STILLINGFLEET, Edward (1635-99)

STILLINGFLEET, Edward (1635–99)

cons. 13 Oct. 1689 bp. of WORCESTER

First sat 21 Oct. 1689; last sat 19 Dec. 1698

b. 17 Apr. 1635, 7th s. of Samuel Stillingfleet of Cranborne, Dorset, and Susanna, da. of Edward Norris of Petworth, Suss. educ. Cranborne sch. (Thomas Garden), Ringwood sch.; St John’s, Camb. matric. 1648, BA 1653, fell. 1653, MA 1656, BD 1663, DD 1668; incorp. Oxf. 1657; adm. G. Inn 1669.1 m. (1) 1659, Andrea (d. bef. 1664), da. of William Dobyns of Dumbleton, bencher, L. Inn, 1s. 2da. d.v.p.; (2) Elizabeth (d.1697), da. of Sir Nicholas Pedley, sjt.-at-law, 1s. 1da. (5 ch. d.v.p.)2 d. 27 Mar. 1699;3 will 4 Apr. 1698, pr. 20 Apr. 1699.4

Chap. to Charles II 1665-85, to James II 1685-9, to William III and Mary II 1689.5

Chap. to Sir Roger Burgoyne, bt. 1654; tutor, Robert Pierrepoint; rect. Sutton, Beds. 1658-65, St Andrew’s Holborn 1665-89; preacher Rolls chapel 1665; reader of the Temple c.1665; canon St Paul’s 1667-89, Canterbury 1669-89; adn. London 1677-89; dean St Paul’s 1678-89; prolocutor lower house of Convocation 1678, 1679.6

Commr. rebuilding St Paul’s Cathedral 1673, liturgy 1689, Irish church 1690,7 to visit charitable hospitals in the provinces 1691,8 to visit London hospitals 1691,9 works at St Paul’s 1692,10 eccles. appointments 1695,11 charitable uses 1695.12

Mbr. Soc. Reform. Manners 1691.

Also associated with: Park Street Westminster.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by Mary Beale, bef. 1689, St Paul’s Cathedral, London; oil on canvas, attrib. to Mary Beale c.1690, NPG 1389.

‘The famous Stillingfleet’

Although a devout Anglican Stillingfleet respected the validity of other forms of Protestant worship. As a consequence, he has been labelled a ‘latitudinarian’ (and by implication whiggish), despite his evolving political stance and his parliamentary behaviour as bishop of Worcester.13 Descended from a Yorkshire family who had settled in Dorset, Stillingfleet was admitted to St John’s, Cambridge in 1649 after being nominated to a scholarship by William Cecil, 2nd earl of Salisbury. During the Interregnum he was covertly ordained by the deprived bishop Ralph Brownrigg of Exeter. In 1654 he entered the household of Sir Roger Burgoyne who then presented him to his first clerical living.14 He conformed at the Restoration. It is difficult to determine Stillingfleet’s economic status, but in 1689 he assessed his personal estate for taxation purposes at £1,000.15

Stillingfleet made his mark as a theologian during the Interregnum with his most famous treatise, Irenicum (first published in 1659), advocating unity between the Church and Presbyterians. Although he later distanced himself from the work, his erastian views on the relationship between Church and state (on the grounds that scripture fails to define absolutely any form of Church government) remained unaltered.16 Irenicum was still a talking point at the Restoration, when Stillingfleet’s diocesan, Robert Sanderson, bishop of Lincoln, was astonished to discover that its author was still so young.17

Stillingfleet’s closest intellectual and ecclesiastical associates in the 1660s were Robert Boyle, Sir Edward Harley, Edward Reynolds, bishop of Norwich, Gilbert Burnet, later bishop of Salisbury, and John Wilkins, bishop of Chester.18 Yet his name was invariably linked with that of his friend and ally John Tillotson, the future archbishop of Canterbury. Picked as preacher of the Rolls Chapel by master of the Rolls, Sir Harbottle Grimston, he also established close connections with a number of prominent lawyers, including Sir Matthew Hale (with whom he was involved in drawing up proposals for comprehension in 1668), and Chief Justice John Vaughan, at whose funeral he later preached.19 He was also taken up by Humphrey Henchman, bishop of London, who encouraged him in anti-Catholic apologetics, including the massive Origines Sacrae or a Rational Account of the Grounds of the Christian Faith (1662), followed by A Rational Account of the Grounds of the Protestant Religion (1665), a defence of the position of William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, in his controversy with the Jesuit Fisher. According to Burnet, no other controversial tracts ‘were so much read and valued’, although the diarist John Evelyn found his earlier style somewhat ‘perplext’.20 By 1665 the thirty year old Stillingfleet was preaching at court, where his acquaintance from Cambridge, Samuel Pepys, heard ‘the most plain, honest, good, grave sermon, in the most unconcerned and easy yet substantial manner, that I ever heard in my life’.21 Already ‘the famous Stillingfleet’, he was reported to be ‘regaled … with monies to a great value’ by the king and Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury, and recommended by Henchman to the lord treasurer, Thomas Wriothesley, 4th earl of Southampton, who owned the advowson of the prestigious rectory of St Andrew’s, Holborn.22 Stillingfleet was appointed to the parish in 1665 (though he was said initially to have turned down the place ‘disapproving of pluralities’); he preached Southampton’s funeral sermon in 1667.23 In October 1666 he preached the fast sermon for the Great Fire before the Commons, he was read constantly by Mary Rich, countess of Warwick, and became required reading by the likes of Andrew Marvell and Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton.24 By 1669 there was standing room only at St Andrew’s, despite criticism from some more ‘sober Christians’ in the parish who complained that Stillingfleet was given to extempore prayer and deviations from the Prayer Book.25 In 1670 the king directed the chapter of St Paul’s to promote Stillingfleet as soon as a vacancy arose since he had ‘done great service … in defence of Christian truth’. The same year there were reports that Stillingfleet was to succeed as master of Trinity Cambridge.26

