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Whigs, bishops and America: the politics of church reform in mid-eighteenth-century England*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Stephen Taylor
Affiliation:
University of Reading

Abstract

The eighteenth century is traditionally seen as an interlude between two vigorous movements of church reform. This article explores the problems and attitudes which underlay the absence of major structural reform of the Church in this period. To do so, it examines the failure of attempts, especially those of the 1740s and 1750s, to create an anglican episcopate in the American colonies. The leaders of the Church of England were agreed that the need for American bishops was pressing, on both pastoral and administrative grounds, and the 1740s and 1750s witnessed two proposals for their creation which were supported by virtually the whole bench of bishops. Both failed. The whig ministry resolutely opposed these initiatives, largely out of fear that any debate of church reform would revive the political divisions of Queen Anne's reign. The bishops, moreover, were prepared to submit to this ministerial veto, despite their belief in the necessity of reform, not through political subservience, but because they too feared renewed controversy about religion and the Church, believing that such controversy would revive both anti-clerical attacks from without and bitter divisions within.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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References

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16 L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, X, fo. 239; Samuel Johnson to Bishop Gibson, 4 June 1731, Peter de la Rouche to Bishop Terrick, 22 Nov. 1771, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, 1, fos. 245, 92–3. The refusal of the Church of England to countenance such an expedient is perhaps indicative of its insularity during the eighteenth century. At this time the Roman Catholic Church occasionally allowed parish priests to confirm. Chadwick, Owen, The popes and European revolution (Oxford, 1981), pp. 183–4Google Scholar.

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18 Sherlock refused to renew the patent, and there is no evidence that any of his successors did so. Sherlock to the lords commissioners of trade and plantations, 19 Feb. 1759, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VI, fos. 273–4.

19 Jenney to Sherlock, 23 May 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VII, fo. 314.

20 Caner to Sherlock, 6 May 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VI, fos. 7–8.

21 It is not clear to whom this appeal was directed. See Cross, , Anglican episcopate, p. 83, n. 1Google Scholar.

22 Garden to Sherlock, 1 Feb. 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, X, fos. 134–5. This letter contains a summary of his proceedings against Whitefield. The case is more fully discussed in Tyerman, L., The life of the Rev. George Whitefield (2 vols., London, 1877), 1, 395402, 477, 539Google Scholar; Cross, , Anglican episcopate, pp. 80–6Google Scholar. For an account of Garden, see Keen, Q. B., ‘The problems of a commissary: the Reverend Alexander Garden of South Carolina’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, XX (1951), 136–55Google Scholar.

23 L.P.L., Fulham Papers, X, fo. 134.

24 A good example is the dispute which arose between Commissary Cummings, rector of ChristChurch, Philadelphia, and his assistant, Richard Peters, who was supported by a large part of the vestry. For Cummings's awareness of the delicacy of his position, see Cummings to Gibson, 1 Aug. 1737, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VII, fo. 201. For the dispute in general, see L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VII, fos. 170–243, passim; Cummings, Hubertis, Richard Peters: provincial secretary and cleric (Philadelphia, 1944), pp. 1323CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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26 L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, X, fo. 175.

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28 Sherlock to Philip Doddridge, 11 May 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XIII, fos. 41–2; Green, John, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel…on Friday February 19, 1768 (London, 1768), pp. 22–3Google Scholar.

29 Herring to Hardwicke, 27 Mar. 1749, British Library (B.L.), Add. MS 35598, fos. 407–8.

30 Sykes, Norman, Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, 1669–1748 (London, 1926), p. 370Google Scholar; L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XXVI, fos. 141–2. The same point was made even more explicitly by Herring. L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, X, fo. 240.

31 Browne to Gibson, 15 Mar. 1725, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, 1, fos. 210–11.

32 Johnson was one of the Connecticut congregationalists who announced his conversion to anglicanism at the Yale commencement of 1722. He later became a prominent New England missionary and the first president of King's College, New York. See Ellis, Joseph J., The New England mind in transition. Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, 1696–1772 (New Haven, 1973)Google Scholar, and, for some important revisions of Ellis's account of Johnson's religious opinions, Geradi, D. F. M., ‘Samuel Johnson and the Yale “apostacy” of 1722: the challenge of anglican sacramentalism to the New England way’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, XLVII (1978), 153–75Google Scholar.

33 E.g. Johnson to Gibson, 25 Nov. 1745, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XXXVI, fos. 132–3; Johnson to Sherlock, 17 Sept. 1750, Fulham Papers, 1, fos. 289–90; Caner to Terrick, 15 May 1766, Fulham Papers, vi, fos. 60–1.

34 L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XXXVI, fos. 132–3; L.P.L., MS 1123/1/40; Johnson to Seeker, 13 July 1760, L.P.L., MS 1123/11/190–1; Documents relative to the colonial history of New York, ed. O'Callaghan, E. B. (11 vols., Albany, 1853–61), VII, 441–3Google Scholar.

