SHELDON, Gilbert (1598-1677)

SHELDON, Gilbert (1598–1677)

cons. 28 Oct. 1660 bp. of LONDON; transl. 31 Aug. 1663 abp. of CANTERBURY

First sat 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 27 Oct. 1675

b. 19 June 1598, yst. s. of Roger Sheldon (d. 1635) of Stanton, Staffs., bailiff to Gilbert Talbot, 7th earl of Shrewsbury. educ. Trinity, Oxf., matric. 1614, BA 1617, MA 1620; incorp. at Camb. 1619; All Souls, Oxf., fell. 1622, BD 1628, DD 1634. unm. d. 9 Nov. 1677; will 5-9 Feb. 1673, pr. 1 Dec. 1677.1

Clerk of the closet 1646, 1660; chap. to Charles I bef. 1647,2 Charles II 1660; dean chapel royal 1660-3; PC 1663-77.

Ord. deacon 1624, priest 1625;3 Chap. to Thomas Coventry, Bar. Coventry bef. 1634;4 vic. Hackney 1633-6; canon Gloucester 1633-60; rect. Oddington, Oxon. 1636-39, Ickford, Bucks. 1636-60,5 Newington cum Broghtwell, Oxon. 1639.

Warden, All Souls, Oxf. 1635-48, (ejected 1648), 1660-1; master Savoy 1660; chan. Univ. Oxf. 1667-9.

FRS 1665.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by Sir P. Lely c.1665 NPG 1837; watercolour, S. Cooper, 1667, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, USA.

According to Anthony Wood, Sheldon was the youngest son of a ‘menial servant’ in the household of Gilbert Talbot, 7th earl of Shrewsbury. This almost certainly underestimates Sheldon’s social status; he was the godson of both Shrewsbury and Robert Sanderson, father of Robert Sanderson, the future bishop of Lincoln, and at the time of his sequestration in 1648 he was clearly a gentleman, having inherited personal estate of some £200 a year together with real estate in his native Staffordshire.6 After his ordination, Sheldon entered the household of the lord keeper, Thomas Coventry, Baron Coventry, who provided an introduction to Charles I. He had a flourishing career at Oxford, culminating in his appointment as warden of All Souls. At Oxford he formed a series of influential connections that included the vice chancellor of the university, William Laud, the future archbishop of Canterbury, and members of the Great Tew intellectual circle. He also formed lasting attachments to the Newdigate family.7 By November 1640 he was already a political ally of Edward Hyde, the future earl of Clarendon, whom he praised for his ‘prudence and temper’.8 Sheldon deeply impressed Hyde who, in retrospect at least, thought him ‘born and bred’ to be a future primate.9 Sheldon was a vehement defender of the Church at the Uxbridge negotiations in 1644 and in 1646 was entrusted by Charles I (on whom he was in constant attendance) with a written contract promising the return to the Church of all lay impropriations in royal hands.10 Under house arrest in Oxford briefly in 1648, he became a focus for underground Anglicanism.11 He remained in retirement in the midlands, but was clearly in communication with royalists and other leading clergymen.12 Sheldon did not contribute personally to Anglican apologetics during the Interregnum but he enabled others to do so.13

Sheldon’s main role throughout the Interregnum and after the Restoration was political. As much concerned with the institution and function of the Church as with its spiritual life, his primary concern was the need to rebuild the Church of England after its destruction during the Civil War and to protect it from what he (and others) perceived as threats to its rightful dominance in state and society. In January 1659, working covertly ‘to discredit reports to Hyde’s or the king’s prejudice’, he summoned royalists back from Europe when he deemed it expedient.14 He fretted about the appointment of suitable candidates to political office, worried that the king was making appointments on an ad hoc basis without due regard to political strategy.15 Roger Morrice, writing in 1687, described how, shortly before the Declaration of Breda in 1660, Sheldon together with Sir Geoffrey Palmer (the future attorney general) and Sir Orlando Bridgeman, had met with the Presbyterian leaders, Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester, Denzil Holles, later Baron Holles, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley, later earl of Shaftesbury) Arthur Annesley, later earl of Anglesey, and John Crew, later Baron Crew, ‘very privately in order to the king’s restoration’. At the meeting, Sheldon and the ‘old cavaliers’,

made the greatest acknowledgements that could be to the Presbyterians, and said they had laid the greatest obligation upon the king that it was possible for subjects to do, and that they and their posterity were under the strongest bond of gratitude to them that it was possible for one subject to bring another under, and that it was a kindness so great, for them to restore the king and them poor distressed men that it could not be requited, but it should never be forgotten, and that the Presbyterians should find them both the laity and clergy not only free from revenge and passion, but a generous and a grateful sort of men, in doing them all other favours they could and especially in giving them ample liberty in matters of religion, and perfect freedom from such subscriptions and conformity as was grievous to them before the War.16

Another hostile source relates a private ‘cabin-council’ meeting between Sheldon and the king on 26 May 1660, very shortly after the king had set foot in England.17 Sheldon was already being tipped as a potential archbishop of Canterbury.18 What transpired at the meeting is unclear (although Scottish opinion maintained that it was at this point that the king abandoned a presbyterian religious settlement), but Sheldon did not achieve his own vision of the restored Church of England immediately or without opposition, particularly given the government’s initial determination to create a broad ecclesiastical establishment and to accommodate the moderate presbyterians who had supported the king’s return from exile. 

In 1660, Sheldon’s advancement in the Church was guaranteed. He had figured on Clarendon’s planning lists as a potential bishop of Gloucester and he was a man in whom the royalist clergy (such as Brian Duppa, about to become bishop of Winchester, and another former member of All Souls) had the utmost confidence.19 By June 1660 the king (presumably at the instigation of his chancellor with whom such patronage traditionally rested) was deputing part of the crown’s ecclesiastical patronage to Sheldon, George Morley, bishop elect of Worcester, and John Earle, who would succeed Morley at Worcester.20 Nevertheless Sheldon was not directly involved in the negotiations with presbyterians that resulted in the Worcester House declaration on 25 October. A few days later, on 28 Oct. 1660, he was consecrated bishop of London. The consecration alongside him of four of his closest ecclesiastical allies (Humphrey Henchman, as bishop of Salisbury, George Morley, as bishop of Worcester, Robert Sanderson, as bishop of Lincoln, and George Griffith, as bishop of St Asaph) and the feasting that followed provided a powerful indication of the renewed importance of the Church in national life.21 Some had speculated that he, rather than William Juxon, would be elevated to Canterbury, but the ageing and frail Juxon was very much a figurehead, and Sheldon rather than Juxon was the leading figure controlling ecclesiastical affairs in both the capital and the province of Canterbury.22 It was Sheldon who presented the new king to the people at the coronation in April 1661.23

Sheldon used his position to ensure that like-minded clerics, including William Sancroft, his successor at Canterbury, were appointed to key posts within the Church and universities.24 In Wales, Sheldon had a network of high church allies that originated from his time at Oxford in the 1620s and included the Aubreys, Stradlings and Jenkins of Hensol.25 He maintained close contact with the Oxford churchmen Francis Davies, of Llandaff, and George Griffith, of St Asaph.26 Nevertheless there were limits to his influence. He remained deeply suspicious of John Gauden, appointed to the see of Exeter in 1660 and promoted to Worcester in 1662. Sheldon was later said to have claimed that Gauden had ‘been a neuter in the time of the war’.27 Nor could he stop the appointment to the episcopate of those, like the former Presbyterian Edward Reynolds, bishop of Norwich, who were less fearful than himself of concessions to Dissenters. Sheldon’s influence was not restricted to English and Welsh affairs. He maintained frequent communication with politicians and churchmen in Ireland and Scotland and used his full authority to secure similar religious settlements in the other two kingdoms. In November 1660, Michael Boyle, bishop of Cork, later archbishop of Dublin, had informed Archbishop Bramhall of Armagh that Sheldon had promised his ‘best assistance’ in the matter of impropriations. A successful settlement in Ireland, as Boyle pointed out to Bramhall, was a high priority for Sheldon ‘as very conducible’ to that in England. Sheldon worked closely with James Butler, earl of Brecknock and duke of Ormond [I], and with the Church of Ireland bishops. He held joint meetings with Michael Boyle and Clarendon and pressured the king against any indulgence to non-conformists in Ireland.28 Although his episcopal role was theoretically confined to England, it is clear from their correspondence that he not only kept a watchful eye on Irish ecclesiastical affairs but that he treated the Irish archbishops as his inferiors.

Sheldon was similarly in close contact with the hardline Scottish episcopalian Alexander Burnet, and also with James Sharp, a royalist presbyterian who converted to the episcopalian Church of Scotland after being ‘poisoned’ by Sheldon.29 The royal commission of 1661 to consecrate new Scottish bishops enabled Sheldon to consecrate Sharp as archbishop of St Andrew’s and primate of Scotland. Sharp initially argued that presbyterian orders should suffice for the Church of Scotland ministry, but Sheldon insisted on re-ordination and when the Scots finally consented he told Sharp that it was ‘the Scottish fashion to scruple at everything, and swallow anything’.30 Thereafter, Sheldon managed Scottish ecclesiastical affairs through the Church of Scotland and (less consistently) through John Maitland, duke of Lauderdale [S], later earl of Guilford, who had installed himself in the English court after a similar conversion to episcopal church government. Sheldon and Lauderdale would form an uncomfortable and fragile political relationship.31

Sheldon also maintained a network of correspondents throughout the British colonies. Throughout the early years of the Restoration, he was in close communication with civil lawyer John Luke, judge advocate of the Tangier garrison who kept Sheldon informed of civil and military actions there.32 There were also attempts in or about 1661, and again in 1664 and 1672 to establish a new bishopric in the American colonies under English jurisdiction.33

Sheldon, Parliament and Uniformity 1660-63

Presbyterian efforts to enshrine the Worcester House declaration in law were vigorously resisted in the Commons during the second session of the Convention. Sheldon’s prominence in church policy suggests that he must have played a significant role in the parliamentary politics of the ecclesiastical settlement, yet his involvement in directing or coordinating what was often called ‘the Church party’ in the House of Commons is difficult to pin down. There are similar difficulties in assessing his influence over the House of Lords, from which the bishops were still barred. The election of a new Parliament in early 1661 offered an opportunity to overcome presbyterian influence over a Church settlement. The London election of 19 Mar. 1661, in which a formidable alliance of nonconformist supporters were elected, initially suggested that it would remain strong; but the Westminster election of April 1661 was, from Sheldon’s perspective, more satisfactory. Sir Philip Warwick, secretary to lord treasurer Thomas Wriothesley, 4th earl of Southampton, was returned for one of the Commons’ seats.34 Sheldon’s own involvement in either of these elections, or any others, is not known.

Writs for Convocation were issued on 10 Apr. 1661. Sheldon took steps to ensure that the synod reflected his own views. He used a traditional right to select which two of the four elected proctors would attend in order to prevent the attendance of the presbyterians Richard Baxter and Edmund Calamy.35 On 8 May 1661 Convocation met under Sheldon’s presidency (Juxon being indisposed), working alongside the Savoy Conference which had assembled on 15 Apr. 1661 in Sheldon’s own lodgings. Sheldon insisted that the presbyterians submit in writing their demands for liturgical concessions, hoping, according to Baxter, thereby to encourage dissension.36 The centrepiece of the religious settlement masterminded by Sheldon and Clarendon was intended to be a uniformity bill. Brought up from the Commons on 10 July 1661 the bill lay dormant for some months probably because the Savoy Conference was still debating the settlement. It was also considered desirable to wait for the readmission of the bishops.

