FLEETWOOD, James (1603-83)

FLEETWOOD, James (1603–83)

cons. 29 Aug. 1675 bp. of WORCESTER

First sat 13 Oct. 1675; last sat 5 Jan. 1681

bap. 25 Apr. 1603, 7th s. of Sir George Fleetwood of the Vache, Bucks. and Catherine, da. of Henry Denny of Waltham, Essex. educ. Eton; King’s Camb. matric. 1622, BA 1627, MA 1631, fell. 1626-34; ord. deacon, 1632; DD (Oxon.) 1642. m. bef. 1647, Martha Mercer (d.1677) of Reading, 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 4da. d. 17 July 1683; will 8 May, pr. 20 Aug. 1683.1

Chap. to Charles, prince of Wales (future Charles II), c.1655; chap. ord. 1661.2

Chap. to Robert Wright, bp. of Lichfield, 1632, to regt. of John Savage, 2nd Earl Rivers, 1642-5; vic. Prees, Salop 1636; rect. Shaw, Berks. 1636, Sutton Coldfield, Warws. c.1642, seq. 1647, Anstey, Herts. 1662-71, Denham, Bucks. 1669; preb. Lichfield, 1636-66.

Schoolmaster, Barnes, Surr. c.1647-55; tutor to children of James Stuart, duke of Richmond, 1655; provost King’s Camb. 1660-75; v. chan. Camb., 1663-4, 1667-8.

Also associated with: Chalfont St Giles, Bucks.

The Fleetwood family were deeply divided by the events of the Civil War. James Fleetwood was a royalist but he was related to the parliamentarian general, Charles Fleetwood as well as to the regicide George Fleetwood. He earned his doctorate for services to the king at the battle of Edgehill. As a schoolmaster and tutor during the Interregnum, Fleetwood’s pupils included John Verney (later Viscount Fermanagh [I]) and the children of the duke of Richmond. He maintained contact with Charles II throughout the royal exile and in January 1660 was directed by the king to mediate with two unnamed persons, probably his kinsmen, Charles and George Fleetwood.3

Fleetwood possessed virtually none of the qualities usually associated with promotion to a bishopric. At Cambridge he proved himself a loyal but scarcely outstanding supporter of the government. He published no theological works and according to John Evelyn, was ‘no great preacher’.4 A more important factor in his advancement as bishop of Worcester in the summer of 1675 was the patronage of the lord treasurer, Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds). Danby was Fleetwood’s first cousin once removed, and Fleetwood had been one of a group of Cambridge scholars to sign a letter congratulating Danby on his appointment as lord treasurer early in 1674. A further connection was that Fleetwood’s son, Arthur, was employed in the treasury.5

Perhaps reflecting his relative obscurity, Fleetwood’s consecration feast, though well attended, attracted ‘but few of the grandees, they being mostly out of town’ according to his former pupil, John Verney. An exception may have been Arthur Annesley, earl of Anglesey, who had heard him preach three years before and recorded dining with Fleetwood at Drapers’ Hall on the day of his consecration.6 Fleetwood took his seat on the first day of the autumn 1675 session, held the proxy of Thomas Wood, bishop of Lichfield, from October until mid November, and attended for over 95 per cent of that session’s sittings. He was named to the privileges committee and the committee for petitions and on 14 Oct. was also named to the committee for the bill explaining the act concerning Catholic recusants. He was named subsequently to a further four committees. On 19 Nov. he was present when the House moved for frequent meetings of Convocation.

In the interval between the close of the previous session and opening of the 1677 session, Fleetwood attempted to employ his interest on behalf of his nephew, Jeremy Russell, seeking the assistance of Arthur Capell, earl of Essex, in securing Russell a renewal of his patent as receiver for Connaught.7 Fleetwood did not attend the House at all for the session from February 1677 to May 1678 when the House was deeply involved with Danby’s attempted legislation to strengthen the Church. He covered his absence by registering his proxy on 10 Feb. 1677 with Peter Gunning, bishop of Ely. Fleetwood was, however, one of a small number of bishops present at a dinner at Lambeth early in the summer of 1677, also attended by John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale [S] (earl of Guilford), at which Lauderdale sought the assistance of the English bishops in settling the state of the church in Scotland.8 Concentration on his diocesan visitation may have been one reason for Fleetwood’s continuing failure to attend the House but at the opening of 1678 he explained to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, that ‘the infirmities of old age and the death of my dear wife’ had also hindered him from turning out. That summer Fleetwood sought Sancroft’s permission to institute his chaplain and son-in-law, Edward Webster, to a living in his gift. Widowed, ageing and in failing health, he told Sancroft that he wanted his chaplain and daughter closer to hand.9

Fleetwood was missing from the opening of the session of October 1678, again registering his proxy in favour of Gunning (30 October).10 He informed Sancroft that he had done so ‘that it might be ready to supply [his] absence upon any emergency wherein the interests of the crown and Church might be concerned’. Although he hoped that his health and age provided sufficient excuse for his absence, given the atmosphere of crisis resulting form revelations of the popish plot and the passage of the Test Act, he worried that his actions might be misinterpreted. He implored Sancroft and the lord chancellor, Heneage Finch, Baron Finch (later earl of Nottingham), to represent his absence in a favourable light to the king and offered to come to London if necessary, even at ‘the hazard’ of his life.11 He soon changed his mind, arriving in the House on 23 Dec. – the very day that the Commons’ declared their intention to impeach Danby. Fleetwood remained at Westminster for the whole of the Christmas period and attended until the final day of the session on 30 December. He voted with supporters of the court to insist on the Lords’ amendment to the supply bill on 26 Dec. and the following day joined his fellow bishops in voting against Danby’s committal.

