STRATFORD, Nicholas (1633-1707)

STRATFORD, Nicholas (1633–1707)

cons. 15 Sept. 1689 bp. of CHESTER

First sat 2 Nov. 1689; last sat 8 Feb. 1707

bap. 8 Sept. 1633, s. of Nicholas Stratford, ?draper. educ. Trinity, Oxf. BA 1654, MA 1656, fell. 1656, BD 1664, DD 1673. m. bef. 1667 (forename unknown) da. and coh. (d. 30 July 1689) of Dr Stephen Luddington, adn. of Stow, 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 2da. d. 12 Feb. 1707; will 15 Oct. 1698, pr. 8 Apr. 1707.1

Chap. to Charles II 1673.2

Chap. to John Pearson, bp. of Chester, bef. 1673;3 Warden, Collegiate Church, Manchester 1667-84; preb. Lincoln 1670-89; vic. Knighton, Leics. 1670-4; rect. Llansantffraid-yn-Mechain, Mont. 1671, Llanrwst, Denb., St Mary Aldermanbury, London 1683-9, Wigan, Lancs. 1689-1707; dean, St Asaph 1673-89.4

Commr. Q. Anne’s Bounty 1704.5

Mbr. SPG 1701.6

Also associated with: Hemel Hempstead, Herts.; Duke Street, Westminster, 1691.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, attributed to M. Dahl, c.1705, Bishop’s House, Chester.

Stratford was a man of contradictions. A Tory churchman and apologist for divine right monarchy, he owed his elevation to the see of Chester to his support for the 1688 Revolution. His father’s occupation was given variously as draper, shoemaker or tailor, but Stratford was later credited with having ‘an estate of his own’. He married an heiress who was niece to John Dolben, bishop of Rochester and the future archbishop of York, and he was also the residuary legatee of his cousin William Day, through whom he acquired property in Oxford held on lease from Magdalen and Brasenose; yet he seems not to have possessed a great fortune. 7 In 1689, in response to a self-assessment for taxation purposes, he stated that the only estate he possessed was exempt.8

Made chaplain by the bishop of Chester, John Pearson, who had been master of Trinity college, Oxford, where he had been a fellow, it was Stratford’s marriage that brought him more tangible career advancement; through Dolben’s interest he obtained the wardenship of the collegiate church of Manchester, which was also the parish church.9 There he was regarded initially by the ejected warden, Henry Newcome, as ‘a stranger, unthought of, unknown of, unsought for’, but Newcome found him ‘a good man, of a sweet temper, brave scholar and preacher’, who despite the ‘bitter hints against hypocrisy’ in his sermons, established a good relationship with his predecessor. Stratford was given to making political gestures: he voluntarily provided ‘man, horse and arms’ for the king’s service, made the college chapter commit an annual £10 for the same purpose and enforced the celebration of the three political anniversary services in the Church calendar.10 He kept a close eye on local conventicles, liaising with Richard Legh and Roger Kenyon (with whom he maintained a long and close relationship).11 In 1673 he was appointed dean of St Asaph.12

Wary of political disturbance in an area known for its Dissenting and Catholic communities, in 1680 Stratford referred an epitaph written by the recently deceased Isaac Barrow, bishop of St Asaph, to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, as it had caused ‘a great noise’ among both ‘papists and presbyterians’.13 Towards the end of February 1683 it was reported that Stratford was to quit Manchester for a London living. In recommending a successor, William Lloyd, bishop of St Asaph, commented on how Stratford had done ‘very well’ in Manchester, despite not being from the area.14 By then Stratford appears to have become disenchanted with the polarization of politics in Manchester during the Tory reaction and irritated by his dispute with the Lancashire Trafford family over the tithes of Stretford.15 He resigned his post in 1684, preaching a farewell sermon that counselled pointedly against vengeance.16

