GUNNING, Peter (1614-84)

GUNNING, Peter (1614–84)

cons. 6 Mar. 1670 bp. of CHICHESTER; transl. 4 Mar. 1675 bp. of ELY

First sat 21 Mar. 1670; last sat 26 Mar. 1681

b. 11 Jan. 1614, s. of Peter Gunning (1585–1615), vic. Hoo, Kent, and Ellen, sis. of Francis Tresse, gent. of Hoo, Kent.1 educ. King’s Sch. Canterbury; Clare, Camb. BA 1633, MA and fell. 1635, ejected 1644, DD 1660; ord. 1641; New Coll. Oxf. incorp. 1644, BD 1646. unm. d. 6 July 1684; will 25 Aug. 1679–26 June 1684, pr. 26 July 1684.2

Chap. to Charles II 1661–9.

Cur. St Mary the Less, Camb., c.1635, Cassington, Oxon. 1644; chap. New, Oxf. 1644, to Sir Robert Shirley, 4th bt. bef. 1656; rect. Cottesmore, Rutland 1660–70, Stoke Bruerne, Northants. 1660–70 (presented 1649), Somersham, Hunts. 1662; canon Canterbury 1660–70.

Tutor to Christopher Hatton, later Visct. Hatton, and (Sir) Francis Compton; master, Corpus Christi, Camb. 1660–1; Lady Margaret Prof. Divinity, Camb. 1660–1; Regius Prof. Divinity, Camb. 1661; commr. Savoy conference 1661;3 master, St John’s, Camb. 1662–9.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, versions at Clare, St John’s, Old Schools, Camb., and as line engraving by D. Loggan, NPG D19281 and mezzotint by Isaac Beckett, NPG D11966; oil on canvas by unknown artist, St John’s, Camb.; effigy, Ely cathedral.

Gunning was born into a family of clergymen and lawyers from Kent.4 An outstanding scholar, he brought himself to royal attention by his public rejection of the solemn league and covenant in a 1643 sermon. After being ejected from his fellowship by parliamentary commissioners he left with his friend Isaac Barrow, later bishop of St Asaph, for Oxford, where he joined the royal court. Until the Restoration he worked in royalist circles as a tutor and household chaplain, to among others, the family of Christopher Hatton, Baron Hatton.5 He defied the parliamentary proscription of Anglican doctrine and practice, preaching regularly to London congregations, particularly sharing duties at Exeter House on the Strand with Jeremy Taylor at some personal risk.6 He also engaged in theological debate with Catholics and puritans alike. Sir Robert Shirley, imprisoned for his royalism, made an annuity to Gunning of £100 to allow him to serve the Anglican cause through publications to be approved by Henry Hammond, Gilbert Sheldon, later bishop of London and archbishop of Canterbury, and the imprisoned Matthew Wren, bishop of Ely. To Shirley’s dismay, Gunning was more provocative than he had expected, disputing with Papists, Anabaptists and others, elaborating in one sermon on the ‘now sinful abrogation of Christian anniversaries and festivals’ and in October 1659 organizing a fast day for national penance for the state of the ‘calamitous Church’.7 Involved in at least one gathering of Anglican clergy, in the same year he was included in the planning lists for the Church drawn up by Edward Hyde, the future earl of Clarendon.8 During the spring of 1660 Samuel Pepys became a regular attender at Gunning’s sermons and fasts, which he pronounced excellent.9

At the Restoration Gunning was restored to his Cambridge fellowship (in the process ousting John Tillotson, the future archbishop of Canterbury). Seen as a safe pair of hands in Cambridge, he was nominated by the king to the Lady Margaret chair in divinity in July 1660: ‘some demur’ was overruled by the king’s orders for ‘his immediate admission, notwithstanding any statute to the contrary’. His nomination by the king to the mastership of Benet (Corpus Christi) College was likewise initially rejected by the fellows.10 These preferments were in June 1661 superseded by the more prestigious mastership of St John’s and the regius professorship, vacated by Anthony Tuckney.

