SMALRIDGE, George (1662-1719)

SMALRIDGE, George (1662–1719)

cons. 4 Apr. 1714 bp. of BRISTOL

First sat 5 Apr. 1714; last sat 18 Apr. 1719

b. 18 May 1662, s. of Thomas Smalridge, citizen and dyer of Lichfield. educ. Lichfield g.s.; Westminster; Christ Church Oxf. BA 1686, MA 1689, ord. 1693, BD 1698, DD 1701. m. 18 July 1700, Mary (d.1729), da. of Dr Samuel De L’Angelo, preb. of Westminster, 2s. (1s. d.v.p.), 2da. d. 27 Sept. 1719; will 4 July 1715, pr. 23 Nov. 1719.1

Chap. ord. 1710; lord almoner 1714-15.

Preb. Lichfield 1693-1714; minister, Broadway Chapel, Westminster 1698; lecturer, St Dunstan-in-the-West, London 1708-11; canon, Christ Church, Oxf. 1711-13; dean, Carlisle 1711-13, Christ Church, Oxf. 1713-19.

Busby trustee, Westminster Sch. 1702; dep. prof. of divinity 1700-6; commr. 50 new churches 1711,2 Q. Anne’s Bounty, c.1712.3

Likenesses: oil on canvas by G. Kneller, c.1714, Christ Church, Oxf.; line engraving by G. Vertue, aft. Kneller, 1724, NPG D27452 ; oil on canvas, by unknown artist, bef. 1714, Christ Church, Oxf.; Oil on canvas, by unknown artist, Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.

The son of a Lichfield dyer, Smalridge acknowledged that he owed his ‘present grandeur and future hopes’ to the patronage of another Lichfield Oxfordian, Elias Ashmole, who supported his education and his attendance at Oxford.4 Despite the grandeur, Smalridge does not appear to have improved his financial situation through his career in the episcopate; at his death, his main bequests were in the form of three modest exchequer orders from the 1711 and 1712 lotteries. Smalridge was one of a talented group of contemporaries at Westminster School who all went on to be students at Christ Church, Oxford, Tory clerics: the others were Francis Gastrell, who became bishop of Chester, and Francis Atterbury, who became bishop of Rochester. Smalridge’s political views are evident in his surviving correspondence with the inveterate gossip Dr Arthur Charlett, master of University College from 1692, in which they exchanged parliamentary, political and university news.5

Smalridge was vehemently against the religious policies of James II, responsible for one of the pamphlets demolishing the propaganda efforts of Obadiah Walker, the convert head of University College, that emanated from the circle in Christ Church.6 He took the oaths to William and Mary, but in 1715 it was reported that he claimed always to have condemned the resistance that had brought about the Revolution.7 Throughout his early career, he showed a keen interest in both university and parliamentary politics (particularly elections to the Commons). After the Commons’ rejection of the bill for preserving their majesties’ person and government in December 1692, Smalridge thanked the Tory Sir Henry Gough for opposing a new oath for all office-holders that he was convinced would be used to hound ‘scrupulous Tories’ from office. By 1697 Smalridge was reporting on the electoral hopes of Walter Chetwynd; the following year he was equally concerned about the chances of Sir Edward Bagot.8 Smalridge during the 1690s became a well-established figure at Oxford, involved like his companions in Christ Church in the defence of the visitatorial powers of Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Exeter, and the controversy over Richard Bentley’s demolition of Charles Boyle’s edition of the epistles of Phalaris.9 Following his election to a Westminster living in 1698, he became better known also in London. In 1701 he published in support of Atterbury’s defence of the constitutional rights of Convocation; he preached to the Commons in 1702, and before the queen in 1705.10 Closely following Westminster politics, in December 1704 he complained bitterly about opposition to the tack of the occasional conformity bill: ‘the party which some weeks ago found itself so strong, doth now upon all divisions ... appear so weak, as to be able to carry nothing they contend for’.11 Highly regarded by the queen, Smalridge had hopes of rapid career advancement during her reign. With influential supporters in John Sharp, archbishop of York, Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, and Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, the queen promised him the regius chair of divinity at the next vacancy.12 His expectations were wrecked by the bishoprics’ crisis when the coveted regius chair went instead to John Potter, the future archbishop of Canterbury. He probably also faced the opposition of Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury. In 1708, anticipating a difficult time in Convocation, Tenison feared the damage that Smalridge could do if, as seemed likely, he were to be elected as prolocutor, though it was Atterbury’s likely election that provoked the prorogation of Convocation in November 1709. He was convinced that Smalridge and Atterbury were the authors of a recently published partisan account of proceedings in 1705.13 Smalridge would blame Tenison’s taciturn response for the failure of Anglican-Prussian ecumenical talks after 1710, a subject in which he had taken much interest as a result of contacts with the scholar John Ernest Grabe in Oxford.14