Despite Stillingfleet’s youth (in 1670 he was only 35 years old), in the autumn of 1672 it was rumoured that he had already been elevated to the episcopate.27 Although the rumours were premature, his involvement in ecclesiastical politics was already apparent. As well as his involvement in the comprehension scheme of 1668, he was commissioned to try to argue Quaker William Penn out of his blasphemous opinions in the Tower of London in 1669.28 Burnet claimed that Stillingfleet was privy to the financial arrangements between leading Presbyterians and the court, whereby they were given pensions in return for their quiescence in the wake of the Declaration of Indulgence.29 By then Stillingfleet had become even more prominent in polemics with Roman Catholics. A Discourse concerning the Idolatry Practised in the Church of Rome published in 1671 was Stillingfleet’s answer to two questions which had been posed for him by an unnamed potential female convert to Catholicism in an attempt to keep her in the Church of England. A response by Hugh Cressy occasioned a reply from the exiled Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon; the woman concerned may have been Clarendon’s daughter, the duchess of York; certainly Stillingfleet was involved in attempts to reconvert James Stuart, duke of York, to the Church of England. 30 The pamphlet battle with Catholic polemicists occasioned by A Discourse concerning the Idolatry went on for some time.31 Stillingfleet’s answer, licensed in April 1673, to various of the responses occasioned by his earlier Rational Account of the Grounds of the Protestant Religion was dedicated to the lord chancellor, Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury.32 Stillingfleet was also actively engaged in the business of Parliament (in the preparation of bills, preaching to the Commons, and as an expert on canon law and the constitution) from the early 1660s. On 21 Sept. 1673 he preached an anti-Catholic sermon at the Guildhall.33 It was repeated before the Commons on 5 November; the two men deputed to thank him for it, Sir John Monson and William Stockdale, were outspoken against the duke of York and popish counsellors. The printed sermon was in circulation almost immediately.34 In October 1673 the king dispensed with Stillingfleet’s residence in Canterbury on account of ‘public service imposed on him by the House of Commons’.35

Throughout the 1670s Stillingfleet remained involved in comprehension schemes, although he had become closer to the conservative position taken by Simon Patrick, later successively bishop of Chichester and Ely, than to the more inclusive position preferred by Wilkins.36 His reputation as a friend of nonconformity was belied by his evolving arguments for a narrow comprehension that would change the Anglican constitution as little as possible. Between 1673 and 1675, at the instigation of George Morley, bishop of Winchester, and Seth Ward, bishop of Salisbury, and with the mediation of Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery [I], Stillingfleet and Tillotson were considered the most likely candidates to broker a deal on comprehension.37 With Richard Baxter and other prominent nonconformists, they prepared various drafts of a ‘healing’ bill to Morley’s narrow requirements.38 Introduced into the Lords on 13 Feb. 1674 and committed to a committee of the whole on 19 Feb., the bill ‘for composing differences in religion, and inviting sober and peaceably-minded Dissenters into the service of the Church’ was doomed to failure. There was fierce opposition from within the episcopate and it was lost with the prorogation five days after its committal.

Dean of St Paul’s, 1678-91

Stillingfleet’s status did not preclude condemnation of the immorality of the court: on 24 Feb. 1675 he alluded in a sermon to the satirical writings of John Wilmot, 2nd earl of Rochester, a sermon heard by, among others, Arthur Annesley, earl of Anglesey.39 In 1678 he succeeded William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, as dean of St Paul’s. His continuing vehement anti-Catholicism and public debate with Catholic priests led to rumours of a projected attempt at assassination during the Popish Plot. His parishioners even set up a bodyguard for him.40 His fast sermon to the Commons on 13 Nov. 1678 placed the blame for the Plot squarely on the parlous state of national morality; the sermon sold 4,000 copies on its first day on sale. By this time Stillingfleet (as dean of St Paul’s) was working closely with Henry Compton, of London, and with Heneage Finch, earl of Nottingham, to fill London livings with their own candidates.41 The connection with Nottingham and his son, Daniel Finch, later 2nd earl of Nottingham, would last for the remainder of Stillingfleet’s life.

Although it would be another decade before he took his seat in the House, Stillingfleet was closely involved with the dispute in the Lords in 1679 over the rights of bishops to vote in capital cases. Far from being an anticlerical Whig (as high-flying Anglicans would persistently suggest) Stillingfleet was zealous for the rights of the Church; his treatise on the subject augmented the publications of hard-line Anglican Tory Laurence Womock, bishop of St Davids, in defending the voting rights of bishops.42 Denzil Holles, Baron Holles (supported by Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln) led the attack against the bishops.43 Stillingfleet challenged Holles’s ‘muddled’ assertion that, on the one hand, clerical involvement in secular trials was ‘popish clericalism’ but that, on the other, the canon law prohibiting the shedding of blood by clergy had been subsumed into English common law. For Stillingfleet a bishop’s duty in the Lords could not be evaded by resort to canon law (tainted by its ‘popish’ origins), and the established Church had a right and duty to play a role in civil affairs. Bishops, he affirmed, were members of the Lords in their own right by writ of summons. Tampering with the ‘ancient constitution of … parliaments’, he claimed, would ‘unavoidably bring anarchy and confusion’.44

In 1679, when the Exclusion Crisis made Protestant unity an even greater imperative, Stillingfleet was linked to a new attempt to secure a comprehension bill. While he would always maintain his erastian position on the relationship between Church and state, it was clear by 1680 that he had distanced himself from any form of comprehension that altered the status and constitution of the Church. He was encouraged by his diocesan Compton – with whom he was now on very close terms – to preach (and publish) an attack on Richard Baxter’s most recent publications. Stillingfleet’s sermon of 11 May 1680, The Mischief of Separation, preached before the Whig mayor of London Sir Robert Clayton, argued that nonconformists should join the Church of England out of public duty, and that indulgence for separatist Protestants would be a ‘Trojan horse’, setting a dangerous precedent for toleration for Catholics.45 Sir Ralph Verney was certain that the nonconformists would ‘not be pleased with it’, but it irritated conservative Anglicans as well.46 Baxter regarded Stillingfleet as a traitor to the cause of comprehension, while Anglican critics such as Samuel Parker, later bishop of Oxford, still branded him ‘an old knave’ for his erastianism, and other hard-line Anglicans (still annoyed by Irenicum) complained that Stillingfleet’s ‘good will to comprehension, [and] latitudinarian principles’ was ‘notorious’. 47