Stratford was probably already familiar in London prior to his move there, having preached on at least two occasions in the chapel of Lincoln’s Inn in the winter of 1682.17 Following James’s accession, he was drafted into the Anglican campaign to counter Roman Catholic apologetics.18 Roger Morrice reported one incident where Stratford was confronted with a Catholic priest, the brother of one of his parishioners. In the ensuing debate Stratford ‘baffled him utterly’. To unite English Protestants, he advocated coming ‘to a good understanding … with the nonconformist Dissenters … for though they were mistaken, it was a conscientious, not an obstinate mistake.’ To these ends, he brokered a meeting between the senior nonconformist, William Bates, and William Lloyd, bishop of St Asaph (and later of Worcester). He nevertheless opposed to the Declaration of Indulgence since it would also allow toleration for Catholics.19

In the late summer of 1688 Stratford claimed to be suffering from ill health and overburdened with business. His movements at the time of the Revolution are not clear but there is no reason to doubt his support for the change of regime. In March 1689, by now a victim of gout, he wrote optimistically how people were ‘daily more and more satisfied in their scruples’.20 On 22 June 1689 he was nominated to replace Thomas Cartwright, as bishop of Chester.21 He suffered a personal tragedy the following month with the death of his wife, though this did not prevent him from proceeding with his consecration on 15 September.22 On 24 Sept. he was enthroned at Chester.23 As a diocesan, Stratford waged a crusade against the ‘obnoxious’ and the ‘scandalous’.24 He tackled 13 years of administrative neglect, augmented livings, ordained only graduate clergy and enforced improved pastoral care. Although later portrayed as a mediator, Stratford was dogged in pursuit of his own aims. Despite the opposition of his metropolitan, John Sharp, who succeeded as archbishop of York in July 1691, he established local societies for the reformation of manners and entered a jurisdictional dispute with the autonomous archdeaconry of Richmond (to which his son was later appointed). Stratford was also heavily involved in the politics of Wigan, where he held the rectory (and lordship of the manor) in commendam. The rectory’s advowson was owned by the Tory Bridgeman family of Castle Bromwich.25 His overtures to nonconformists during the reign of James II were replaced with a less tolerant approach in his diocese, and he entered a lawsuit against the use of Hindley chapel by Dissenters, a case that rumbled on throughout the decade.26

Within two weeks of being enthroned as bishop, Stratford was back in London for the assembling in the Jerusalem Chamber of the ecclesiastical commission on the revision of the liturgy.27 Stratford also led an active parliamentary career. In the course of 18 years as bishop of Chester, he attended 17 out of 19 sessions and served as an occasional reporter from committees, generally concerning bills for the sale of estates to satisfy debts. There was no obvious pattern to his attendance, apart from his habitual late arrival at each session. His political behaviour in the diocese (where he surrounded himself with ‘a closely knit high church, high Tory circle’ of churchmen and laymen, including the Tory member for Chester, Sir Henry Bunbury) is far more easily categorized than his behaviour in Parliament.28 He gave his proxy to bishops on both sides of the political divide and there were divisions in which his vote seems to have been determined more by issue than party.

Stratford first took his seat in the House on 2 Nov. 1689, one week into the second session of the Convention. He attended the session for 73 per cent of sittings and was named to 11 committees. He returned for the first day of the new Parliament on 20 Mar. 1690 and attended for 59 per cent of all sitting days. He was named to nine committees, all on private bills except for one on the regulation of coal prices. In early April he was one of only two bishops (the other being Simon Patrick, bishop of Chichester) to vote in favour of the recognition bill. A few days later he preached before the Lords, while Patrick preached to the king. On 30 Apr. Stratford signed his proxy in favour of Henry Compton, bishop of London. Despite this, he was in the House the following day (though missing from the attendance list) when he was said to have been the only bishop to support the resolution for a secret rather than a general committee to be established to consider the state of the nation. He was present again on 2 May when he attended a four-hour debate on the abjuration bill. Again he stood out from the majority of the bishops when only he and Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury voted in favour of committing the measure. He had quit the session by the time the Lords returned to the business. Roger Morrice wondered whether, as Stratford had voted throughout the session ‘with the English side’, he was now concerned that he may have ‘committed an error’ and it was for that reason he had returned to Chester and left his proxy in Compton’s hands.29

