PARKER, Samuel (1640-88)

PARKER, Samuel (1640–88)

cons. 17 Oct. 1686 bp. of OXFORD

Never sat.

b. Sept. 1640, 2nd. s. of John Parker of Weston Underwood, Bucks. judge. educ. Northampton g.s.; Wadham, Oxf. matric. 1657, BA 1660; Trinity, Oxf. MA 1663; ord. priest 1664; incorp. Camb. 1667, DD 1671. m. 1673, Rebecca, da. and h. of Nathaniel Phesant (Pheasant) of London and Upwood, Hunts. merchant, and Abigail Clarke;1 2s. d. 20 Mar. 1688; will 1 Feb. 1686, pr. 30 Apr. 1689.2

Chap. to Gilbert Sheldon, bp of London, 1667–77; rect. Chartham, Kent 1667-86, Ickham, Kent 1671; preb. Canterbury, 1672–85; adn. Canterbury, 1670–88; master, Eastbridge hospital 1673.

President Magdalen, Oxf. 1687–8.

FRS 1666.

Also associated with: Northampton.

Samuel Parker’s father was a parliamentarian sympathizer. According to Anthony Wood, both parents were ‘severe puritans and schismatics’ who ensured their son was ‘puritanically educated’. At Wadham he led an austere religious life until he transferred to Trinity and came under the influence of Ralph Bathurst. The ascetic Presbyterian ‘was rescued from the chains and fetters of an unhappy education’ and transformed into an equally ardent apologist for episcopacy by divine right.3 Gilbert Sheldon, seeing Parker’s potential as a propagandist, gave him his first ecclesiastical preferment and encouraged the publication of the Ecclesiastical Polity (1669), a polemical statement of the state’s political imperative to compel the tender conscience. In December 1678 Parker complained bitterly to William Sancroft, the archdeacon and later archbishop of Canterbury, of the difficulties put in the way of prosecuting sectaries by the ability to prolong proceedings by means of appeal ‘so that it is not possible for me to proceed against any person or in any cause without the charges and trouble of a long law suit’.4

In 1670 he replaced Sancroft as archdeacon of Canterbury. This post, the most prestigious of all English archdeaconries, gave Parker considerable authority in Kent and he began to establish his own property interests in Chartham and on the Isle of Sheppey.5 In 1673 he married into a dynasty of City lawyers and merchants. His wife, the sole heiress of Nathaniel Phesant (whose estate was worth some £8,000), was also a niece of Stephen Phesant, a client of Edward Montagu, earl of Sandwich; the marriage thus consolidated Parker’s connections with the London legal establishment and with political interests in the east midlands and Kent.6

In November 1680 Parker discussed the proofs of his latest publication with Henry Dodwell. The Case of the Church of England Briefly and Truly Stated was intended ‘to blow up’ the arguments in a sermon published by Edward Stillingfleet, later bishop of Worcester, entitled The Mischief of Separation (1680), which called for Protestant unity in the face of the threats posed by the popish plot and denied divine right. The nonconformist opposition that Stillingfleet’s work had provoked led Parker to insist that ‘I am very unwilling to join in the cry. Though for the design itself I think it absolutely necessary to the settlement of the Church’s peace, that it be established upon a divine form of government …’.7 News of the intended publication came to the ears of Arthur Anneseley, earl of Anglesey, and thence to Archbishop Sancroft. Sancroft, Henry Compton, bishop of London, and William Lloyd, bishop of St Asaph, all read the pamphlet and agreed that publication would be damaging, probably because it created an impression of disunity in the Church. Sancroft first advised, then instructed, Parker not to publish the work. Parker agreed to withdraw it, referring to his ‘absolute obedience and subjection to my lord of Canterbury’s judgment’. When it was nevertheless published in the spring of 1681 Parker insisted that the printer had acted without his consent.8

In an undated letter to Simon Patrick, the future bishop of Chichester, that probably belongs to early 1681, Parker complained that the episcopate had been infiltrated by ‘tools’ – bishops who ‘sided and caballed with the Shaftsburian faction’ and whose acceptance of Stillingfleet was influenced by his vindication of the bishops’ right to sit in the House in capital cases because they valued ‘a little prating privilege of Parliament before this gift of the Holy Ghost, prefer their peerage before their religion, and would be content to be deposed from the apostolic office … to preserve their temporal baronies’.9

Parker’s apparent disobedience over The Case of the Church of England was not the only point of conflict with Sancroft. They also quarrelled in 1681 over the right to appoint a registrar and in 1682 Sancroft appears to have taken Parker to task over the mismanagement of briefs for the rebuilding of St Paul’s. Yet Parker’s support for the royal prerogative (and tacit contempt for Parliament) made him useful to the court. Although in frail health, Parker was in London in Apr. 1684 at the command of James Stuart, duke of York, and possibly also of the king ‘about some business in which they think I can serve them’.10 The exact nature of their business is unclear, but in November the clerks of both houses of Parliament were instructed to give Parker access to parliamentary journals and papers.11 By that point it was thought that Parker was set for elevation either to Bath and Wells or to what was correctly thought to be the imminent vacancy at Norwich.12 He received neither. Perhaps being passed over spurred the diatribe that he composed at or about the time of Charles II’s death in 1685, in which he accused Sancroft of being his enemy and provided a long list of his grievances to prove it. He accused Sancroft of favouring ‘the Whiggish faction and that in their very acts of sedition’ and described the Popish Plot as the ‘nursling’ of Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby (later marquess of Carmarthen and duke of Leeds). According to Parker, Sancroft saw the main threat to the Church coming from Catholicism and was reluctant to prosecute Dissenters; Parker was convinced of the opposite – that nonconformists were the enemy of the Church and state while Roman Catholics were politically reliable.13 Not surprisingly, his sympathy for Catholics led to suspicions that he was himself one.14