In November 1680 Stillingfleet and William Lloyd, bishop of St Asaph, an ally through Stillingfleet’s support for the Welsh Trust, embarked on a new round of discussions with nonconformists. Several bills were prepared (by Dissenters and sympathetic members of the Commons) and a draft measure introduced into the Commons, possibly prepared by Sir John Maynard.48 Stillingfleet’s objections to the bill were published in The Unreasonableness of Separation, which the earl of Anglesey (himself responsible for a bill distinguishing Protestant from Catholic Dissenters introduced into the Lords on 9 Dec.) was reading on 19 December. The current proposals, Stillingfleet argued, would introduce faction into the Church that would ‘more endanger it than external opposition’. He offered a grudging indulgence to Protestant dissenters, as long as they subscribed to the 36 articles of faith, paid a penalty of 12d. per Sunday for their own absence from church and were not eligible for public office. He was prepared to make some concessions for those who wished to remain inside the Church of England, including a revision of the Prayer Book and some changes to church organisation.49 Parker commented bitterly to Simon Patrick that Stillingfleet enjoyed the support of a hypocritical episcopate merely because he had vindicated the bishops’ right to vote in capital cases: they would ‘value a little prating privilege of parliament … their peerage before their religion, and would be content to be deposed from the apostolic office thereby to preserve their temporal baronies’. Moreover, he claimed, Stillingfleet had always ‘sided and caballed’ with the earl of Shaftesbury’s faction.50

Stillingfleet built on his reputation as a controversialist throughout the 1680s, assisting Thomas Tenison, the future archbishop of Canterbury, and William Sancroft in the covert promotion of tracts on Protestant unity, and supporting Lloyd of St Asaph in his dispute with the ‘absolutist’ lord advocate Sir George Mackenzie.51 On the accession of James II, he preached obedience to the governors of the Church despite ‘changes in state or government’ but, as a vehement opponent of Catholicism, maintained a high political profile throughout the reign.52 He later claimed he was ‘in continual expectation’ of being censured by the ecclesiastical commission.53 He denied the commission’s validity and the use of the king’s dispensing powers (but challenged them in print only from a position of safety in 1689).54 Provocatively, he engaged in a heated pamphlet exchange with John Dryden on the provenance of three ‘royal papers’ (ostensibly written by Charles II justifying his deathbed conversion to Rome, and one written by the duchess of York to a similar purpose).55 Not all in the Church were impressed with Stillingfleet’s efforts, however. William Lloyd, bishop of Peterborough, and later a nonjuror, in 1685 complained to Sancroft about how Stillingfleet had taken it upon himself ‘to barter away the rights and discipline of the established church’, and hoped that Convocation would ‘humble him and the trimming tribe’.56 Stillingfleet remained in close contact with Burnet while the latter was in The Hague and helped to circulate papers sent by Burnet to a circle of trusted correspondents in England, including Robert Boyle.57 He and Tillotson, who preached regularly in the king’s chapel, were nominated by the lord treasurer Laurence Hyde, earl of Rochester, to debate with Catholics in a public conference.58 They were rejected by the king on the grounds that they had deliberately ‘perverted’ Catholic doctrine.59 In 1687 Stillingfleet was given the chance to leave Holborn for a Hertfordshire parish, but he seems to have decided at the last moment to have ‘altered his intention of retiring in the country’ and to remain at St Andrew’s.60 He continued to publish works of anti-Catholic polemic, but was overtaken in popularity as a preacher by Thomas Ken, bishop of Bath and Wells. He was present at Lambeth on 17 May 1688 to assist in the drawing up the petition from the seven bishops, but, with Tillotson, arranged to be absent from London when the Declaration of Indulgence was to be read; ‘so overwise are some sort of men’ was the observation of Henry Hyde, 2nd earl of Clarendon.61

Stillingfleet was one of the London clergy (including his friends Tillotson, Tenison and John Sharp, soon to become archbishop of York) who had been associated with the patronage of the earls of Nottingham since the 1670s.62 Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, had orchestrated opposition to the second Declaration of Indulgence, but claimed that Stillingfleet and Tillotson advised him against more direct action in the Revolution (they later denied this).63 Although Stillingfleet would not go as far as Gilbert Burnet in accepting the new regime as having de facto legitimacy by conquest, Burnet recommended him as the ‘learnedst man of the age … and a man of great prudence’, and he was one of those Burnet thought ought to be elevated once an appropriate see fell vacant.64 He became a propagandist for the court and began work on a new comprehension scheme in January 1689 – a scheme that reflected the very narrow comprehension advocated by courtly Tories such as Nottingham. Stillingfleet’s proposals were submitted to Nottingham, who introduced a toleration bill into the Lords on 28 February.65 A comprehension bill followed on 11 Mar., but Stillingfleet warned Nottingham that the draft bill would require prior sanction by Convocation as the only way to bring the clergy to accept the measure.66 Both bills received a second reading on 14 Mar. but comprehension was once again defeated.