Throughout the summer of 1690 he took pleasure in communicating news to his son’s tutor at Oxford of the routing of James II in Ireland.30 He arrived at the House two weeks into the October session and attended 41 per cent of sittings. He was named to nine committees in the course of the session but was missing from the last month of business. By 20 Dec. Stratford was back in Chester. In January 1691 he approached Thomas Lamplugh, archbishop of York, for permission to undertake a visitation in preference to Lamplugh making a metropolitical visitation in Chester, pointing out that the diocese had not been visited by its own bishop for 13 years. On 5 May he issued a charge for his primary visitation in which he emphasized the need for clergy to have a proper vocation. He was also concerned about clandestine marriages.31 With the visitation complete, he returned to London, arriving at the House on 11 Nov., three weeks after the start of the next session. He attended just under half of all sittings and was named to 26 committees (including one for Albury Manor where he owned land). On 2 Nov. he was excused attendance at a call of the House. Towards the end of December, he joined with Charles Montagu, 4th earl (later duke) of Manchester, and Charles Mildmay, 18th Baron FitzWalter, in pressing ‘very much’ for the playhouses to be closed following an incident when Henry Yelverton, Viscount Longueville, was insulted at the theatre. He was then also one of the 14 bishops who signed a petition to the king seeking a royal proclamation against ‘impiety and vice’.32 On 18 Jan. 1692, Stratford was granted leave of absence for three weeks. He entered his proxy in favour of John Tillotson, of Canterbury, but attended for a further two days before quitting the House for the remainder of the session.

At the beginning of June Stratford was ‘fully employed in the visitation of my cathedral’; two months later he was still occupied with inspecting the parishes.33 He returned to the House four weeks after the start of the winter 1692 session, of which he attended 59 per cent of sittings. On 21 Nov. he was excused attendance at a call of the House, but he took his seat a fortnight later on 3 December. Over the next three months he was named to six committees. On 31 Dec. he voted in favour of committing the place bill; but on 3 Jan. 1693, in common with all the bishops present, he voted against passing the measure. On 2 Jan. he voted in favour of reading the divorce bill of Henry Howard, 7th duke of Norfolk.

Stratford spent at least part of the summer touring the northern extremities of his diocese and beyond into Cumberland. He was also involved with liaising with Roger Kenyon about an ongoing dispute with Hugh Willoughby, 11th (CP 12th) Baron Willoughby of Parham, over the employment of former chapels of ease (as well as Willoughby’s own family chapel) as Dissenting meeting places.34 He arrived at the House a fortnight into the winter 1693 session and attended for 61 per cent of its sittings. He was named to 19 committees. On 17 Feb. 1694, he voted against reversing the chancery dismission in the cause Montagu v. Bath.

As usual Stratford missed the first two months of business of the 1694-5 session. On 15 Dec. he wrote announcing his intention to set out for London ‘about a fortnight hence’ and on 1 Jan. 1695 he instructed his correspondents to direct letters during his absence from Chester to ‘Mr Clayton’s house in Stable Yard, Westminster’.35 He arrived at the House on 7 Jan., attended almost 43 per cent of sittings and was named to 23 committees. On 19 Jan. he was the only bishop to join seven peers (both Tory and Whig) in protesting against the resolution not to engross the bill to make wilful perjury a felony.36 He missed the last six weeks of business, suffering from ill health. In a letter of 7 Mar. he had excused his slow response to an earlier missive ‘occasioned partly by multitude of other business and partly by want of health’. He was, he complained, ‘so tired and indisposed that I can say no more’. In spite of this he remained fully informed of public affairs and was concerned both by the actions of the East India Company and for the sad state of ‘Indians under the English government’ whose conversion to Christianity he considered a moral imperative.37

Stratford’s health appears to have continued to trouble him. He did not attend the 1695-6 session and on 26 Feb. 1696 was excused from attending the House to sign the Association.38 The reason for his absence from the Lords at this point is uncertain but may have been as much to do with pressure of business as with his poor health. Earlier that month he had been in town along with one of Kenyon’s correspondents, Richard Wroe, who was overseeing legal proceedings on the Hindley chapel affair. Stratford was still in Chester at the close of March but well enough to travel back to London to preach at the Temple on 24 May.39