Smalridge and Atterbury were again much in evidence at the trial of Henry Sacheverell provided; relishing the occasion, he described the emotive speech of Simon Harcourt, later Viscount Harcourt, at the trial as ‘the noblest entertainment that ever audience had’.15 In the subsequent parliamentary election campaign, Smalridge worked for a Tory victory paying particular attention to the need to counter Whig smears that Harley was unsound on the question of the succession.16 The Tory victory provided a boost for Smalridge’s career. He was made a royal chaplain and worked closely with Atterbury in promoting the high-flying agenda for Convocation. Yet, despite John Sharp’s best endeavours, further preferment proved elusive. In December 1710 his speech in support of Atterbury’s election as prolocutor of Convocation referred to the frequent prorogations by Archbishop Tenison. Although Smalridge conceded that this was done not out of ‘evil intent ... [but] from a pious fear of differences’, his speech must have sounded a warning to the Whig peers and bishops when he pointed out that the House of Commons and the lower house of Convocation were both under the direction of two men (William Bromley and Atterbury) who were ‘happily instructed in the same principles’.17 Yet the close association between Smalridge and Atterbury was broken as Smalridge continued to support Oxford (as Harley had become) while Atterbury gravitated towards Harcourt and Henry St John, later Viscount Bolingbroke, and, when Atterbury was appointed Dean of Christ Church following the death of their mentor, Henry Aldrich, he alienated many of his colleagues with a determined programme of reform and decanal assertion. The dispute was only resolved when Atterbury was promoted to the episcopate. He was succeeded by Smalridge.

Smalridge was himself nominated to the see of Bristol on 13 Mar. 1714 (though he was permitted to hold with it in commendam the deanery of Christ Church).18 He was consecrated at Lambeth on 4 Apr. and received his writ of summons the following day, enabling to take his seat in time for the closely fought division on the danger to the Protestant succession. Despite having missed the first two months of business, he attended a total of 54 per cent of sittings in his first parliamentary session. His parliamentary career up to 1715 unsurprisingly revealed him as a loyal supporter of the Oxford ministry, although it was reported that on 13 Apr. 1714 he voted with the majority of bishops against the ministry over an amendment to the address.19 In May 1714 Smalridge was forecast by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, as a supporter of the schism bill. On 7 June 1714 he spoke in favour of adding a clause to the bill to protect foreign Protestant schools.20 Four days later Smalridge voted in favour of empowering the committee to receive a clause extending the bill to Ireland, and on 15 June he voted with the Tory majority for the passage of the bill. On 22 June he reported from the committee on the Bristol poor bill, one in which as bishop of Bristol he undoubtedly had a strong interest. On 24 June he reported from the committee on the recusants bill. Shortly before the end of the session in July, he became involved in attempts to defuse the theological dispute in Convocation concerning Samuel Clarke’s doubts about the full divinity of Christ.21

Smalridge first attended the first parliamentary session called on the demise of Queen Anne on 3 Aug. 1714 and attended 82 per cent of sittings. However, with the arrival of George I he again found himself in danger of being excluded from power. In Bristol, the succession was greeted with a Tory-Jacobite ‘coronation day’ riot.22 In a foretaste of what was to come, Daniel Defoe’s inflammatory Secret History of the White Staff named Atterbury as the mastermind of a Jacobite conspiracy and Smalridge as a co-conspirator. Nottinghham, however, was said to have kept both Smalridge and John Robinson, bishop of London, in office by ‘declaring in council that putting them out … would disoblige 3 parts in 4 of the nation’ so that it was ‘not shame or repentance keeps them and others in, but fear.’23 But Smalridge ruined his chances of a reconciliation to the new regime when in November 1715 he refused to sign the ‘abhorrence’ of the Jacobite rebellion. His reasons were subjected to critical and ‘virulent’ scrutiny which in turn sparked a predictably vehement Tory response.24 Although Smalridge claimed that he had merely disliked the phrasing of the declaration and wished to add wording of his own, his refusal was ‘much resented by the court’ and was perceived as an attempt to provide the Tories with an opportunity ‘to render the declaration abortive.’25

