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The Professionalization of an Elite: The Nineteenth Century Episcopate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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A number of Victorian writers identified a change in the episcopate in the nineteenth century: Dean Burgon, for example, believed that a remodeled episcopacy emerged at this time. Historians have advanced the view that the changes were generated by the Whig ecclesiastical reforms of the 1830s. Indeed it is part of the schemata of ecclesiastical history that bishops in the eighteenth century were fundamentally different from those in the nineteenth century. Yet, as C. K. Francis Brown admitted, there has been no attempt to establish a pattern of this in the career and social history of the nineteenth century episcopate. This is all the more surprising since a structuralist analysis of the Caroline and Hanoverian episcopate has existed for some years. The traditional view of Church history, that the ecclesiastical reforms of the 1830s and 1840s were the principal engine of change, have tended to overlook the structural changes in bishops' career patterns and that there was a change in the concept of the episcopal function. The context of this changed concept of episcopal duty is important. Recent work on the professionalization of the clergy has focused on the immediate impact of the Reformation and the development of the Church as a profession up to the early eighteenth century. Rosemary O'Day and Geoffrey Holmes have demonstrated that between 1580 and 1730 the clerical profession became increasingly stratified. The overpopulation of the clergy in the eighteenth century accelerated this trend, establishing a Church in which there were extremes of wealth and poverty. At the same time the clergy were subject to greater lay control than any other emergent profession. This tension between professionalization and institutions of the state has been examined in other occupations, but throughout the nineteenth century it grew stronger in the Church. From patronage of a living to nomination to a see, laity dominated the Church. In spite of Whig reforms of the 1830s and 1840s lay control established strict parameters within which the professionalization of the episcopate occurred. The effect of control from outside the Church was that the paths to the bench of bishops remained more numerous and varied than the limited paths to the elite of other professions like the judiciary. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also saw functional trends that brought about the professionalization of the clergy. These changes have been thoroughly analyzed by Anthony Russell. The self-conscious spirituality of the Tractarian movement also effected changes in the popular view of the clerical function, and the episcopate was not immune to these changes. By the closing decades of the nineteenth-century bishops were appointed whose careers had been touched by these trends. Equally important were developments within the episcopate that altered the bishops' roles.

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Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1991

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References

1 Burgon, J. W., Lives of Twelve Good Men, 2 vols. (London 1889), 2: 1 Google Scholar.

2 A good example of this kind of interpretation is Brown, C. K. Francis, A History of The English Clergy 1800–1900, (London, 1953), ch. 2Google Scholar. It is also apparent in Chadwick, Owen, The Victorian Church (London, 1968)Google Scholar.

3 Though this view is gradually crumbling, it still retains a currency among historians who accept the traditional perspective, see Virgin, Peter, The Church in The Age of Negligence (Cambridge, 1989)Google Scholar.

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5 Hirschberg, Daniel R. A Social History of the Anglican Episcopate 1660–1760, (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1976)Google Scholar. Hirschberg's methodological framework has been an important influence in this work. The statistical information in this study has been obtained from standard biographical reference works, including John Foster, Alumni Oxoniesis, John Venn, Alumni Cantabridgiensis, DNB, and Clergy Lists for the nineteenth century. In addition, 61 biographies of 19th-century bishops have been consulted for additional information.

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35 Hirschberg, , A Social History of the Anglican Episcopate, p. 224 Google Scholar. For examples of historians who have asserted that there was a growth in the status of the clergy in this period see: Russell, The Clerical Profession, and Virgin, The Church in The Age of Negligence.

36 This section considers the first post held by future bishops after ordination, it has thus excluded fellowships at universities held before ordination, but has included those fellowships and university posts held after ordination.

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38 Though there are exceptions to this. Renn Dickson Hampden spent sixteen years as a curate in five parishes, and John Festing stayed 13 years as a curate of the prestigious Christ Church, Westminster. Hampden, H., Memorials of Bishop Hampden (London, 1871), p. 9 Google Scholar. Stephenson, Gwendolin, E. S. Talbot (London, 1936)Google Scholar.

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46 Russell, , The Clerical Profession, p. 37 Google Scholar. This kind of assertion is open to all sorts of vagaries: Richard Lewis deliberately chose to become curate of Denchworth, Oxfordshire in 1846 because it did not have a resident clergyman, and he would be in sole charge (Morris, “Bishop Richard Lewis”).

47 Lord George Murray became archdeacon of Man at 20; The Hon. George Pelham became prebend of Chichester at 24, and George Henry Law, the son of a bishop, became prebend of Carlisle at 23 (DNB). McDowell, R. B. (“The Anglican Episcopate 1780–1945,” Theology (1945))Google Scholar indicates quite correctly that the numbers of bishops from noble homes declined over the 19th century; how-ever, the numbers of clergy who had some family connection with a noble family increased over the same period (Gibson, “The Social Origins and Education of an Elite”).

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70 Bishops Harcourt, Moss, Murray, Murray, Pelham, Law, E. Legge, Bagot, Jenkinson, Percy, Maltby, Mackarness, and J. Wordsworth. Mackamess is the exception. These bishops represent 8.9% of the total, compared to 12% of bishops appointed before the age of 30 during the period 1660–1760 ( Hirschberg, , A Social History of the Anglican Episcopate, p. 251 Google Scholar).

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74 Though this rise was not consistent, as the average ages per decade were: 48.52; 50.5; 46.81; 50.57; 52.87; 45.22; 53.35; 54.75; 52.73; 53.77.

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76 Ibid. 1: 160.

77 This does not include translations, some bishops were translated well into their seventies.

78 Gibson, “‘A Great Excitement’: Gladstone and Church Patronage 1868–1890.”

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84 A remarkable similarity to the preceding era, 1660–1760, for which the average age was 73 ( Hirschberg, , A Social History of the Anglican Episcopate, p. 312 Google Scholar).

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88 Russell, , Edward King, p. 2 Google Scholar.

89 Gibson, , “Gladstone and the Llandaff Vacancy of 1882,” The Church Times, September 3, 1886 Google Scholar. Haig, , The Victorian Clergy, p. 119 Google Scholar.

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