Gunning took an active role in the Savoy conference: Richard Baxter acknowledged his ‘study and industry’ and his ‘very temperate life’, but found him ‘so vehement for his high imposing principles, and so over-zealous for Arminianism and formality and Church pomp’, and his ‘passionate invectives’ an obstacle to liturgical compromise.11 In Convocation, Gunning was an active contributor to the revised prayer book. On 26 May 1661, following the Commons’ order of 13 May that all Members must take Anglican communion on pain of exclusion, he delivered an aggressively Anglican sermon at St Margaret’s, Westminster. He denied the sacrament to William Prynne, who refused to kneel, although he did administer to one of the Boscawen brothers (Edward or Hugh) while the latter stood. The following day Prynne and William Morice responded to Gunning’s intractability by opposing the customary vote of thanks.12 Gunning’s own brand of Protestantism was clearly far less ‘reformed’ than that of many Anglicans: on 27 Dec. 1661 (nearly a week after he had again preached to the Commons on the 22nd) he surprised Pepys in St Paul’s with an account of a miraculous vision of the Virgin Mary to the fourteenth century Orthodox Bishop Gregory.13

At St John’s, he forged the college into such a bastion of loyalty that, after the 1688 revolution, it produced more non-jurors than any other Cambridge college.14 In 1662 he preached a sermon before the king in which he argued for the apostolic nature of the Lenten fast, opposing recent Presbyterian objections to the institution of Lent and hardening perceptions that he was a closet Catholic.15 He would reprint this sermon sporadically throughout his episcopal career: significantly in 1677 and 1681, when the Church was perceived to be under attack from Whig anti-clericalism; it was reprinted again in 1690 in the midst of controversies over the future of the non-juring bishops.

The death of Henry King, bishop of Chichester, on 30 Sept. 1669 led to much speculation about his successor. According to one newsletter it was ‘tossed up and down to several’ before Gunning accepted the post.16 Consecrated in March 1670, he was in the diocese in August, when he remarked to Sheldon on the poor state of churches there and referred to his plans to conduct a visitation the following month. Guy Carleton, a later bishop of Chichester, though, made no bones about accusing Gunning as having ‘looked after no business but his book’.17 He attended each of the 12 parliamentary sessions held during his episcopate and was usually in his seat on the first and last days of a session. He was also a contributor to debates and, possibly, to committee business, being named to 90 select committees during the course of his parliamentary career.

Gunning took his seat in the Lords on 21 Mar. 1670 (one week after the start of the 1670–1 session) but attended for only eight days that month, his attendance coinciding with debates on the divorce bill for John Manners, Lord Roos (later 9th earl and duke of Rutland). On 28 Mar. he registered his dissent against the passage of the bill. He was present in the House the following day but was then absent for a year, not appearing in the House again until 24 Mar. 1671, possibly attracted by the debate on the growth of popery. On two occasions during this long absence (14 Nov. 1670 and 10 Feb. 1671) he was registered as excused at a call of the House.

Parliament was prorogued on 22 Apr. 1671 and Gunning became absorbed in university politics, supporting the election of George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham, to the chancellorship against the candidacy of Henry Bennet, Baron (soon to be earl of) Arlington.18 By July 1671, still in residence at St John’s, he was ill and planning a trip to take the waters at Tunbridge; six months later he was still complaining of suffering from the ‘ague’.19 Apparently recovered by the start of the February 1673 parliamentary session, he was present on the first day and thereafter attended 83 per cent of sittings. He was named to four select committees and to the sessional committees for privileges and petitions. On 11 Mar. 1673 he received the proxy of the eccentric and notoriously negligent Thomas Wood, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, which he held until the end of the session.