On 20 Nov. 1661, following the repeal of the act that had disabled bishops from sitting in Parliament, Sheldon took his seat in the Lords. As he would do throughout his remaining life, he took steps to manage episcopal votes through attendance and the careful orchestration of proxies. He himself received that of William Juxon on 21 Nov. 1661.37 Of the 15 sessions held during his parliamentary career, Sheldon attended all but the last, when his health was in sharp decline. He attended seven of them for more than 70 per cent of sittings, and a further three for more than a half of sittings. He attended regularly for prorogations between sessions and was named to nearly 120 select committees. He was usually named to the sessional committees for privileges and petitions but never to the committee for the journal.

In his first session Sheldon attended 57 per cent of sittings and was named to 41 select committees. The House turned immediately to the religious settlement, several bills having lain dormant until the return of the bishops. On 26 Nov. 1661, the Quaker bill, held over since July, was given a second reading and Sheldon was named to the committee. On 7 Dec. he took part in the conference concerning the Lords’ refusal to swear witnesses at their bar in order for them to be examined in the House of Commons about Sir Edward Powell’s fines. On 9 Dec. the corporation bill (introduced in July) was re-committed with Sheldon named to the committee. On 14 Dec. he helped to manage the conference on the confirmation of private acts. Five days later, possibly as part of a plan to create some form of standing army, Clarendon told the Lords that there was a new republican plot: a committee of 12, including Sheldon, was ordered to meet with a Commons committee over Christmas to consider national security. On 20 Dec. 1661 the corporation bill passed onto the statute book, the first of several bills to enforce the religious, social and political dominance of the Church of England.

Sheldon was named to the committee on the uniformity bill on 17 Jan. 1662. He was in the House on 3 Feb. when there were ‘great animosities’ in the committee of the whole House discussing the bill confirming the Convention’s Act for settling Ministers, a temporary sorting-out of the complex issue of the right to benefices that had changed hands over the previous 20 years. Clarendon, who was ‘resolved to oblige the Presbyterians by keeping the act from being repealed’, engaged Sheldon’s support together with several other bishops, James Stuart, duke of York, George Digby, 2nd earl of Bristol, and ‘all the popish lords’. The Presbyterians were, on this occasion, grateful, presumably unaware that the passage of the bill appears to have been facilitated by a promise to the Commons hardliners to incorporate their amendments to the act in the bill of uniformity instead.38 In February, Sheldon presented to the king the prayer book as revised by Convocation. On the 21st he opposed, without success, attempts in council to restore the ‘black rubric’ on kneeling at Communion, a concession to Presbyterian sensibilities.39 On 25 Feb. 1662, the revised book was recommended by the king to the Lords. Presbyterian peers were unimpressed by the cosmetic changes to the prayer book demanded by the council. On 17 Mar. 1662, Clarendon again pressed Sheldon to support the more moderate voices in the form of a proviso which would authorize the king to dispense with the requirements of uniformity in particular cases; a long debate ensued on the scope of the king’s prerogative in ecclesiastical affairs.40 The proviso survived at first, but a further Clarendon proposal on 5 Apr. (that the king might also dispense individuals from renouncing the Covenant) was defeated. Sheldon was not in the House on 7 or 8 Apr. 1662 when a committee was named to draw up a new proviso for financial provisions to ejected clergy. Nor, perhaps significantly, was he present on 9 Apr. 1662 when the bill, with this amended proviso, passed the House. He reappeared on 10 Apr. when, with Clarendon and John Egerton, 2nd earl of Bridgwater, he managed the conference with the Commons on the bill. The heat of Commons’ deliberations over the following weeks resulted in the successful rejection of provisos to which Sheldon would have been vehemently opposed. As would be the case throughout his career there is virtually no evidence to establish his precise role behind the scenes. The uniformity bill finally received the royal assent on 19 May.41 On 2 May 1662 Sheldon was in the House as the Quaker bill, another weapon in the arsenal against non-conformity, passed into law. A few days later, he and the lord chancellor were having a tense conversation with Bulstrode Whitelocke, who was obstructing Sheldon’s attempts to replace the membership of a select vestry in Coleman Street, in London, a conversation embittered on Whitelocke’s side by what he regarded was Sheldon’s two-faced and uncivil treatment of his family over their eviction from former episcopal property in December 1660.42 Meanwhile, Sheldon’s own private bill, allowing him to lease the tenements newly built on the site of his palace in London rapidly passed both Houses and that too received the royal assent on 19 May 1662. On 21 May, still deputizing for the archbishop, Sheldon conducted the marriage ceremony of the king to Queen Catherine.43

With the approach of 24 Aug., the date of the implementation of the Act of Uniformity, Sheldon held a special ordination at St Paul’s to encourage former Presbyterians to seek episcopal ordination and thus qualify them for a parochial living.44 Even after the deadline there was a widespread and well founded belief, based on suggestions emanating from Clarendon, that dispensations would be issued. On 28 Aug. at a meeting of the council, Sheldon fought hard to ensure that the act was fully implemented. Sir Henry Yelverton, who believed that ‘Presbyters are like rattlers, use them gently they will strike you, but crush them and they will not hurt you’ wrote approvingly in September that ‘resolute counsels are taken as to act of uniformity and that through the prudence and wisdom of my Lord [of] London the Presbyterians were totally foiled last Thursday at the privy council’.45 Sheldon’s arguments before the council and the king’s resolution to enforce the law were approvingly reported by Sir John Berkenhead (another associate from All Souls who had been close to Laud) in the government’s own newsletter,

his lordship having shewn what a strait he was thrust into, either to observe the law established, and thereby become a mark for all that party, in whose jaws he was to live, and who now were all let loose upon him or else to break the statute, in affront to that Parliament who so lately, solemnly and deliberately made it, and were yet in being to punish the violators and this Act so much the darling of that Parliament, and indeed all the good people of England, his lordship made it evident how the suspension of this law at this conjuncture would not only render the Parliament cheap and have influence on all other laws, but in truth let in a visible confusion upon Church and state.46

That Sheldon himself was responsible for the report is suggested by the very similar language used in his letter to Clarendon of 30 Aug. 1662. In that letter he complained of the chancellor’s ‘great unkindness … in offering to expose me to certain ruin by the Parliament, or the extreme hatred of that malicious party in whose jaws I must live, and never giving me the least notice of it. You cannot blame me if it be sadly resented.’47 The plight of the nonconformist ministers was made still worse by what seems to have been Sheldon’s careful preparation for the mass ejection. By the middle of September, when fears of public disorder had subsided, the Irish courtier Daniel O’Neill attributed the peaceful transition ‘to the king’s extraordinary good fortune and the wisdom and courage of the bishop of London, who behaves himself like St Ambrose for all his calm’.48 That same month, George Morley supplied Sheldon with a list of all crown livings vacated under the terms of the Act of Uniformity in order to facilitate ‘timely replacements.’49

By mid-October 1662 Sheldon was even being touted as a possible replacement for the lord treasurer, the earl of Southampton.50 But Sheldon’s influence at court was tempered by many other voices. In October 1662 Sheldon wrote to John Cosin, of Durham, to warn him that the latter’s ‘severity’ against the son of Henry Arundell, 3rd Baron Arundell of Wardour, would not sit well ‘with the lenity’ of the present government towards Catholics.51 He was indisposed and absent on 26 Dec. 1662, when a majority in the Privy Council voted to publish the king’s intention to seek ‘a further dispensing power’ from Parliament, on the grounds that his Catholic subjects had remained politically loyal.52 Initially at least, the proposal does not appear to have alarmed Sheldon who told Cosin that it had been reported to him merely as ‘the king’s desire to give ease to tender consciences both sectaries and papists, as far as Parliament shall think fit.’ At the time he seems to have been far more worried about the possibility of public criticism about episcopal finances and ‘the great store of money’ resulting from the windfall profits that had fallen to the newly appointed bishops.53 But over the winter of 1662 he became convinced that ‘the church is like to be in great danger the next session’, and urged parliamentary attendance on his fellow bishops. As usual he encouraged the potential absentees to register proxies.54 He himself held the proxy of Accepted Frewen, archbishop of York, registered on 17 Jan. 1663 and Juxon’s, registered on 16 Feb. 1663. Juxon’s proxy was vacated by his death on 16 June and was replaced on 15 July by that of Seth Ward, of Exeter.

There is no particular evidence that Sheldon orchestrated the Commons’ opposition to the Declaration of Indulgence and the bill to give it effect. The king had issued instructions that the bill was to be presented in his name and had ordered his chancellor and treasurer not to oppose it ‘but either be absent or silent’.55 For Sheldon to have openly opposed it might have risked serious royal displeasure. But an unknown number of bishops were said to have taken part in what was in effect a letter writing campaign in an attempt to influence Members of the Commons against the measure. The king made it clear that he was indeed offended by their actions, to the extent that they were said to have been placed ‘under a cloud’.56

When the session assembled on 18 Feb. 1663, Sheldon was in the House for the start of business. He attended for 86 per cent of sittings and was named to 36 select committees and to two of the sessional committees. He was present on 23 Feb. 1663 when John Robartes, 2nd Baron Robartes (later earl of Radnor), introduced into the House the bill ‘concerning his majesty’s power in ecclesiastical affairs’ that would allow individual non-conformists and Catholics to be exempt from the penal laws through royal dispensation, and on the 25th when the bill was committed to a committee of the whole House. In Clarendon’s account, several bishops lobbied against the bill and were reprehended and threatened.57 Whether Sheldon was amongst them is unknown but his appointment to the Privy Council in April suggests that (unlike Clarendon) he had done nothing to incur the king’s displeasure, and/or that the king understood the need to make a conciliatory gesture to the Church and its adherents. The Privy Council registers show that he became a regular attender at its meetings.58 It was the Commons’ reaction that forced a withdrawal of the dispensing bill in mid-March, when Clarendon was provoked into some unguarded comments on the bill, upsetting the king and setting off a crisis within government over the next three or four months. The row created a backlash against Catholics. On 19 Mar. 1663, the lower House sought the Lords’ agreement for a royal proclamation to secure the departure of ‘Jesuits and popish priests’ out of the kingdom.59 Four days later, Sheldon was present for the debate on the Commons’ demand and, with Clarendon, Southampton and Morley, was nominated to a sub-committee to prepare a draft petition to the king. On 26, 28 and 30 Mar. 1663, he was one of the managers at conferences on the banishment proclamation. The proposed proclamation was watered down by the king but Sheldon’s reputation with those who regarded themselves as the ‘loyal party’ was enhanced. As Sheldon had predicted at the time of implementation of the Act of Uniformity, his hardline position made him a target for nonconformist criticism. In March it was reported that Sheldon had complained in the Lords ‘of slanders against himself, and asked whether bishops could be considered as peers, and such things prosecuted as scandalum magnatum, but the question was waived’.60

Remarkably, in May 1663, Samuel Pepys noted that Sheldon, despite the overt hostility of some courtiers (and despite the Indulgence affair), ‘keeps as great with the king as ever’.61 That month, a bill was introduced into the Commons that was designed to overcome problems that Sheldon had encountered in securing control over parochial governing bodies in London. The select vestries bill was steered through the lower House by those responsible for much of the religious legislation of the early years of the Cavalier Parliament, including Thomas Fanshaw, Viscount Fanshaw [I], Sir Job Charlton, and Sir Robert Bolles, one of Sheldon’s nominees on the Covent Garden select vestry.62 On 18 June, Sheldon was present when the bill was sent up from the Commons. He was named to the select committee on the bill on 25 June. Humphrey Henchman reported back to the House and the measure passed smoothly to the royal assent by the end of July. Having already issued Sabbath observance orders, Sheldon was named to a Lords’ committee on the Sabbath on 11 June.63

