STERNE, Richard (1597-1683)

STERNE, Richard (1597–1683)

cons. 2 Dec. 1660 bp. of CARLISLE; transl. 10 June 1664 abp. of YORK

First sat 20 Nov. 1661; last sat 15 July 1678

b. Apr. 1597, s. of Simon Sterne of Mansfield, Notts. and Margery, da. of Gregory Walker of Mansfield, Notts. educ. Mansfield free sch.; Trinity, Camb. matric. 1611, BA 1615, MA 1618, ord. priest 1621; Corpus Christi, Camb. fell. 1623-33, BD 1625; incorp. Oxf. 1627; Jesus, Camb. DD 1635. m. Elizabeth (c.1617-74), da. of Edward Dickinson, of Farnborough, Hants, 13 ch. incl. 2s. d. 18 June 1683.

Chap. to Charles I 1638.

Chap. to William Laud, abp. of Canterbury 1633; rect. Yeovilton, Som. 1634-45, Harlton, Cambs. 1642-5, 1661.

Master, Jesus, Camb. 1634-44, 1660; schoolmaster, Stevenage, Herts. 1645-60; delegate, Savoy Conference 1661.1

Commr. execution of the Poll Tax Act bef. 1667.2

FRS 1665.

Likenesses: mezzotint by F. Place, after unknown artist, NPG 29521; tomb effigy by Grinling Gibbons, York Minster.

Early career and entry into the episcopate

Born in Mansfield in April 1597, Richard Sterne was descended from an armigerous family reportedly originally from Suffolk, but his branch was not socially elevated and one antiquary judged him to have been of ‘little note by birth’.3 He served as chaplain to both Charles I and William Laud, and was formerly thought to have contributed to the martyrology Eikon Basilike. A number of publications by Richard Allestree, particularly the celebrated The Whole Duty of Man, were wrongly attributed to Sterne. Of his own writings, only a commentary on Psalm 103 and his writing on philosophical logic appear to have survived.4 Unusually for a bishop, he left no published sermons or tracts after his elevation to the episcopate.

Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, described Sterne as ‘a sour, ill-tempered man … [who], minded chiefly the enriching his family’; Sterne on the other hand maintained that he had donated £1,800 of his episcopal revenue towards the augmentation of clerical stipends and that by 1663 he had already spent more than £3,000 on public and charitable projects.5 His annual income at Carlisle was unlikely to have reached the £713 that has been estimated for the diocese in 1688, whereas at York, his income probably approached that of £2,524 estimated for 1692.6 Following a lengthy dilapidations suit relating to the Carlisle episcopal residence, Rose Castle, it emerged that Sterne had spent only £258 on repairs, whilst having at his disposal at least 70 leases which should have generated between £8,000 and £10,000 worth of revenue.7 Sterne’s great-grandson Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, identified the archbishop’s wife as Elizabeth Dickinson; the couple supposedly had 13 children, though only five are known to have reached adulthood.8

Sterne was an anti-Calvinist and, as master of Jesus College, a Cambridge enforcer of Laud’s altar policy. Complaints of his ‘superstitious innovations’ were made in 1642 in the House of Commons.9 After sending university plate to the king to help fund royalist forces, he was committed to the Tower of London in 1642, and then confined to the London home of William Petre, 4th Baron Petre, from January to July 1643 before being transferred to a prison ship at Wapping for ten days, and then to more comfortable imprisonment at Ely House.10 In 1644 he was ejected by Edward Montagu, 2nd earl of Manchester, from his position as master of Jesus and sequestered from his livings. From 8-10 Jan. 1645 Sterne was granted leave by the Commons to attend Laud in the Tower and on the scaffold.11 Sterne’s activities in the remainder of the 1640s and 1650s included assisting Brian Walton, later bishop of Chester, with the Polyglot Bible, and towards the end of the Interregnum he was included in a list of ‘worthy men to be preferred to dignities in the church’ by Edward Hyde, the future earl of Clarendon.12

Following the Restoration, in June 1660 Sterne petitioned the House of Lords for reinstatement to his livings in Yeovilton and Harlton, but was successful in only the latter.13 He was reinstated at Jesus College. On 8 Oct. it was reported that both he and John Barwick had turned down offers of the bishopric of Carlisle.14 As far as Sterne was concerned, this was an error. By 13 Nov. John Cosin, bishop of Durham, referred to him in a letter as bishop of Carlisle.15 Sterne was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 2 Dec. 1660 along with many other new bishops.16

Sterne’s conduct at the Savoy Conference of April to July 1661 was remembered by Richard Baxter with mistrust: ‘he looked so honestly, and gravely, and soberly, that I scarce thought such a face could have deceived me’. His dismissal of Baxter’s use of the term ‘in the Nation’ as the choice of someone who refused to acknowledge that England was a kingdom, and therefore of a traitor, was characteristic of the leadership of an episcopal delegation intent on silencing the pleas of Baxter and others for a broader Church settlement.17