Gunning returned to the House for the opening of the second session of 1673 and attended every sitting of the week-long session. On 6 Nov. 1673 the contested Chichester by-election saw the return of the town’s recorder, Richard May. There is no evidence that Gunning exerted himself on behalf of either of the candidates and the campaign appears to have reflected local interests rather than national politics.20 He was back at Westminster by 7 Jan. 1674 when he attended the House for the start of the new session; he was present for 88 per cent of sittings and was as usual named to the committees for privileges and petitions but was not nominated to any select committees. After the prorogation on 24 Feb. 1674 his movements are unclear but he was in London on 5 Apr. when he preached before the king on the (presumably provocative) theme of temptation.21 Roger Morrice believed that Gunning was involved with George Morley, bishop of Winchester in one of the initiatives in 1673 or 1674 also involving John Tillotson and Edward Stillingfleet, later bishop of Worcester, to negotiate with Presbyterians over comprehension, though there is no other evidence to substantiate the claim.22 In January 1675 he joined the key conference of five bishops and five privy councillors at Lambeth Palace which discussed responses to popery and dissent.23 Shortly after that meeting Gunning was selected for translation to the more prestigious (and lucrative) see of Ely As bishop of Chichester Gunning’s annual diocesan income had been £671; that from the see of Ely was valued at more than £2,000.24 The move was perhaps also a relief from the ‘affronts’ of the dean of Chichester, George Stradling, of which his successor bitterly complained.25

Gunning attended 77 per cent of sittings in the first session of 1675 and was named to 14 select committees. It is probable that he spent the summer months in his new diocese. On 2 Oct. 1675, in anticipation of the new session, he received the proxy of Anthony Sparrow, bishop of Exeter; he took his seat for the second 1675 session when it opened on 13 October. He attended 95 per cent of sittings and was named to eight select committees. On 20 Nov. 1675, Gunning used Sparrow’s proxy when he voted against the address for the dissolution of Parliament. Remaining in London, he attended a meeting at the Guildhall about the rebuilding of St Paul’s on 2 Dec. 1675.26 However, his energies were focused on the need to defend the Church against arguments in favour of comprehension and against the Church’s ecclesiology. Gunning was plainly exercised by the publication of The Naked Truth by Herbert Croft, bishop of Hereford, which appeared during the autumn of 1675, and which aimed to mobilize opinion in favour of comprehension and suggested equality between bishops and presbyters.27 On 20 Feb. 1676 Gunning used the opportunity of preaching before the king to deliver a direct attack on The Naked Truth, arguing for the divine institution of episcopacy.28 Andrew Marvell, whose Mr Smirke was a response to the controversy aroused by the tract, was one of several who attributed another response to Croft, Lex Talionis, to Gunning (probably incorrectly).29

During the recess, on 10 July 1676 (although the date is possibly in error), Gunning received the proxy of his old friend Isaac Barrow. Seven months later, on 10 Feb. 1677, just five days before the opening of the 1677–8 session, he also received the proxy of James Fleetwood, bishop of Worcester, which he held until 7 Feb. 1678. He attended the House for this lengthy session for nearly 84 per cent of sittings and was named to 47 select committees. He was absent for a short period at Michaelmas 1677, when he travelled to Cambridge to consecrate the new chapel at Emmanuel College.30 Back in London on 29 Jan. 1678, he protested against the resolution to address the king for the release from custody of Philip Herbert, 7th earl of Pembroke. Gunning was absent from the House between 7 and 25 Feb. 1678, possibly through illness as he was excused at a call of the House on 16 February. On 8 July he spoke in the lengthy debate concerning the appeal from chancery in the case of Louis de Duras, 2nd earl of Feversham, versus Watson.31 He was present on 15 July and on 1 Oct. 1678 to hear the House prorogued.