Stratford returned to the House on 14 Nov. 1696, nearly one month into the new session. He attended 47 per cent of all sittings and was named to 14 committees. On 23 Dec. he voted to attaint Sir John Fenwick. 40 On 8 Mar. 1697 he registered his proxy in favour of the Whig Richard Cumberland, bishop of Cumberland (vacated at the end of the session). Back in the diocese, Stratford continued to support Kenyon’s campaign to frustrate Willoughby’s efforts to create more dissenting chapels when he refused to institute Willoughby’s candidate for Ellenbrook chapel.41

Stratford took part in the elaborate reception and procession through London following the king’s return to England in mid-November.42 He was in the House on 3 Dec., the first day of the new session, and was named to the committees for privileges and the Journal. Attending 38 per cent of sittings, he was named to 17 select committees. On 15 Mar. 1698, again acting with the Whigs, he voted in favour of punishing Charles Duncombe. One week later the House heard the case brought by Stratford and Richard Peirce, in a writ of error against the king regarding presentation to an ecclesiastical living. After hearing the arguments from counsel on 22 Mar., the Lords found in Stratford’s favour, reversing both the judgment of the court of Common Pleas and its affirmation in King’s Bench. Stratford was also active during the session on behalf of Archbishop King of Dublin. He assured King that he was ‘constantly upon the watch’ to ensure that King’s business was received favourably in the House.43 On 10 June Stratford entered his proxy in favour of Edward Fowler, bishop of Gloucester, which was vacated at the end of the session.

Stratford was in Cumberland again over the summer.44 He arrived late for the start of the 1698-9 session, taking his place in the House finally on 24 Jan. 1699, having in effect missed just over a fortnight’s worth of business. He attended 65 per cent of sittings and was named to 18 committees. Three days later he was nominated one of the managers of the conference held on 28 Jan. on amendments to the bill to prohibit exportation of any corn, malt or meal for a year. On 29 Mar. he registered his dissent against the resolution to agree with the address to the king on the case of the London Ulster Society v. the Bishop of Derry. On 26 Apr. Stratford reported from the committee considering the bill for the sale of the estates of Zenobia Hough for payment of her husband’s debts, which was passed with one amendment. On the penultimate day of the session, 3 May, he was added to the committee for the Journal.

Stratford seems to have spent part of the summer of 1699 in London where he was consulted to assist the brother of John Evelyn with a case of conscience.45 He missed the first two months of business in the 1699-1700 session, but, having taken his place on 15 Jan. 1700, was present on just under two-thirds of all sitting days and was named to 20 select committees. On 23 Feb. he voted to adjourn the House during the debate on continuing the East India Company as a corporation; he had already voiced concerns about the activities of the company.46 Four days later he reported from the committee considering the bill for vesting the estates of a Chester man, Thomas Cowper, in trustees for the satisfaction of debts. By this time Stratford seems to have had a change of heart regarding the Norfolk divorce bill. Even though he had been forecast in 1693 as a likely supporter, he protested against the second reading on 8 March. On 12 Mar. he registered his dissent against the passage of the legislation joining a cross-party group of bishops that included Simon Patrick, Compton, and Thomas Sprat, bishop of Rochester, on the grounds that the case had not been brought initially before the Church courts.47

On 14 Mar. Stratford was named to the committee for a bill with obvious local interest, which had been brought in by the corporation of Chester for preserving navigation on the river Dee. The House rose on 11 April. Stratford was in Wigan by August and travelled back to Chester at the end of that month.48 His stay in Wigan may have been connected to the forthcoming election (held on 13 Jan. 1701) in which Stratford’s rectory interest helped prevent the return of Emmanuel Scrope Howe.49 He took his seat in the new Parliament on 17 Feb. 1701, 11 days after the start of the session. He attended approximately a third of sittings and was named to six committees. He failed to attend the last two months of business up to the end of the session on 24 June.