On 20 Aug. 1661 Gilbert Sheldon, bishop of London, requested that Cosin inform Sterne that the king wanted all bishops in London at the beginning of the next parliamentary session.18 Following the passage of legislation restoring bishops to the Lords, Sterne took his seat on 20 Nov. 1661. His parliamentary career was marked by nomination to nearly 150 select committees and to the sessional committees for petitions and privileges, though never to the committee for the Journal. In the 20 sessions held during his episcopate, Sterne attended all but seven (the two brief sessions in October 1665 and October 1673 and those of the Exclusion Parliaments in 1679 and 1680). Of those he did attend, his attendance rarely fell below three-quarters of all sittings and for ten sessions was more than 80 per cent of sittings.

He attended his first session in the Lords for 68 per cent of sittings and was named to 15 select committees. These can be taken as demonstrating the wish to include bishops in both ecclesiastical business and secular matters often with relevance to clerical functions, including that on the bill to prevent vexatious suits on 28 Nov. 1661 and that on the reversal of the attainder of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford on 22 Jan. 1662. He was one of 25 members of the House to register his protest on 6 Feb. 1662 against the passage of the act to restore Charles Stanley, 8th earl of Derby, to the Flintshire manors of Hope, Hopesdale, Mole and Molesdale. On 13 Feb. he was named to the committee on the bankrupts bill, and on 14 Feb. was one of four bishops added to the committee for petitions. On 20 Feb. he was named to the committee on the bill for the better relief and employment of the poor, and on 7 Mar. to that allowing the bishop of London to lease the tenements built on the site of the episcopal palace in the City.

Convocation and Parliament worked concurrently on the uniformity bill and revisions to the Anglican liturgy. On 13 Dec. 1661 Sterne and his colleagues Humphrey Henchman, bishop of London, George Griffith, bishop of St Asaph, and William Nicholson, bishop of Gloucester, with (from the lower house of Convocation) Robert Pory and John Pearson, the future bishop of Chester, and Anthony Sparrow, the future bishop of Exeter, were appointed by Convocation to prepare the written copy of the revised prayer book. On 5 Mar. 1662 Sheldon on behalf of Convocation appointed Sterne, Griffith, and Henry Ferne, bishop of Chester, to consider amendments made to the prayer book by Parliament.19 On 8 May 1662, following debate in a committee of the whole on the uniformity bill, the Lords recommended the alteration of a word in the revised prayer book; Sterne, Cosin and Griffith, on authority from Convocation, corrected the scribal error immediately at the clerk’s table. Sterne attended the session until the prorogation of 19 May 1662.

In anticipation of the next parliamentary session, Seth Ward, then of Exeter, registered his proxy on 31 Jan. 1663 in favour of Sterne (vacated on 30 May 1663). On 18 Feb. 1663, Sterne attended the House for the start of the new session and attended nearly 96 per cent of sittings; he was named to 22 select committees. On 23 Feb. 1663 a bill was introduced into the Lords to allow the king to dispense certain individuals – widely understood to be Catholics – from the Act of Uniformity. Sterne interpreted this as a threat to the Church of England, observing that the Catholics had been ‘forward enough to provoke’ the measure and hoped that the episcopal bench would ‘all do according to our own judgments and consciences’. On 24 Feb. he informed Cosin that Matthew Wren, bishop of Ely, was managing Cosin’s proxy; Sterne, sorry that Cosin was unable to come to Parliament, told him that at least he did not have to experience there at first hand ‘men’s ill affections to the church upon all occasions’.20

Archbishop of York 1663-83

Returning to his diocese after the prorogation at the end of July 1663, Sterne conducted a visitation during the summer months.21 By the following spring, he was back in London and attended the House on 16 Mar. 1664 for the first day of the next session. He attended nearly 98 per cent of sittings and was named to three select committees. At the end of March, Accepted Frewen, archbishop of York died leaving Gilbert Sheldon without one of his most stalwart political allies in the Lords. By 2 Apr. a newsletter was already able to report that Sterne was Frewen’s successor.22 The king’s recommendation that the dean and chapter elect Sterne archbishop was made on 10 Apr.; the congé d’élire was formally executed on 12 Apr. and a copy sent by Sterne to William Sancroft, then dean of York and the future archbishop of Canterbury, on 19 April.23 On 21 Apr. Thomas Burwell, on behalf of Sheldon, assured Sancroft that it was permissible to elect Sterne even before Frewen’s funeral.24 Sterne assured Sancroft that he would ‘not press the execution of [his appointment] sooner than shall be fit’, but followed this with two further letters protesting that he had not intended ‘to hasten either [the] election or the return of it further than might stand with your own convenience’ and that his wife had failed to provide their servants with sufficient funds to maintain the archiepiscopal household at Bishopsthorpe having assumed that they would have been able to move to York far more quickly than was proving possible. Sterne hoped to delay his arrival in York until after the assizes and anticipated arriving at Bishopsthorpe at the end of July.25 Relying on Sancroft to keep him informed of provincial and diocesan affairs while he remained in London, Sterne continued to attend the House until the last day of the session on 17 May.26 Sterne spent part of the autumn discussing with Sancroft how to determine his legal rights relating to the fees and rents due upon the archbishop’s estate.27

