By: Esther Hong
English Legal History
William Sancroft, Archbishop
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.”
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.
At Emmanuel College,
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
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,
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.
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.”
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
Primate of All England
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
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.
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,
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
were ignored in favour of Samuel Parker and Thomas Cartwright, two maverick
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)
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
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
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
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.
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
Revolution of 1688
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.
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.
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
Later on December 16, 1688, James
II returned to London. Sancroft, once again, demonstrated his
allegiance to James II and waited on him.
After James II left England
for good on December 23, 1688,
Sancroft withdrew from his public duties and became a hermit. (Id.).
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
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
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
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.
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.
Luckock, Herbert Mortimer.
The Bishops in the Tower (1887).
Strickland, Agnes. The
Lives of the Seven Bishops Committed to the Tower in 1688 (1866).