At the first general election of 1679, Fleetwood instructed his clergy to vote for the election of Samuel Sandys, the sitting member for Worcestershire, and ‘to engage such as are qualified’ in their parishes to do likewise. Sandys was returned unopposed in both of the 1679 elections but Fleetwood’s attempted intervention fuelled constitutional arguments about the role of bishops in secular affairs. Fleetwood was accused of acting autocratically ‘to exclude the commonalty absolutely to have a hand in the choice’ when his proper task was to ‘superintend’ his flock ‘in spiritual affairs, and in divine mysteries … [not] to charge them with the cares of state’.12 It may have been at or about this time that one of Sancroft’s correspondents overheard coffee house gossip about Fleetwood’s ‘frequent indiscreet and unjustifiable ordinations’ and his willingness to tolerate two absentee pluralists as his chaplains.13

When the first Exclusion Parliament assembled on 6 Mar. 1679, Fleetwood was absent, but by 24 Mar. he had joined the episcopal bench, ready to support Danby throughout the debates and divisions on the attainder. He attended 85 per cent of the main session, which started on 15 March. It may be of some significance that the only committee to which he appears to have been named in the session (10 Apr.) was that considering the act for hindering the lord treasurer and other officers from making undue advantages from their places. On 10 May Fleetwood and other supporters of Danby narrowly won the vote against the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses to consider a method of proceeding against the former lord treasurer and the five Catholic lords then in the Tower. Fleetwood was present on 13 May for the long debate on the bishops’ right to vote in capital cases and again on 16 May, when the bishops asked leave to withdraw from the trial of the five lords. He again attended on 27 May for another lengthy debate on the issue and to hear that Parliament was prorogued. Meanwhile Fleetwood was involved in acrimonious litigation over a legacy left by his predecessor Walter Blandford, for improvements to the bishop’s residence, Hartlebury Castle. John Fell, bishop of Oxford, complained of the ‘vexation and expense’ that Fleetwood had caused. In August 1680 Fleetwood faced further accusations, this time of exacting unfair fees; he denied any wrongdoing.14

Fleetwood was missing from the opening of the new Parliament in October 1680. On the 30th, it was noted at a call of the House that he was travelling to London. He arrived in time for the next sitting day (3 Nov.), after which he attended some 70 per cent of the sittings and was named to three committees. Fleetwood joined his episcopal colleagues on 15 Nov. to oppose the reading of the exclusion bill and subsequently voted to reject the bill itself. On 23 Nov. he voted against the appointment of a committee to consider the state of the kingdom. For the remainder of November and December the House was occupied with the trial of William Howard, Viscount Stafford, but although Fleetwood attended the House throughout the trial, in accordance with the convention agreed earlier, the bishops did not vote. He attended the House for the last time on 5 Jan. 1681. He failed to attend the brief Oxford Parliament two months later.

Fleetwood spent at least some of the remainder of his life improving his see, though he was at pains to ensure that his executors would not be held responsible for dilapidations for any properties he improved. He made his will in May 1683 and died two months later. He named his son-in-law, Edward Webster, as an executor of his will. Unlike many of his fellow bishops, he made no specific charitable bequests, but divided his residual estate equally between his surviving son, John (archdeacon of Worcester), his four daughters (one of whom married George Legge, Baron Dartmouth) and his grandson, Henry Fleetwood. His son, Arthur, had predeceased him.15 He was buried in Worcester Cathedral and succeeded in the bishopric by William Thomas, formerly of St Davids.16


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/373.
  • 2 Eg. 2542, f. 343.
  • 3 CCSP, iv. 528.
  • 4 Evelyn Diary, iv. 86.
  • 5 Browning, Danby, i. 5-6; Eg. 3348, f. 66; HP Commons, 1660-90, i. 387.
  • 6 Verney ms mic. M636/28, W. Fall to Sir R. Verney, 16 July 1675; Add. 40860, ff. 34, 93.
  • 7 Stowe 209, f. 346.
  • 8 NAS, GD 406/1/8907.
  • 9 Bodl. Tanner 140, f. 125; Tanner 40, f. 179; Tanner 314, ff. 8, 13.
  • 10 Bodl. Carte 81, f. 364.
  • 11 Tanner 39, f. 131.
  • 12 Bishop of Worcester’s Letter to his Reverend Clergy (1680), 1, 4; HP Commons, 1660-90, iii. 388.
  • 13 Tanner 290, f. 208.
  • 14 Tanner 140 ff. 135 144-6, 150; Tanner 37 f. 129.
  • 15 Tanner 140 f. 164; HP Commons, 1660-90, i. 387.
  • 16 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 380-1.