The Archbishop of Canterbury…sees he's a cypher who they will let have no influence, & will gladly lay any blame upon. The Minister [Newcastle] is himself the Fac Totum in ecclesiastic affairs, & a sweet manager he is, for what with the last Election, & his pitiful passion for the Chancellorship of Cambridge he has involved himself in promises of church preferments to the greatest degree of perplexity. There are now two vacant stalls; one at Durham, & one at Canterbury; & he durst not dispose of either of them. He torments the poor Archbishop of Canterbury for everything that falls in his gift, so that if a thing drops, he is forced to give it away the moment he is informed of it, for fear of the Duke of Newcastle. He is as great a plague to the other Bishops, asking even for their small livings. Ely gives him everything (they say, by bargain:) Chichester, Peterborough, Durham, Gloucester, Salisbury, &c., &c., are slaves to him, in this respect. Only London & Winchester give him flat denials, unless we are to add York, which is a point problematical. As to Lord Chancellor, it is a kind of bargain made with every one that enters upon that high office, “that the Minister shall dispose of most of the church preferments in his gift.”
Edmund Pyle's oft-quoted account, though particularly caustic, is not unrepresentative of the views held by both contemporaries and historians about the duke of Newcastle as ecclesiastical minister. In the most comprehensive modern assessment of his role, Norman Sykes, while admitting that Newcastle was anxious “to fill the bench with good prelates,” portrays him as weak, vacillating, and incompetent. Moreover, and of more relevance to the concerns of this article, Sykes emphasizes the extent of Newcastle's power and influence in church affairs: like many of the duke's contemporaries he agrees with Pyle that Newcastle not only enjoyed virtually unquestioned control of Crown patronage, but that he also encroached on that of the lord chancellor and the bishops.