GULSTON, William (1636-84)

GULSTON (GOULSTON ), William (1636–84)

cons. 9 Mar. 1679 bp. of BRISTOL

First sat 20 Mar. 1679; last sat 23 Dec. 1680

b. 1636, s. of Nathaniel Gulston (d.1648), rect. Wymondham, Leics. educ. Grantham Sch. (Mr Stokes); St John’s, Camb. matric. 1653, BA 1658, MA 1661, DD 1679. m. ?6 Feb. 1665, Ann Gulston (1642–bef. 1684), 2nd da. of Joseph Gulston, dean of Chichester, 1s. 1da.1 d. 4 Apr. 1684; will 22 Mar. 1684, pr. 2 Dec. 1686.2

Chap. to duchess of Somerset bef. 1670–4; rect. Milston, Wilts. 1663–70, Wymondham, Leics. 1665, Nuthurst, Suss. 1669–74, Symondsbury, Dorset 1670–84; preb. Chichester 1666–84.

Likeness: oil on canvas by unknown artist, Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

The Gulstons had been settled in Leicestershire since at least the early fifteenth century, forming something of a minor clerical dynasty as rectors of Wymondham. William Gulston’s uncle John Gulston became prothonotary of the common pleas, and established his branch of the family in Wyddial, Hertfordshire. John’s son Richard Gulston and grandson Sir William Gulston both served in the Commons. William Gulston’s marriage to the daughter of another of John’s sons, Joseph Gulston, was probably crucial to his subsequent career in the Church. Joseph Gulston had been chaplain to Charles I and attended him at his execution; he was rewarded with the deanery of Chichester in 1663 and was clearly well placed to assist the advancement of his new son-in-law.3

William Gulston’s appointment to the rectory of Milston in 1663 implies contacts with the Hyde family: Milston was in the gift of Sir Frederick Hyde, cousin to the lord chancellor, Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon.4 Some time before 1670, Gulston became chaplain to Frances, duchess of Somerset (widow of William Seymour, 2nd duke of Somerset), who presented him with the valuable living and perpetual advowson of Symondsbury in Dorset.5 The chaplaincy itself was less lucrative than might be expected: after the duchess’s death Gulston petitioned her heir and executor, Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, for payment of his salary, allegedly four years in arrears, and seeking Weymouth’s support for further preferment. Gulston also became involved in the various legal disputes over the duchess’s estate.6 Quite how he had made the acquaintance of the duchess remains obscure; it may be no more than that, as rector of Milston, he was a neighbour of the Somersets, whose main seat was at nearby Great Bedwyn. His attachment to the Seymour family is evident in his decision to use their surname as the forename of his son, born in or about 1672. His sister’s marriage in 1670 to Lancelot Addison, a royal chaplain and close associate of Sir Joseph Williamson, added to his prominent connections.

In 1679, at the unusually young age of 43, Gulston was elevated to the episcopate, keeping Symondsbury and his prebend at Chichester as commendams. There is no evidence to substantiate the suggestion that he used the living of Symondsbury to bargain his way into the episcopate, offering to annex the rectory to the bishopric of Bristol.7 It may be significant that by 1679 Weymouth had moved from supporting ‘country’ interests to a stance against exclusion; equally it is possible that Henry Somerset, 3rd marquess of Worcester (later duke of Beaufort), the duchess of Somerset’s second husband, had a hand in Gulston’s nomination. Some sort of relationship with Worcester might explain why Gulston appears to have been identified as a potential Catholic convert in April 1679, though it is equally likely that the smear was simply a product of local factional rivalries.8 Gulston replaced the autocratic Guy Carleton, who had been translated to Chichester, in a big city with a large dissenting population, a divided corporation, high levels of participation in elections, and, during the crisis of 1678-81, a precocious growth of political organization.9

Gulston attended for some 50 per cent of the sittings of the first Exclusion Parliament but was not named to any committees. In accordance with the compromise hammered out on 14 Apr. 1679 over the bishops’ right to vote in capital cases, when the Lords considered the bill of attainder against Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later duke of Leeds), Gulston abstained by leaving the chamber. On 10 May, voting with his fellow bishops, he rejected the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses to consider proceedings against the impeached lords.