The ageing Juxon had died on 4 June 1663. Within days it was known that he would be succeeded by Sheldon, who had been archbishop of Canterbury in all but name during Juxon’s tenure of the office.64 Although the king’s directive was not issued until 14 July and Sheldon was not formally translated until August, he assumed the authority of an archbishop when he wrote to Benjamin Laney, bishop of Lincoln, on 23 June about reports that Laney was turning a blind eye to the preaching of nonconformists, something that ‘must tend to the ruin of the Church’s peace’. He directed Laney to ‘hinder the reign and gravity of this spreading evil.’65 After the Restoration Sheldon’s income had been boosted by the windfall revenue that accompanied the re-establishment of the episcopate and its customary income derived from tithes, fees and fines on the renegotiation of leases. Now as archbishop it was estimated that he would receive a yearly revenue of nearly £2,400; during the course of his 14 years as metropolitan, he derived £19,000 in fines.66

On 2 July 1663 Sheldon was present when the Commons sent up a bill ‘to prevent the growth of popery’ and another against conventicles. Both bills were lost with the prorogation on 27 July. On 14 July, in the aftermath of the failed attempt by Bristol to impeach Clarendon, he was said to have been named to a committee to consider the ‘satisfaction’ due to the chancellor, although no such committee is mentioned in the Journal.67 On 15 July Sheldon announced to the House that Convocation had voted the king a grant of four subsidies and that both Houses of Parliament were required to confirm the grant. On 24 July he was named to the committee on the bill to amend the Act of Uniformity. Committee deliberations, almost certainly under the influence of Southampton and Manchester, resulted in a clause that clarified the ‘assent and consent’ declaration in the original Act. Whether Sheldon attended the committee not known; it was reported to the House on the 25th by Bridgwater, and sent to the Commons, where the additional clause was thrown out by a narrow majority.68

The defence of the Church, 1663-7

On 28 Aug. 1663, discussing Irish ecclesiastical preferments with Ormond, Sheldon confessed that before Parliament had risen, he had wanted ‘some course that none hereafter may hold ecclesiastical preferment in both kingdoms’ and would have promoted a bill to that end, ‘but that I fear to move anything in Parliament which concerns the church, unless of absolute necessity, least they do more than we desire they should’.69 Whilst it is possible that he was referring to the need to stave off demands for toleration it seems rather more likely that he feared that any bill that dealt with the question of ecclesiastical preferments risked opening up wider issues about the role of the laity and clergy, sparking unwelcome attacks on the clerical establishment. In November he raised concerns about laymen obtaining royal impropriations in Ireland, contrary to what he claimed was the king’s commitment to return them to the Church.70

Sheldon was translated on 31 Aug. in a lavish and theatrical ceremony with ‘music extraordinary’; the banquet in Lambeth Palace Great Hall cost £500 and included all of the nobility who were at that time in London.71 He nagged Clarendon to secure him a ‘quick despatch’ of his temporalities.72 The strength of nonconformity and the capacity of the government to suppress it continued to be his greatest concerns. He confided to Ormond in September his view that ‘only a resolute execution of the law … must cure this disease, all other remedies have and will increase it; and ’tis necessary that they who will not be governed… by reason and persuasion, should be governed as beasts by power and force’.73 The same month he wrote to Cosin of Durham in an attempt to encourage him to travel to London where ‘you may do your duty to the Church as well here as in your diocese and perhaps better; I will take care you shall not want work.’74 Other bishops were less helpful. During the autumn Sheldon was faced with a dispute between the irascible William Lucy, bishop of St Davids, and William Nicholson, bishop of Gloucester over the latter’s role as archdeacon of Brecon, not least because episcopal disunity offered a possible propaganda weapon to opponents of the Church.75 There is some evidence that Sheldon employed spies including John Bradley and William Hill who took part as agents provocateurs in Thomas Tonge’s plot to kill the king (discovered late in 1662).76

By the time of the new session, in March 1664, Pepys recorded that he had been told that Sheldon ‘speaks very little nor doth much, being now come to the highest pitch that he can expect’.77 With the session about to assemble, Sheldon received the proxy of Accepted Frewen of York (vacated at his death on 28 March). He attended the House on 16 Mar. 1664 for the first day of business, taking his seat for the first time as archbishop of Canterbury. Attending 97 per cent of sittings, he was named to only two select committees, one of which was for the bill to break the entail on the property of the dedicated Anglican and former cavalier, Sir John Pakington. He received a further two proxies shortly after the start of the session: on 19 Mar. 1664 that of William Piers, of Bath and Wells, vacated at the end of the session, and on 20 Mar. that of former university colleague William Paul, bishop of Oxford, which was cancelled on 22 April. On 5 Apr. 1664, a week after Frewen’s death, he instructed Sancroft (one of whose current posts was as dean of York) to prorogue the York Convocation until the appointment of a new northern archbishop.78 Five days later, letters missive were sent out for the translation of Richard Sterne, former chaplain to Archbishop Laud.79

On 30 Apr. 1664, Sheldon was present (as he was almost every day) when the conventicle bill was brought up from the Commons. The bill was committed to the committee of the whole House on 4 May and was the subject of further debate on 6, 9 and 11 May and there were attempts in committee to insert provisos that would lessen the bill’s impact.80 While both Houses debated amendments to the bill, the House gave a first reading to a bill ‘to limit plurality of livings, and for increase of maintenance of curates’. It seems likely that Sheldon promoted both bills but firm evidence of this is lacking. This second bill was lost at the prorogation on 17 May 1664, but the conventicle bill was one of several to receive the royal assent that day. 

Following the prorogation on 20 Aug. 1664 Sheldon was involved in negotiations over clerical taxation. Until 1664 this had been a matter for Convocation and it was kept artificially low because the valuations on which it was based were a century out of date. Awareness of the huge windfall profits that fell to the bishops at the Restoration may have fuelled a sense that the clergy was lightly taxed, and the prospect of war with the Dutch and the consequent requirement for supply perhaps encouraged a demand for reform. In October 1664, in response to the archbishop’s attempt to sound out clerical reaction to changes to current fiscal arrangements John Hacket, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, had advised Sheldon that a land tax would be more acceptable than the imposition of clerical subsidies by the exchequer.81 Sheldon’s correspondence with Hacket reveal that the proposed changes had almost certainly been discussed at the Privy Council. A tradition within the Church also suggests that an agreement on tax changes was reached at a meeting at Lambeth between Sheldon, Clarendon and Southampton.82 The agreement ensured that two of the previous year’s four subsidies were remitted.83 The final deal with Clarendon (for which there is apparently no documentary evidence), meant that thereafter the clergy were included in Commons’ money bills and treated on a par with the laity in terms of taxation; the clergy also gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections (though not to sit in the Commons).

In preparation for the next parliamentary session, on 10 Nov. 1664 Sheldon again received Piers’ proxy (vacated at the end of the session). He attended the House on 24 Nov. 1664 for the first day of parliamentary business and thereafter attended nearly 60 per cent of sittings; he was named to the committee for privileges and to one select committee, on the duchy of Cornwall estates bill. Attending the House on 2 Mar. 1665 for the prorogation, Sheldon remained at his residences in Lambeth and Croydon throughout the plague, encouraging others to follow his example.84 On two occasions during the summer (21 June 1665 and 1 Aug. 1665), he attended the House for prorogations. The unusual survival of letters between Clarendon and Sheldon in the summer of 1665 reflects the removal of the court from London as a result of the Plague, which meant that the two men had to discuss matters in writing that they would almost certainly normally have discussed in person. There was much discussion in them of clerical appointments. Clarendon’s criticism of Sheldon’s intention to translate Robert Price, bishop of Ferns, to Bangor suggests that he considered that his role in ecclesiastical affairs was as important as Sheldon’s. In response to Sheldon’s ‘despair’ at his failure to persuade Walter Blandford, warden of Wadham College and Clarendon’s chaplain, to accept the see of Oxford, Clarendon insisted that ‘I will not give it over’ and suggested ways of persuading him too accept the offer.85

In advance of the autumn 1665 session, Sheldon received proxies from Richard Sterne and William Piers (both vacated at the end of the session). On 3 Oct. 1665, with only Humphrey Henchman, George Monck, duke of Albemarle, and William Craven, earl of Craven, in the House, Sheldon, appointed Speaker for the day, pronounced the prorogation to Oxford on 9 October.86 Clarendon corresponded with him at some length on arrangements for the meeting of Parliament in Oxford, including accommodation and the proxies of absent bishops.87 Clarendon also hoped that Sheldon would bring with him sufficient documentary evidence ‘for an act of Parliament to meet with these infections which fall out in the time of a great contagion’.88 More than one prelate was reluctant to make the journey and Clarendon warned Sheldon that the northern bishops were unlikely to attend.89 George Hall, bishop of Chester, trying to wriggle out of the journey, told Sheldon that he understood the coming session to be more ‘of a representative, not a full Parliament, or to make only a short session, as the present exigency may require’ and hoped that he would not be ‘chidden’ as before for having expressed dismay at the prospect of the journey.90

The Oxford Parliament assembled on 9 Oct. 1665. Sheldon attended 93 per cent of sittings of the brief session, and was named to four select committees. He was involved in opposition to the Irish cattle bill, which was perceived as something of an oblique attack on Sheldon’s ally, Ormond.91 By 24 Oct. 1665, the bill having passed the Commons, Richard Boyle, earl of Burlington and 2nd earl of Cork [I], learned that Sheldon had been engaged (almost certainly by Ormond) to challenge the bill in the Lords.92 On 26 Oct., Sheldon was named to the committee on the cattle bill but his contribution, if any, to the discussions is unknown; the measure was lost with the prorogation. Strengthening the laws against Dissent remained a priority. Together with Morley and the duke of York he was said (by Baxter) to be one of the ‘chief promoters’ of the five mile bill.93 The bill had weighty opposition, not least from Southampton and Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton. Sheldon was named to the committee on the bill on 27 Oct.; notes of the debate taken by Wharton reveal that Sheldon claimed that nonconformists had direct links with the Dutch, were a danger to the state and must be coerced through a ‘no alteration’ oath to undertake that they would do nothing to change the government. When John Lucas, Baron Lucas of Shenfield, insisted that he could not himself take an oath that could, in theory, block changes to the law, Sheldon responded that the oath merely signified Parliament’s intention to underwrite the monarchy and the established Church. He was seconded by Morley who argued that any person refusing such an oath must by definition be seditious.94 Rushed through both Houses, the bill was given the royal assent on 31 October. Clarendon had asked Sheldon to bring with him ‘some good materials for an Act of Parliament’ to combat the spread of plague. A bill was prepared and introduced in the Commons, though it was lost as a result of the Lords’ insistence on specific arrangements for peers. By that time, however, the epidemic had almost run its course.95

Sheldon was unwell in the autumn of 1665. He nevertheless continued to deal with regular correspondence about the performance of senior clergymen. He desired a ‘speedy answer’ from William Piers concerning his performing an improper ordination, one with ‘so many irregularities and miscarriages in one act, that though it came from the hands of a person of credit, yet I cannot persuade myself to believe it.’96 Piers responded in an aggrieved tone about Sheldon’s willingness to entertain complaints against him, ‘having been a bishop six and thirty years, and your grace having known me many years before I was a bishop’, and suggesting that he should ‘leave the complainants to the law, where I will answer them’. 97 Sheldon was still in Oxford in January 1666, communicating with Ormond about Irish church affairs and his own efforts at court to secure ‘worthy men’ of whom Ormond would approve, ensuring that a Burlington nominee was promoted to the Irish bishopric of Waterford and receiving news from Ormond on the state of the Irish Parliament.98 When that same month George Morley told the earl of Burlington that ‘the king hath entrusted the sole care of recommending fit persons for all ecclesiastical preferments in the Church’ to Sheldon, he was probably referring to the Irish church and the appointment to Waterford.99 As they had previously discussed, Sheldon and Ormond were in agreement that individuals should not hold preferments in both kingdoms, and Sheldon therefore welcomed Ormond’s willingness to pilot a bill to that effect through the Irish parliament. Against a background of continuing unrest in Ireland and fears of insurrection, Michael Boyle, archbishop of Dublin and lord chancellor of Ireland, alerted Sheldon to the potential loss of ecclesiastical patrimony because of the inability of the bishops to represent their cases in the Irish court of claims.100