In the interval between the suspension of Sancroft and Tillotson’s appointment as archbishop, Tillotson and Stillingfleet exercised joint metropolitan jurisdiction over the province.67 In print Stillingfleet warned nonjurors against committing the sin of schism (and, again in print, in 1691 defended the replacement of nonjuring bishops).68 He subsequently engaged in a lengthy correspondence with leading nonjurors, publishing a controversial discourse on the nature of oaths. Stillingfleet also continued to work on the court’s programme of legislation and political propaganda, borrowing Parliament rolls to substantiate his arguments. In the autumn he was named to the ecclesiastical commission to produce new comprehension legislation, this time based on proposals written by Tillotson and submitted to Hans Willem Bentinck, earl of Portland, via Stillingfleet.69

Bishop of Worcester 1689-99

Stillingfleet was clearly destined for the episcopate: he preached before the queen on 22 Feb. 1689, not much more than a week after the throne had been offered to her and her husband, paying particular attention to the difficulties that stood in the way of salvation for those in ‘particular circumstances of times and persons’.70 Stillingfleet’s elevation to the bishopric of Worcester was confirmed on 12 Oct. 1689, though news of it had been in circulation for at least a month before.71 Along with the elevations of Tillotson to Canterbury, Gilbert Ironside, to Bristol, and Patrick to Chichester, it gave heart to Sir Charles Cottrell that the Church would ‘stand firm, notwithstanding the standing off of those that refuse to take the oaths’.72 On 13 Oct. he was consecrated by Compton at Fulham.73 Remaining in London to sit on the ecclesiastical commission, Stillingfleet, Compton, Tenison, Patrick and Robert Grove, later bishop of Chichester, pored over possible changes to the liturgy over dinner at Patrick’s lodgings, but by the end of 1689 it was clear that the lower house of Convocation would not compromise and comprehension was abandoned.74

On 21 Oct. Stillingfleet was issued with his writ of summons and took his seat in the House the same day, the day of prorogation of the first session of the Convention.75 His parliamentary career would be circumscribed by recurring episodes of gout (for which he was at one point recommended to drink a pint of cow’s urine each morning).76 It was conducted as much outside the chamber as within it. Nevertheless, he was present for the first day of the new session of the Convention two days later and attended 52 per cent of sittings. He was named to four select committees in addition to the standing committees for privileges and for petitions. In a list prepared between October 1689 and February 1690, Thomas Osborne, marquess of Carmarthen (and later duke of Leeds), classed him as a supporter of the court. He was present on the first day of the new Parliament the following March, after which he attended nearly 88 per cent of sittings, was named to the standing committees for privileges, the Journal and petitions and to six select committees.

On 8 Apr. 1690 he followed Nottingham in registering his protest against the wording of the resolution to recognize William and Mary as king and queen. Two days later he again protested against expunging from the Journal the reasons for the previous protest. In April and May, with the House immersed in both the crown and Parliament recognition bill and the security of the crown bill, Stillingfleet received two proxies: on 12 Apr. that of Compton (vacated three days later) and on 28 Apr. that of Humphrey Lloyd, bishop of Bangor (vacated at the end of the session). He was present for the last day of the session on 23 May, attended the House to hear the commission for prorogation on 7 July, but then went to Worcester for his primary visitation and to oversee diocesan administration.77 While in Worcester, he preached an assize sermon on public unity and the common good.78

Stillingfleet’s life had always been one of energetic scholarly and ecclesiastical activity. He now enjoyed the authority to implement many of his earlier ideals. Faced with a cathedral chapter that both Stillingfleet and his successor claimed was riddled with immorality and intemperance, his circular letters constantly urged his clergy to undertake moral reform, exhorting them to refrain from behaviour that gave ammunition to anticlerical sentiment.79 Another letter requesting support for French Protestants (as requested by the king) gave him an opportunity to condemn the rise in conspicuous consumption: clergy were to ‘cajole’ prospective donors ‘to discard the profane, sumptuous expenses of luxury, of debauchery, of gaiety of clothes’ and divert their resources into alms.80 He reformed his consistory court (presiding in person when he was in residence), nurtured the amenities at the bishop’s residence of Hartlebury Castle, especially the deer park, and furthered Nottingham’s political influence by filling diocesan vacancies with candidates of similar churchmanship.81 He remained an oracle for senior churchmen concerned with appointments and Church law, sat 35 times in the court of delegates between 4 Nov. 1689 and 1699 (more than any other bishop), supported educational and missionary projects in the colonies and was an acknowledged expert in casuistry (having enjoyed many casuistical debates with his friend Richard Boyle, earl of Burlington). He was also in frequent correspondence with John Somers, later Baron Somers, regarding the commission for charitable uses.82

Stillingfleet arrived at the House 16 days after the start of the autumn 1690 session (the eighth sitting day of the session), attended 63 per cent of sittings and was named to at least 19 select committees. He was added to the committee for privileges. He attended the House for the last time that session on 17 Dec., failing to return for the week of parliamentary business in the new year. Spearheading the government’s preoccupation with the nation’s morals, Stillingfleet preached to the queen on 1 Mar. 1691 and was reputedly behind her directives to the justices of the peace on vice and immorality.83 Stillingfleet was one of three senior clerics spoken of as possible replacements for Sancroft in April, but he and Sharp ‘escaped preferment’. Their disappointment, it was remarked, ‘occasions great discourse’. Whether or not Stillingfleet resented missing out for the archbishopric, the following month he assisted at Tillotson’s consecration.84 It is unclear how much time Stillingfleet spent in the diocese that summer, since he attended the House on five occasions between 31 Mar. and 5 Oct. (when only he, Tillotson and Sharp – still a close friend – attended). Some of the time he spent writing A Vindication of their Majesties’Authority to Fill the Sees of the Deprived Bishops, following the refusal of William Beveridge, later bishop of St Asaph, to take the see of Bath and Wells.