The autumn parliamentary session opened on 21 Oct. 1678 against the background of the Popish Plot. Gunning attended the House for the first day of business, was present for 82 per cent of sittings and was named to two select committees and to all three sessional committees. He again received James Fleetwood’s proxy, which was registered to him on both 13 and 30 Oct. and vacated with Fleetwood’s attendance on 23 Dec. 1678. On 4 Nov. he examined the Lords’ Journal. During this session, Gunning played a prominent role in the passage of the Test Act. The wording of the bill was unambiguous in its attack on Rome, describing the Catholic mass as guilty of image worship, a sentiment with which he could not agree. On 15 Nov. 1678, following a debate in a committee of the whole House on the declaration against transubstantiation, Gunning voted against it being under the same penalty as the oaths. On 19 Nov., together with Sancroft and John Dolben, bishop of Rochester, he voted against the legislation, on the grounds that it declared the practices of the Church of Rome idolatrous. Gunning was challenged in the debate by the strongly anti-Romanist Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, though the House ‘did not much mind Gunning’s arguments’ anyway and passed the bill.32 Gunning nevertheless both took the Test and advised Sir William Godolphin, who sought his guidance, to do likewise.33 On 26 Dec. 1678, in the division on the supply bill, Gunning voted to insist on the Lords’ amendment relating to the payment of money into the exchequer. The following day he voted against the committal of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later marquess of Carmarthen and duke of Leeds).

Elections to the first Exclusion Parliament in 1679 were fiercely contested but, while it seems likely that Gunning played a role in Cambridge as well as in the county, there is no evidence of his activities. His involvement in the election for Cambridge University burgesses is much clearer. He openly supported the sitting candidate, the high church Sir Charles Wheler, but Wheler and his running mate, Thomas Crouch (a Member already under Gunning’s influence), were replaced by Sir Thomas Exton and James Vernon, the latter supported by the university’s chancellor, James Scott, duke of Monmouth.34

When the new Parliament assembled on 6 Mar. 1679, Gunning attended four sittings in the abortive first week and was named to the three sessional committees. He took his seat for the ensuing session on 18 Mar. and then attended for 92 per cent of sittings, being named to ten select committees and again to all three sessional committees. Gunning was an opponent of Danby’s attainder and on 14 Apr. he voted against the passage of the attainder bill. Ten days later, he was listed as having voted to disagree with the Commons in the case of the Danby attainder; unlike six of his fellow bishops, he did not leave the chamber rather than vote in a matter of blood.

Meanwhile, on 7 Apr. 1679, Roger Morrice recorded a rumour set on foot by John Sidway (or Sedway) that, when Sidway was in Rome, the Catholic Cardinal Barbarini had intimated that Gunning and three other English bishops would support England’s reconversion to Catholicism.35 Morrice’s information almost certainly came from reports of testimony provided to the Lords’ committee examining witnesses regarding the Popish Plot on either 4 or 5 April. Sidway had also told the committee that Gunning attempted to dissuade him from converting to Protestantism, telling him that Catholicism ‘was a better religion than it was generally believed to be’. Sidway’s credibility was undermined when he proved unable to identify Gunning. Ushered into the House on 7 Apr. ‘by an eloquent earl’ (Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury) to repeat his information, he damaged his credibility still further when questioning revealed that he had probably never been to Rome. Nevertheless, an order for Sidway’s committal was carried by only four votes and triggered a formal protest.36 The slur on Gunning’s commitment to the Church was not easily removed. Despite the Lords’ findings, on 8 May 1679 the Commons entrusted a committee with the further examination of Sidway.37 Two days later Gunning voted against the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses to consider the method of proceeding against the impeached lords. During the debates in the House held on 6 and 20 May 1679 concerning the right of bishops to vote in blood cases, Gunning insisted that the relevant canon law was that which existed ‘before the dark times of popery’. The bishops were summoned by the king and ‘the law says we must obey the king tho’ the Pope says we shall not meddle in blood’.38

Parliament was dissolved on 12 July 1679, sparking another round of canvassing for the ensuing general election. Gunning’s interest was once more deployed in support of Sir Charles Wheler in the August elections for Cambridge University, against the king’s candidate, Sir William Temple, on the grounds of Temple’s supposed atheism; in the event, Wheler gave way to Temple and did not even attend the poll. In September 1679 Gunning was consulted by Lawrence Womock, later bishop of St Davids about his pamphlet defending episcopal voting rights in capital cases.39 Gunning was in London during the early part of 1680 and attended the House for its prorogation on 26 Jan. By 20 July he was back in Ely.40 He returned to Westminster for 21 Oct. 1680, when he attended the House for the start of the second Exclusion Parliament. He was present for 86 per cent of sittings and was named to four select committees and to all three sessional committees. He spoke in the debate on the Exclusion Bill on 15 Nov. 1680 and voted to reject the bill on its first reading. On 23 Nov. he voted against the appointment of a joint committee to consider the state of the kingdom.