On 20 Feb. 1666 and 23 Apr. 1666 Sheldon attended the House for prorogations, sitting as Speaker on the first of those occasions. Throughout the recess, he pressed the bishops to contribute to the royal loan. Henry King, bishop of Chichester, offered £5,000 ‘half of my yearly income’; William Piers managed £750 which he hoped to make up to £800 ‘for then it would seem to be a pretty handsome loan’. Others were not so generous. Sheldon told Nicholson of Gloucester that £100 was ‘too little for an example to the clergy, you must needs therefore double it, which I hope will be well accepted by the king’ and could not conceal his contempt for Gilbert Ironside, bishop of Bristol, remonstrating that ‘I do not wonder to see the subscriptions so pitifully mean, seeing the clergy had not the encouragement of your lordship’s example to lead them on.’101 Sheldon himself was said to have given £1,000.102 On 30 June, the archbishop, having received a visit from the solicitor to Philip Herbert, 5th earl of Pembroke, concerning a dispute with Cosin, rebuked the bishop of Durham for being quarrelsome, but suspended judgment until he had conducted further enquiries. Cosin was also nagged by the archbishop the following year when Sheldon, who may have taken a close interest in any private bill introduced by a bishop, informed Cosin that the latter’s bill (on moor masters) was in bad shape and that Cosin should consider whether he wished to pursue the matter.103

Although much of Sheldon’s correspondence about the difficulties of suppressing conventicles centred on complaints about the reluctance of local magistrates to support the episcopal establishment by enforcing the penal laws, there were also problems in the church courts. Nicholson of Gloucester complained that in the absence of assistance from the secular courts and ‘being very much perplexed at the many impudent conventicles in every part of this country’, he had turned to his own church court. In twelve cases he had begun the process of excommunication only to find that the court of arches had blocked his efforts by issuing absolutions on appeals.104 Sheldon wrote to the dean of arches, arguing that such proceedings ‘were never intended for obstinate persons and refractory to government’ and suggesting that the dean should enforce the taking of the oath de parendo juri et stando mandatis ecclesiae (of obeying the law and keeping the commands of the Church) as a prerequisite to absolution

which perhaps such a person as this would refuse, and then you have no reason to admit his appeal. I am not for denying appeals, where there is good cause for it, nor for lessening the authority of the arches, which I would rather increase; but if we be not watchful these things will destroy the Church and ruin all, therefore Mr Deane I pray be very careful of such cases.105

With Parliament due to assemble in September 1666, Sheldon again summoned the bishops and demanded proxies from those unable or unwilling to attend.106 As usual, Sheldon attended the House for the first day of business on 18 Sept. 1666. He appeared for 71 per cent of sittings and was named to seven select committees. On 11 Oct. 1666, with his customary urgency, he instructed the absent Gilbert Ironside to send his proxy to George Morley ‘for we may suddenly have very earnest occasions for it’.107 On 17, 23 and 30 Oct. 1666 he helped to manage four conferences with the Commons on the vote to prohibit the import of French commodities. More proxies trickled in: on 10 Nov. 1666 he received that of Blandford and on 13 Nov. that of William Piers. Both proxies were vacated at the end of the session.

The revival of the Irish cattle bill created acute discomfort for the government and its management of Parliament. Charles II had originally opposed the bill, but at a council meeting in January 1667 was persuaded by Henry Bennet, later earl of Arlington, to sacrifice the measure to ensure the Commons’ cooperation on the poll bill and bill on public accounts.108 On 14 Jan., Sheldon came to the House for the first time since late December, having been prevented from travelling to Westminster by the freezing of the Thames. Determined to oppose the bill, Sheldon was forced to back down after the king commanded York and Clarendon that ‘the Lords must yield to the Commons’.109 The contentious ‘nuisance’ debate ended with York, Sheldon and the majority of bishops retiring before the vote. When asked by Sir Allen Brodrick about Charles II’s change of heart, Sheldon complained that the king ‘was resolved to ruin himself’ by his reversal and that ‘it would not be in their powers to preserve him’.110 When Ormond blamed the result on the Commons’ ‘ill humour... fomented there by some who owe the king and their country more duty’, Sheldon defended the lower House, attributing its wilfulness to factional fighting at court: the king ‘never had nor never is like to have persons most wishing to comply with his desires than this House of Commons was, yet would be, were they treated as they might be, for all the disorders have arisen from the king’s family and servants’. As for the cattle bill, the king’s willingness to be coerced by the Commons ‘gave me a sad prospect into the fate of this poor Church, whenever the king shall be in any great necessity to be relieved by such persons.’111

Sheldon attended the House for the prorogation of 8 Feb. 1667. His routine round of correspondence on ecclesiastical and political matters in the spring included the war and the possibility of peace with the Dutch.112 In the midst of the panic caused by the Dutch raid on the Medway, on 20 June it was ‘hotly debated’ in council whether there should be a dissolution of Parliament. According to Nathaniel Hobart’s account of the debate in council, Sheldon, ‘sharply opposed’ demands for a dissolution and was supported ‘more moderately’ by Clarendon.113 Sheldon and Clarendon prevailed. Two weeks later, Sheldon sent out a circular letter to his province detailing the king’s proclamation to assemble Parliament on St James’ Day, and insisting that the bishops send in their proxies for yet again ‘there is like to be very great occasion to make use of your votes and all the rest of our votes’.114 On 25 July 1667 Sheldon duly attended for the abortive start of the session in which the king adjourned business on the grounds that both Houses lacked sufficient Members. He attended again on 29 July for the prorogation after the king had announced an imminent peace treaty. On 17 Sept. Sheldon baptized Edgar, the infant son of the duke of York.115

The fall of Clarendon and its aftermath, 1667-9

George Villiers, 2nd duke of Buckingham’s return to favour in July 1667 presented a new threat to Sheldon’s standing at court. Sheldon soon became the butt of defamatory court gossip. On 29 July Pepys expressed amazement when he was told that the archbishop was a great ‘wencher’; his informant was almost certainly reporting tales circulated by Buckingham and Lady Castlemaine.116 Sheldon’s position was undermined still further when, in late August 1667, Clarendon was removed from office. Summoned by the king to learn of Clarendon’s dismissal, Sheldon was said to have refused to respond, merely chastizing the king for his latest adultery.117 Given their long relationship Sheldon’s support for the chancellor was decidedly and surprisingly grudging. In August he told Ormond that Clarendon had ‘of a long time’ courted his own downfall by failing to take advice: ‘he that despiseth counsel must perish’. By October, fearful for his own position, Sheldon warned a shocked Ormond that they would both be tainted by their ‘kindness’ for Clarendon, who was facing impeachment, ‘though, God knows, for these divers years, I have had little reason to be fond of him… I wish him innocent, but if he prove guilty, let him suffer… we owe that confusion we are in, to his ill management of our affairs and of himself’.118

Before the session, as had become customary, Sheldon commanded all the bishops either to attend the House in person at the start of October or to provide their proxy by the first day.119 Sheldon’s own ability to defend the interests of a Church was hampered by his loss of influence at court. In October 1667 he was unable to prevent the elevation of Castlemaine’s scandalous kinsman, Henry Glemham, to the see of St Asaph. As intelligence from the provinces showed, many nonconformists were aware that the first Conventicle Act was about to expire and so were meeting with renewed confidence. New initiatives for some form of comprehension were expected too: early in September a newsletter reported that ‘An Act is said to be preparing, against the meeting of Parliament, dispensing with the Act of Uniformity, and clearly against the bishops’ government’.120 The inconveniences of toleration by Sheldon’s chaplain, Thomas Tomkyns, was published on 10 Oct., the very day that Parliament was to meet, as a response to a pamphlet written in June, and a contribution to a lively pamphlet debate on religious reform.121

Sheldon attended the House promptly on 10 Oct. 1667 for the start of parliamentary business. He attended the session for 73 per cent of sittings and was named to four select committees, including the private lead mines bill for Cosin. Sheldon was in the House on 15 Oct. when an address of thanks for the dismissal of Clarendon was agreed. At a call of the House on 29 Oct. it was noted that he was sick and excused attendance. He was present, though, on 11 Nov. when the Commons sent up accusations of treason against Clarendon and when the Lords retired into committee of the whole to debate the charges. Absent on 7 Dec. when the bill for Clarendon’s banishment was committed, he did, however, attend on 12 Dec. when the House passed the bill.

In December 1667 Pepys reported that Sheldon was no longer summoned to ministerial meetings,

the bishops differing from the king in the late business in the House of Lords having caused this and what is like to follow, for everybody is encouraged nowadays to speak and even to print (as I have one of them) as bad things against them as ever in the year 1640; which is a strange change.122

Sheldon was even forbidden by the king from preaching the customary Christmas 1667 sermon at court.123 He maintained close contact with his political circle, including Burlington who became a frequent dinner guest and he became the toast of the coffee Houses for his apparent disregard for his loss of favour.124 Sir Hugh Cholmley declared that Sheldon was a ‘mighty stout man, and a man of a brave high spirit and cares not for this disfavour … knowing that the king could not take away his income’. Such sentiments may have provided an accurate description of Sheldon’s public face but it seems unlikely that they reflect the true feelings of the man who had spent the past seven years strenuously defending the Church from those who, in his perception, sought to annihilate it.125 In December 1667, on Clarendon’s recommendation, Sheldon was elected to the chancellorship of Oxford. He subsequently refused installation, believing that the university would benefit from a patron not out of favour at court.126 He delegated much of the bureaucracy and building plans for the Sheldonian theatre to John Fell, vice-chancellor and future bishop of Oxford.127

In early 1668 plans for comprehension were underway in which John Wilkins, shortly to become bishop of Chester, John Tillotson, later archbishop of Canterbury, and Edward Stillingfleet, later bishop of Worcester, were involved. As a result of their efforts Sir Matthew Hale had been set to work by Buckingham, Manchester and Sir Orlando Bridgemanto prepare a bill.128 Wilkins canvassed support amongst some of the bishops: one, Seth Ward, passed a copy of the bill to Sheldon on 25 Jan., thus enabling him to prepare a detailed attack on it. According to Samuel Parker, who became chaplain to Sheldon in November 1667 (and bishop of Oxford in 1688), the archbishop ‘prepared’ his allies in the Commons and organized the bishops’ votes in the Lords. (While, however, he frequently dined one member of the Commons, John Milward, in late 1666, Milward does not mention a personal contact with him after this, particularly not in early 1668.129) Sheldon’s ‘indefatigable industry’ included a public attack on Anglicans who supported the comprehension initiative without first seeking direct approval from their primate; he summoned others for private censure.130 On 10 Feb. 1668, a vociferous group in the Commons voted to address the king to execute the penal laws against nonconformity, pre-empting the introduction of any legislation which would sanction comprehension and indulgence.131 As far as John Hacket was concerned this was a clear victory for Sheldon’s management. On 15 Feb. he wrote that,

next to the holy providence of God I discern your Grace’s great prudence and indefatigable industry to prepare the votes of the Commons against they meet for so noble and happy a concurrence to discourage non-conformists and sectaries who did openly boast what assurance they had in the undertakings of a great duke to procure them a most factious toleration.132

Hacket was also convinced that Sheldon was behind the Commons’ further address to the king for enforcing the laws against conventicles on 4 March. That very day he wrote to congratulate Sheldon on his ‘dexterity’ in securing ‘such a godly vote’. On 13 Mar. there was a further victory for Sheldon when the Commons voted to renew the Conventicle Act.133 Cosin urged Sheldon to take advantage of the Commons’ support and to print their address (with ‘the weighty and unanswerable reasons’ against comprehension) as an appendix to the latest publications licensed ‘in answer to the late proposer and latitudinarian’ (probably John Wilkins).134 There were several responses from the allies of the duke of Buckingham: an unsuccessful motion for the sale of cathedral lands was introduced in the Commons by Sir Nicholas Carew and seconded by Sir Robert Howard on 7 Mar., and on 18 Mar. Buckingham’s ally Sir Thomas Littleton initiated a debate on taxing the clergy, falling ‘foully and unmannerly upon the bishops’, and ‘many spoke against the bishops as having raised great sums of money and were wanting in charitable works’, though the solicitor-general, Heneage Finch, later Baron Finch and earl of Nottingham, and others effectively defended them.135 On 28 Apr. 1668 the new conventicle bill was sent up to the Lords, but it was blocked because of the amount of parliamentary time expended on inter-House hostilities aroused by the case of Skinner v. The East India Company. Despite a reminder from the Commons on 4 May, the bill was never committed. With two successive adjournments of Parliament, the House did not reassemble until October 1669.

