FULLER, William (c. 1608/9-75)

FULLER, William (c. 1608/9-75)

cons. 20 Mar. 1664 bp. of Limerick; transl. 1667 bp. of LINCOLN

First sat 10 Oct. 1667; last sat 24 Feb. 1674

b. c.1608-9, s. of Thomas Fuller of London. educ. Westminster. Sch.; Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1626–30; St Edmund Hall, Oxf. BCL 1632; ord. deacon 1635, priest 1639; DCL Oxf. 1660; incorp. LLD Dublin 1661.1 unm. d. 23 Apr. 1675; will 21 Apr., pr. 24 Apr 1675.2

Chap. Christ Church, Oxf. 1639; rect. St Mary Woolchurch, London, June–Dec. 1641, Ewhurst, Suss. 1641, seq. 1644, Tradery, Killaloe 1664–7;3 chap. to Edward Littleton, Baron Lyttleton, 1645; dean, St Patrick’s, Dublin 1660–6; treas. Christ Church, Dublin 1661–4; chan. Dromore 1662.

Schoolmaster, Twickenham, Surr. c.1649–61.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, 1667, Ch. Ch., Oxf.

After sequestration in 1644, William Fuller spent his enforced retirement travelling in Europe and then tutoring children of the political and social elite at his school in Twickenham, where his pupils included James Russell, son of the parliamentarian-turned-royalist William Russell, 5th earl (later duke) of Bedford, as well as Edward Montagu (later 2nd earl of Sandwich), son and namesake of the parliamentarian admiral.4 Unlike other prospective bishops he had not published tracts on Anglican theology, but this drawback to promotion within the Church seems to have been counterbalanced by his influential contacts and his name was included on the Church planning lists as one of the ‘worthy men to be preferred to dignities’.5 He was rewarded at the Restoration with a post as dean of St Patrick’s, Dublin, where he supported the vigorous imposition of Anglican conformity, encouraged by the Irish episcopal bench and James Butler, duke of Ormond [I] who was created earl of Brecknock in the English peerage a few days after Fuller’s preferment. Fuller also become a man of business for the Irish primate, John Bramhall, and regularly travelled between Dublin and London, reporting parliamentary news from England to his Irish colleagues and representing the concerns of the Irish Church in London.6

In August 1663 Fuller was elevated to the see of Limerick but he remained in close touch with his London political contacts and used his friend George Morley, recently promoted to Winchester,as an intermediary to secure the support of Joseph Williamson to gain a commendam.7 He was subsequently in regular correspondence with Williamson, and through him with Henry Bennet, earl of Arlington, supplying intelligence about the state of his diocese. Although Williamson was very much younger than Fuller, the two men were clearly on friendly terms. In May 1669, referring to a client’s gratitude to Williamson for a recent favour, Fuller wrote ‘I told them not to thank or esteem you the more for it, as you could not be other unless you would offer violence to your nature, for which I fell in love with you. Continue me in your affection, as you are in mine.’8

Fuller’s network of contacts seems to have stretched into the English House of Commons. In 1665 he was one of a group of lobbyists who ‘left nothing undone to stave’ off the passage of the Irish cattle bill through that House.9 One reason for his interest in English politics and parliamentary affairs was his desire for an English (or Welsh) bishopric. He was clearly happy to accept a minor bishopric, where the revenues would be far lower than those of Limerick, which suggests that he could call on private sources of wealth. In May 1667 he expected a translation to St Asaph as part of the proposed reshuffle that would bring Henry Glemham, dean of Bristol, into the episcopate. When Glemham settled for St Asaph, Fuller was nominated to Lincoln.10 Unlike both his predecessors and his successor, he based himself in the city of Lincoln, where he spent heavily on the refurbishment of the cathedral and indulged his elaborate aesthetic sense in the purchase of vestments and other liturgical trappings.11

Fuller took his seat at the start of business on 10 Oct. 1667; Samuel Pepys recorded with pride the sight of his friend seated in the House of Lords. He attended this session for 67 per cent of sittings and was named to 35 select committees. He was present throughout the impeachment proceedings against Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, and joined the majority of the bishops in support of the chancellor. In January 1668, when there was much talk of an attempt to introduce toleration or comprehension, he told Pepys it would come to nothing.12 He nevertheless found it necessary to combat public confusion on the subject: in June 1669, when he thanked the corporation of Grantham for the suppression of a dissenting meeting he took the opportunity to send them proof ‘that his majesty is abused by false reports’.13

Fuller failed to attend the opening of the October to December 1669 session and on 26 Oct. was excused attendance on the grounds of illness. He was subsequently present for two-thirds of sitting days and was named to four select committees. He returned to Westminster on 14 Feb. 1670 for the first day of the next session and attended just over half of all sittings. On 17 Mar. he voted against the second reading of the controversial bill to allow the divorce and remarriage of John Manners, Lord Roos (later 9th earl and duke of Rutland), and on 28 Mar. he registered his dissent against the passage of the bill.

Following the adjournment in April 1670, Fuller became involved in investigations of political activity in London, which he reported to Arlington. His servant was unable to enter one meeting house so went to another where the ‘preacher prayed that the king’s evil counsellors might be converted or destroyed, the land covered with blood, and the Lord’s people defended against their enemies’. He continued, ‘The trumpet sounded thus before the late rebellion.’14 Fuller was again excused as ill on 14 Nov. 1670 but he soon returned to the House and attended regularly until the prorogation the following April.