In August 1685 Parker annoyed Sancroft still further by resigning his Canterbury prebend in favour of John Bradford. Francis Turner, bishop of Ely, described Parker’s actions as a public affront to the authority of the archbishop (he had surrendered the prebend to the secretary of state rather than to Sancroft). The lord privy seal, Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon, refused to seal the grant, thinking that ‘for a man in Dr Parker’s circumstances, I mean, having that dependence which he ought by his station to have upon his grace, to resign a preferment in the archbishop’s own church, to a person, for ought I knew, a stranger to his grace, was I thought a very unfit thing’.15 The delay proved temporary – Bradford was appointed in October, a month after Clarendon had relinquished the seal and been appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland.16

In August 1686, James II directed Parker’s election to the see of Oxford.17 This, wrote Dr William Denton, cannot ‘be well liked of anywhere, or by any honest intelligent number of men’.18 His final career move was to the presidency of Magdalen, the affair that was emblematic of James II’s Catholicizing policies. In April 1687 he was one of the few bishops prepared to support the Declaration of Indulgence. He even proposed an address of thanks to the king, only to find that his clergy refused to sign it.19 In August, after the fellows of Magdalen College had refused to admit a Catholic as president, the king nominated Parker instead. Although not yet 50 years old, Parker’s health was precarious and he asked to be admitted to the presidency by proxy. The fellows refused and elected John Hough, the future bishop of Oxford. Parker was intruded by the ecclesiastical commissioners (led by James II’s other reliable appointee, Thomas Cartwright, bishop of Chester in October.20

Parker’s illness did not prevent him from employing his pen in support of James II’s political policies; his Reasons for Abrogating the Test, Imposed upon All Members of Parliament was licensed for the press on 10 Dec. 1687 and published shortly afterwards. The first impression (2,000 copies) sold out within a day.21 In it Parker argued that the Test created an ‘ill precedent against the rights of peerage’ and that Parliament lacked the authority to pass a law of ‘an ecclesiastical nature’. Nor could it be argued that the bishops’ votes in the Lords legitimized the Test since they sat in the House ‘as temporal barons’ and not as churchmen: ‘if they … pretend to exercise any ecclesiastical authority in that place, they … profanely pawn the bishop to the lord’. Not surprisingly, the king was said to be particularly pleased with the book, which tended to confirm popular perceptions of Parker as a crypto-Catholic, as did his willingness to obey royal mandates to appoint Catholics to senior academic posts. It was even rumoured that the only obstruction to his open avowal of conversion was his wife’s fears of the consequences.22

Becoming increasingly disillusioned, Parker reputedly told a servant that there was ‘no trust in princes’ and that the king had promised him better than to be ‘his tool and his prop’.23 One Roman Catholic source claimed that the bishop was ready to convert to Rome but that his wife was an impediment.24 It later emerged that Parker regretted any move towards Catholicism and, in his final illness, refused the ministrations of Catholic priests.25 Such a refusal did not save his reputation. On learning of his death, Sir Charles Cotterell wrote to his son-in-law, Sir William Trumbull, that

I forgot to tell you that our excellent Bishop of Oxford after but a short enjoyment of his ill gotten preferment, for he hath been sick almost ever since, is lately dead, leaving as ill a fame as any man that ever pretended to die in our Church, which it is said he did after having done it as much mischief as he could to do …26


  • 1 TNA, C 6/294/53.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/395.
  • 3 Ath. Ox. iv. 225-8.
  • 4 Tanner 124, f. 99.
  • 5 W. Somner, Antiquities of Canterbury (1703), 144; TNA, PROB 11/395.
  • 6 TNA, C 6/72/64.
  • 7 Bodl. ms Cherry 23, ff. 325–7.
  • 8 Bodl. ms Eng. lett. c. 28, f. 5; Bodl. ms Cherry 23, f. 324; Tanner 31, ff. 166–74.
  • 9 Tanner 36, f. 255.
  • 10 Tanner 32, f. 26.
  • 11 CSP Dom. 1684–5, pp. 195, 207, 236.
  • 12 Prideaux Letters, 141.
  • 13 Tanner 31, ff. 166–74.
  • 14 Ibid. ff. 113–14.
  • 15 Ibid. ff. 176–7, 206.
  • 16 CCED.
  • 17 CSP Dom. 1686–7, pp. 243, 273, 278, 288.
  • 18 Verney ms mic. M636/41, W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, 8 Sept. 1686.
  • 19 Tanner 29, f. 13; Add. 34510, f. 37.
  • 20 Bodl. Rawl. Lett. 91, f. 62; Sloane 3076, ff. 1–21.
  • 21 Ath. Ox. iv. 234.
  • 22 S. Parker, Reasons for Abrogating the Test (1688), 1–8; UNL, Pw A 2120/1–3; CSP Dom. 1687–9, pp. 124, 129, 150, 165.
  • 23 J.R. Bloxam, Magdalen College and King James II, 240.
  • 24 Beinecke Lib. OSB mss, fb 155, pp. 520–5.
  • 25 A Letter Sent … to the Late King James, to Bring Him Over to the Communion of the Church of England, Written by the Late Samuel Parker, DD (1714); Hatton Corresp. ii. 79.
  • 26 Add. 72516, ff. 60–62.