35 Samuel Seabury, Samuel Cooke and Charles Inglis, on behalf of the clergy of New York, to Chandler, Cooper, Vardill and Boucher, 28 Oct. 1780, L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, X, fos. 189–92. But under the impact of the war, it was not merely the American clergy who made this point. Cf. Jones, William, ‘An address to the British government on a subject of present concern, 1776’, in The theological and miscellaneous works of William Jones (new edn, 6 vols., London, 1826), VI, 268–74Google Scholar; Bishop Lowth to T. B. Chandler, 29 May 1775, Chandler, , Life of Johnson, p. 209Google Scholar.

36 Mayhew, Jonathan, Observations on the charter and conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (London, 1763), p. 89Google Scholar, quoted in Bridenbaugh, , Mitre and sceptre, p. 226Google Scholar. Bridenbaugh's study is a vivid and illuminating account of the fears of colonial dissenters at the prospect of an anglican episcopate, but it is deeply flawed by the assumption that these fears were an accurate portrayal of reality on both sides of the Atlantic. Phrases like ‘ecclesiastical imperialism’ and ‘lust for dominion’ might be applicable to some American episcopalians, although even then not without qualification, but to apply them to the English bishops reveals, not only a predisposition to rely on rhetoric and propaganda for evidence, but also a fundamental incomprehension of the nature of religious thought in eighteenth-century England. The portrayal of Seeker [pp. 30–1] is a particular misrepresentation. Hisalleged intolerance towards dissent, upon which the account of his motives for supporting an American episcopate is based, is not borne out by the evidence of his friendly relations with Doddridge, Avery and Chandler. Newcastle to J. White, 1 Apr. 1758, B.L., Add. MS 32879, fo. 5; Illustrations of the literary history of the eighteenth century, ed. Nichols, John (8 vols., London, 18171858), III, 484–5Google Scholar; Autobiography of Seeker, p. 59.

37 Cross, , Anglican episcopate, pp. 108–9Google Scholar; Bridenbaugh, , Mitre and sceptre, pp. 2930Google Scholar.

38 Seeker, Thomas, ‘Sermon before the S.P.G. on 20 February 1741’, in Works, V, 108–9Google Scholar. Seeker left instructions that the Letter to Walpole was to be published after his death. It is reprinted in Works, VI, 489–509.

39 Benson, Martin, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society forthe Propagation of the Gospel…on Friday, February 15, 1739–40 (London, 1740), p. 24Google Scholar; Seeker to Johnson, 27 Sept. 1758, L.P.L., MS 1123/II/121. For the dissatisfaction of Benson and Seeker with the Walpole ministry see Taylor, Stephen, ‘The bishops at Westminster in the mid-eighteenth century’, in A pillar of the constitution. The house of lords in British politics, 1640–1784, ed. Jones, Clyve (London, 1989), pp. 143–4, 151Google Scholar.

40 Wentworth to the secretary of the S.P.G., n.d., B.L., Add. MS 32704, fos. 135–6. The receipt of the letter was noted at a meeting of the Society on 15 February 1745. Rhodes House, Oxford, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 10, p. 5.

41 B.L., Add. MS 32704, fos. 135–6; Gibson to Potter, 24 Apr. 1745, L.P.L., Potter Papers, 1, fo. i; ‘Paper compos'd on the Duke of Newcastle's request…sent to him April 10th 1745 to be communicated to the ministry’, Potter Papers, 1, fos. 36–8.

42 Potter to Newcastle, 10 Mar. 1746, B.L., Add. MS 32706, fos. 282–3.

43 Minutes of the S.P.G., 20 Jan., 17 Feb. 1749, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, pp. 83–4, 94.

44 John Pownall to the S.P.G., 6 Apr. 1749, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, pp. 105–6. For the background to the Nova Scotia settlement, see Basye, A. H., The lords commissioners of trade and plantations, commonly krunvn as the board of trade 1748–82 (New Haven, 1925), pp. 40–4Google Scholar.

45 Minutes of the S.P.G., 7 Apr. 1749, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, p. 108; Herring to Hardwicke, 7 Apr. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 409–10.

46 B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 409–10.

47 The ten were Herring of Canterbury, Hutton of York, Maddox of Worcester, Wilcocks of Rochester, Benson of Gloucester, Trevor of St David's, Thomas of Lincoln, Mawson of Chichester, Gilbert of Salisbury, and Gooch of Ely. Minutes of the S.P.G., 14 Apr. 1749, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, p. 109. Four bishops, who were not present on 14 April, had attended the meeting on 7 April, which considered the board of trade's letter an d drafted the Society's reply: Drummond of St Asaph, Seeker of Oxford, Butlerof Bristol, and Thomas of Peterborough. Minutes of the S.P.G., 7 Apr. 1749, S.P.G. Journals, 11, p. 105.