Although Parliament had been dissolved on 12 July 1679, Gulston had still not arrived in Bristol by late September. He was there by January 1680, when he resolved a bitter dispute about whether prayers for the mayor and corporation should or should not precede those for the bishop and chapter by abandoning Carleton’s insistence that prayers for the clergy had precedence. Though convinced that his actions had removed the ‘evil effects’ of Carleton’s order, Samuel Crossman, a Bristol prebendary (and inveterate complainer), thought it had revived, rather than suppressed, animosities that had already been laid to rest.10 The divided politics of Bristol at the height of the political crisis placed Gulston under considerable stress. He wrote to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury at the end of May saying how he hoped to keep the factional disputes of the city from affecting the Church, and on 27 Sept. he wrote again from Symondsbury saying that he had not yet recovered his health since returning from Bristol and referring to the burden of ‘a great deal of business about the disturbance of seditious conventicles and the conviction of them in these parts’ at the impending quarter sessions.11 Perhaps it was this that prompted secretary of state Sir Leoline Jenkins to write on 30 Sept. pointing out that prosecutions of conventicles in and near London had ground to a halt and delivering a strong hint that they should be discontinued in his diocese too:

The reason I conceive to be that, while the danger is so great from the papists, the sectaries may have no pretext to say that they are the most severely punished that are not only less to be feared than papists, but are in equal danger with the Church of England. Whether this be a good reason or not, I dare not determine, but certainly the true season to suppress sectaries has been long since lost. They have put us now on the defensive.12

Gulston might have grumbled too about the lack of encouragement he had received over the matter of prebends. Over the summer of 1681 he nagged Sancroft and Henry Compton, bishop of London, to intervene with the lord chancellor (Heneage Finch, earl of Nottingham) to ensure that he could have a voice in appointments to Bristol prebends, in order to prevent such ‘as may divide and rent all asunder’ and to provide opportunities to ‘encourage’ the deserving.13 In September 1681 he particularly asked that the latest vacancy should not go to Richard Thompson, who ‘makes friends for it’ and who was associated with factional rivalries in the corporation as a follower of John Knight. Thompson, he wrote, would cause divisions within the chapter.14 His plea was ignored.

Gulston took his seat for the second Exclusion Parliament on 26 Oct., five days after the start of the session (he had excused himself to Sancroft from providing a sermon to the Lords).15 He attended for almost half of the sittings and was named to one committee. He voted against exclusion on 15 Nov. and was present on 14 Dec. when a committee of the whole House debated the legal distinction between Protestant nonconformists and Catholic recusants.

Gulston was absent from the brief Oxford Parliament in March 1681. In August of that year he worried that he had lost favour with the king, complaining that he had been misrepresented by some ‘inveterate fanatics’ or ‘pretending friends to the king and Church’.16 The issue was perhaps his infrequent appearances in Bristol. The following month he was ordered to return to Bristol and lend his weight to the election of the king’s mayoral candidate (who had been elected to the House of Commons earlier in the year), Thomas Earle.17 When Gulston did return to Bristol in late September or early October he was faced with a new dispute between cathedral and corporation which threatened to ‘put the whole city into a flame and divide the loyal party amongst themselves’. An earlier attempt to conciliate the corporation had led to a decision, presumably by the bishop, to allow the corporation to build seats in the choir of the cathedral. The decision was well received in the city, but it was customary for the corporation when attending the cathedral to carry an erect sword and the dean and chapter were appalled at the prospect of such a weapon being carried into the choir (a space traditionally dedicated to religious rather than secular concerns). Gulston complained miserably to Sancroft about Crossman’s efforts to negotiate (‘knowing the temper of the place, [he] will not be successful, as many of his other attempts’); worried that siding with the clergy would ‘put the whole city into a flame and divide the loyal party among themselves’; and remarked that ‘we have here two sorts of persons entitling themselves to loyalty: the one so zealous in Church concerns that they would immediately term it sacrilege to diminish the least shadow of right or privilege. The other though very loyal yet willing to waive this right as a thing not determined by any law or canon, do insist strongly on the grandeur of the city’.18