Sheldon was reported to have been further marginalized during spring 1668 when the king removed his influence over royal advowsons and gave responsibility instead to Arlington and Herbert Croft, bishop of Hereford.136 By October 1668, Buckingham and Arlington had secured the elevation to the episcopate of the comprehensionist John Wilkins despite vehement opposition from the archbishop who (with Croft) had supported a rival candidate, William Sancroft, the man who would eventually succeed him as archbishop. In November he refused to consecrate Wilkins, allegedly lurking with Henchman of London behind a curtain during the ceremony.137 When Ormond discussed his own shaky position with Arlington a few days later, he was told that one of his faults was that he ‘joined too much in … councils and conversation with men unsatisfied: and… he named the duke [of York], and the archbishop of Canterbury.’138

In December 1668 there was some speculation that Sheldon was back in favour but commentators found it difficult to reconcile this information to their knowledge of continuing disputes in council about the future of the current Parliament. That month Sheldon was amongst those who argued against proroguing Parliament. It was widely believed that prorogation was merely a prelude to a dissolution and new elections which might produce a Parliament more sympathetic to Dissent.139 The fear was not merely of a Commons sympathetic to Presbyterian demands for comprehension or toleration but that a lower House dominated by Dissent would ‘also (to ease the people of taxes) give the king the Church lands to raise money out of the Church’s ruins; and so rob God, and invest the pious donations of their ancestors to the paying of the public debts’.140 The rumours that Sheldon was to be totally laid aside with Croft of Hereford taking on his duties were circulating again in early January 1669.141 This was perhaps why Sheldon’s inquiry that month of Edward Reynolds, bishop of Norwich, about the alleged disorders caused by Dissenters in Ipswich was so carefully worded. Sheldon clearly suspected Reynolds of complicity with those who ‘despise government and ask who shall dare to call them to account’ but, unlike his combative remonstrance to Piers in 1665, his tone was deceptively mild,

If these things be so, me thinks your lordship must needs have heard of them, But if you have not, pray enquire into it and if you find it so, do what you can to put a stop, and where your own power will lead you not further, do your endeavour to gain the assistance of the justices and civil magistrates.142

A wavering return to influence 1669-74

Sheldon may have felt more confident as in the course of 1669 the king clearly became alarmed by the conventicling activity unleashed by the expiry of the Conventicle Act. A shift towards repression of Dissent was already discernible in June 1669 when Sheldon wrote to Sir Leoline Jenkins, his commissary at Canterbury, that

all hands [are] alarmed with continued reports of the frequency of open conventicles and unlawful meetings of those who under a pretence of religion... separate from the unity and uniformity of God’s service, to the great offence of all... who love and truly endeavour the peace and prosperity of the Church and state. His majesty in public lately speaking much against these disorderly meetings, and expressing an indignation against all reports of him, as if he either favoured, or connived at them, was pleased (after he had laid some blame on the bishops for want of care in this affair) to declare, that hence forward they should not want the assistance of the civil magistrate to suppress them in so much, that if hereafter any bishop shall complain to any justice, and require his help, if such justice do not his duty therein then let the bishop certify, that his majesty may know, who they are, that neglect his service.143

A similar letter went to Henchman for transmission to all the bishops of the province as well as to Sterne of York. All were requested to conduct a census of conventicles. On 30 June the council ordered the judges to attend the lord keeper, Sir Orlando Bridgeman, and give their opinions as what laws were in force against conventicles ‘whereby such as meet in them, breach or countenance those meetings may be punished and how far’. By 13 July, the Privy Council was reported to have appointed Sheldon as one of the members of a committee to investigate conventicles. There is no mention of this in the register, although it does record the decision to issue a proclamation against conventicles on 16 July.144 Hacket of Lichfield and Coventry reported the partial success of the new ‘terror’ against factions and was heartened to learn that Sheldon had ‘drawn nearer to his majesty in his private cabinet council… to do more good to this Church’.145

At the end of July, excusing himself on the grounds of ‘years and infirmities too great, to permit him to add to the weight of his present duties’, Sheldon withdrew from Oxford University business, and successfully recommended Ormond for the position as chancellor of the university.146 Hopeful of securing a new conventicle bill he reminded all bishops in his province that the need for them to be present for the upcoming session of Parliament and to ensure a good attendance from their clergy at Convocation.147 Hacket chafed against the summons to Parliament but recognized the imperative to attend if there were to be ‘some strict act against nonconformists’.148 On 19 Oct. 1669 the archbishop attended the House for the start of what proved to be a very brief session. Attending 86 per cent of sittings, he was not named to any select committees but only to the committees for privileges and petitions. Sir Henry Yelverton, a member of the Commons, wrote to him on 11 Nov. 1669 that the Commons had carried the new conventicle bill ‘with such a violence’ despite the opposition of ‘the gang’: the treasurer, Thomas Clifford, later Baron Clifford, the secretary of state, Sir John Trevor ‘and all that interest’.149 But further disruption of parliamentary business caused by the revival of the dispute over Skinner’s case meant that the bill did not reach the Lords before the prorogation of 11 Dec. 1669. 

Sheldon may have been struggling at the same time on a different front. In a narrative published in French in 1682 the duchess of York wrote about her path to being received into the Catholic church, which had begun in November 1669. Subsequently she had discussed the issues of religious controversy that concerned her with two of the most learned Anglican bishops, both of whom, the paper alleged, had told her that the Church of England was over-reformed and that one had confessed that had he been born a Catholic he would not have changed his religion but being baptized an Anglican and convinced that the Anglican Church provided everything necessary for salvation, he could not leave it without great scandal. The two bishops were identified in the version of the narrative published in English in 1686 as Sheldon and Walter Blandford, formerly her father’s chaplain, though it has been suggested that Morley, rather than Sheldon was more likely.150

As far as policy towards nonconformity was concerned, however, over the Christmas recess Yelverton dined at Lambeth and reported that ‘things… look better than they did’ with the king’s latest reversal of policy and current support for measures against conventicles.151 Sheldon was less optimistic. That December he was unable to prevent the dismissal of the staunchly episcopalian Archbishop Burnet from the see of Glasgow.152 After attending a meeting of the Privy Council on 28 Jan. 1670, Sheldon wrote that religious affairs once again looked gloomy ‘since the king hath cut himself loose from the advice of those that used to counsel him in matters of that nature’; he predicted that ‘many extravagant things have been attempted … and daily will be so yet.’153 The comment may have referred to plans to smuggle into a new Conventicle Act a provision enabling the king to dispense with religious legislation. In advance of the new session of Parliament called for February 1670, Sheldon rallied the bishops to attend Parliament, although as usual, a combination of the unwell and unwilling depleted the strength of the episcopal votes. He himself only attended for 57 per cent of sittings and was named to 19 select committees. The king’s decision to accept a conventicle bill cheered up Sheldon’s supporters: Yelverton declared that the archbishop was now ‘more in favour than ever’ and Cosin reported that the king was now ‘resolved to stick unto his own party in the Parliament’.154 This was despite the bishops’ attitude to the bill to divorce John Manners, then styled Lord Roos, later 9th earl of Rutland, which initially dominated business in the Lords. Sheldon was one of the leading speakers against the bill.155 He registered a dissent against the second reading on 17 Mar. 1670 and was dismayed by his inability to compel Cosin and Wilkins to vote with the rest of the bishops.156 He was in the Lords on 10 Mar. 1670 when Sir John Bramston brought the conventicle bill up from the Commons. He attended the House throughout initial debates, including that of 21 Mar. 1670 when the king attended the House in the middle of the debate on the bill. Yet was not present on subsequent days, registered his proxy in favour of Richard Sterne on 24 Mar. and was absent until 7 Apr. 1670. No evidence has yet been discovered to explain his absence, but it may have been related to the proviso implicitly giving an exceptional right of interference in ecclesiastical affairs to the king, which was inserted into the bill during discussions in committee of the whole House in the Lords. The king had spoken individually to at least one bishop (and probably more) to secure support for the proviso; Sheldon may have wished to avoid coming under pressure to support it himself.157 The proviso, however, was vigorously opposed in the Commons, and by the time Sheldon returned to the House on 7 Apr. it had been watered down to an inoffensive general statement about the royal power in ecclesiastical affairs. On 23 Apr., shortly after the adjournment, Sheldon was congratulated by Hacket that despite the unwelcome passage of the Roos divorce bill, ‘by your great wisdom and diligence, more than by any ten beside, you have seen a comfortable winding up and recess in this session of Parliament’.158

Over the summer Sheldon set to work to ensure the implementation of the new act. On 7 May 1670 he instructed his bishops to tell their clergy to ‘perform their duty towards God, the king, and the Church, by an exemplary conformity in their own persons and practice, to his majesty’s laws, and the rules of the Church’, to follow the book of common prayer to the letter, to wear the surplice and hood when officiating and to attempt to persuade Dissenters to conform. Where the ‘censures of the Church’ failed, ‘wilful offenders’ were to be prosecuted with the aid of the civil authorities. He concluded his letter on a triumphant note:

I have this confidence under god, that if we do our parts now at first seriously, by god’s help, and the assistance of the civil power (considering the abundant care and provision the act contains for our advantage) we shall within a few months see so great an alteration in the distractions of these times, as that the seduced people returning from their seditious and self-seeking teachers, to the unity of the Church, and uniformity of Gods worship, it will be to the glory of god, the welfare of the Church, the praise of his majesty and government, the happiness of the whole kingdom.159

The letter was subsequently printed, though together with an anonymous critique from a committed Dissenter who clearly feared that that the act would prove to be a persecutors’ charter, as indeed it was intended to be. John Hacket suggested that the bishops help matters along by sending spies into suspect parishes; Anthony Sparrow, bishop of Exeter, assured Sheldon that corporations throughout his diocese promised cooperation with law enforcement and duly reported that the justices were very active so that conventicles were ‘bound to wither’.160