On 17 Oct. 1691, in advance of the new session, he received the proxy of his friend William Lloyd of St Asaph (vacated at the end of the session). He took his seat in the House on 22 Oct. for the first day of the session and attended nearly half of all sittings. In this, his most active parliamentary session, he was named to 29 select committees and to the standing committees for privileges, the Journal and petitions. On 17 Nov. he was named one of the reporters of the conference on the safety of the kingdom and on 27 Dec. was one of 14 bishops to put his name to a petition to the king seeking a royal proclamation against ‘impiety and vice’.85 He attended the session for the last time on 27 Jan. 1692; on 3 Feb. he registered his proxy with John Moore, then bishop of Norwich (vacated at the end of the session three weeks later). On 11 Apr. he attended a meeting at Lambeth called by Tillotson to discuss the composition of a circular letter. The following month, on 20 and 21 May, he waited on Princess Anne to convey letters between the princess and her sister. He gave the princess the distinct impression that he was ‘very partial’ to the queen, but ‘promised … to bear witness that [she had] made all the advances that was reasonable’86

He did not attend the autumn 1692 session and on 21 Nov., at a call of the House, he was noted as being sick. The same day his proxy was registered in favour of William Lloyd. On 3 Jan. 1693 Lloyd used Stillingfleet’s proxy to vote against the place bill. By the following May Stillingfleet’s health had improved sufficiently for him to inform Sharp that he intended to come to town before winter. No news, Sharp replied, was ‘so acceptable’. Throughout the summer months he conducted a visitation (Sharp hoped that for the public good Stillingfleet would publish his visitation charge) and dealt with diocesan matters such as the request from Sir Charles Hedges (chancellor of the diocese of Rochester and later secretary of state) for help in obtaining an ecclesiastical preferment.87 As planned, Stillingfleet was in London by October, receiving the proxy on 21 Oct. of William Lloyd (vacated at the end of the session). The following month Tenison assured Lloyd of Stillingfleet’s good health and that he would ‘use your proxy to the content of your lordship’.88 He was present on 7 Nov. for the first day of parliamentary business, on which day he was named to the standing committees for privileges and the Journal, after which he attended 63 per cent of sittings. He was named to 19 select committees. On 23 Nov. he registered his protest against the resolution that the House would not henceforth receive petitions for protecting servants of the crown.

Early in December 1693 Stillingfleet spoke in the Lords’ debate on the triennial bill, arguing against the ‘inconveniencies’ of annual sessions and giving ‘a very large account’ of parliamentary rolls and writs.89 On the 16th, he received the proxy of John Hough, bishop of Oxford (vacated at the end of the session). Remaining in London for the Christmas period, he preached at the chapel royal on Christmas Day.90 On 15 Jan. 1694 he was named one of the managers of the conference on the expedition at sea the previous summer; on 17 Feb. he spoke in the debate on the Albemarle inheritance case and on the same day voted against the reversal of chancery’s dismission in the cause.91 He was named one of the managers of the conference on the mutiny bill on 6 Mar., but missed the last three weeks of business before the end of the session on 25 April. Although resident in London at the time, he was absent for the passage of his own bill on small tithes (which despite his well-known arguments in favour of effective Church courts, sought to transfer the recovery of small tithes into the more efficacious plenary jurisdiction of justices of the peace). The bill was managed in the Lords by Sharp, whose diary reveals that he co-ordinated closely with Stillingfleet, visiting him at home three times in the first week of April to discuss amendments.92 Poor health may have been behind Stillingfleet’s earlier absences, though he was sufficiently well to attend a meeting at Lambeth on pastoral reform towards the end of the summer. Following the meeting, Tillotson sent Stillingfleet a draft letter of injunctions (to be sent from the king and queen to the bishops) for his corrections and comments.93

Stillingfleet was expected to be in town by the middle of October 1694 despite illness and poor eyesight.94 He was present on 12 Nov., the first day of the session, attended 31 per cent of sittings, was named to the standing committees for privileges and the Journal and to two select committees. Tillotson’s death on 22 Nov. brought to the fore the question of the succession to Canterbury. Queen Mary (and Tillotson himself before his death) wanted Stillingfleet to succeed as archbishop, and pressed both the king and Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, to make such a recommendation.95 It was reported in diplomatic correspondence that Stillingfleet was under consideration for the post, but that he lacked sufficient support in the ecclesiastical establishment.96 Moreover, Whigs were increasingly opposed to his ‘notions’ and ‘high’ temper as he moved ever further from the ‘latitude’ he had demonstrated in earlier years. Burnet, a former admirer, observed that Stillingfleet had embraced ‘the humours of that high sort of people beyond what became him’ and had become ‘too much conceited of himself, and too much concerned for his family’. The two men experienced a mutually prickly relationship on account of Burnet’s ‘combustible’ temper, and by 1696 Stillingfleet had lost patience with the volatile bishop of Salisbury.97

At a call of the House on 26 Nov. 1694 Stillingfleet was excused attendance. Despite a diminishing parliamentary career, he remained very active (and controversial) in ecclesiastical, academic and, especially, legal spheres. He spoke in two appeal cases in the Lords in 1695: one a writ of error (Phillips v. Bury) from King’s Bench regarding the visitation rights of Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Exeter, at Exeter College, Oxford, the other relating to a grant ad retinendum for a bishop’s commendam. In the former case, Stillingfleet moved for a reversal of the king’s bench judgment, arguing that if the Lords wished to promote learning, ‘there must be a timely check given to these tedious, expensive and troublesome suits at law … and … although it be possible for a visitor to go beyond his bounds … it is better that one person suffer, than that the discipline, government and peace of the college be in danger’. In the case of commendams, he defended the royal prerogative, even where an act of Parliament created a special case: although the monarch consented to an Act, that consent did not extend to ‘taking away any right belonging to himself in right of his crown’.98 His influential Discourse Concerning Bonds of Resignation (1695) attacked as simony the practice of pre-appointment agreements with patrons and damned the trafficking of ecclesiastical posts. A bill to prevent simoniacal contracts was introduced into the House in February 1695, but Stillingfleet was not listed as present at any stage of the bill’s progress through the House. In April, on account of his churchmanship and standing as a ‘good legalist’, he was sworn in as ecclesiastical commissioner to consider clerical appointments.99

In the 1695 general election Stillingfleet supported the election of Charles Cocks at Droitwich, in an attempt to avoid further contention at Worcester.100 He was too sick to attend the new Parliament and in February 1696 was noted as one of the peers who had not signed the Association. Stillingfleet’s failure to sign it locally may suggest that he was following Nottingham’s lead.101 That winter Tenison (in dispute with Burnet) sought Stillingfleet’s expertise on the extent and legality of his powers as primate in the case of dispensations and bonds of resignation. Stillingfleet maintained that the law left such matters at the discretion of the primate as long as he could ‘assert a just cause’ in chancery if challenged. It was, he continued, no easy matter to deal with a person of Burnet’s temper, ‘for the same heat which runs him into mistakes makes him impatient when he told of them’.102

