By:  Esther Hong

English Legal History

Fall 2007

 

William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury and Nonjuror (1617-1693):

 

Archbishop Sancroft’s life was unpredictable:

 

“None of us can expect to be on the defeated side in a civil war, to suffer ten years of rustication and exile as a result; to see the cathedral of which we are dean (St. Paul’s no less) consumed by fire, and then to pore over the plans for its reconstruction with the architect, and that architect none other than Sir Christopher Wren; to crown a king, to be sent to the Tower by that same king, and then to see him deposed after a foreign invasion; and yet to remain loyal to that dethroned king.” (Collinson 173). 

 

Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft was born on January 30, 1617 in Fressingfield, Suffolk.  According to author, R. A. P. J. Beddard, the Archbishop spelled his name differently throughout his life, Sancroft or Sandcroft.  Sancroft had one older brother and six sisters.  He was the second son of Francis and Margaret Sancroft.  The Sancroft family was from a line of yeoman farmers.  (According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a yeoman farmer is "a person qualified by possessing free land … He is sometimes described as a small landowner, a farmer of the middle classes.")

 

Bury St. Edmunds and Emmanuel College

Sancroft attended Bury St. Edmunds, a school where the sons of local landowners were educated.  After Bury St. Edmunds, Sancroft attended Emmanuel College where his uncle, Dr. William Sancroft was master from 1628 through 1637.  According to Beddard, since Sancroft was the second oldest son of a religious family, he was most likely to work with the church.   While at Emmanuel, it has been alleged, Sancroft began an affair and fell in love with Arthur Brownest, his roommate.  (Collinson 176).  Brownest died in May 1641 from tuberculosis and Sancroft lived the remainder of his life like a celibate and never married. (Id.) 

At Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Sancroft studied theology and was elected a fellow in 1642.  As a fellow, he tutored pupils.  According to Beddard, Sancroft was a “church of England loyalist who reverenced the established laws, [] held to the conjoint rule of king and bishop, and adhered to the Book of Common Prayer.”

 

Charles I’s Execution in 1649

            Sancroft was a royalist and executing the king meant executing one appointed by God.  (Collinson 177).  Sancroft immediately transferred his loyalty to Charles II.  In July 1651, Sancroft’s fellowship at Emmanuel was taken away because he refused to support the new Commonwealth.

During the 1650s, Sancroft spent his time partly in his hometown of Fressingfield, Suffolk and partly traveling to London, the United Provinces, the Netherlands, and Italy.  According to Beddard, during his trips, Sancroft would interact with local scholars as well as collect books.  Although Sancroft was offered opportunities to publicly lead churches, he refused these offers during this time.  (Id.).  With the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Sancroft returned to London.

 

Charles II

Sancroft was well liked by Charles II.  A few years after returning to England, Sancroft was made Master of Emmanuel College in 1662.  “Royal favour knew no bounds where Sancroft was concerned.  On 8 January 1664 Charles nominated him dean of York.  Elected on 23 January, he was installed by proxy on 26 February, and held deanery barely nine months.”  (Id.) 

Then on November 8, 1664, Sancroft was nominated by Charles II to become dean of St. Paul’s.  A few months later, Sancroft left his position as master of Emmanuel.  According to Beddard, “it was a measure of Charles’s confidence in Sancroft’s loyalty and devotion to duty that he put him in charge of the cathedral of this capital – the city where the rebellion had begun in 1642, and in which, for all of Sheldon’s exertions, nonconformity and disaffection were still rife.”

            When Sancroft became dean of St. Paul’s, the cathedral was in disrepair as a result of neglect during the interregnum.  Unfortunately, soon after Sancroft was appointed, London was hit by the “the Great Plague” in 1665 and “the Great Fire” in 1666.  The fire destroyed St. Paul’s, but this did not keep Sancroft from taking on the restoration of the cathedral.  Sancroft worked with Christopher Wren to rebuild the cathedral (Collinson 182).  Christopher Wren was one of the most renowned English architects at the time.  Sancroft was dedicated to restoring St. Paul’s.  “Long after he left Emmanuel, Sancroft would continue to be involved in the chapel project as benefactor, fund-raiser and architectural consultant.”  (Collinson 182).

 

Primate of All England

            After the death of Archbishop Sheldon on November 9, 1677, Charles II nominated Sancroft to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, also known as the “Primate of All England”.  (Primate comes from the latin term, primus, which means “first”.)  Sancroft became the primary and prominent leader in the Church of England.  As Archbishop of Canterbury, Sancroft would be required to participate in coronations and other public ceremonies.  According to Beddard, it was no surprise that Sancroft would be nominated by Charles II to succeed Sheldon,

 

“Unencumbered by aristocratic connections, Sancroft was what he had always been – the king’s man.  His year of service in both provinces of the church under Cosin, Sheldon, and Henchman had equipped him with the necessary experience to be primate of all England, and Charles knew he could depend on him to rule the church on his behalf.  His nomination to Canterbury announced the king’s resolution to make the most of the Church of England’s traditional role as a bastion of monarchy.”

