SKINNER, Robert (1591-1670)

SKINNER, Robert (1591–1670)

cons. 15 Jan. 1637 bp. of BRISTOL; transl. 16 Dec. 1641 bp. of OXFORD; transl. 4 Nov. 1663 bp. of WORCESTER

First sat 13 Apr. 1640; first sat after 1660, 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 29 July 1667

bap. 12 Feb. 1591, 2nd s. of Edmund Skinner, rect. Pitsford Northants. and Bridget, da. of Humphrey Radcliff of Warws. educ. Brixworth g.s.; Trinity, Oxf. matric. 1606, BA 1610, fell. 1613, MA 1614; incorp. Camb. 1615, BD 1621, DD 1636. m. Elizabeth (d.1644), da. of Bernard Banger, esq. beadle of Oxf. 4s. 4da. (10ch. d.v.p.) d. 14 June 1670; will 2 Apr. 1670, pr. 7 July 1670.1

Chap. to Charles I 1629.

Preacher, St Gregory’s by St Paul’s London 1621-30; rect. Pitsford, Northants. 1628-36, Launton, Oxon. 1631-63, Green’s Norton, Northants. 1636-43, seq. 1643; vic. Cuddesdon Oxon. 1641, seq. 1646, ?restored 1660-3; royal commr. Univ. Oxf. 1660.

A veteran of the Caroline episcopate, Robert Skinner was born in the Northamptonshire parish where his father was rector and holder of the advowson. Skinner’s branch of the family was part of a kinship network with the Rainsfords, a long-established gentry family from Northampton, and he also appears to have been related by marriage to Sir Edward Littleton of Staffordshire.2

A propagandist for Laudian ecclesiastical policies, Skinner had secured elevation to the episcopate in 1637. He was imprisoned in the Tower in 1641 but during the proscription of the Church, continued to write and study, and (according to his own, probably exaggerated, account) secretly ordained between 400 and 500 men including the Robert Frampton, the future bishop of Gloucester.3 He, nevertheless, earned the enmity of Edward Hyde, later earl of Clarendon, by his reluctance to become involved in the clandestine consecration of new bishops, thus threatening the integrity of the apostolic succession and hence the very survival of the Church of England.4 At the Restoration he was therefore left in the impoverished see of Oxford.

Skinner was not amongst the royal appointees to the Savoy conference but had a significant role in convocation.5 On 21 June 1661 he was entrusted with framing a series of visitation articles.6 As one of the visitors of Oxford University he also played an important part in purging both it and his diocese of former parliamentarians, participating in a visitation that treated the surviving members of the university ‘as vigorously … as if papists or heretics’.7 He resumed his place in the House of Lords at the readmission of the bishops on 20 Nov. 1661, thereafter attending almost every sitting to the end of the session in May 1662 and being named to 12 committees. He was clearly not one of the favoured inner circle of Restoration churchmen and did not attend the Privy Council meeting on 24 Feb. 1662 for the reading of the revised book of common prayer. On 5 Mar. 1662 in convocation, however, Skinner led the deliberations on the parliamentary revisions to the liturgy.8 He spent his day commuting between the House and convocation.

Back at Launton rectory in the summer of 1662, he expressed impatience at delays in producing the standard book of visitation articles and asked whether a uniform liturgy for the consecration of churches could be added to the final document, but ‘something amiss’ in the draft led to that provision being laid aside. More than three years later the articles had still not been finalized, and Gilbert Sheldon, bishop of London, asked Skinner to prompt him about the matter when they next met at Parliament.9 Skinner’s failure to gain promotion continued to rankle, and in August 1662 when he learned from William Roberts, of Bangor that ‘the ancient bishops were not removed because they did not (as they were bound in duty) relieve their mother the Church when she stood in most need in point of ordination’ he was prompted to write at length to Sheldon justifying his conduct in the Civil Wars and Interregnum and excusing his inability to do more by reason of his poverty ‘for I was deep in debt before I was settled at Bristol and came thence near £300 in debt, yet the king had what I could give him, my horses and £30 which was all the money I received till the king’s return’.10