Stratford took his place in the House on 28 Jan. 1702, one month after the start of the next parliamentary session. He attended 46 per cent of sittings and was named to 28 committees, including legislation for Bishop Fowler. On 23 Feb. he and Compton were the only bishops to support the addition of a clause for preserving the Church in the bill for the further security of the king and succession.50 On the 26th he demonstrated his continuing hostility to nonconformists when he registered his dissent against the resolution to continue the Quaker Affirmation Act. Following the death of William III, Stratford was nominated one of the managers of the conference on the accession of Queen Anne.

Stratford failed to attend the first (1702-3) session of the new Parliament. Before the start of the second session, and again on 26 Nov. 1703, Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, forecast that Stratford would support the occasional conformity bill. Stratford took his seat on 16 Nov., one week after the start of business, after which he attended just over 40 per cent of all sitting days. On 14 Dec. he registered his dissent against the resolution not to read the occasional conformity bill for a second time. One month later, on 14 Jan. 1704, Stratford voted with the Tories to register his dissent against the decision in Ashby v. White.

Stratford arrived at the House six weeks late for the start of the October 1704 session. He attended 40 per cent of sittings. During the session he petitioned the queen to continue the maintenance of four royal preachers in the diocese out of the rent of Furness priory.51 On 15 Dec. Stratford voted in favour of the unsuccessful occasional conformity bill. On Christmas Day he dined with William Nicolson, bishop of Carlisle, Sprat and George Hooper, bishop of Bath and Wells. The following day he attended the St Stephen’s dinner at Lambeth. Although he had not originally been named to the committee for Sir Robert Clayton’s bill regarding Bletchingley church, he attended the committee meeting on 9 Jan. 1705 with Burnet (who was in the chair), Cumberland, Nicolson and Charles Howard, 4th Baron Howard of Escrick.52 Three days later he reported back from the committee considering the bill for the sale of the late Daniel Drake’s estate, which was recommended as fit to pass without amendment. After the end of the session, Stratford returned to his diocese and ordered a census of Roman Catholics in Wigan.53

On 12 Nov. 1705, three weeks into the new session of Parliament, Stratford was excused attendance at a call of the House. He did not attend until 11 Feb. 1706, and was present in all for only 23 per cent of sittings. On 28 Feb. Stratford, who ‘rarely troubled the House’, gave what Nicolson described as a ‘cry against popery’ in support of the South Lancashire gentry and clergy who had presented a petition to the Lords. Its content, on the suppression of profaneness and immorality, smacked of Stratford’s own moralism and anti-Catholic prejudices. The following day the judges were ordered to bring in a bill to prevent the growth of Catholicism, but the measure failed.54 Two weeks later, on 11 Mar., Stratford was (along with the majority of those present) named one of the managers of both conferences regarding the privilege of Parliament (occasioned by the letter from Sir Rowland Gwynne to Thomas Grey, 2nd earl of Stamford). He missed the last two months of business in that session, and the first six weeks of the next, arriving at the House on 14 Jan. 1707. He attended this session for nearly 20 per cent of sittings. On 16 Jan. he dined at John Sharp’s house together with Nicolson and George Smalridge, the future bishop of Bristol. It is possible that Stratford was being canvassed by Sharp for his support on the forthcoming vote on the Union. On 3 Feb. Stratford voted in support of Sharp’s unsuccessful amendment (on whether the Test should be an integral part of the Act of Union).55