On 26 Dec. 1680 Gunning officiated at a London parish communion where the communicants (who included Titus Oates and Sir John Reresby, 2nd bt.) joined the bishop for dinner. Oates spoke out rashly against James Stuart, duke of York, and against several Catholics at court, in a manner that Gunning described as Oates’s ‘usual discourse, and that he had checked him formerly for taking so indecent a liberty, but … to no purpose’.41 In the new year, Gunning attended the House until 8 Jan. 1681, missing the last two days of parliamentary business. The dissolution by proclamation on 18 Jan. saw another round of electioneering in Cambridge but again without any evidence of Gunning’s intervention. He travelled to Oxford to be present on 21 Mar. for the start of the new Parliament and attended three-quarters of all sittings. He attended Parliament for the final time on 26 Mar. 1681, two days before the abrupt dissolution.

Throughout the politically bad-tempered spring of 1681, with waves of protest against the dissolution and equally impassioned counter-protest, Gunning and Womock held a number of discussions about ways to represent their ‘sense touching Parliaments’ to the king – presumably in response to Whig addresses. Gunning and Womock became increasingly close and on 17 Aug. 1681 Gunning, who had already recommended Womock to the commission of the peace for both Cambridge and the county, now recommended him to the deanery of Ely, affirming the latter’s ‘constant service of his majesty’ and his ‘learned and orthodox and seasonable’ publications.42 Another of his allies against the Whigs was William Saywell (another prebendary of Ely and Gunning’s executor), who augmented the spate of Anglican political polemic with a defence of the bishop’s attacks on nonconformity and a vindication of the ‘true and Christian concord’ to be had in Gunning’s assertion of the ‘evangelical and Catholic unity’ of the Church of England.43

During 1682 Gunning conducted a diocesan visitation.44 In December of that year he was added to the commission on the Hyde–Dunblane case in the court of delegates, attending hearings until the sentence in April 1683 and finding in favour of Danby’s son Peregrine Osborne, Lord Dunblane [S] (later 2nd duke of Leeds).45 Gunning was now nearing 70 years of age and in such poor health that on 10 Mar. 1683 it was plausibly but erroneously reported that he had died two days previously.46 Although a pastoral letter was issued under his name in January 1684, he was by then too ill to attend to diocesan business.47 By May he was so ill that informed circles had already named his successor. He died in the bishop’s palace at Ely in the early hours of 6 July 1684, and was buried in the presbytery of Ely cathedral, where he is commemorated by a marble monument.48

Gunning’s complex will, which included seven separate codicils, instructed seven friends to index and revise his writings. His sole executor was the prebend of Ely, William Saywell. Unmarried, Gunning distributed his estate widely, singling out nobody in particular but making special mention of those of his relatives who bore his surname. When he first composed his will in 1679 he was able to bequeath (in addition to pre-existing charitable expenditure) some £700; the seven codicils written over the following five years increased his legacies by £2,700. He had spent lavishly on charitable and educational works and lent £1,000 to Francis Turner, bishop of Rochester, his successor as bishop of Ely, and like Gunning a former master of St John’s and vice-chancellor of Cambridge, towards the latter’s building projects.49 Gunning’s political ally and former diocesan colleague Lawence Womock had high hopes of succeeding his friend and was bitterly disappointed when the favoured courtier Turner was translated to Ely in Gunning’s place.50