 

On February 21, 1678, Sancroft and Bishop Morley of Winchester spoke to Charles II’s brother, James II, about the importance of maintaining the established religion.  According to Beddard, this would be unheeded advice and foreshadowed the fall of James II from the throne.

            As Archbishop, Sancroft was committed to making sure that most of those appointed to work with the church were dedicated to ensuring that James II’s would eventually take his place as king following the reign of his brother, Charles II. 

           

James II

Charles II died on February 6, 1685 and Sancroft, as Archbishop, crowned James II on St. George’s Day (April 23, 1685) in Westminster Abbey. 

 

“The Archbishop officiated at the ceremony of the coronation of James II.; and the fact of his placing with his own hands the crown on the head of the monarch seems to have greatly contributed to bind his attachment to him as his only lawful sovereign, and to confirm him in the steady refusal to transfer, under subsequent change, his allegiance to another.”  (D’Oyly at 210, vol. I)

 

According to Beddard, soon after James II’s coronation, Lambeth Palace (the home of Archbishops) began receiving complaints that papists were being granted dispensations.  Then in a November meeting with Parliament, there was outright protest against James II’s latest action.  James II had decided to keep the Roman Catholic officers who had suppressed the rebellions by Monmouth and Argyll.  (Id.).  Sancroft and other bishops supported the opposition to James II’s actions.  Soon afterwards, James prorogued Parliament.  As a result of Sancroft’s opposition to James II’s actions, his advice over church appointments were not followed.  Beddard states that in “July 1686 his recommendations of Robert Smith for Oxford and James Jeffreys for Chester were ignored in favour of Samuel Parker and Thomas Cartwright, two maverick ultra-tories.”

           Sancroft continued to show disagreement over James II’s support for Catholicism for which he was punished.  In 1686, Sancroft refused “to serve on James II’s Ecclesiastical Commission, an illegal engine for the advancement of the Catholic interest.  This led to his removal from the Privy Council, exclusion from the Court, and the loss of all influence over preferments.” (Collinson 189)

            According to Beddard, Sancroft was careful with his actions, “Condemned to the wilderness of royal disfavour Sancroft had to pick a precarious middle way as best he could between compliance and truculence.”  Sancroft had been accused by Gilbert Burnet of passively allowing James II to carry on with his “catholicizing” policies.  However, Beddard believes Sancroft was trying to find a balance between his loyalty to the king and his loyalty to the Anglican Church.

 

Declaration of Indulgence

            On April 4, 1687, James II issued the Declaration of Indulgence, also known as the Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience.  This document established religious toleration and was written to gain the support of Roman Catholics.  The Declaration:  suspended penal laws that forced people to follow the Church of England, permitted individuals to worship in their homes as they wished, and no longer required religious oaths by individuals before working for the government.

The Declaration destroyed the hopes of restoring an Anglican monopoly in England.  The Declaration was later amended, without substantial changes, by James II in 1688.  James II ordered that the Declaration be read in churches across England.  Sancroft and six other bishops disobeyed the order by James II to read the Declaration because they believed it was illegal for the king to exercise dispensing powers.  They believed the king did not have suspending powers.

 

Trial of the Seven Bishops

            In response to James II’s order that the Declaration be read in church, the Seven Bishops wrote a petition.  The Seven Bishops were:  William Sancroft (Archbishop of Canterbury), Thomas Ken (Bishop of Bath and Wells),  John Lake (Bishop of Chichester), William Lloyd (Bishop of St. Asaph), Jonathan Trelawny (Bishop of Bristol), Francis Turner (Bishop of Ely), and Thomas White (Bishop of Peterborough).  James II viewed the ptition as an act of rebellion and ordered that the Seven Bishops be imprisoned in the Tower of London.  The bishops were kept in the tower for seven days.  (Strickland 68).  James II charged them with seditious libel, a misdemeanor.  The Seven Bishops were brought before the Court of the King’s Bench for trial and were found not guilty. 

            Although the imprisonment and trial of the bishops only lasted for a short period of time, this act contributed significantly to the downfall of James II.  (Id. at 69).  James II’s son, “the old pretender”, was born two days after the bishops were committed to the tower.  (Id. at 70).  If Sancroft had not been imprisoned, but instead had witnessed the birth of the heir to the throne, then there would not have been doubt as to the legitimacy of the birth.  (Id. at 71).  Those who opposed James II attributed Sancroft’s absence as evidence that no child was born.  (Id.).