By then Gulston was once more pressing the city to prosecute attenders at conventicles, and was working in concert with the mayor and aldermen so that ‘the world’ might see that the ecclesiastical and civil powers were united in their determination to root out Dissent. His actions earned him a letter of thanks from Jenkins, sent in October at the king’s ‘express command’.19 In February 1682, together with Seth Ward, bishop of Salisbury, and seven lay commissioners Gulston had conducted a visitation of the royal peculiar of Canford Magna (Poole), which was allegedly a haven for Dissenters. The proceedings there mirrored the difficulties concerning the prosecution and suppression of Dissent faced by the bishop throughout his diocese. Gulston backed Anthony Ettrick, ‘a loyal person and true son of the Church of England’ who was associated with Danby, against the incumbent Samuel Hardy, ‘a great seducer of the king’s subjects’. Ettrick worried that the local magnate, John Robartes, earl of Radnor, was sympathetic to Dissent and would succeed in persuading the king that Ettrick acted ‘only upon a private animosity’. As a result of the visitation, the commission deprived Hardy, but he appealed and continued to act even when technically prevented from doing so by an order of court.20 Throughout 1682 and into 1683 Gulston was also involved, as a member of the court of delegates, in the long-running dispute over the validity of the Hyde–Emerton marriage, in which Danby sought to have the marriage declared void in order to secure Bridget Hyde’s marriage to his son Peregrine Osborne, then styled Lord Dunblane [S] (later 2nd duke of Leeds). Gulston, though, was too ill to attend and vote by the time of the final hearing in April 1683.21

His main preoccupation continued to be nonconformists and Whigs. In August 1682, he wrote from Symondsbury with information about a Bristol ‘cabal … who meet under the notion of a club … and are on some desperate or treasonable designs’. Although Gulston promised to investigate further, he took advantage of the occasion to bemoan his lot:

I foresee that, if there be truth in this narrative, my further residence at Bristol will be necessary, but then my private concerns will be utterly ruined, for I have spent near three times the value of my bishopric since Michaelmas last by long residing in Bristol, by journeys into my diocese on emergent occasions, by unavoidable losses in my estate here through my absence and by my late chargeable unexpected stay in London on a fruitless account. What injures me most is the rumour of my being arrested, sued and cast in penalty of £30,000 … This defamation, though false, yet weakens my reputation so far that I may be unable to supply myself in case of necessity.22

In a polite but blunt reply, Jenkins told him that all he could realistically expect were repayment of the costs of his informers. A few days later Jenkins wrote approvingly of Gulston’s commitment to influencing the choice of loyal officials and magistrates; he also referred to the bishop’s sudden incapacity through ‘a flux of blood’.23

In January 1683 Gulston, still ill, reported the successful ousting of the Bristol recorder (the Whig Robert Atkyns) by the client of Beaufort (as Worcester had become), Sir John Churchill. His claims that the continued hounding of ‘fanatics’ had been equally successful were considerably exaggerated. Dissenters may have been driven out of Bristol but they continued to meet elsewhere, requiring the officials of adjacent jurisdictions to take similar actions.24 This campaign against Dissent was a precursor to a complete purge of the corporation by means of a new city charter. In March 1683 Gulston reported that he had ‘laboured’ to persuade reluctant aldermen to surrender the charter and was confident of securing their acquiescence. He blamed the initial failure to persuade the corporation to make the surrender partly on ‘a rash manager’ (perhaps Beaufort) who had divided the city loyalists and damaged the king’s interest. He also emphasized his willingness to act against Catholics, writing in August 1683 that ‘I am resolved to keep out fanaticism on one hand, and popery, simony and atheism on the other hand’.25 By November 1683, when it was apparent that the charter would indeed be surrendered, Gulston argued that the bishop should always be named to the commission of the peace ‘and if possible at all counsels there by which means the king may be assured of their designs … many are loyal in word, but few dare venture to act anything for the Church’. It would also, he believed, help to prevent disputes between ecclesiastical and lay authorities, which merely ‘afforded occasion to any factious Hotspurs to set up an interest to the prejudice of government’.26

Gulston’s involvement in arrangements for the new charter did not prevent him from looking to his own interests. In July 1683 he attempted to secure some of the lands of the convicted Rye House plotter Lord William Russell for the bishopric, so that the enemies of the Church ‘may build up in part, what they designed to ruin and pull down’.27 Meanwhile, early in 1684 he turned his attentions to the ‘corrupt’ corporations of Lyme and Bridport, signalling that pressure from loyalists ‘would bring in their charters with great ease’. He also continued to suspend clergy who preached Whiggish sermons.28