On 24 Nov. 1664 Sterne took his seat at the start of the new session as archbishop of York and attended 91 per cent of sittings. He was named to four select committees. On 1 Mar. 1665 he was one of those appointed to attend the king and request a national fast. The following day he attended the House for the prorogation. He returned to Bishopsthorpe where on 5 July he confirmed to Sheldon that he had obeyed the king’s instructions regarding a census of hospitals and catalogue of livings.28 He also circulated to the bishops of his province the royal directions for a special collection for the support of those places afflicted by the plague.29 On 8 Aug. he extended hospitality to James Stuart, duke of York and his duchess during their progress of the north, making the reception ‘the most honourable of the whole journey’ and attending the duke in Tadcaster.30

On 9 Sept. 1665 he informed Cosin that he would seek permission to absent himself from the imminent Parliament in Oxford: ‘it is a long journey, dangerous travelling, and I believe there will rather want room than company at Oxford.’31 On 18 Sept. he again wrote to Cosin with the news that Sheldon intended to obtain leave for ‘remote’ bishops not to attend the Oxford Parliament as long as they sent their proxies; bishops intending to stay away should send blank proxies since there would be insufficient lords spiritual in attendance to receive all the necessary proxies.32 It is unclear how Sterne and Sheldon intended to employ these episcopal proxies, but on 25 Sept. 1665 Sterne duly registered his own proxy to Gilbert Sheldon (vacated at the end of the October 1665 session). On 19 Oct. 1665 it was noted at a call of the House that Sterne had been excused attendance by the king and had registered his proxy.

On 19 Mar. 1666 Sterne told Cosin that he had received a letter from Sheldon commanding ‘all of us’ to attend the first day of the new parliamentary session; Sterne, who was required in London to preach on Palm Sunday, intended to set out the following week and hoped the Lords would enjoy a ‘happy meeting’.33 He attended the House on 23 Apr. for the formal prorogation, but was not present on 18 Sept. for the start of business. On 1 Oct. it was noted that he was excused attendance. He finally resumed his seat on 8 Oct., attended 84 per cent of sittings and was named to 11 select committees. Maintaining frequent correspondence with Cosin, he forwarded the Privy Council order of November for a collection for the City.34 Sterne chaired the select committee on the Durham lead mines bill on 3 and 16 Jan. 1667 (he did so again in the following session, on 27 Nov.).35 On 23 Jan., during the debate on naturalization, Sterne defended Dr Isaac Basire, archdeacon of Northumberland, who had been accused of failing to pray for the king in his capacity as king of France. Sterne argued that this was the revenge of Humphrey Wharton, ‘who contended with [Basire], about tithes, and who … was lately frustrated of his designs at a committee.’36 He continued to attend the House until the last day of the session on 8 Feb. and returned to York until the end of July.37 During this time, at some point before 31 May Edward Rainbowe, Sterne’s successor at Carlisle, petitioned the king concerning his dilapidations suit against Sterne, for his failure to repair Rose Castle during his tenure as bishop of Carlisle, complaining that he was unable to pursue the matter in Sterne’s own episcopal courts.38

On 17 July 1667 it was reported that Sterne was about to return to London.39 He was present in the Lords for the prorogation on 29 July, and then returned north to conduct a visitation. Sterne missed the first six days of the following session, first attending the House on 16 October. He attended 81 per cent of sittings and was named to 15 select committees. He also sat on the committee for privileges from which he reported on 22 October. The committee had debated the matter of whether the serjeant-at-arms could arrest a peer (‘imprisoned by attachment’) outside of privilege of Parliament for contempt of a chancery decree. Sterne informed the House that the committee had examined the parliamentary order of 14 Eliz. (made after advice from the judiciary and queen’s counsel on the arrest of Henry Cromwell, 2nd Baron Cromwell) which had deemed Cromwell’s arrest as

derogatory and prejudicial to the ancient privileges claimed to belong to the said lords of this realm; with this proviso nevertheless ... that if at any time after there shall be shewed sufficient matter, that by the prerogative, or by any statute, or by the common law, or sufficient precedents, the persons of any of the Lords of Parliament ought in such case to be attached, then that to take place which so shall be shewed and warranted.