In spite of his poor health, Stillingfleet conducted a visitation in 1696, travelling to the most remote corners of his diocese.103 It is unclear whether he was involved in the campaign, by Shrewsbury and the deputy lieutenants of Worcestershire, to make a census of Catholics.104 His charge to the clergy was conservative, denouncing extempore prayer as ‘a base and careless way of talking in the pulpit’.105

Stillingfleet was absent from the House between November 1695 and July 1698. On 23 Nov. 1696 when the House was exerting pressure on its members to attend for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick, it took into consideration a letter from the ailing bishop requesting leave of absence until he could safely travel to London without endangering his life. The Lords professed themselves satisfied with his excuse and permission was granted. According to Charles Hatton, he was one of only three members of the House excused from attending at that time, ‘for the Lords are very strict in exacting the attendance at this critical time of all their members’.106

In January 1697, Stillingfleet’s wife died. He, too, was so ill that his life was thought to be in danger.107 For the last three years of his life, he immersed himself in theological controversies: the anticlericalism of John Toland, the atheism of Hobbes, the mechanism of Descartes and, most vehemently, the Socinianism of Locke (in an exchange subsequently termed the Stillingfleet-Locke correspondence).108 Stillingfleet also remained an active diocesan. In the summer of 1697 George Nelson complained that he had been suspended by the bishop ‘against the desire and expectation of the people’ on the grounds that those who had chosen him ‘were fanatics and conventiclers’. Nelson warned that his parishioners were ‘so enraged’ that they were likely to throw in their lots with the local nonconformist congregations.109

Stillingfleet was missing from the opening of the new session of December 1697. His health persisted in proving troublesome and in early May 1698 Shrewsbury noted that he had been suffering from ‘a fit of gout in the head’, which had left him incommunicado. The danger was now thought to be over ‘and the disease fallen into his limbs’ but although he was believed to be in better health, he remained at Hartlebury.110 He continued to be troubled by gout into the summer.111 He was also increasingly cantankerous (one scholarly exchange was described as ‘the fighting of two cocks on a dung-hill’).112 In the autumn of 1698 Stillingfleet demanded that his son fill a vacancy on the Worcester chapter and ‘made himself so unpleasant on the subject’ that Tenison feared the dispute would break the commission.113

After a gap of more than three years, Stillingfleet finally took his place in the House once more on 27 Oct. 1698, when he was one of only three bishops to be present in the House for the prorogation. He returned to the House for just one day of the new session (9 Dec.) before quitting the House for the last time. Although he was involved in the deliberations against Thomas Watson, bishop of St Davids, Stillingfleet refused to give the case his full attention since he was ‘shortly to give account to God’.114 On 27 Mar. 1699, at the age of 64, he died at his house in Park Street, Westminster following a stomach illness.115 Stillingfleet had been an avid book collector; the king showed a keen interest in acquiring the collection (through the mediation of Tenison and Somers).116 By June negotiations had almost concluded at a cost of £3,000, but in the event his manuscripts were bought by Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, and his books (numbering nearly 8,000) by Narcissus Marsh, archbishop of Armagh. The total sum raised from the books alone was in excess of £2,500.117 Stillingfleet, whose descendants included numerous clerics, made his son James (rector of Hartlebury and member of the Worcester chapter) executor and residuary legatee of his will. Much of the estate had already been settled on James and his wife Dorothy Wylde, but the bishop’s will also detailed cash bequests of more than £800. Personal effects were divided between his son Edward (professor of physic at Gresham College and clergyman), daughter Anne Fyshe (married to Humphrey Fyshe of Gray’s Inn), a variety of family members, servants and the poor of Worcester and Hartlebury.118 Stillingfleet’s works and earliest biography were published by Richard Bentley in 1710. Although it was thought that he would be replaced by William Wake, then bishop of Lincoln, who considered Stillingfleet a ‘truly great, and wise … prelate’, he was in fact succeeded by his friend William Lloyd. Stillingfleet was buried in Worcester Cathedral.119


