SANDERSON, Robert (1587-1663)

SANDERSON (SAUNDERSON), Robert (1587–1663)

cons. 28 Oct. 1660 bp. of LINCOLN

First sat 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 15 May 1662

b. 19 Sept. 1587, 2nd s. of Robert Sanderson of Gilthwaite Hall, Yorks. and Elizabeth, da. of Richard Carr of Butterthwaite Hall, Yorks.1 educ. Rotherham g.s.; Lincoln, Oxf. matric. 1603, BA 1605, fell. 1606-19, MA 1607, BD 1617, DD 1636; ord. deacon 1611, priest 1612. m. c.1621, Ann, da. of Henry Nelson, rect. Haugham, Lincs.2 3s. 2da. d. 29 Jan. 1663; will 6 Jan., pr. 28 Mar. 1663.3

Chap. to Charles I 1631.

Chap. to George Montaigne, bp. London; to Charles I 1631; rect. Wyberton, Lincs. 1618-19, Boothby Pagnell, Lincs. 1619-60, Muston, Leics. 1633-41; vic. Heckington, Lincs. 1618-25; preb. Lincoln, 1629-60, Christ Church, Oxf. 1642-8; Regius Prof. Divinity, Oxf. 1642-8 (ejected 1648); commr. Savoy conference 1661.4

Associated with: Sheffield, Yorks.; Boothby Pagnell, Lincs.; Oxf., Oxon. and Buckden, Hunts.

Likenesses: oil on canvas after J. Riley, Christ Church Oxf.; etching and line engraving by W. Hollar, 1668, NPG D29539.

Sanderson who was appointed a royal chaplain through the recommendation of William Laud, then bishop of London, had little difficulty in trimming his Calvinism to accommodate himself to the tenor of the Laudian Church.5 Respected as an academic and also as a hard working parish minister, Charles I is reputed to have said of him that ‘I carry my ears to other preachers, but I carry my conscience to hear Mr Sanderson and to act accordingly’. In 1643 Sanderson refused to serve on the Westminster Assembly. He maintained contacts with fellow Anglicans during the Interregnum, tinkered with the outlawed liturgy just enough to avoid deprivation and advised like-minded clergy to remain in their parishes without ‘any shipwreck of a good conscience’, although he also made it clear that it was necessary for all Anglican clergy to co-operate ‘to protect the honour of our religion and Church in her now despised conditions’.6

At the Restoration Robert Sanderson’s career prospects were enhanced still further by his close connection to Sir Geoffrey Palmer, formerly solicitor general to Charles I and attorney general from 1660, and Gilbert Sheldon, of London, who was in practice, though not yet in name, the spiritual head of the Church of England. Both men were named as his ‘most real and constant friends’ in his will. Sanderson’s father was Sheldon’s godfather, and after he commended Sheldon to Sanderson’s care as a student, the two men formed a lasting friendship. It was Sheldon who recommended that the elderly Sanderson be elevated to the episcopate.7 Quite apart from any other qualification for preferment that he might possess Sanderson was known to be a wholehearted supporter of uniformity. In the preface to a collection of sermons that he published in the 1650s he wrote concerning Dissenters that,

it is the easiest thing in the world, and nothing more common, than for men to pretend conscience when they are not minded to obey. I do not believe … that the refusal of indifferent ceremonies, enjoined by lawful authority, is any part of their godliness, or any good fruit, evidence, or sign thereof … And as for tenderness of conscience … a most gracious blessed fruit of the holy spirit of god, where it is really, and not in pretence only, nor mistaken … it is with it as with other tender things, very subject to receive harm, and soon put out of order. Through the cunning of Satan it dangerously exposeth men to temptations … and through its own aptitude to entertain and cherish unnecessary scruples; it strongly disposeth them to listen thereunto so long, till at last they are overcome thereof.8