Having also examined precedents of arrests of peers, he reported that most occurred during the reign of James I, but none of them before the date of the Elizabethan parliamentary order. The committee for privileges concluded that some lords had submitted to arrest unaware of their rights; the House should now make a declaration ‘that the Lords of Parliament ought to enjoy their ancient and due privileges; and their persons to be free from such attachments. … And for that it is necessary to have some settled course in the Chancery, to compel a Lord of Parliament to perform trusts, and the like’. The House accepted the committee’s report.

On 13 Nov. 1667 Humphrey Henchman (an old friend of Sterne), registered his proxy in Sterne’s favour; it was cancelled on 11 Aug. 1668.40 Two weeks later, the select committee on the lead mines bill voted by a large majority to pass the bill’s preamble and formed a subcommittee of Sterne, Richard Sackville, 5th earl of Dorset, Oliver St John, earl of Bolingbroke, and Seth Ward, to draw up a new clause.41 On 11 and 17 Mar. 1668 Sterne was added to the select committee on the bill concerning administrators’ accounts and to the sessional committee for petitions. The House was adjourned on 9 May and Sterne attended for the last time that session; he did not return for the repeated adjournments up to the prorogation of 1 Mar. 1669. During the summer Sterne conducted both a metropolitan visitation of the diocese of Chester and a census of Nonconformist meetings throughout the northern province, the latter following a request from the king for information on Nonconformists in every diocese following the expiry of the first Conventicle Act.42 The summer months were also occupied with the ongoing dilapidations suit between Sterne and Rainbowe. Rainbowe’s petition of 1667was mislaid for more than 12 months, possibly suggesting pressure by or on behalf of Sterne.43 Sterne considered obtaining a private act to resolve the issue when, after a period of consultation, Rainbowe’s petition for a commission was granted.44 On 18 July 1669 a royal commission, with ‘all powers of coercion used in ecclesiastical causes’, was named to summon Sterne and Rainbowe before them in the dilapidations case. The 15 commissioners included a number of judges together with William Craven, earl of Craven, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley (later earl of Shaftesbury), John Lucas, Baron Lucas of Shenfield, Benjamin Laney, bishop of Ely, John Dolben, bishop of Rochester, and Henchman.45 Sterne did not, as Rainbowe had feared, stand on his privilege of Parliament to obstruct the proceedings.46 The commission worked painfully slowly, appointing a subcommission of Commons members and regional magnates.47 Meanwhile, on 19 Oct., Sterne attended the House for the first day of the new parliamentary session and attended 97 per cent of sittings. He was named to two select committees in the brief session and attended for the prorogation on 11 December. He was again present on 14 Feb. 1670 for the start of the next session, attended 96 per cent of sittings and was nominated to 32 select committees. Confident that the session would be favourable to the Church, he wrote on 4 Mar. to the dean of York, Robert Hitch, that ecclesiastical affairs would ‘go on well, and be finished before Easter’ when the king intended a prorogation.48

Sterne vigorously opposed the private bill which had been introduced into the Lords to enable John Manners, then styled Lord Roos (later duke of Rutland), to remarry. Even more than the divorce bill itself, Sterne found it ‘yet stranger’ that one of the episcopal bench should speak in favour of it, although another five (all that were permitted to speak in the time available) were firmly against.49 Indeed not one, but two bishops, Cosin and John Wilkins, bishop of Chester, spoke for the bill while Sterne and Sheldon led the remaining bishops in opposition.50 On 17 Mar. 1670 Sterne spoke in the debate on the second reading; his speech is blended with those of others in the record, which uses both arguments from the New Testament and from the councils of the early Church.51 Following the division, he signed the protest against the resolution that the bill be read a second time. On 24 Mar., perhaps for the final vote on the Roos divorce bill, he received Sheldon’s proxy; it was cancelled on 7 April. Meanwhile, on 28 Mar. Sterne registered his dissent against the final passage of the bill.

It is unclear how Sterne spent the summer months of 1670 during the adjournment from 11 Apr. to 24 Oct. but it is likely that he returned to Bishopsthorpe. On 3 Sept. he supported the petition of Thomas Ellis of Whitby who sought possession of a nonconformist meeting house in the town as reward for, and to further facilitate, his efforts in suppressing Dissenters under the terms of the second Conventicle Act.52 After the House resumed in October, Sterne again attended regularly and was active in committee business. In spring 1671, following the petition to the king against the growing strength of Catholicism, a select committee met on 13 Apr. and appointed a subcommittee of 15, including Sterne, to draw up a test which ‘being taken may obtain a mitigation of the penalties of the law following conviction to such recusants’.53