In August 1671 he conducted a visitation of Leicestershire, where he encountered widespread panic engendered by a rumour that the king was about to seize all unbranded livestock. He told Williamson that,

The thing itself is very ridiculous, but is not to be slighted, because it discovers the ill opinion too many weak men have of the government, that they believe anything that knaves report on the least suggestion against it. This report doubtless was, if not raised, yet forwarded by the factious schismatics who endeavour all they can to bring monarchy into hatred and contempt, for the setting up of a Commonwealth.15

Although vigorously opposed to Dissent, he was convinced that most people were well affected to the Church and was careful to avoid confrontational tactics that would alienate local support. As a result he was able to conclude his letter by describing his success in gaining ‘the love of the gentry and kindness of the people, who wherever I come, depart well satisfied with the severity of my proceedings’. His success in marginalizing Dissenters left him particularly dismayed at the encouragement offered to them by the brief toleration introduced by the 1672 Declaration of Indulgence. He complained that ‘All these licensed persons grow insolent and increase strangely. The orthodox poor clergy are out of heart. Shall nothing be done to support them against the Presbyterians, who grow and multiply faster than the other?’16

In January 1673 Fuller suffered a severe fit of gout (a recurrent condition) and was again excused attendance at the House.17 He did not attend the first session of that year at all. His illness did not present him from conducting business by letter, however, and a stray survival of February 1673 shows that he was still acting as a conduit for Anglo-Irish communications: prompted by the Irish chancellor he asked Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, to take notice of the ‘great justice, and friendliness to our church there’ of the lord lieutenant Arthur Capell, earl of Essex.18

Fuller also missed the brief second session of 1673. He arrived at the spring 1674 session at the start of business on 7 Jan. but was then absent until the end of the month through illness (he was excused attendance on 12 Jan. as ‘not well’); overall he attended 34 per cent of sittings. In February he supported the measure introduced by Morley to strengthen the unity of English Protestants by dispensing with two of the more contentious clauses in the Act of Uniformity.19 He attended the House for the final time on 24 Feb. 1674, when Parliament was prorogued.

Towards the end of his life, Fuller battled with persistent pain and illness. He was too weak to attend the session in the spring of 1675 and registered his proxy in favour of Morley. It was almost certainly to be used in support of the Test proposed by Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later marquess of Carmarthen and duke of Leeds). This proxy was vacated by Fuller’s death on 23 Apr. 1675. Two days before he died Fuller composed his will, appointing Morley as its overseer. Unlike many of his fellow bishops, he felt no compulsion to restate his theological position, but vindicated himself for having entered into litigation in the court of arches against the ‘encroachments of ungodly men’. A lifelong bachelor, he made the three residuary beneficiaries his nephew Thomas Fuller, Mary Farmery, the wife of his executor, and her sister, Sarah Bligh. He requested ‘decent’ burial near to his sister to one side of the tomb of St Hugh in Lincoln cathedral.

During his life Fuller appears to have been well liked and to have avoided the sort of confrontational disputes that marked the careers of some of his more intransigent episcopal colleagues. His most controversial moment came several years after his death. In the course of the exclusionist campaign against James Stuart, duke of York, and investigations into the Popish Plot, the radical pamphleteer Robert Ferguson asserted that James Scott, duke of Monmouth, was the legitimate heir to the throne, claiming that Fuller, conveniently unable to refute the allegations, had performed a marriage ceremony between the exiled Charles II and Monmouth’s mother, Lucy Walter.20


  • 1 W.M. Mason, Hist. and Antiq. of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St Patrick, 191–2.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/347.
  • 3 Mason, Hist. and Antiq. 195.
  • 4 HP Commons, 1660–90, iii. 84, 360–1.
  • 5 Eg. 2542, f. 267.
  • 6 CSP Ire. 1660–2, p. 422; 1663–5, p. 42; Mason, Hist. and Antiq. 196; HMC Hastings, iv. 118–19, 135, 140.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1668–9, p. 307; CSP Ire. 1663–5, p. 306; Bodl. Add. C 303, f. 104.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1668–9, p. 307.
  • 9 Add. 75354, ff. 139–40.
  • 10 CSP Ire. 1666–9, pp. 301–2, 303, 431; CSP Dom. 1667, pp. 121, 466; Pepys Diary, viii. 364–5.
  • 11 VCH Lincs. ii. 69; Bodl. Tanner 44, ff. 42–43.
  • 12 Pepys Diary, viii. 449, 521, ix. 35–36.
  • 13 Add. 34769, f. 70.
  • 14 CSP Dom. 1670 and Addenda 1660–70, pp. 181–2.
  • 15 CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 426–7.
  • 16 CSP Dom. 1672, p. 589.
  • 17 Tanner 130, f. 52; Bodl. Carte 77, ff. 536–7; Harl. 7377, f. 55.
  • 18 Tanner 43, f. 177.
  • 19 Tanner 44, f. 249; Tanner 42, f. 89.
  • 20 R. Ferguson, A Letter to a Person of Honour (1680), 6–7; POAS, ii. 257–9.