At the end of 1715 Smalridge lost his position as lord almoner. His dismissal was, with good reason, attributed to his alleged Jacobite sympathies.26 He continued to attend Parliament registering his protest or dissent on numerous occasions.27 He supported Oxford against impeachment and exchanged proxies almost exclusively with Tory bishops. In 1717 he complained that he was ‘little able to do any the least good in Parliament’ but, nevertheless, promised Oxford that he would attend when necessary.28 His active parliamentary career as a member of the Tory opposition after 1715 will be examined in detail in the next phase of this work.

On 27 Sept. 1719, at the age of 57 and having spent the previous day suffering from intermittent chest pains, Smalridge died suddenly at Christ Church.29 A posthumously published collection of the bishop’s sermons was a literary and financial success. Despite his alleged Jacobitism, in 1732, Queen Caroline remembered Smalridge as ‘one of the greatest honour to the bench but ... timorous’.30 He was buried on 29 Sept. 1719 in Christ Church Cathedral.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/571.
  • 2 HMC Lords, n.s. ix. 176.
  • 3 Nicolson London Diaries, 586, 594.
  • 4 E. Ashmole, Antiq. of Berkshire (1723), I. p. iii; Ath. Ox. iv. 363.
  • 5 Bodl. Ballard 7, passim.
  • 6 G.V. Bennett, The Tory Crisis in Church and State, 1688-1730, 28-29; [G. Smalridge] Animadversions on the Eight Theses laid down, and the Inferences drawn from them (1687).
  • 7 Bodl. Add. A 269, ff. 48-49.
  • 8 HP Commons 1690-1715, iii. 105, 515; iv. 53.
  • 9 Bennett, Tory Crisis, 33-34, 39-42.
  • 10 G. Smalridge, Some Remarks Upon the Temper of the Late Writers about Convocation (1700); Evelyn Diary, v. 394-8; CJ, xiii. 712; G. Smalridge, Sermon Preached Before the Queen (1705);.
  • 11 Ballard 7, f. 5.
  • 12 Ibid. 10, f. 66; Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 5, ff. 239-40.
  • 13 Some Proceedings in the Convocation A.D. 1705 Faithfully Represented (1708); Christ Church Lib. Oxf. Wake 1, f. 172.
  • 14 Church History, xlvii. 386, 388, 389, 394, 395.
  • 15 G. Smalridge, Thoughts of a Country Gentleman Upon Reading Dr Sacheverell’s Trial (1710); Ballard 7, ff. 35-36.
  • 16 Add. 70026, ff. 186-7.
  • 17 G. Smalridge, Speech to the Upper House of Convocation (1714), 12, 17-18.
  • 18 TNA, SP 44/151, f. 206.
  • 19 Haddington mss Mellerstain letters 6. Baillie to his wife, 13, 15 Apr. 1714.
  • 20 Surr. Hist. Cent. Somers 371/14/O/2/60.
  • 21 Add. 4370, ff. 6, 7.
  • 22 HP Commons 1690-1715, ii. 209.
  • 23 Ballard 31, f. 129.
  • 24 Bishop Atterbury’s and Bishop Smalridge’s Reasons for Not Signing the Declaration (1715); Defense of the Right Reverend Bishops of Rochester and Bristol (1716).
  • 25 Bodl. Add. A 269, ff. 45-46; Wake mss 5, ff. 208-9, 210.
  • 26 Surr. Hist. Cent. Somers 371/14/O/2/91.
  • 27 Bodl. Add. A 269, f. 42.
  • 28 Add. 72057, Smalridge to Oxford, 17 Nov. 1717.
  • 29 Ballard 9, f. 142.
  • 30 HMC Egmont Diary, i. 233.