On 8 Jan. 1663, perhaps intending to arrive after the start of the session, Skinner entered his proxy in favour of George Griffith, of St Asapah. In the event he arrived for the start of the 1663 session and attended for nearly two-thirds of sittings. A committed conformist in the Sheldon mould, there is no evidence that Skinner supported any of Clarendon’s initiatives to soften the Act of Uniformity.11 Eventually his excuses bore fruit and the royal directive for his translation to Worcester was despatched on 21 June 1663.12 Skinner had sat for the last time that session the previous day and so was absent from the House on 23 July when George Digby, 2nd earl of Bristol, tried to impeach Clarendon. In his forecast of the vote Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton, assumed that Skinner’s proxy would be used to support the chancellor, but there is no record of a proxy for this date. It seems likely that Sheldon had been involved in healing the breach between Skinner and the chancellor. In September, responding to a complaint about the lack of a vicar for Chipping Norton, Sheldon explained the difficulty attending the appointment and assured Clarendon that Skinner had ‘behaved himself well in his diocese’.13

As the new bishop of Worcester, Skinner’s, attendance in the House for the two sessions between March 1664 and March 1665 was almost constant: in both sessions he appeared for some 90 per cent of sessions. In the first of these sessions (1664), he was appointed only to the sessional committees, but in the 1664-5 session he was named to 13 select committees on a range of public and private bills. In 1664 he was present throughout the passage of the first Conventicle bill.

Skinner’s parliamentary career was now almost at a close. He did not attend the Oxford Parliament in autumn 1665 and on 17 Oct. 1665 registered his proxy in favour of George Morley, of Winchester, for the remainder of the brief session. The following session he registered his proxy in favour of Humphrey Henchman, of London, on 5 Oct. 1666. He made his last appearances in the House on 25 and 29 July to hear the formal prorogations. Thereafter he simply registered proxies: to William Nicholson, of Gloucester, on 1 Oct. 1667; George Hall, of Chester, on 15 Feb. 1668 (vacated 20 Apr. 1668), and again to Morley on 19 Oct. 1669 (vacated at the end of the session in December 1669) and on 15 Mar. 1670 (vacated with Skinner’s death in June).

On 7 June 1670 Thomas Lamplugh, the future archbishop of York, informed the secretary of state Joseph Williamson that Skinner’s cathedral city was ‘very loyal and well-affected’ and the mayor effective in suppressing conventicles but that the bishop was ill ‘with an issue’.14 Leaving provision for his four daughters (including Elizabeth who had married the Member for Worcester, Thomas Hall) and four sons, Skinner left nearly £1,500 in money bequests in addition to the portions already settled on his daughters. He had appointed his son, William, as rector of Hartlebury, his son, Matthew, became a doctor of medicine and another son, Robert, entered the law.15 One of the bishop’s great-grandsons, Matthew Skinner, sat for Oxford in 1734. Bishop Skinner died on 14 June 1670 and was buried in Worcester Cathedral.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/333.
  • 2 Lansd. 986, f. 88; PROB 11/333; J. Noake, N & Q for Worcs. 153.
  • 3 Bodl. Tanner, 48, f. 25.
  • 4 P. Barwick, Life of Dr John Barwick (1724) 112, 115-16, 199-206, 210, 218-19.
  • 5 Cardwell, 257.
  • 6 Swainson, Parl. Hist. 14.
  • 7 Add. 70114, A. Fidoe to Sir E. Harley, 11 Aug. 1660.
  • 8 Swainson, 20.
  • 9 Tanner 48, f. 14; Bodl. Add. C308, f. 58.
  • 10 Tanner 48, f. 25.
  • 11 HMC Hastings, iv. 129-30.
  • 12 CSP Dom. 1663-4, pp. 177, 192, 198.
  • 13 CCSP, v. 335.
  • 14 CSP Dom. 1670 with Addenda, 1660-70, p. 259.
  • 15 Noake, 154; Al. Ox.