  • 1 G. Inn. Admiss. 306.
  • 2 LPL, ms 3152, f. 76.
  • 3 CSP Dom. 1699-1700, p. 119.
  • 4 TNA, PROB 11/450.
  • 5 Verney, ms mic. M636/20, Sir R. Burgoyne to Sir R. Verney, 3 Apr. 1665; CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 335.
  • 6 Verney ms mic. M636/32, Sir R. Verney to E. Verney, 7 Apr. 1679.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1690-1, pp. 158-9.
  • 8 Ibid. 240.
  • 9 Ibid. 473.
  • 10 CSP Dom. 1691-2, pp. 266-7.
  • 11 Add. 46527, f. 62; CSP Dom. 1694-5, p. 402.
  • 12 Surr. Hist. Cent. Somers 371/14/D3.
  • 13 N. Keeble, Restoration, 125-6; I. Rivers, Reason, Grace and Sentiment, i. 34; HJ, xxxvii. 583.
  • 14 Life and Character of … Stillingfleet (1710), 10-12, 14-15.
  • 15 Chatsworth, Halifax Collection B.99.
  • 16 Rivers, i. 31.
  • 17 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c.210, f. 73.
  • 18 Boyle Corresp. ii. 49-50; J.T. Cliffe, Puritan Gentry Besieged, 40; Reliquiae Baxterianae, pt. 2, 278; T.E.S. Clarke and H.C. Foxcroft, Life of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, 38; Burnet, vi. 241.
  • 19 Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 21.
  • 20 Burnet, i. 324-6; Boyle Corresp. ii. 411.
  • 21 Pepys Diary, vi. 87.
  • 22 HMC Hastings, ii. 148; Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 19-20.
  • 23 Pepys Diary, vi. 87; Huntington Lib. HA 10663; Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 19-20.
  • 24 The Works of … Dr Edward Stillingfleet (1710), i. 62; Add. 27351; Bodl. Carte 103, ff. 258-259.
  • 25 Add. 36916, f. 135; LPL, ms 3152, ff. 72-73.
  • 26 CSP Dom. 1670 and Addenda 1660-70, p. 262; Add. 36916, f. 160.
  • 27 Verney, ms mic. M636/25, F. Hobart to Sir R. Verney 4 Oct. 1672; Sir R. to E. Verney, 7 Nov. 1672.
  • 28 Bodl. B.14.15. Linc. ff. 9-13; Burnet, i. 449; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 146.
  • 29 Burnet, i. 536.
  • 30 Stillingfleet, A Discourse concerning the Idolatry Practised in the church of Rome; H. Cressy, Fanaticism Fanatically Imputed to the Catholic Church (1672); T. Godden, Catholicks no Idolaters (1672); Clarendon, Animadversions upon a Book (1674); Burnet, ii. 25-6.
  • 31 Stillingfleet, An Answer to Several Late Treatises (1673).
  • 32 Stillingfleet, A Second Discourse in Vindication of the Protestant Grounds of Faith (1673).
  • 33 Stillingfleet, Reformation Justify’d ( 1674).
  • 34 Stillingfleet, Sermon Preached November v 1673 at St Margaret’s Westminster (1673); HP Commons 1660-90, iii. 80, 488; Verney, ms mic. M636/27, Sir R. Verney to E. Verney, 27 Nov. 1673.
  • 35 CSP Dom. Mar.-Sept. 1673, p. 598.
  • 36 Rivers, i. 33.
  • 37 Uniformity to Unity, 215-19.
  • 38 LPL, ms 1743, f. 145; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. ii. 354.
  • 39 J.W. Johnson, Profane Wit: the Life of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, 201, 207; Add. 40860, f. 84.
  • 40 HP Commons 1660-90, iii. 621; G. Burnet, Relation of a Conference Held about Religion, at London (1676); Burnet, ii. 95, 151.
  • 41 Stillingfleet, Sermon Preached on the Fast Day, Nov. 13, 1678, Before the Honourable House of Commons (1678); Verney, ms mic. M636/32, J. to Sir R. Verney, 28 Nov. 1678; HP Commons 1660-90, iii. 570; The Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 59.
  • 42 [Stillingfleet], Grand Question, Concerning the Bishops’ Right to Vote in Parliament in Cases Capital, Stated and Argued (1680).
  • 43 Lord Hollis His Remains: Being a Second Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Judicature of the Bishops in Parliament (1682).
  • 44 The Works of … Dr Edward Stillingfleet, iii. 814-76; Politics of Religion ed. Harris et al. 92-95.
  • 45 Evelyn Diary, iv. 182; Carpenter, Protestant Bishop, 72; Bentley, 43-44; Stillingfleet, Mischief of Separation. (1680), preface, 58.
  • 46 Verney, ms mic. M636/34, Sir R. Verney to J. Verney, 7 June 1680; Richard Baxter’s Answer to Dr Edward Stillingfleet’s Charge of Separation (1680); J. Owen, Brief Vindication of the nonconformists from the Charge of Schisme. (1680).
  • 47 Bodl. ms Eng. Lett. c. 28, f. 3; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iii. 254; HJ, xxxi. 74; S. Lowth, Letter to Edward Stillingfleet (1687), 77.
  • 48 LPL, ms 1743, f. 149; JEH, xv. 206.
  • 49 JEH, xv. 209-12, 215; Stillingfleet, Unreasonableness of separation (1681), preface; Add. 18730, f. 79.
  • 50 Bodl. Tanner 36, f. 255.
  • 51 Tanner 32, f. 3, Tanner 31, ff. 2, 147; Lloyd, An Historical Account of Church Government (1684); Sir G. Mackenzie, Defence of the Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland (1685); Stillingfleet, Origines Britannicae (1685); Mackenzie, Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland Farther Cleared and Defended (1686).
  • 52 Evelyn Diary, iv. 419.
  • 53 HJ, xxxiv. 729; Stillingfleet, Works, iii. 762; Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 73.
  • 54 Stillingfleet, Discourse Concerning the Illegality of the Late Ecclesiastical Commission, in Answer to the Vindication and Defence of it (1689).
  • 55 Verney, ms mic. M636/41, C. Gardiner to Sir R. Verney 11 Aug. 1686; Stillingfleet, Answer to Some Papers Lately Printed, Concerning the Authority of the Catholick Church in Matters of Faith (1686); Vindication of the Answer to Some Late Papers … Concerning the Unity and Authority of the Catholick Church (1687); Defence of the Papers Written by the Late King of Blessed Memory (1686); Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, xvii. 387-95.