There were further problems within the chapter. By October 1682 Crossman’s proposals to install an altarpiece and carved images of St Peter and St Paul were creating upset within the chapter, where it was regarded ‘as an introduction of popery and indeed most, if not all here, would be scandalised with bowing daily toward the altar’.29 In 1683, when Crossman was appointed dean, a fresh dispute broke out over his institution (and related fees), which Gulston insisted was a matter for the bishop. Crossman opposed the bishop’s decision to conduct a visitation of the chapter and, with the help of the lord keeper, Sir Francis North, later Baron Guilford, forced him to back down. Gulston was also annoyed that Crossman had leased land next to the bishop’s palace to a shipyard, resulting in a loss of ‘privacy, security and quiet enjoyment of my house’ and making him even more reluctant to spend time in Bristol. In addition, the bishop faced opposition from Richard Thompson, whose inaugural sermon as a prebend in 1683 reflected on bishops in general and Gulston in particular, and who continued to insult the bishop thereafter.30

Crossman, however, died in February 1684, lamented by few according to the diocesan chancellor. During his own final illness, Gulston had repeatedly begged Sancroft to prevent the deanery going to Thompson, whose appointment would, he claimed, lead to ‘nothing but perpetual contention in that church and city’. Gulston complained that it was ‘hard to be exposed to the implacable malice of fanatics for doing my duty, and yet unworthily torn in pieces too on the other side by pretending friends’. He had already hinted at a desire for translation to a less demanding diocese.31 Supported by Beaufort, and despite opposition from both Gulston and Sancroft, Thompson nevertheless succeeded to the deanery. Although his appointment was made in early April, he was not installed until 24 May 1684.32 Gulston may never have known that he had lost this particular battle. His correspondence is peppered with references to recurrent bouts of illness for which the only relief was ‘Jesuit powder’ (a natural source of quinine). He died at Symondsbury on 4 Apr. 1684 at the age of only 48 and was buried there on 18 April.33 He bequeathed £800 as provision for his young daughter. The advowson of Symondsbury and the residue of his estate were left in the hands of his executors: George Ryves, Frances Gulston and Nicholas Ingram.34 Gulston’s son, Seymour Gulston, became rector there in 1695.35


  • 1 T. Nicholas, Annals and Antiq. of the Counties and County Fams. of Wales, i. 287; TNA, PROB 11/ 344 (Joseph Goulston); Bodl. Tanner 32, f. 32.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/385.
  • 3 Nicholas, Annals and Antiquities, i. 287.
  • 4 Wilts. N. and Q. iii. 42.
  • 5 T. Baker, Hist. of St John’s College, Cambridge ed. J.E.B. Mayor, ii. 680; Lansd. 987, f. 41.
  • 6 Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 20, ff. 229, 240, 253, 329.
  • 7 Baker, Hist. of St John’s, ii. 680.
  • 8 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 126.
  • 9 J. Barry ‘Politics of Religion in Restoration Bristol’, in Pols. of Rel. ed. Harris et al., 163-89.
  • 10 Bodl. Tanner 129, ff. 52, 65, 133.
  • 11 Tanner 37, ff. 40, 142.
  • 12 CSP Dom. 1680–1, p. 45.
  • 13 Tanner 37, f. 82; Tanner 129, ff. 54, 63.
  • 14 Tanner 129, ff. 63, 66, 78, 108.
  • 15 Tanner 37, f. 142.
  • 16 Tanner 129, f. 57.
  • 17 CSP Dom. 1680–1, pp. 451–2.
  • 18 Tanner 129, ff. 65, 66.
  • 19 Tanner 34, f. 280; CSP Dom. 1680–1, p. 530.
  • 20 CSP Dom. 1682, p. 608; Tanner 129, ff. 54, 118, 122; HP Commons, 1660–90, ii. 276.
  • 21 Add. 28051, ff. 123, 133–4; Eg. 3384, ff. 23–24, 90; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 233–4; Tanner 34, f. 20.
  • 22 CSP Dom. 1682, p. 336.
  • 23 Ibid. 348, 352, 369, 382.
  • 24 CSP Dom. 1683, p. 193.
  • 25 Tanner 35, ff. 163–4, 173, 223; Tanner 34, f. 123.
  • 26 Tanner 129, f. 108; CSP Dom. 1683–4, pp. 85–86.
  • 27 Tanner 34, f. 92.
  • 28 Tanner 129, ff. 106, 127–8.
  • 29 Tanner 35, f. 99.
  • 30 Tanner 129, ff. 77, 79, 107–11, 113–14; Tanner 34, ff. 45, 89, 280.
  • 31 Tanner 129, ff. 70, 77–78, 126, 127–9, 132.
  • 32 HJ, x. 34.
  • 33 Lansd. 987, f. 41.
  • 34 Tanner 32, f. 32.
  • 35 Al. Ox.