Later in 1688 when James was deposed, the Declaration was voided.  In the 1689 Bill of Rights, it was codified that it was illegal to prosecute those who petitioned the king.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689>.  Petitioning the king was not punishable.  (Id.).

Even though they were put in the Tower and forced to go through a trial, five out of the seven bishops maintained their loyalty to James II even after James II fled to France following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_bishops>.  Bishop Lloyd and Bishop Trelawny were the two bishops who severed their loyalty to James II.  (Id.).  The five out of seven bishops who maintained their loyalty to James II were part of the nine bishops who became non-jurors following the coronation of William III and Mary of Modena.  (Id.).  (The non-jurors refused to plead allegiance to William III and Mary of Modena and as a result, lost their appointments as bishops.)  (Id.).

           

The Glorious Revolution of 1688

            After being found innocent at trial, Sancroft returned to his position as Archbishop and began the work of resisting Catholics and their practices.  According to Beddard, Sancroft maintained his allegiance to James II while trying to suppress the “‘popish emissaries’, meaning the vicars apostalic sent from Rome, and to cultivate their ‘brethen’, the dissenters.”  Sancroft also compelled James II to amend his domestic policies, which James II consented to.  (Id.).

            Earlier that year, June 10, 1688, James II’s son with Mary of Modena was born.  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Francis_Edward_Stuart >.  According to Beddard, on October 22, Sancroft attended a meeting of the council in order to takeaway any doubt that this was a legitimate son of James II and Mary of Modena and thus rightful heir to the throne.  Sancroft and other Protestants had hoped that the birth of Sancroft’s son would restore the religious establishment in England.  Sancroft tried to summon a “free parliament” to restore order in the kingdom.  (Id.).  Unfortunately these efforts proved futile when James II fled England in December 1688.

            According to Beddard, Sancroft and twenty-seven peers met at Guildhall on December 11, 1688 to try to restore order.  They asked William III for his help in getting Parliament together, but they did not request for William III to come to London or to take over government.  (Id.).  The assembly was successful in bringing order to London. 

            Later on December 16, 1688, James II returned to London.  Sancroft, once again, demonstrated his allegiance to James II and waited on him.  (Id.).  After James II left England for good on December 23, 1688, Sancroft withdrew from his public duties and became a hermit.  (Id.).

            This was the second interregnum that Sancroft had experienced during his life, (the first after Charles I was executed and before Charles II was restored to the throne).  And now, Sancroft was witness to his second interregnum in which James II had been deposed and replaced by William III and Mary of Modena on February 13, 1689. 

            As Archbishop of Canterbury, it was Sancroft’s duty to coronate William III and Mary of Modena but Sancroft refused.  (Collinson 193).  Instead, he offered excuses for his absence and Bishop Compton took over these duties on behalf of Sancroft.  (Id.).

 

Ejection of his position as Archbishop of Canterbury and the Remainder of his Life in Fressingfield

            Sancroft refused to recognize William III and Mary of Modena as King and Queen of England.  As a result, on February 1, 1690, Sancroft, and four of the other Seven Bishops and 400 members of the clergy were fired from their positions.  Sancroft and those who refused to pledge allegiance to the new king and queen became known as the non-jurors.  Shortly after the clergy members were fired, the Church was inundated with treatises by those who did not want the clergy to be replaced.  (Luckock 216).  Some viewed the non-jurors as the real Church.  (Id. at 216).  The opposers did not want to see a separation between church and state (Id. at 216).   On April 23, 1691, John Tillotson replaced Sancroft as Archbishop of Canterbury. 

            On August 3, 1690, Sancroft left London and returned to his childhood home in Fressingfield.  Sancroft remained a private figure and spent his time reading books and writing papers.  During the summer of 1693, Sancroft contracted malaria.  (Id. at 199).  Later that year, on November 23, 1693, Sancroft died and was buried in Fressingfield, Suffolk.  (Id.).

 

 


Bibliography

Beddard, R. A. P. J.. “Sancroft, William (1617–1693).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oct. 2005. 18 Nov. 2007 <http://www.oxforddnb.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu:2048/view/article/24610>.

Collinson, Patrick.  From Cranmer to Sancroft.  Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.

 

Concise Oxford Dictionary, (edited by H.W. & F.G. Fowler, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972 reprint, p.1516).  < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeoman_farmer#Yeoman_farmers >.

 

D’Oyly, George.  Life of Archbishop Sancroft. J.W. Parker, 1821.  (2 vols.)

 

Luckock, Herbert Mortimer.  The Bishops in the Tower (1887).

 

Strickland, Agnes.  The Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688 (1866).

 

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689>. 

 

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_bishops>. 

 

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Francis_Edward_Stuart >.