court. Ambitious and litigious (he was involved in at least 13 cases in the arches while vicar of Barking), Cartwright advanced rapidly within the Church.7

By the early 1670s it was evident that Cartwright’s career ambitions lay in the north of England. His will shows that he had acquired farmlands and stables in the diocese of Durham as well as a share in the Durham collieries on lease from the dean and chapter. In 1673 the king promised him first refusal on the deanery of Ripon and the rectories of Stanhope, Sedgfield and Haughton (all in the bishopric of Durham).8 On 1 Jan. 1675, when Cartwright reminded Secretary Joseph Williamson of the king’s promise and of the assurances of Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, that he would expedite the matter, he also laid claim to the living of Northallerton so that he could consolidate ‘all … concerns into the north’.9 By the spring of that year, Cartwright had been promised the first of ‘five of the best livings’ in the gift of the bishop of Durham.10

Cartwright’s diary shows that he was well integrated in the northern political and social elite.11 One of his influential contacts was Sir Edmund Jennings, to whom he dedicated his sermon at the July 1676 York assizes on strong kingship.12 Jennings strongly opposed the interest of Richard Sterne, archbishop of York, in the liberty of Ripon and it seems highly likely that, as dean, Cartwright was involved in the quo warranto against the archbishop.13 By Christmas 1679, Cartwright, deeply involved in Ripon politics, grumbled to Thomas Belasyse, 2nd Viscount Fauconberg, that Sterne’s changes to the commission of the peace (which included at least one former nonconformist) were ‘prejudicial both to the king and church’. As a royal chaplain, he claimed, it would be a ‘venial sin’ to stay silent on the matter.14

With the dissolution of Parliament in 1681, Cartwright orchestrated an address of thanks from the corporation of Ripon.15 A staunch, even extreme, Tory Anglican, his advocacy of supreme royal power strengthened his existing relationship with James Stuart, duke of York. Having attended the duke throughout the exclusion crisis in Scotland, he continued to promote the catholicity of the Church of England. At the death of Archbishop Sterne in 1683, Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, still imprisoned in the Tower, took time out from his own concerns to recommend Cartwright to the vacancy ‘being well assured that he would both be very acceptable to the loyal party in that county, and that he would be highly serviceable to the king’s interest there’.16 When he failed to get York, Cartwright’s attentions turned to the recently vacant see of Rochester, and when that too failed he made ‘great importunities’ instead for St Davids. With St Davids passing instead to the royalist propagandist Lawrence Womock, a disgruntled Cartwright excused his ‘vanity in expecting the bishopric’ on the grounds that he had been given firm expectations by the king.17

Even at the height of the Tory reaction, senior clergymen considered Cartwright’s brand of royal absolutism to be extreme; on learning that Cartwright would not after all get St Davids, the future non-juror, William Lloyd, of Norwich, wrote to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, expressing his joy at the news. John Dolben, the newly appointed archbishop of York, was similarly suspicious of Cartwright. In August 1685 he wrote to warn Sancroft that Cartwright now had his eyes on Chester, where the incumbent bishop, John Pearson, was becoming increasingly frail. Cartwright was already boasting of his success. ‘Surely,’ wrote Dolben, ‘(if he must be a bishop) it were better to place him where he may do less harm.’18

Cartwright was exceptionally well placed to benefit from the accession of James II. Not only were his beliefs about royal power in tune with those of the new monarch, but he was able to regard James’s close friend Henry Mordaunt, 2nd earl of Peterborough, as his patron.19 Pearson of Chester died in July 1686; a month later it was widely known that the king had appointed Cartwright to succeed him. Holding in commendam his rectories of Barking and Wigan (the latter carrying with it the politically important lordship of the manor), Cartwright was consecrated in October 1686.20 Burnet later reported that Sancroft had conducted the consecration through fear that he might otherwise be threatened with a praemunire. That Sancroft stumbled and fell during the ceremony was taken as a mark of the extent to which he was distracted by his opposition to the appointment.21

In January 1687 Cartwright mediated between Colonel Roger Whitleyand the Chester gentry (‘whom the late heats had divided’). Whitley, a country opposition supporter, had been excluded from office under the new Chester charter of 1684 but was now taken under the bishop’s wing as a ‘penitent’ and recommended by Cartwright as a deputy lieutenant of Cheshire.22 At the time of the first Declaration of Indulgence Cartwright returned to London to canvass support for the king.23 On 20 Apr. 1687 he was one of the bishops summoned by George Jeffreys, Baron Jeffeys, and told that the king expected formal thanks for his promise to protect the Church of England.24 Cartwright duly composed the address and attempted, with varying degrees of success, to rally support for it.25

On 28 Apr. 1687 Cartwright took his seat for the first and only time in the House. On 1 May he attended St James Chapel with the papal vicar-apostolic John Leyburn when the papal nuncio, Monsignor Dada, was consecrated archbishop of Amasea. Although even Anthony Wood claimed that Cartwright went only ‘out of curiosity’, his presence at the ceremony was taken as tacit approval for the king’s religious policies and in June, when he tried to move an address at a Yorkshire feast, he was roundly snubbed when Danby’s son, Edward Osborne, styled Lord Latimer, insisted that the purpose of the feast was not to make addresses but to eat and drink.26 Cartwright’s enthusiastic welcome when the king visited Chester in August did nothing to allay such fears.27 He offered assistance for the establishment of a Catholic chapel in Chester, and allowed the Quaker (and friend of the king) William Penn to preach.28 He was even seen in public with the king’s Catholic adviser, Father Petre.29