  • 56 Tanner 31, f. 52.
  • 57 Boyle Corresp. vi. 181, 188.
  • 58 Cartwright, Diary, 44; Plumptre, Thomas Ken, i. 288; Add. 70120.
  • 59 Morrice, Entr’ing Bk. iii. 326; Burnet, iii. 116.
  • 60 CSP Dom. 1686-7, pp. 334, 365; JRL, Legh of Lyme mss, newsletter, 10 Feb. 1687.
  • 61 Stillingfleet, Council of Trent Examin’d and Disprov’d by Catholick Tradition (1688); Evelyn Diary, iv. 577; Add. 34515, ff. 26-7; Tanner 28, f. 38; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 172-3.
  • 62 HMC Finch, iii. 11; Browning, Danby, iii. 80; Rev. Pols. 38, 262.
  • 63 Rev. Pols. 53; Burnet, iii. 265-66.
  • 64 J.P. Kenyon, Revolution Principles, 22; Sidney Diary, ii. 283-4; PH, xxxii. 145.
  • 65 UNL, Pw A 2321/1-4, 2322; Claydon, William III and Godly Revolution, 164.
  • 66 HMC Finch, ii. 194.
  • 67 Gregory, Restoration, Reformation and Reform, 49, 61.
  • 68 Stillingfleet, Discourse Concerning the Unreasonableness of a New Separation on Account of the Oaths (1689); Vindication of their Majesties’ Authority to fill the Sees of the Deprived Bishops (1691).
  • 69 Bodl. Rawl. Letters 68, pp. 1-42; Stillingfleet, Case of an Oath of Abjuration Considered and the Vote of the Commons Vindicated (1693); Gibson, Church of England, 39; Add. 4274, f. 227; Add. 4236, ff. 316-19; Cardwell, 411.
  • 70 Stillingfleet, A Sermon Preached before the Queen at Whitehall Feb. 22 1688/9, 4.
  • 71 Rev. Pols. 99; CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 247, 270, 271, 274, 290, 292, 297; Verney ms mic. M636/43, C. Gardiner to Sir R. Verney, 12 Sept. 1689, M636/43, W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, 18 Sept. 1689.
  • 72 Add. 72516, ff. 87-88.
  • 73 Diary of Francis Evans ed. D. Robertson, 146; Morrice, v. 189.
  • 74 Autobiography of Symon Patrick, Bishop of Ely, 149-51.
  • 75 PA, HL/PO/JO/19/1/274.
  • 76 DWL, ms 201.38, f. 17.
  • 77 Articles to be Enquired of, and Answered unto, by the Church-Wardens and Sworn-Men in the Primary Visitation of … Lord Bishop of Worcester (1690); Bishop of Worcester’s Charge to the Clergy of his Diocese, in his Primary Visitation (1691).
  • 78 Stillingfleet, Christian Magnanimity. A sermon Preached in the Cathedral Church at Worcester at the Time of the Assizes (1690).
  • 79 DWL, ms 201.39, ff. 16-22; J. Noake, Monastery and Cathedral of Worcester, 591-3; The Works of … Dr Edward Stillingfleet, iii. 627, 661.
  • 80 Add. 27448, f. 340.
  • 81 LPL, ms 3152, ff. 74-75; A. Tindal Hart, William Lloyd 1627-1717, p. 209; Tanner 25, f. 399.
  • 82 TNA, DEL 8/72; Carpenter, Protestant Bishop, 265; Roy. Soc., RB/1/3/29, RB/3/5/67; Surr. Hist. Cent. 371/14/D2, 371/14/D3.
  • 83 Stillingfleet, Sermon Preached Before the Queen at Whitehall, March the 1st. 1690/1 (1691); Abstract of those Laws Commanded by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty, to be put in Speedy Execution (1691).
  • 84 Add. 70015, ff. 55, 57; Carte 79, f. 350.
  • 85 Add. 70015, f. 276.
  • 86 Add. 4236, f. 253; Add. 61414, ff. 191, 195-6, 197.
  • 87 Add. 4274, f. 229; LPL, ms 3152, f. 63; HP Commons 1690-1715, iv. 317.
  • 88 Glos. Archives D3549/2/2/1, no. 161, Tenison to Lloyd, 18 Nov. 1693.
  • 89 HMC Hastings, ii. 233; HMC 7th Rep. 217.
  • 90 CSP Dom. 1693, p. 437.
  • 91 Timberland, i. 424-31.
  • 92 The Life of John Sharp, DD, i. 285.
  • 93 Add. 4236, f. 259.
  • 94 Tanner 25, f. 229; Add. 4274, f. 228.
  • 95 Burnet, iv. 238.
  • 96 Add. 17677 OO, f. 397; Rawl. Letters 91, f. 263.
  • 97 Bodl. Ballard 34, f. 186; Burnet, i. 324-6, iv. 238; LPL, ms 929, f. 104.
  • 98 The Works of … Dr Edward Stillingfleet, iii. 877-85, 886-95; Life and Character of … Stillingfleet, 107-8.
  • 99 LPL, ms 929, ff. 101, 103, 104; PA, HL/PO/JO/10/1/473/903; Carpenter, Protestant Bishop, 181; Add. 46527, f. 62.
  • 100 Surr. Hist Cent., 371/14/O/1/7; HP Commons 1690-1715, iii. 629.
  • 101 HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 206.
  • 102 LPL, ms 929, ff. 100-4.
  • 103 The Works of … Dr Edward Stillingfleet, iii. 661; G.V. Bennett, Tory Crisis, 21.
  • 104 CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 83, 89, 94, 97, 180, 199.
  • 105 Gibson, 225.
  • 106 Add. 29574, f. 531.
  • 107 Add. 70231, A. Harley to R. Harley, 26 Jan. 1697.
  • 108 J. Toland, Christianity not Mysterious (1696); Stillingfleet, Discourse in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (1697); Rivers, Reason, Grace and Sentiment, i. 48; Eighteenth Century Oxford, 580; Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester’s Answer to Mr Locke’s letter (1697); J. Locke, Letter to … Edward Lord Bishop of Worcester (1697); Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester’s Answer to Mr Locke’s Second Letter (1698); J. Locke, Mr Locke’s Reply to the … Bishop of Worcester’s Answer to his Second Letter (1699).
  • 109 Add. 70120, G. Nelson to Sir E. Harley, 19 July, 1697.
  • 110 Surr. Hist. Cent. 371/14/E/14; Tanner 22, f. 53.
  • 111 Camb. RO, 17/C1.
  • 112 Judaeo-Christian Intellectual Culture in the Seventeenth Century ed. A.P. Coudert et al. 225-36.
  • 113 Tindall Hart, Life of Sharp, 238.
  • 114 Rawl. B 380, f. 191.
  • 115 LPL, ms 3152, f. 76; Bentley, 147.
  • 116 Tanner 21, f. 101.
  • 117 Ballard 5, f. 162; Bentley, 136; Add. 62114, ff. 11-18.
  • 118 LPL, ms 3152, f. 82.
  • 119 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 499; Ballard 3, f. 34.