Stratford, who had long suffered from gout, attended the House for the final time on 8 February. Four days later, he died of apoplexy at Westminster. He left his 32 acre farm in Albury and the leases on property in Oxford to his only surviving son and executor William, archdeacon of Richmond, his household goods to his Entwistle granddaughters (his daughter having married Edmund Entwistle, archdeacon of Chester), and his clothes (except for his ‘Parliament robes’) to his head servant. He also made a bequest of £100 to the Blue Coat School, which he had founded. He was buried on 20 Feb. at Chester with elaborate civic pageantry involving both local and regional dignitaries.56 He was succeeded, contrary to the hopes of the Junto, by the Tory, William Dawes, who would later become archbishop of York.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/493.
  • 2 Add. 24272, f. 352.
  • 3 G.T.O. Bridgeman, Hist. of the Church and Manor of Wigan (Chetham Soc. ser. 2, xv-xviii), 582.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1673, pp. 542, 590; CSP Dom. 1673-5, p. 37; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 172.
  • 5 Bridgeman, 596.
  • 6 CSP Dom. 1700-2, p. 358.
  • 7 Newcome Autobiog. ed. Parkinson (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, xxvi-xxvii), i. 167; Wood, Life, ii. 44, 47, iii. 255; Bridgeman, 597.
  • 8 Chatsworth, Halifax Collection, B.40.
  • 9 Worthington Diary (Chetham Soc. xxxvi), 244.
  • 10 Newcome Autobiog. i. 167, 180, ii. 211-13, 270; Bridgeman, 579-80.
  • 11 HMC Kenyon, 274; CSP Dom. 1672-3, p. 504.
  • 12 CSP Dom. 1673, pp. 542, 590.
  • 13 Bodl. Tanner 146, f. 43.
  • 14 Ibid. 35, f. 207.
  • 15 VCH Cheshire, iii. 45; Bridgeman, 582.
  • 16 CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 355; N. Stratford, Dissuasive from Revenge (1684).
  • 17 Add. 18730, ff. 101-2.
  • 18 N. Stratford, The 14th Note of the Church Examined (1687); Discourse Concerning the Necessity of Reformation with Respect to the Errors and Corruptions of Rome (1685); People’s Right to Read the Holy Scripture Asserted (1687).
  • 19 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iii. 328, iv. 4, 186, 260.
  • 20 Add. 36707, ff. 43, 61.
  • 21 CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 163, 205.
  • 22 Newcome Autobiog. ii. 270.
  • 23 Chester and Cheshire ALS, EDA 11/1/1.
  • 24 Add. 4274, f. 93.
  • 25 Bridgeman, 583, 584, 587; VCH Cheshire, iii. 39, 46, 231, 239, v. pt. 1, 129; HP Commons 1690-1715, ii. 342.
  • 26 HMC Kenyon, 245, 270, 271, 401.
  • 27 T. Birch, Works of Dr John Tillotson (1820 edn.), i. pp. cxix, cxxiii.
  • 28 VCH Cheshire, iii. 47.
  • 29 Horwitz, Parl. Pol. 56; Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. v. 423, 433, 434, 437, 439.
  • 30 Add. 36707, ff. 85, 87.
  • 31 Tanner 152, ff. 41, 42; N. Stratford, Bishop of Chester’s Charge in his Primary Visitation at Chester May 5. 1691 (1692), 1, 25-27.
  • 32 Add. 70015, ff. 272, 276.
  • 33 Tanner 152, ff. 53, 55.
  • 34 Ibid. ff. 58, 60; Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, cxlvi. 49-52.
  • 35 Tanner 152, ff. 62, 63.
  • 36 Conflict in Stuart England ed. W.A. Aitken and B.D. Henning, 255.
  • 37 Tanner 152, f. 63, Tanner 24, f. 17.
  • 38 Add. 4274, f. 94; HMC Lords, ii. 206-8.
  • 39 HMC Kenyon, 401; LPL, ms 930, no. 26, Stratford to Tenison, 28 Mar. 1696; Evelyn Diary, v. 240.
  • 40 Add. 47608, pt. 5, f. 138.
  • 41 HMC Kenyon, 417-8.
  • 42 Ibid. 423.
  • 43 TCD, King Corresp. 569a.
  • 44 Tanner 22, ff. 190-1.
  • 45 Evelyn Diary, v. 338-9.
  • 46 Tanner 24, f. 17.
  • 47 Conflict in Stuart England, 236.
  • 48 Add. 4274, f. 95.
  • 49 HP Commons 1690-1715, ii. 344.
  • 50 Bodl. Rawl. Letters 92, f. 80.
  • 51 Add. 28946, f. 369.
  • 52 Nicolson, London Diaries, 253, 259, 260, 273.
  • 53 Bridgeman, 596.
  • 54 Nicolson, London Diaries, 386 and n. 565.
  • 55 Ibid. 409, 415.
  • 56 Burne, Chester Cathedral, 161, 170, 171.