In mid-June 1670 Sheldon was said to be seriously ill.161 Despite the passage of the new Conventicle Act, and the removal of the offensive proviso, Sheldon was by no means an influential figure at court and with the king. In July, in response to a patronage request on behalf of Dr Herbert Astley he explained that ‘his advice is seldom asked of late in any promotions and that he was discouraged from being very forward to intermeddle’. Astley did secure the post he wanted (as dean of Norwich), but he was also able to call on the good services of Arlington and Sir Orlando Bridgeman as well as James Compton, 3rd earl of Northampton.162 Throughout September 1670, Sheldon was in communication with Hacket about the forthcoming by-elections in Shropshire and Derbyshire.163 Appointed as one of those to treat on the union with the Scots he was ‘said to be none of [the] frankest for it’; Morley’s response to Sheldon’s now lost letter on the proceedings also implies negativity towards the proposals.164 Sheldon must have been anticipating further attacks on the position of the Church in the session due to begin in October, perhaps in retaliation for the removal of the proviso from the Conventicle Act. In September he requested details of the expenditure of the bishops and other senior clergy on augmentations and beautifying of churches since 1660.165 For Hacket the continuing threat to the Church was a very real one, and it required a man of Sheldon’s stamp to deflect it. When he sought Sheldon’s permission to continue giving Henchman his proxy, he warned his archbishop that ‘the wolves may enter in after your departure’.166 In the event, the session passed off without serious trouble for the Church. On 24 Oct. he attended the House for the king’s speech, and he attended regularly for the rest of the session whilst dealing with metropolitan bureaucracy, cases in the Arches and patronage disputes.167 On 7 Jan. 1671 he hosted a social gathering for the prince of Orange, and was present on 22 Apr. 1671 for the prorogation.168

During the spring of 1671, he received regular reports on the political and religious condition of the west country through the assistance of Sparrow who recruited the ‘loyal party’ in the Devonshire by-election and who insisted that the ‘factious corporations’ were now much reformed. Sheldon responded by granting personal favours to the bishop, including an increase to his commendam and support to Sparrow’s extended family.169 In what was perhaps a deliberate snub to the archbishop, in July 1671 Thomas Wood succeeded Hacket at Lichfield. Although Sheldon insisted that the see was sufficiently well endowed for the bishop to have no need of a commendam, Wood was also appointed to a prebend at Durham which had previously been promised to a Sheldon nominee.170 Sheldon was soon reprimanding Wood for non-residence ‘without any just cause that you have made appear to me’ and for gross neglect of episcopal duties.171 Sheldon referred another persistent dispute, between bishop and chapter over repairs to St Asaph, to the mediation of his trusted ally Robert Morgan, bishop of Bangor in July 1672.172

It was surprising that in January 1672, the king named Sheldon, together with Clifford and Bridgeman (both supporters of one or other sort of religious indulgence), to establish a list of men to be named as members of Gloucester corporation under the new city charter.173 In February there was an even more unlikely report that Sheldon had ‘lately represented to the clergy the necessity of a comprehension or toleration’ and ‘had signified his own inclination to the latter’. Given his consistent opposition to both, the report seems scarcely credible, though it is possible that Sheldon was prepared to entertain some proposals along the lines that his colleague George Morley had been developing for some time.174 Sheldon was not present in the circle that discussed the Declaration of Indulgence that was published on 15 Mar., following the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch war, although late that month, the king visited him at Lambeth after which it was rumoured that there would be a further royal statement to clarify the Declaration.175

Sheldon could not have remained anything but acutely conscious of the threat to Church lands. In July 1672 Morley wrote to Sheldon about an attempt by Charles Paulet, styled Lord St John, the future 6th marquess of Winchester, to breach the charter of his diocese over rights in the New Forest, ‘in which attempt if he prevail, he and such as he is may beg and get away from the Church all the temporalities which all the bishops and all the cathedrals in England do hold of the crown.’176 Sheldon attended the court in August 1672 to conduct the marriage of the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, earl of Euston (later duke of Grafton), to Arlington’s daughter. Meanwhile he had become suspicious of the uses to which the army raised that summer to contribute to an invasion of the Netherlands might be put. Morley responded to him in September 1672, sharing his suspicions and worrying about the possible effect on his own plans for a negotiation with nonconformists: if the troops

be to be made use of at home, I confess the whole fabric of my scheme is ruined, but so the fabric of the church and state will be also. What will afterwards be formed out of that chaos he that made all out of the first only knows. Yet the darkness which at present covers all that is in design cannot continue much longer.177

In September 1672 Sheldon informed Morley of the forthcoming prorogation which he attended at the end of October.178 This prorogation marked a defeat for Sheldon and a victory for Shaftesbury and Clifford. Nevertheless a letter (now lost) from Sheldon to Morley sent late in September or early October appears to have contained encouraging news, probably about the strength of opposition to the Declaration of Indulgence. Morley replied that ‘the close of your Grace’s last gives me hope that there may be an alteration of the present posture’. For Morley a clear indication of Sheldon’s return to favour would have been the elevation of Sheldon’s nephew, John Dolben, of Rochester, to succeed the recently deceased Cosin at Durham; should that happen, he wrote, he would ‘begin to hope that your grace is or will be shortly restored to the same place you had and ought to have in the king’s trust and favours’.179

The see of Durham, however, was for the moment left vacant; Shaftesbury, one of the major proponents of the Declaration, became lord chancellor in November. That same month the appointment of John Tillotson as dean of Canterbury was ascribed to Sheldon’s influence by Sir Ralph Verney but it is difficult to be sure that Sheldon really did recommend promotion for a man whose views on toleration and comprehension were so opposed to his own. He did however successfully recommend John Pearson, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, to the see of Chester in December 1672.180 At the end of that month, Sheldon, expecting a spring parliamentary session, sent out a letter of summons to the bishops, pre-empting the inevitable excuses on the grounds that he could not dispense with attendance since it was ‘a more than ordinary occasion’ and he had ‘great reason to believe that there is a necessity of raising all the force we can make’. Even Isaac Barrow, bishop of St Asaph was to attend despite his enervating dispute with his cathedral chapter, ‘for it is likely to be so critical a time... that it admits of no ordinary excuse’.181 He also directed Henchman to summon all members of Convocation to be ready for ‘a full and entire convention’ at the opening of Parliament since there may be ‘more than ordinary cause for our assistance’.182 As the excuses trickled in, he insisted on, and received, proxies.183

On 4 Feb. 1673, Sheldon attended for the start of the session. He attended 40 per cent of sittings and was named to only one select committee (a private bill on land exchanges in Dorset involving Sir Ralph Bankes). On the second day of business, when the king insisted in his speech that he would not abandon the Declaration, Sheldon received Morley’s proxy (it was cancelled on 20 October). In January he wrote to his bishops advising them that the king was recommending care in catechizing and on 27 Feb., the Commons voted to bring in a bill to enforce catechism, to be drafted and introduced by the attorney general, Sir Heneage Finch, later Baron Finch.184 Given Sheldon’s insistence on catechizing as a more useful weapon against Dissent than preaching, these developments may have been stimulated by the archbishop. Though the bill failed, the king’s abandonment of the Declaration of Indulgence, the introduction of a committee to consider the Test bill removing Catholics from office, and the loss of a bill of indulgence to protestant Dissenters indicated a very successful session for the Church. The bill for relief to Protestant nonconformists was introduced into the Commons on 6 March.185 Sheldon was present when it was sent up to the Lords on 19 Mar. just before the House went into a Committee to consider the Test Bill. He was not named to the sub-committee on the Test, but he attended regularly until the successful passage of the bill on 29 Mar. and the adjournment of Parliament to October.186 With much relief Sheldon told William Lucy, amongst others, of the withdrawal of the Declaration, and that Parliament had not done anything this session ‘to the prejudice of the Church, nor... will do hereafter, we are therefore left at liberty to proceed as formerly, against such as for the future shall offend.’187 This was optimistic, for as Morley pointed out in April, no matter what Parliament had achieved, the sectaries were confident of being able to meet and the local justices were almost certainly going to be unwilling to act for ‘they know not what they are to do’ and ‘will not be very forward to put those laws in execution until some public notice be given by way of proclamation or otherwise that they may do so.’188 Sheldon himself had to admit that those currently under presentment or censure were likely to be protected by the Act of General Pardon.189 Throughout the spring and summer of 1673, Sheldon was unwell and confined to Lambeth. In June he again lambasted Thomas Wood for bringing the Church into disrepute with his persistent neglect of duty. His illness meant that he was unable to send current intelligence to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Arthur Capell, earl of Essex, explaining that he was such ‘a stranger to public business that I am not able to give any… account of it’, though he still attempted to intervene in Irish clerical patronage.190

As a new meeting of Parliament in October 1673 drew nearer, Sheldon hurried through the consecration of Humphrey Lloyd, bishop of Bangor, so that Lloyd could attend Parliament and bolster the episcopal vote. As usual he marshalled the episcopal proxies.191 On 20 Oct., Sheldon and nine other bishops attended the House for the announcement of a prorogation to 27 Oct., which meant the effective loss of the indulgence bill, left uncompleted at the spring adjournment. Sterne now hoped that the measure was dead and sought Sheldon’s advice about continuing his journey to the capital ‘if there be nothing for us to do at Westminster’ but Sheldon assured him that the session was likely to sit ‘for some time’ with ‘much business and some that nearly concerns us’; Sterne was also told that he should make the journey despite his complaints about the appalling state of the roads.192 In the House on 27 Oct. 1673, Sheldon attended every sitting of the week-long session. He was named only to the sessional committees for privileges and petitions.

Sheldon, with good reason, continued to fear attempts to secure some form of religious indulgence. He reluctantly excused William Lucy from attending the session due to assemble on 7 Jan. 1674, despite the need for support for what he described as ‘the now tottering Church’.193 Present for the start of the session, Sheldon attended thereafter for 31 per cent of sittings but was again not named to any select committees. On 12 Jan. 1674 it was noted at a call of the House that he was unwell and excused. Four weeks later he returned, almost certainly because of the comprehension bill which was read for the first time on 13 Feb. 1674. Sheldon was present on 19 Feb. 1674 for the bill’s second reading. In a ‘great debate’ over the removal of the clerical oath to abjure the covenant and the removal of the contentious words of ‘assent and consent’ from the oath of conformity in order to accommodate Presbyterians, Bishops Morley, Pearson, Ward and Dolben were said to have supported this very moderate re-wording of the declaration: Sheldon’s own attitude is not mentioned.194 The bill was committed to a committee of the whole House to meet on 25 Feb., but it was lost by the intervening prorogation on 24 February. During the gap before the next session, in July 1674, Sheldon informed Peter Mews, bishop of Bath and Wells, that he wanted to introduce another bill to enforce catechism; he was now confident of its passage and wanted Mews to draft the bill in time for the next session. In the meantime he began to issue further instructions to the clergy on catechizing.195