Sterne had learned the previous September that Dolben intended to conduct a building survey of Rose Castle.54 On 16 Sept. 1671 the commissioners’ report largely supported Sterne’s defence of his alterations of the castle. Rainbowe had accused him of delaying tactics and of increasing repair costs by robbing out stonemasonry, which Sterne denied and which a subcommission also rejected, arguing that all the stone Sterne had removed had been used elsewhere in the castle.55 By 1672, an exasperated Sir Daniel Fleming advised mediation on political grounds: bishops, as a body, had ‘opposers enough without contending with one another’.56 Sterne, who had taken over a reconstruction plan from the castle’s lay occupant under the Protectorate, pleaded the 1661 Act of Indemnity in his defence and eventually offered £400 towards further repairs of Rose Castle chapel.57

Following John Cosin’s death, Sterne determined to claim jurisdiction over the chapter of Durham during the episcopal vacancy.58 By January 1673 a jurisdictional dispute with the Durham chapter was well underway, the dean of Durham, Dr John Sudbury, seeking Sancroft’s advice as to whether he could serve Sterne ‘with the rule’ while Parliament was sitting and thus while Sterne enjoyed parliamentary privilege.59 The dean also wanted to ensure that the subsequent legal hearing did not take place in Cumberland since Sterne’s former authority there as bishop of Carlisle could prejudice the case against Durham.60 The outcome of the dispute is unclear, but the see of Durham remained vacant until the appointment in 1674 of Nathaniel Crew, who would also become 3rd Baron Crew in 1697.

Sterne did not set out for the next session of Parliament until 3 Feb. 1673.61 On 13 Feb., nine days after the start of the session, it was noted at a call of the House that he was still en route. He arrived at Westminster on 18 Feb., attended 68 per cent of sittings and was named to just one select committee, on Elwaies’ bill on 21 Mar. He attended the House until 29 Mar., when Parliament was adjourned to the following October, and then returned to Bishopsthorpe. The prorogation of 20 Oct. (to the following week) ensured the loss of the bill for the ease of Dissenters. Writing to Sheldon on 25 Oct., Sterne hoped that the bill was now ‘at an end for this time, and that it will never proceed so far again’.62 He asked Sheldon whether he should return to London if ‘there be nothing for us to do at Westminster’ since he would have to travel with a costly entourage, ‘the greatest part of my family, about thirty’; he was already renting the house of Sir Thomas Ingram as a London residence at £3 per week if absent and £6 per week if resident.63 Sheldon demanded that Sterne press on for Parliament, but bad weather presumably led to Sterne’s absence from the autumn session.64

Nevertheless, Sterne did travel to London over the winter and on 7 Jan. 1674 was present for the first day of the brief session. He attended nearly three-quarters of all sittings, was named to one select committee (on encouraging manufactures) and was present for the prorogation on 24 February. Following Sterne’s taking of the oaths (on 13 Jan.), news began to circulate of an ‘odd story of [Sterne’s] faltering in the statutory declaration against transubstantiation’, a tale which fanned suspicions that Sterne had Romish sympathies.65

On 31 Oct. 1674 Sterne was named to the royal commission to advise the king on the interests of the Church and the security of the Protestant religion.66 Sterne next appeared in the Lords on 19 Apr. 1675, six days after the start of the session. He attended 81 per cent of sittings and was named to 11 select committees. Sterne had missed the first reading, on 15 Apr., of the bill to prevent the dangers from disaffected persons, but attended throughout the attempt to pass the bill, accepting the proxies of both Sheldon (on 27 Apr.) and Henchman (on 6 May). Both were vacated at the end of the session. On 27 May Sterne was appointed as one of the managers of the conference with the Commons on their privileges. He attended until the last day of the session on 9 June. Sterne was at Westminster on 13 Oct. for the start of the next parliamentary session, during which he attended 95 per cent of sittings and was named to three select committees. On 22 Nov. he attended for the prorogation (to February 1677) and subsequently returned to Bishopsthorpe.

As archbishop of York, Sterne had inherited an electoral interest in the liberty of Ripon. Since the Restoration, the corporation of Ripon had been attempting to ward off the archbishopric’s attempt to reassert its authority. Led by Sir Edmund Jennings, the resistance intensified under Sterne’s tenure of York, particularly after Sterne’s attempted (and ultimately unsuccessful) revival of the borough court in 1675, which resulted in lengthy proceedings in the courts of exchequer and chancery.67 The corporation’s attempt to quash Sterne’s interference through a quo warranto was equally unsuccessful and bad relations were further exacerbated when Sir Jonathan Jennings(Edmund’s brother) killed Sterne’s registrar, George Aislabie, in a duel in 1675.68 Sterne’s determination to dominate Ripon was also evident in his dispute over the presentation and induction to the deanery of Ripon and his insistence on preserving his metropolitan rights against the incumbent dean, John Neile, who argued that the king’s mandate was sent directly to the chapter and not to the archbishop of York.69 By 29 Jan. 1677, Sterne was preparing to return to Westminster but was preoccupied with his ‘franchises and liberties’ in the new Ripon quo warranto, complaining to Sheldon of the activities of the Jennings brothers, together with the abrasive Thomas Cartwright, the future bishop of Chester, Neile’s successor but one as dean of Ripon from 1676, who was their ‘great confidant’.70 Cartwright, also a canon of Durham, had a close and lasting relationship with the Jennings family. In a letter to Thomas Belasyse, 2nd Viscount Fauconberg of 26 Dec. 1679 he would criticize Sterne’s changes to the commission of the peace as ‘prejudicial both to the king and church’.71