In October 1687, Cartwright acquired further notoriety when he was appointed as a special commissioner to impose on Oxford University the king’s preferred candidates. His speech there generated ‘a general noise and humming’ that the judges construed to amount to riot.30 So unpopular had Cartwright become that on 10 Dec. 1687, in a calculated insult that defied the accepted hierarchical rules of etiquette, Sir Thomas Meres blocked Cartwright’s path, commenting that he had already followed the bishop ‘too long’ and would ‘now go before’ him.31 In early December, to the dismay (and fear) of the London clergy, it was rumoured that Cartwright was poised to take over the bishopric of London in place of the suspended Henry Compton.32 He appears to have scuppered his chances after a drunken outburst when he insulted both Jeffreys and Robert Spencer, 2nd earl of Sunderland as ‘not being true to their trust’ and accused them of passing secret information to the Dutch. He was subsequently forced to beg forgiveness on his knees.33

Unsurprisingly, parliamentary observers listed Cartwright as an unequivocal supporter of the king’s religious policies and the repeal of the Test Act. In March 1688 he was presumably complicit in the decision to revoke the charter of Wigan in order to replace the corporation with Catholics who would endorse the repeal of the penal laws.34 In May, after the publication of the second Declaration of Indulgence, Cartwright ordered his clergy to read it, threatening suspension for disobedience. Even so it was read in only one church in Chester and the bishop was unable to convince the clergy of his diocese to support the revocation of the Test.35 On 12 May he dined at Lambeth Palace with Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon, several fellow bishops and senior clergy. So distrusted was he that it was only after he left that those present began to plan the strategy that would lead to the trial of the Seven Bishops.36 After their acquittal, he continued to be identified with royal policy. In July it was even rumoured that he might be promoted to the vacant archbishopric of York. In August he recommended that the recorder of Chester, Richard Levinge, stand as court candidate, and he must surely have had some knowledge of and involvement in the Privy Council’s decision to order the removal of almost all the corporation, and then, when the corporation refused to co-operate, to issue a new charter.37

In December 1688, in the aftermath of the Dutch invasion, Cartwright fled the country.38 The following March he accompanied James II to Ireland, where he died a month later, probably from dysentery. Suspicions that he was a closet Catholic at heart were dispelled by his refusal to undergo a deathbed conversion.39 He was buried in Christ Church, Dublin.


  • 1 Jnl. Chester Arch. and Hist. Soc. n.s. iv. 23; St Mary Magdalen Milk St. 1558-1666 (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxxii), 10, 13.
  • 2 Jnl. Chester Arch. and Hist. Soc. n.s. iv. 23.
  • 3 TNA, PROB 11/395.
  • 4 Jnl. Chester Arch. and Hist. Soc. n.s. iv. 31; The Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon, (Thoroton Soc. xxxvi), 503.
  • 5 Cartwright Diary, 1.
  • 6 Ath. Ox. iv. 252.
  • 7 Court of Arches ed. J. Houston, nos. 1672, 1674-5, 1677-80, 1683-6, 4656.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1673, p. 518.
  • 9 CSP Dom. 1673–5, p. 513.
  • 10 Bodl. Tanner 41, f. 20.
  • 11 Cartwright Diary, 1, 11, 20 and passim.
  • 12 Ibid. passim; T. Cartwright, A Sermon Preached July 17. 1676 in the Cathedral Church of St Peter in York (1676).
  • 13 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 484–5.
  • 14 HMC Var. ii, 167–8.
  • 15 CSP Dom. 1680–1, pp. 289–90.
  • 16 Tanner 34, f. 63.
  • 17 Tanner 31, f. 146; Tanner 34, ff. 99, 105, 190.
  • 18 Tanner 31, f. 178.
  • 19 T. Cartwright, A Sermon Preached upon the Anniversary Solemnity of the Happy Inauguration of our Dread Sovereign Lord King James II (1686), epistle dedicatory; Cartwright Diary, 60.
  • 20 CSP Dom. 1686–7, pp. 273, 277; Tanner 144, f. 19; HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 293.
  • 21 Burnet, ii. 398–9; Cartwright Diary, 6.
  • 22 Tanner 30, f. 180; HP Commons, 1660–90, iii. 711.
  • 23 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 30–31.
  • 24 Cartwright Diary, 47–48.
  • 25 HMC 7th Rep. 504; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 31–32, 42; Tanner 29, f. 12; Reresby, Mems. 581.
  • 26 Cartwright Diary, 52; Wood, Life, iii. 219; Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 42, f. 225.
  • 27 Cartwright Diary, 74–75.
  • 28 VCH Chester, v. pt. 1, 128.
  • 29 Add. 72516, ff. 56–57.
  • 30 HMC 7th Rep. 505.
  • 31 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 190.
  • 32 UNL, Pw A 2112/1–4.
  • 33 Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 433; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 248.
  • 34 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 294.
  • 35 W.A. Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries, 222; Add. 34510, ff. 128–30.
  • 36 Clarendon Corresp. ii. 171.
  • 37 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 153; Halliday, Dismembering the Body Politic, 154.
  • 38 HMC Dartmouth, iii. 134.
  • 39 Stowe 746, f. 111.