ROBERTS, William (1585-1665)

ROBERTS, William (1585–1665)

cons. 3 Sept. 1637 bp. of BANGOR

First sat 13 Apr. 1640; first sat after 1660, 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 5 May 1662

b. 1585, s. of Symon Roberts and Sisle, da. of Edward Goodman (1476-1560), mercer, sis. of Gabriel Goodman, dean of Westminster. educ. Queens, Camb. BA 1608-9, fell., 1611-30, MA 1612, jun. proctor, 1619-20, BD 1621, DD 1626; ord. deacon, priest 1616. unm. d. 12 Aug. 1665; will 4 May 1665, pr. 10 Aug. 1666.1

Preb. Lincoln, 1628-37; sub-dean Bath and Wells, 1629-37; rect. Llanrhaiadr, 1637,2 Llandyrnog, 1637; adn. Bangor, 1637,3 Anglesey, 1637; seq. 1649.

Also associated with: Plas Bennett, Llandyrnog and Ruthin, Denb.

Likenesses: portraits reproduced in Archaeologia Cambrensis.4

William Roberts was believed to be a member of the Roberts family of Llandyrnog, Denbighshire, and claimed his descent from Edwin, king of Tegeingl, the founder of a tribe of Gwynedd. He was elevated to the episcopate through the influence of Archbishop Laud, archbishop of Canterbury after recovering £1,000 worth of Church patrimony.5 Together with his new diocese, he was granted in commendam the rectory of his native parish, Llandyrnog, where he would spend much of his life.

During the civil wars and Interregnum, Roberts retired to his native Denbighshire and kept a low profile, though his lands were included in the November 1652 Act for sale of traitors’ lands.6 At the Restoration, following orders in the House of Lords of 22 and 23 June 1660, he petitioned successfully for the restoration of his Llandyrnog rectory and the archdeaconry of Anglesey.7 Despite his advancing years, he threw himself with vigour into the re-establishment of the Restoration Church, becoming the ‘happy instrument in reviving the ancient laudable worship’ in Bangor Cathedral.8

By the time of the Restoration, Roberts was 75 years old. His patchy attendance in the restored House of Lords reflected his age as well as the difficulties of communication between north Wales and London. He, nevertheless, took his seat on 20 Nov. 1661, and was present in Convocation to subscribe the revised Book of Common Prayer in December. He attended the House regularly for the six months of the session that oversaw the passage of the Act of Uniformity. At calls of the House in succeeding sessions (on 23 Feb. 1663, 4 Apr. 1664 and 7 Dec. 1664), Roberts was excused attendance. On 7 Feb. 1663 he registered his proxy to George Griffith, bishop of St Asaph. Since both bishops were loyal supporters of the episcopal bench, it was assumed by Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton that Roberts’ proxy would be exercised against the attempt to impeach Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, by George Digby, 2nd earl of Bristol.

Back in his diocese Roberts had to deal with the legacy of political and religious polarization. In the autumn of 1660 he instituted to the living at Clynnog the nominee of Philip Herbert, 5th earl of Pembroke. The new minister displaced Ellis Rowland, a parliamentarian appointee. Rowland refused to go quietly. He continued to officiate at Clynnog church until December 1660 when his parishioners locked him out of the church. In the ensuing legal wrangle before the magistrates at Caernarvon, Rowland protested that he was conformable. Bishop Roberts, to whom the matter was referred by the bench, refused to accept his assurances, and Rowland was forced into active opposition to the Church within the Welsh Nonconformist network.9 In August 1665 Roberts had to deal with another refractory minister, also surnamed Rowland. Richard Rowland had been appointed by ‘the usurper Oliver’ but had then been confirmed in office at the Restoration. Roberts sought advice from Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, explaining that

He is summoned to answer articles in the consistory which he seems to contemn, and a sequestration upon his tithes for duties unpaid, but could not be put in execution by reason of his threatening of suits at common law, and the timorousness of the parishioners. I humbly beg your Grace’s assistance and direction to the use of the rod of discipline, seeing he will not be reduced by the spirit of meekness, and the rather least that others be encouraged to disobedience by the example of his impunity, the whole sum required is not above £1 4s. and he is possessed of one of the best livings in my diocese, so that it is not imaginable what should now induce him to this unprofitable perverseness, unless he might be one of those that expect a change and therefore would now merit by opposing the hierarchy.10

Roberts took seriously his responsibilities towards the edification of his flock and the fabric of his cathedral and, committed to the Protestant ideal of a preaching ministry, he instituted an order of preaching in the cathedral church which provided for a system of fines if any clergyman failed in his duty.11

In May 1665, now in his eightieth year, Roberts surrounded himself with eight trusted male relatives and colleagues, including his two chaplains, Robert Morgan, the future bishop of Bangor and Michael Evans, and made his will with a series of bequests to the poor and his surviving sister, nieces and nephews, godchildren and widowed in-laws. Besides properties in Denbighshire, Roberts bequeathed almost £900 in cash and left the residue of his estate to his executors: his nephews, John Gething and Robert Lloyd, both clergymen, and John ab Richard. Individual bequests included £100 towards the ‘beautifying and adorning’ of Bangor Cathedral. He also left £200 for two annual exhibitions for ‘poor scholars’ in the diocese: £100 to his old college at Cambridge where he had his education ‘in the ways of learning and virtue’ and the other £100 to Jesus College, Oxford, ‘a small seminary for the supply of churches in Wales’. Roberts survived for another three months. On 12 Aug. 1665 he died at Llandyrnog rectory; he was buried in the parish chancel.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/321.
  • 2 Esgobaeth Llanelwy, i. 413-14.
  • 3 Esgobaeth Llanelwy, i. 413-14.
  • 4 Archaeologia Cambrensis, 5th ser. viii. 64, iv. 346.
  • 5 P. Yorke, Royal Tribes of Wales (1887), 201n; Ath. Ox. ii. 888.
  • 6 CCC, 2045-46; A. and O. ii. 634.
  • 7 HMC 7th Rep. 104.
  • 8 B. Willis, Survey of the Cathedral Church of Bangor (1721), 114.
  • 9 A.H. Dodd, History of Caernarvonshire 1284-1900, pp. 162, 170; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 575.
  • 10 Bodl. Tanner 45, f. 21.
  • 11 Ibid. 146, f. 70; Willis, 289.