The alliance with Danby 1674-7

During the summer of 1674 Sheldon was drawn into Scottish ecclesiastical politics when Archbishop Sharp of St Andrews appealed to him in June to help resist the growing pressure for a national synod in Scotland, although on 28 July Sheldon told Arlington that he had been out of touch with Sharp for several years, and assured Arlington that he would certainly communicate any intelligence worthy of the king’s notice. Sheldon’s recent alliance with a Lauderdale moving towards alignment with a repressive Episcopalian church contributed to the reinstatement of Alexander Burnet as archbishop of Glasgow in September.196 Sheldon was also bolstered by the ascendancy of Thomas Osborne, created Viscount Latimer in August 1673, and advanced to earl of Danby in 1674, and the change in royal policy this represented. Over the winter of 1674-5, Sheldon worked on the king’s request for episcopal advice on Catholic recusants and protestant nonconformists.197 In the new year of 1675, Sheldon and the bishops recommended that the king ‘discountenance libertines’ and execute the penal laws ‘against papists and fanatics’. 198 On 25 Jan. 1675 Sheldon hosted a conference at Lambeth Palace that brought leading privy councillors together with five bishops to discuss religious policy. It was suspected that Danby and York intended that the meeting to sow dissension among the bishops but Sheldon had clearly packed the episcopal representation, ensuring that any who ‘were mildly inclined’ were not invited to attend. He apparently did not contribute to the discussions himself: Morley and Ward dominated the discussion and Sheldon gave his ‘silent consent’. The result was a decision to ask for the strict enforcement of the penal laws against nonconformists and Catholics.199 The conclusions of the meeting were in their essentials brought into effect through an order in council of February. On 24 Feb. Sheldon underlined in a message to Heneage Finch, 3rd earl of Winchilsea, that the new policy had the complete backing of the king, and that he should ‘speedily and effectually proceed against them [nonconformists] according to law and not longer suffer such a mischief among us which seems to tend to a rebellion’.200

On 29 Mar., preparing for the new session with some confidence, Sheldon summoned the bishops claiming that the king declared that ‘religion (as it ought) shall have the priority in their debates, and the settlement thereof (if possible) concluded before anything else either of public or private consequence’. As usual, he claimed that there was ‘a more than ordinary occasion for... attendance this session of Parliament’ and that proxies must be supplied in the event of any absence.201 Sheldon attended for the start of the session on 13 Apr., but this time attended only 19 per cent of sittings. He was named to just the one select committee, on the bill to prevent frauds. On 15 Apr., Danby’s non resisting test bill was introduced into the Lords. He was present throughout the initial ‘very hot debates’, the bishops’ votes being vital to the success of the bill. The bill was debated, committed, amended and recommitted in the upper House until 2 June before being lost with the prorogation on 9 June. Sheldon did not attend after 26 Apr., registering his proxy in favour of Richard Sterne the following day (vacated at the end of the session). Two days later it was noted at a call the House that he was absent but had registered his proxy.

Despite the general trajectory of policy, Sheldon’s sway over ecclesiastical appointments had not recovered sufficiently to block the influence of others at court; he had been horrified at the elevation the previous April (through the influence of Secretary Sir Joseph Williamson) of Thomas Barlow, as bishop of Lincoln. In June 1675, Sheldon refused to consecrate Barlow; Morley had to officiate in his place at Ely House.202 In contrast, Sheldon was one of those who pressured John Fell to accept the see of Oxford some months later, telling Fell that it would be ‘a great mischief’ if he refused since it would appear that he was trying to evade ‘that hazard and suffering which threatens the Church’.203 Sheldon’s limited ability to control the episcopate was underlined by the publication in June of The Naked Truth by Herbert Croft in support of comprehension: Samuel Parker’s later memories of Sheldon’s resentment of ‘treachery’ among the episcopate may have been related to its publication.204

Sheldon attended on the first day of the October 1675 session, but his attendance continued the decline that had been noticeable for some years—he appeared at only 14 per cent of sittings and was named to no select committees—and on 27 Oct., he attended the House for the final time; a call of the House on 10 Nov. 1675 noted that he was excused attendance. Ten days later when the votes of 16 bishops (including proxies) helped to block a motion to address the king to dissolve Parliament. Parliament was prorogued on 22 Nov. and did not reassemble for 15 months. In February 1676 it was rumoured that Sheldon was poised to suspend Croft from office.205 In order to strengthen the case against comprehension, in January 1676 Sheldon directed Henry Compton, bishop of London to collect statistics of recusancy and Dissent, the results of which have since come to be known as the Compton census.206

By August 1676, Sheldon’s age and infirmity suggested that there would soon be a vacancy at Lambeth. He was delegating more and more to Compton, who, according to the French ambassador, was ‘trying to put in a bid for his position’.207 At the start of 1677, Compton, now increasingly in control, reminded Sheldon of the approaching session of Parliament and that the king had laid ‘some stress upon a full Parliament at the first meeting’. Sheldon sent his customary reminder for bishops to attend in person or send a proxy in time for the first day of the session, again using the now well-worn formula that ‘there may be more than ordinary occasion for our assistance’.208 Parliament assembled on 15 Feb. 1677, but Sheldon did not attend. On 9 Mar. he was excused attendance at a call of the House and on 13 Mar. once again registered his proxy in favour of Sterne of York (vacated with Sheldon’s death). On 14 Apr. Sheldon’s baptism and catechizing bill passed its third reading in the Lords but it subsequently failed in the Commons.209 Sheldon suffered ‘a painful fit’ in September and on 24 Oct. it was said that ‘his recovery is thought impossible’. On 29 Oct. it was reported that ‘very well recovered’ from a ’most severe fit of the strangury’ (bladder retention) but he died 11 days later at Lambeth.210

The day after Sheldon’s death, ‘a very scandalous epitaph’ was pasted to the pillars of the Covent Garden piazza.211 To counter the slurs, an elegy came out in print almost immediately.212 John Skeffington, Viscount Massereene [I], one of Sheldon’s numerous contacts in Ireland, spoke of his ‘grateful and affectionate resentment’ for Sheldon, ‘whose kindness I want every day in my present distance from court’.213 Newsletters reported that Sterne of York had refused translation to Canterbury, leaving three contenders for the succession, Compton, John Fell and Sir Leoline Jenkins. Remarkably it was said that Jenkins, who was not even ordained, was the most likely to succeed.214 Morley had already informed Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon, that either Compton or Seth Ward should succeed as archbishop, but in reality Sheldon’s succession was still being debated, not least because the duke of York was blocking the translation of Compton.215 In the event, Sheldon was succeeded by one his own protégés, William Sancroft. According to his own directions, Sheldon was buried on 16 Nov. at Croydon parish church next to the tomb of archbishop John Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury. Sheldon’s nephew (and lord mayor of London) Sir Joseph Sheldon erected a white marble monument, thought by contemporaries to have cost at least £800.216 Renowned amongst his peers for his generosity towards the Church, Sheldon was reputed to have spent in £72,000 in ‘acts of munificence and charity’ and bequeathed the residue of his personal estate to his brother’s children whom he named as his executors.217 His will included a deliberate profession of his ‘abhorrence of the sects’ and his faith in the catholicity of the Church of England.