Sterne returned to the House on 15 Feb. 1677 for the start of business after the controversially lengthy prorogation. He attended the session for 94 per cent of sittings and was named to 25 select committees. On 13 Mar. he again received Sheldon’s proxy (vacated with Sheldon’s death). For Sterne, as for many members of the upper House concerned to protect their estates from the results of unlawful marriages, especially of minors, one of his most pressing concerns this session was his bill against incestuous marriages.72 The bill was a response to the ruling in the case Harrison v. Burwell, which had established a precedent for the temporal courts’ prohibition of prosecution by ecclesiastical courts.73 Sterne’s bill was introduced to the House on 22 Mar. and given its first reading. The following day he was named to the select committee. His draft proved unworkable, and on 27 Mar. the House ordered that the committee proceed only on that part of the bill relating to incestuous, and not to unlawful marriages (the lord chief justice of common pleas, Sir Francis North, later Baron Guilford, was ordered to prepare a separate bill). Three days later Sterne reported from the committee and the bill, having passed the Lords, was sent down to the Commons on 31 March. By June the Commons had still not committed it. Even its first reading in the lower House, according to Sterne, had been opposed by the Speaker of the Commons, Edward Seymour. On 7 June the outraged archbishop sought a private conversation with the chief justice of King’s Bench (Sir Richard Rainsford), informing Rainsford that he thought it,

strange that Westminster Hall should control the law of God, and the laws not only of this but of all other churches and nations of the Christian world ... and that if they did stop our proceedings by prohibitions, and hinder us from correcting what themselves could not correct by divorce or otherwise, the sin must lie at their door. That though here had been many incestuous marriages presented and prosecuted in our courts, yet this was the second that had been taken out of our hands by prohibition since his majesties’ happy return. That the former (viz. Harrison’s case) being carried with so high a hand, and the report thereof set forth in print with so great authority might, if it had had no check, have gone unto a law, and so also might this!74

Sterne had assumed that, having passed the Lords, his bill would meet with no opposition in the Commons. That it did perhaps reflected both political naivety and the hostility that could be engendered by Sterne’s assertion of his privileges and those of the higher clergy. His bill never reached the statute book, and a new bill against blasphemy and incestuous marriages was ordered in May 1678, but that too failed in the Commons.75

As Sheldon’s death approached, a newsletter of 14 Nov. 1677 reported that Sterne had been offered and ‘refused’ the see of Canterbury.76 Sir Robert Southwell wrote to James Butler, duke of Ormond [I], earl of Brecknock, on 20 Nov. that Henry Compton, bishop of London, supported Sterne’s appointment on the grounds that Sterne, older than Sheldon, would die shortly and provide a clearer field for Compton.77 However, William Sancroft, dean of St Paul’s, and formerly dean of York, was named to Canterbury instead. Sterne continued to attend Parliament and on 29 Jan. 1678, the day of the adjournment, joined a group of nine including James, duke of York, Sancroft and Compton to dissent from the vote to release from custody of Philip Herbert, 7th earl of Pembroke.

During February Sterne continued to be engaged in the case of incestuous marriages, communicating with the lords chief justice on two specific cases in which he had an interest; uncertain whether he would remain in London until the Easter term, he planned to attend both legal cases, in the hope that ‘with deserved success’ he would put an end to all incestuous marriages thereafter.78 By 22 Feb. 1678 Sterne boasted to a colleague that his involvement in three ‘controversies’ was vital for the ‘public concerns of the Church’. Besides the two suits concerning incestuous marriages (one in King’s Bench, the other in Common Pleas), he had another suit in the exchequer about the clergy’s tenths. Expending time and money engaging counsel in the two marital causes, Sterne had already decided that he would evade any unfavourable judgment by bringing a writ of error into the House of Lords, ‘who have already in passing the bill which I brought in, judged it to be incestuous and therefore I hope if it come before them in their judiciary capacity they will be of the same mind as they were in their legislative’. Angered by the Commons’ rejection of his bill before committal, he argued he would

never trouble them with the like again, but do it without them, or let both the foul and horrid incestuous marriages which shall be made and the bastards which shall be thereby begotten, and the injustice in defrauding the lawful heirs, and transferring their rights to others, lie at the doors of such as shall be the causes thereof, whosoever they be; whiles we (I hope) shall deliver our own souls, and vindicate the honour of our Church from the scandal which shall thereupon ensue.79