The ‘sumptuous feast’ which followed Sanderson’s consecration in October 1660 was as much a very public celebration of the renewed strength of episcopacy as of Sanderson’s appointment.9 Although named as a commissioner to the Savoy conference, he took little part other than to use ‘a few angry words’ in support of arguments advanced by Peter Gunning, later successively bishop of Chichester and Ely, and to insist that Baxter ‘was a man of contention’ if he sought to respond.10 He took his seat in the House of Lords on 20 Nov. 1661, the first day that bishops were entitled to sit in Parliament. His parliamentary career lasted for a single session; he attended regularly throughout the winter of 1661 and spring of 1662 (41 per cent of total sittings) and was named to 15 committees. He took his seat the following day in the new Convocation and was charged with revisions to the prayer book. Sanderson composed the new preface.11 In February 1662 it was reported that Sanderson was one of seven bishops, together with George Digby, 2nd earl of Bristol, and James Stuart, duke of York, who were successfully encouraged by Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, to oppose the Commons’ alterations to the bill for confirmation of ministers.12 Sanderson was present when the Uniformity bill was committed on 17 Jan. 1662 and when the bill was passed in its final form on 8 May 1662. He later insisted that the subscription tests demanded by the act were articles not ‘of faith but peace’, but had reservations about the act’s stringency: he is reported to have admitted to one of his clergy that ‘more was imposed on ministers than he wished had been’.13

In July and August 1662 Sanderson visited his extensive diocese.14 He rallied clergy of ‘tender consciences who would have to face the implementation of the Act of Uniformity and cautioned them against reading the Presbyterian account of debates at the Savoy in which, he claimed, Richard Baxter had misrepresented his actions.15 After ‘Black Bartholomew’ day on 24 Aug. 1662, Sanderson reported to Sheldon his disgust at the ‘palpable hypocrisy’ of many Presbyterians in his diocese who were opposed to the settlement but were prepared to conform for financial gain.16 He offered preferments as an incentive to conformity in those he believed genuinely troubled in conscience, but on the point of episcopal ordination he was intransigent, as Samuel Wilson, who had been a public preacher at Lincoln Cathedral for a decade and who had himself conducted ordinations, found to his cost.17

Sanderson died at Buckden on 29 Jan. 1663 at the age of 76. He left his wife of more than 40 years so ‘slenderly provided for’ that she was forced to petition the king for a grant, on account of her husband’s ‘sufferings during the rebellion’, his rebuilding expenses and his short time in the bishopric.18 In his brief time as bishop of Lincoln he had spent more than £4,000 on augmentations, refurbishments and charitable projects.19 In April 1663, Humphrey Henchman, of Salisbury, claimed that Sanderson had been ‘an excellent preacher ... judicious casuist, and a very great glory to the Church of England’.20 Richard Baxter formed a rather different opinion, describing Sanderson as ‘a very worthy man, but for that great peevishness, which injuries, partiality, temperature and age had caused in him’.21 Sanderson’s final request was to be buried quietly in Buckden parish church, attended only by his parishioners.


  • 1 I. Walton, Life of Dr. Robert Sanderson (1678), unpag. [8].
  • 2 Walton, [31].
  • 3 TNA, PROB 11/310.
  • 4 Bodl. Tanner 282, f. 35.
  • 5 Walton, [37]; JBS, xxvii. 93-94.
  • 6 Walton, [15, 44-45, 62]; Tanner 52, f. 172; Tanner 53, f. 230; Add. 4253, ff. 159-62.
  • 7 C. Holmes, Seventeenth-Century Lincs, 22-27, 52; Walton, [10, 26, 38, 47, 87-89].
  • 8 R. Sanderson, Fourteen Sermons Heretofore Preached (1657), unpag. [6].
  • 9 Add. 10116, f. 131.
  • 10 Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. 362.
  • 11 Cardwell, 370.
  • 12 Rawdon Pprs. 136-8.
  • 13 R. Sanderson, Works, vi. 337.
  • 14 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c.210, f. 73; Tanner 48, f. 21.
  • 15 Kennett, Register and Chronicle, i. 525.
  • 16 Bodl. Clarendon 77, ff. 157-8.
  • 17 Tanner 49, f. 143.
  • 18 CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 34.
  • 19 Tanner 130, f. 66.
  • 20 CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 101.
  • 21 Reliquiae Baxterianae, i. 362.