Sheldon’s most prestigious physical legacy was the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it was funded entirely out of personal income, at a cost of over £14,000. His political legacy is far harder to assess. Gilbert Burnet, historian and (well after Sheldon’s time) bishop of Salisbury, wrote that Sheldon perceived religion as ‘an engine of government and a matter of policy’.218 Sheldon was clearly a formidable ecclesiastical politician, though the evidence for his political activities is surprisingly difficult to gather. Sheldon’s own surviving correspondence reveals a man who was closely concerned with protecting the institution and function of the Church, who marshalled the attendance of his bishops in the Lords with some determination. Nevertheless, there is less evidence for his direct political interventions in the House of Lords or elsewhere: others, such as George Morley or Henry Compton, acted more overtly, presumably with the approval of Sheldon. Roger Morrice later commented that Compton was used as Sheldon’s ‘tool and monkey to pull the chestnut out of the fire when he himself thought not fit to do it’.219 Sheldon’s opposition to dispensation with the Act of Uniformity in August 1662 is one of the few occasions on which it is possible to discern Sheldon himself making an open stand on an issue. His declining attendance throughout the 1670s was presumably principally the result of ill-health, though also a sign of increasing difficulty in managing the increasingly complex and bewildering politics of a court deeply divided over religious policy.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/355.
  • 2 Bodl. Tanner 40, f. 180.
  • 3 CCED.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 449.
  • 5 CCED.
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  • 7 Seventeenth Century Oxford, 26.
  • 8 CCSP, i. 209.
  • 9 Clarendon, Life, 25.
  • 10 CCSP, i. 311.
  • 11 Seventeenth Century Oxford, 727.
  • 12 CCSP, iii. 50, iv. 112; Tanner 52, ff. 41, 42, 59, 211; Tanner 53, f. 230; Harl. 6942, ff. 26, 39, 44, 62, 64, 109.
  • 13 HJ, xix. 1006.
  • 14 CCSP, iv. 139, 668.
  • 15 CCSP, v. 3.
  • 16 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 156; Pepys Diary, i. 60, 64.
  • 17 Letters and journals of Robert Baillie, iii. 484.
  • 18 HMC 5th Rep. 184.
  • 19 Eg. 2542, f. 266, 269, 270; Tanner 49, f. 17.
  • 20 Green, Re-establishment of the Church of England, 53-6.
  • 21 Add. 10116, f. 131; CSP Dom. Addenda 1660-85, p. 13; 1660-1, p. 322; Pepys Diary, i. 276.
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  • 23 Evelyn Diary, iii. 281.
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  • 25 Conquest and Union ed. S.G. Ellis and S. Barber, 129-33.
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  • 27 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iv. 497.
  • 28 HMC Hastings, iv. 99-100, 101, 102, 104, 105; R. L. Greaves, Deliver us from Evil, 137.
  • 29 Lauderdale Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxvi), pp. xlvi-lxi; Letters and journals of Robert Baillie, iii. 484.
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  • 31 J. Buckroyd, Church and state in Scotland, 1660-1681, 61.
  • 32 Sloane 3509, ff. 16-17, 33, 36, 64.
  • 33 A.L. Cross, The Anglican Episcopate and the American Colonies, 90-1; Archives xxiv. 36-41.
  • 34 HP Commons 1660-90, i. 310, 315-16.
  • 35 Carpenter, Cantuar, 206.
  • 36 Reliquiae Baxterianae, 305.
  • 37 PA, HL/PO/JO/10/1/29.
  • 38 Rawdon Pprs. 136-8.
  • 39 Seaward, Cavalier Parliament, 174.
  • 40 HMC Hastings, iv. 129-30; Rawdon Pprs. 140-4.
  • 41 CJ, viii. 409, 413, 414, 423; Miller, After the civil wars, 178-9.
  • 42 Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke ed. R. Spalding, 616-7, 621, 648-9.
  • 43 CCSP, v. 220.
  • 44 Mercurius Publicus, 21-28 Aug. 1662.
  • 45 Bodl. ms Eng lett c.210, ff. 73, 78.
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  • 47 CCSP, v. 264.
  • 48 Bodl. Carte 32, ff. 3, 25.
  • 49 Tanner, 48, f. 45.
  • 50 Verney, ms mic. M636/18, W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, undated.
  • 51 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, nn.91, 92; Cosin corresp. ii. 97.
  • 52 CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 602-3.
  • 53 Cosin Corresp. ii. 101.
  • 54 Durham Univ. Lib., Cosin letter book 1b, n.96.
  • 55 Clarendon, Life (1857), ii. 95.
  • 56 CSP Dom. 1663-4, pp. 64-5.
  • 57 Clarendon, Life (1857), ii. 95-96.
  • 58 TNA, PC 2/56.
  • 59 CJ, viii. 453-4.
  • 60 CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 65.
  • 61 Pepys Diary, iv. 137.
  • 62 Pols. of Relig. ed. Harris et al. 49-73; HP Commons 1660-90, i. 675-6; CJ, viii. 474-5, 495-6, 528-9.
  • 63 Pepys Diary, iii. 196; LJ, xi. 535.
  • 64 Verney ms mic. M636/19, E. Butterfield to E. Verney, 15 June 1663.
  • 65 Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 29.
  • 66 Green, Re-establishment of the Church of England, 105.
  • 67 Carte 32, f. 716.
  • 68 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/1, pp. 437-8; CJ, viii. 533.
  • 69 Carte 45, f. 169.
  • 70 Carte 46, f. 114.
  • 71 Evelyn Diary, iii. 361-2; LPL, AA/EDT/T/G/4.
  • 72 CCSP, v. 329, 335.
  • 73 Carte 45, f. 151.
  • 74 Durham UL, Cosin letter book 1b, 106.
  • 75 Tanner 47, f. 51; Tanner 146, f. 139.
  • 76 A. Marshall, Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II, 143-6.
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  • 80 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/1, 457-8.
  • 81 Tanner 47, f. 201.
  • 82 Sykes, Sheldon to Secker, 42; Timberland, i. 75.
  • 83 16&17 Chas II c.1, §30.
  • 84 Tanner 45, ff. 13, 17, 26; Bodl. Add. C 305, ff. 50, 52.
  • 85 Bodl. Add. C 303, ff. 106, 108-24.
  • 86 Bodl. Rawl. A130, 3 Oct. 1665.
  • 87 Bodl. Add. C 303, f. 108.
  • 88 Bodl. Add. C 303, f. 122.
  • 89 Bodl. Add. C 303, f. 112; Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 52.
  • 90 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 52.
  • 91 Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. n.s. lx. pt. 2, pp. 5-58.
  • 92 Add. 75354, ff. 139-40.
  • 93 Baxter, Reliquiae, iii. 2-3.
  • 94 BIHR, xxi. 214-24.
  • 95 Bodl. Add. C 303, ff. 122, 124; LJ, xi. 696-7.
  • 96 Bodl. Add. C 308, f.52-3.
  • 97 Bodl. Add. c 302, f.41.
  • 98 CCSP, v. 527; Carte 45, f. 183; Add. 75356, Sheldon to Burlington, 14 Dec. 1665, Morley to same, 10 Jan. 1666; Carte 45, f. 181.
  • 99 Add. 75356, Morley to Burlington, 10 Jan. 1666.
  • 100 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 57-8, 59-62; Carte 45, f. 185.
  • 101 Tanner 45, f. 73; Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 3; Bodl. Add. C 308, ff. 58v, 62, 65v.
  • 102 Verney, ms mic. M636/21, M. Elmes to Sir R. Verney, 18 June 1667.
  • 103 Durham UL, Cosin Letter Bk. 1b, n. 151, 159.
  • 104 Bodl. Add. Mss C308, f.70v-71.
  • 105 Bodl. Add. C 308, ff. 70-1.
  • 106 Cosin Corresp. ii. 153; Bodl. Add. C 302, f. 71.
  • 107 Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 73v.
  • 108 Trans. Am. Phil. Soc. n.s. lx. pt. 2, p. 34.
  • 109 Carte 47, f. 138.
  • 110 Carte 35, f. 30.
  • 111 Carte 45, ff. 210, 212, 214.
  • 112 Tanner 45, f. 149; Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 86.
  • 113 Verney, ms mic. M636/21, Sir N. Hobart to Sir R. Verney, n.d.
  • 114 Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 97v.
  • 115 Eg. 2539, f. 112.
  • 116 Pepys Diary, viii. 364.
  • 117 Pepys Diary, viii. 585.
  • 118 Carte 45, ff. 222, 228, 230, 232.
  • 119 Bodl. Add. C 308, ff. 98v, 101.
  • 120 CSP Dom. 1667, p. 437.
  • 121 Theological works of Herbert Thorndike, v. 302-303; Carte 35, ff. 649-50; Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 56, 286.
  • 122 Pepys Diary, viii. 585.
  • 123 Pepys Diary, viii. 596, ix. 1-2; Add. 36916, f. 56.
  • 124 Chatsworth, Cork mss misc. box 1, Burlington diary, 1 Jan. 20 Feb. 23 Mar. 3, 30 June, 1, 2 July, 1 Aug. 8 Dec. 1668, 23, 28 May 1670, 3 May 1672; Pepys Diary, viii. 593.
  • 125 Pepys Diary, viii. 593 and n4.
  • 126 Tanner 338, f. 178; Seventeenth Century Oxford, 819.
  • 127 Art Jnl. vi, no. 1, p. 46.
  • 128 Burnet, i. 449.
  • 129 Milward Diary, 9, 33, 41, 44, 48-49.
  • 130 Tanner 45, ff. 278, 288; S. Parker, Hist. of his own time (1727), 36-40.
  • 131 CJ, ix. 44.
  • 132 Tanner 45, f. 278.
  • 133 CJ, ix. 60, 66.
  • 134 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 77.
  • 135 Pepys Diary, ix. 35-36; 347. CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 320; Grey, i. 108; Milward Diary, 230-1.
  • 136 Add. 36916, f. 103.
  • 137 Add. 36916, ff. 115, 120.
  • 138 Carte 147, f. 92.
  • 139 Add. 36916, f. 122; Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. C 328, f. 509.
  • 140 Bodl. ms Eng. lett. C 328, f. 509.
  • 141 Add. 36916, f. 123.
  • 142 Bodl. Add. C 308, f. 130v.
  • 143 Tanner 282, f. 50.
  • 144 Add. 36916, f. 139; PC 2/61, pp. 348, 362.
  • 145 Tanner 44, ff. 121, 125, 127, 140, Tanner 131, f. 38.
  • 146 Carte 69, f. 160, Carte 141, f. 99, Tanner 44, f. 144; Add. 36916, f. 140.
  • 147 Harl. 7377, f. 6.
  • 148 Tanner 44, f. 149.
  • 149 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c. 210, f. 113.
  • 150 Maimbourg, Histoire du Calvinisme (1682), 508-9; Copies of Two Papers written by the late King Charles II together with a copy of a Paper written by the late Duchess of York (1686); CCSP, v. 633.
  • 151 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c. 210, ff. 117, 121.
  • 152 CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 532; Stephen, Archbishop Sharp, 463; Lauderdale Pprs. ii. (Camden Soc, n.s. xxxvi) 166-7, lxviii-lxix.
  • 153 Eg. 3348, f. 7.
  • 154 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c. 210, f. 133; Cosin, Corresp. ii. 226.
  • 155 Harris, Sandwich, ii. 318-24.
  • 156 Tanner 44, f. 196.
  • 157 G. Lyon Turner, Original records of Early Nonconformity, iii. 49; HMC Var. Coll. iv. 11.
  • 158 Tanner 44, f. 196.
  • 159 The Act of Parliament against religious meetings proved to be the Bishops act … with some animadversions thereupon (1670).
  • 160 Tanner 44, f. 206; Add. C 305, ff. 213, 215.
  • 161 Verney, ms mic. M636/23, Sir R. to E. Verney, 16 June 1670; Add. 36916, f. 184.
  • 162 Tanner 44, f. 215, Tanner 314, f. 54; Corresp. of Thomas Corie (Norf. Rec. Soc. xxvii), 61.
  • 163 HP Commons 1660-90, i. 362-3, 187-8, iii. 137-8.
  • 164 NLS, Yester pprs. ms 7004, ff. 157r-8v; 14406, ff. 164r-5v; 14492, ff. 1r-49v; Tanner 44, f. 226.
  • 165 Tanner 129, f. 23, Tanner 131, f. 45, Tanner 140, ff. 3, 178, Tanner 141, f.132, Tanner 143, f.263, Tanner 146, f. 133, Tanner, 147, f. 51; Norf. RO, DCN 29/2, ff. 199-300.
  • 166 Tanner 44, f. 228.
  • 167 Tanner 140, f. 3, Tanner 141, f. 132, Tanner 143, f. 263, Tanner 147, f. 51; Kent HLS (CKS), U269/C49/5.
  • 168 CSP Dom. 1671, p. 14.
  • 169 Bodl. Add. C 305, ff. 221, 225, 227, 229, 231, 234, 249; Tanner 42, f. 11.
  • 170 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 5b, n. 131.
  • 171 Tanner 36, f. 190, Tanner 45, ff. 26, 230, 255, 288; Tanner 131, ff. 18, 20.
  • 172 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 321; Tanner 146, ff. 44, 46, 48, 50, 53; Harl. 7377, ff. 32-3, 33-4, 35v, 36, 37, 39v.
  • 173 Bodl. Add. C 303, ff. 58, 180, 225-8.
  • 174 Add. 70119, T. to Sir E. Harley, 16 Feb. 1672.
  • 175 Verney, ms mic. M636/25, W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, 28 Mar. 1672.
  • 176 Tanner 43, f. 17.
  • 177 Tanner 43, f. 31.
  • 178 Tanner 43, f. 29.
  • 179 Tanner 43, f. 27.
  • 180 Verney, ms mic. M636/25, Sir R. Verney to E. Verney, 11 Nov. 1672; Pearson, Minor Works, i. p. lxxii ; Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 66.
  • 181 Harl. 7377, f. 39.
  • 182 Tanner 43, f. 200.
  • 183 Harl. 7377, f. 41; Tanner 43, f. 74.
  • 184 Harl. 7377, f. 42; Chandler, i. 163-78; CJ, ix. 259.
  • 185 CJ, ix. 263-4.
  • 186 HMC 9th Rep. pt. ii. 29.
  • 187 Harl. 7377, f. 44.
  • 188 Tanner 42, f. 7.
  • 189 Harl. 7377, f. 44.
  • 190 Tanner 42, f. 13; Tanner 43, f. 187; Harl. 7377, f. 46; Stowe 201, ff. 319, 387; Stowe 203, f. 50.
  • 191 Harl. 7377, ff. 48-49; Tanner 42, f. 42, Tanner 314, f. 50.
  • 192 Tanner 42, f. 46; Harl. 7377, f. 49v.
  • 193 Harl. 7377, f. 50.
  • 194 Add. 23136, f. 98.
  • 195 Harl. 7377, ff. 53, 55.
  • 196 HMC Laing, i. 396; Harl. 7377, f. 54.
  • 197 Tanner 42, f. 137.
  • 198 Carte 72, f. 253; CSP Dom. 1673-5, pp. 548-51.
  • 199 Verney, ms mic. M636/28, Sir R. to E. Verney, 25 Jan. 1675; CSP Ven. 1673-5, pp. 353-7.
  • 200 HMC Finch, ii. 23.
  • 201 Harl. 7377, f. 58.
  • 202 Evelyn Diary, iv. 66.
  • 203 Worcs. RO, Hampton (Pakington) mss. 705:349/4657/(i)/172.
  • 204 N. Key, ‘Comprehension and the breakdown of consensus’, in Pols. of Relig. ed. Harris et al. 202-3.
  • 205 Verney, ms mic. M636/29, W. Fall to Sir R. Verney, 28 Feb. 1676.
  • 206 Carte 79, f. 22; Compton Census of 1676 ed. A. Whiteman.
  • 207 Longleat, Bath mss, Coventry 7, ff. 92, 124; TNA, PRO 31/3/133. ff. 45-6; Tanner 40, f. 16.
  • 208 Tanner 40, ff. 44, 51.
  • 209 CJ, ix. 440-1.
  • 210 Tanner, 40, f. 104; Carte 79 f.136-7; HEHL, HM 30314 (77).
  • 211 Carte 79, ff. 142-3.
  • 212 An Elegi[e], on the Death of the Most Reverend Father in God, Gilbert late Arch-Bishop of Canterbury (1677).
  • 213 CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 143.
  • 214 Carte 79, ff. 136-7, 142-3.
  • 215 Add. 17017, ff. 159-60; Carte 79, ff. 142-3; HEHL, HM 30314 (83); Verney, ms mic. M636/30, W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, 15 Nov. 1677.
  • 216 Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 10, f. 1; Evelyn Diary, v. 426.
  • 217 Tanner 131, f. 38; W. Kennett, Case of Impropriations, (1704) 257.
  • 218 Burnet, i. 320.
  • 219 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iii. 230.