On 26 Feb. he repeated his tirade that the Commons should be ashamed of their actions and that he would conduct his business ‘better without them, either in Westminster Hall, or in the House of Lords’. He remained confident that both lords chief justice shared his opinion and that even an unfavourable judgment in the courts would be to his advantage since a writ of error in the Lords would certainly succeed and the case ‘be fixed for ever, and no man will dare ever so move for a prohibition more’.80

Despite his 81 years, Sterne sustained a heavy workload both in and out of Parliament. On 9 Mar. 1678 he was appointed to help manage both conferences on the better regulation of fishing and on 14 Mar. was added to the select committee on the bill concerning King’s Bench and the warden of the Fleet. With Parliament disrupted by disputes between the Houses on tacking and foreign affairs, Sterne attended on 13 May for the prorogation and again on 23 May for the start of the new session. The same day he spoke again to both lords chief justice to determine the timescale for the two marital causes, arguing against being ‘put to the charge of a lawyer to plead for that which was foreknown to be incestuous’. Reporting to his diocesan colleague that both the king and lord chancellor (Heneage Finch, Baron Finch, later earl of Nottingham) had spoken to Parliament, he thought the printing of the speeches which would ‘give good satisfaction to all moderate and reasonable men.’81 Sterne attended the House for the prorogation on 15 July. It would be his final sitting in the Lords. On 12 Oct. Sterne gave his proxy to Compton in anticipation of the new session.82 Sterne never returned to Parliament.

Following the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament on 24 Jan. 1679, Sterne deployed his electoral interest in Ripon to secure the election, on 11 Feb., of his eldest son Richard Sterne. The archbishop did not attend either of the Exclusion Parliaments but was entered as a possible preacher at court for Palm Sunday, 13 Apr., though he did not return to London.83 On 9 May it was noted in the House that he was excused attendance. Following the dissolution on 12 July, Sterne again secured the election of his son at Ripon.

On 27 Feb. 1680 he wrote to Sancroft bemoaning his difficulties in raising contributions for the construction of St Paul’s, which he attributed to the fact that bishops were ‘now themselves set up as the mark to be shot at’.84 He remained at Bishopsthorpe and on 30 Oct. it was noted that he was sick and excused attendance. Following the brief Oxford session of Parliament in March 1681, Sterne received from the king an order that the recent royal declaration dissolving Parliament be read from all pulpits in the province.85 Sterne supported with vigour the subsequent clampdown on Dissent that marked the Tory reaction.86

On 13 Dec. 1682 Henry Bennett, earl of Arlington informed Sancroft that he or Sterne was expected to preach at court on Palm Sunday 1683, but there can have been no serious intention that Sterne would do so. 87 Sterne was reported as dead on at least one occasion – indeed, on 10 Feb. 1683 Roger Morrice thought it worth noting that ‘The archbishop of York is not dead’ – and by the same month it was anticipated that his death would be accompanied by a major reshuffle in the Church hierarchy.88 Despite protestations by John Lake, then bishop of Sodor and Man, that although Sterne may have been ‘buried ... alive’ in London he was ‘very well’, Sterne died four months later on 18 June 1683 at Bishopthorpe.89 His son Richard communicated the news to Sancroft that Sterne had died ‘of a lethargy which continued three days’.90 Two weeks after his death, Roger Morrice could state confidently that Sterne would be succeeded by John Dolben, bishop of Rochester.91 Sterne was buried in St Stephen’s Chapel of York Minster.