  • 1 Hasted, Kent, iv. 518–33, 565–72.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/376.
  • 3 Bodl. Tanner 282, f. 35.
  • 4 Hasted, Kent, iv. 565–72.
  • 5 Wood, Life, ii. 183; iii. 38; P. Barwick, Life of John Barwick (1724), 34-6.
  • 6 Evelyn Diary, iii. 190, 193-4, 202; Sloane 2903, ff. 132–5; Bosher, Restoration Settlement, 12, 43, 44.
  • 7 Bosher, 37, 39; CCSP, iii. 385; Add. 34727, f. 86; Evelyn Diary, iii. 211, 225-6, 230, 234.
  • 8 Bosher, 122; Eg. 2542, f. 267.
  • 9 Pepys Diary, i. 11, 32, 58, 60, 76.
  • 10 CSP Dom. 1660–1, pp. 145, 160, 216, 455.
  • 11 Reliquiae Baxterianae, pt.1, p. 364.
  • 12 Pepys Diary, ii. 107; T. Lathbury, Hist. of the Convocation, 296–7; HP Commons, 1660–90, iii. 102, 296.
  • 13 Pepys Diary, ii. 239.
  • 14 J. Gregory, Restoration, Reformation, and Reform, 1660–1828, p. 46.
  • 15 Gunning, The Paschal or Lent-Fast Apostolical & Perpetual (1662); Salmon, Lives, 127.
  • 16 Add. 36916, f. 164.
  • 17 Add. 4274, ff. 158–9; Bodl. Tanner 149, f. 83.
  • 18 Tanner 44, f. 259; CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 213–89.
  • 19 Tanner 44, ff. 270, 284.
  • 20 HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 420–1.
  • 21 Evelyn Diary, iv. 33.
  • 22 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 355; J. Spurr, ‘Church of England, Comprehension and the Toleration Act’, EHR civ. 936.
  • 23 CSP Dom. 1673–5, pp. 548–51; Verney ms mic. M636/28, Sir R. Verney to E. Verney, 28 Jan. 1675.
  • 24 CSP Dom. 1670 and Addenda 1660–70, pp. 193–248; 1675–6, p. 111.
  • 25 Tanner 148, f. 48.
  • 26 Tanner 145, f. 211.
  • 27 [H. Croft], The Naked Truth (1675), 36.
  • 28 Evelyn Diary, iv. 83.
  • 29 Lex Talionis: Or, the Author of Naked Truth Stript Naked (1676); Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, ed. A. Patterson, ii. 5.
  • 30 Tanner 155, f. 52.
  • 31 Lord Nottingham’s Chancery Cases ed. D.E.C. Yale (Selden Soc. lxxix), ii. 637–47.
  • 32 Timberland, i. 221; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 473; Evelyn Diary, iv. 159; Salmon, Lives, 256–7.
  • 33 HP Commons, 1660–90, ii. 408; Evelyn Diary, iv. 159.
  • 34 Tanner 39, f. 171; HP Commons, 1660–90, i. 148–50, ii. 179.
  • 35 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 126.
  • 36 HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 33, 36.
  • 37 CJ ix. 614–16.
  • 38 Bodl. Carte 81, ff. 561–7.
  • 39 Tanner 38, f. 62, 82.
  • 40 Tanner 137, f. 44.
  • 41 Reresby Mems. 208–9.
  • 42 Tanner 36, ff. 61, 95.
  • 43 W. Saywell, Evangelical and Catholick Unity, Maintained in the Church of England (1682).
  • 44 Articles of Visitation and Enquiry within the Diocess of Ely (1682).
  • 45 Eg. 3384, ff. 90, 96.
  • 46 JRL, Legh of Lyme mss, newsletter, 10 Mar. 1683; Tanner 35, f. 215.
  • 47 Tanner 34, f. 135.
  • 48 HMC Downshire, i. 31; Tanner 32, f. 82.
  • 49 Tanner 40, f. 31.
  • 50 Tanner 32, f. 89.