  • 1 Bodl. Tanner 282, f. 35.
  • 2 Bodl. Carte 35, f. 319.
  • 3 W. Hutchinson, Hist. and Antiq. of Carlisle (1796), 50; Add. 5849, f. 219v.
  • 4 R. Sterne, Brief Commentary upon the ciij Psalme (1649); R. Sterne, Summa logicæ partim (1685).
  • 5 Burnet, History, ii. 427; Tanner 144, f. 8.
  • 6 Hirschberg, ‘Episcopal Incomes’, 214-16.
  • 7 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 263, 264.
  • 8 Works of Laurence Sterne (1853), 3; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxi. 92-97.
  • 9 W. Prynne, Canterburies Doome (1644); HMC 5th Rep. 24.
  • 10 HMC 5th Rep. 49, 60, 62; LJ, v. 364-5; PA, HL/PO/JO/10/1/133, petition of Sept. 1642; CJ, iii. 204-6; J.H. Todd, Mems. of the Life and Writings of the Right Reverend Brian Walton, i. 294-8; PA, HL/PO/JO/10/1/229, petition of Mar. 1647.
  • 11 CJ, iv. 12-13.
  • 12 Eg. 2542, f. 267.
  • 13 HMC 7th Rep. 101, 108.
  • 14 CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 308.
  • 15 Tanner 49, f. 36, J. Cosin to W. Sancroft.
  • 16 Ibid. 378, f. 90.
  • 17 Reliquiae Baxterianae, 338.
  • 18 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1a, 79.
  • 19 Swainson, Parl. Hist. 16, 20-21.
  • 20 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, n. 100.
  • 21 Articles to be Enquired of in the Diocese of Carlisle (1663).
  • 22 Tanner 47, f. 111.
  • 23 CSP Dom. 1663-4, pp. 551, 553; Harl. 3784 f. 168.
  • 24 Tanner 47, ff. 111-12; Tanner 150, ff. 61, 63.
  • 25 Harl. 3784, ff. 168, 170, 184.
  • 26 Tanner 150, f. 71.
  • 27 Ibid. ff. 73, 83, 90.
  • 28 Add. 4274, f. 258.
  • 29 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, 128.
  • 30 Add. 75354, ff. 38-39; CSP Dom. 1664-5, p. 506.
  • 31 Cosin Corresp. ii. 134.
  • 32 Ibid. 137.
  • 33 Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, 142.
  • 34 Ibid. Mickleton and Spearman ms 20, f. 19.
  • 35 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/2, pp. 140, 156, 213-15.
  • 36 Basire Corresp. 253.
  • 37 Tanner 150, ff. 118, 120.
  • 38 Bodl. Add. C 304a, f. 39.
  • 39 Tanner 150, f. 118.
  • 40 Harl. 3784, f. 152.
  • 41 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/2, pp. 213-5.
  • 42 Articles to be Enquired of in the Metropolitical Visitation of … Richard… Lord Arch-bishop of York (1669); Add. 19399, f. 107; Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. Coventry 7, f. 227; HMC Le Fleming, 64.
  • 43 CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 75.
  • 44 Add. 72520, ff. 32-33; Bodl. Add. C302, ff. 256-66; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 379.
  • 45 CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 414.
  • 46 Bodl. Add. C 302, f. 256r.
  • 47 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 256-66.
  • 48 Add. 4274, f. 260.
  • 49 Add. 4274, f. 260; LJ, xii. 300-1.
  • 50 Cosin Corresp. ii. 233n; Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 5a, 65.
  • 51 Harris, Sandwich ii. 318-24 (app. H).
  • 52 CSP Dom. 1670 and Addenda 1660-70, p. 418.
  • 53 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/2, p. 451.
  • 54 Harl. 3785, f. 263.
  • 55 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 257-8, 259, 261, 263.
  • 56 HMC Le Fleming, 91.
  • 57 Nicolson and Burn, Hist. Westmld. and Cumb. (1777), 290-91; S. Jefferson, Hist. and Antiq. of Carlisle, 379.
  • 58 Carte 128, ff. 350, 352-7, 372.
  • 59 Tanner 144, f. 103.
  • 60 Ibid. 144, f. 112.
  • 61 Ibid. 144, f. 85.
  • 62 Ibid. 42, f. 46.
  • 63 Ibid. 42, f. 46.
  • 64 Harl. 7377, f. 49v.
  • 65 Add. 4274, f. 127.
  • 66 CSP Dom. 1673-5, p. 390.
  • 67 HMC 6th Rep. 362.
  • 68 Ripon Millenary Rec. ed. Harrison, ii. 67, 755.
  • 69 CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 71.
  • 70 Tanner 40, f. 42.
  • 71 HMC Var. Coll. ii. 167-8.
  • 72 HMC 9th Rep. ii. 97-98, 90-91.
  • 73 English Reports, cxxiv. 1039-60.
  • 74 Glos. Archives D3549/6/4/11.
  • 75 LJ, xiii. 82-86, 88, 91-94, 226-7.
  • 76 Carte 79, ff. 142-3.
  • 77 HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 381.
  • 78 Glos. Archives D3549/6/4/11, 18 Feb. 1678.
  • 79 Ibid. 22 Feb. 1678.
  • 80 Ibid. 26 Feb. 1678.
  • 81 Ibid. 23 May 1678.
  • 82 Carte 81, f. 364.
  • 83 Tanner 39, f. 12.
  • 84 Ibid. 38, f. 130.
  • 85 CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 237; LPL, ms 943, f. 827.
  • 86 CSP Dom. Jan.-June 1683, p. 21.
  • 87 Tanner 35, f. 142.
  • 88 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 349; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 527; Carte 222, ff. 316-17; Tanner 35, f. 182.
  • 89 Tanner 35, f. 189.
  • 90 Ibid. 34, f. 47.
  • 91 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 375.