48 Sherlock to Edward Weston, 9 Sept. 1748, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 10thReport, Appendix, Part I, p. 302; Sherlock to Hardwicke, 21 Nov. 1748, enclosing a paper entitled ‘For the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Plantations’, B.L., Add. MS 35590, fos. 206–8.

49 Herring to Hardwicke, 25 Nov. 1748, B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 366–8.

50 Cf. Carpenter, Edward, Thomas Sherlock 1678–1761 (London, 1936), pp. 228–30Google Scholar.

51 Sherlock to Newcastle, 13 Aug. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 32719, fos. 52–3.

52 Sherlock to Newcastle, 7, 3, Sept. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 32719, fos. 113, 97.

53 Sherlock to the lords commissioners of trade and plantations, 19 Feb. 1759, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VI, fos. 270–5.

54 Ibid. fo. 273; Sherlock to Hardwicke, 19 Feb. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 35909, fo. 111. The paper referred to is probably ‘The State of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Plantations in America’, B.L., Add. MS 33029, fos. 63–4. It suggests the settlement of two bishops, one for the continental colonies and one for the islands, who would be provided for by annexing to them two considerablelivings in the plantations and the headships of the colleges of Barbados and Virginia. To ensure there was no danger of their assuming too much authority and power once established, they could be made suffragans to some English bishops, and would thus have no more jurisdiction than was specifically granted to them.

55 The implication in Sherlock's account that the king was personally sympathetic to the idea of an American episcopate is supported by Newcastle's comment to Pelham: ‘I think the Kingis for Bishops in ye West Indies.’ Newcastle to Henry Pelham, 11 July 1750, Nottingham University Library, Newcastle of Clumber Papers, Ne.C. 963a.

56 L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VI, fo. 273; Sherlock's ‘Considerations’, Fulham Papers, XXXV:, fos. 136–49. The meeting at Newcastle House possibly took place on 29 March 1750. Minutes of the dissenting deputies, 28 Mar. 1750, Guildhall Library, London, MS 3083/1, p. 325.

57 L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XXXVI, fo. 149V.

58 Minutes of the S.P.G., 18 May 1750, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, pp. 219–26. This meeting seems to have been dominated by the more vocal advocates of an American episcopate. Apart from Sherlock, four bishops were present: Benson, Seeker, Butler and Hayter of Norwich. On the basis of a copy in Butler's handwriting, these proposals were described by Cross as ‘Butler's plan’ [Anglican episcopate, pp. 122–4], an attribution that has been almost universally followed, including, most recently, by Bridenbaugh, [Mitre and sceptre, pp.97–8]Google Scholar. The existence of a copy in Butler's handwriting demonstrates two points: first, that members of the S.P.G., including some bishops, communicated it on their own initiative to the colonies; and, second, that Butler himself was a strong supporter of the proposals. Further evidence of the first point can be gained from the letters of johnson et al. [L.P.L., Fulham Papers, 1, fo. 292], Timothy Cutler et al.[ Chandler, , Life of johnson, pp. 168–70Google Scholar ], and James McSparran [L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VIII, fos. 319–22], all of which appear to be replies to this or a similar document.

59 Hardwicke to Newcastle, 25 May 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32720, fos. 405–7. The decision was taken by Hardwicke, Dorset, Bedford, Pelham and Herring.

60 Herring to Hardwicke, 26 May 1750, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 11–12; Hardwicke to Newcastle, 6 June 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fo. 49; Minutes of the S.P.G., 25 May 1750, U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 11, p. 227.

61 Herring to Hardwicke, 21 Oct. 1751, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 50–1.

62 L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VI, fo. 273.

63 Herring to Hardwicke, 6 Nov. 1750, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 30–1. In addition to the eleven bishops who attended the S.P.G. meeting of 14 April 1749 [see n. 47], the following can also be identified as supporters of an American episcopate: Gibson, Potter, Seeker, Drummond, Butler [see n. 58], Hayter [see n. 58 and L.P.L., MS 1123/111/238], and Pearce [see p. 339].Two others may be tentatively identified as supporters: Thomas of Peterborough, who attended the S.P.G. meetingwhich discussed the board of trade's letter about Nova Scotia [see n. 47], and Smalbroke of Lichfield, who attended two S.P.G. meetings which pressed for American bishops [U.S.P.G. Archives, S.P.G. Journals, 10, p. 10; 11, p. 75]. Among those bishops on the bench between 1745 and 1750 only Benjamin Hoadly of Winchester was not a member of the S.P.G.

64 Seeker to Johnson, 8 Mar. 1746, L.P.L., MS 1123/1/36.

65 22 Geo. II, c. 30; Herring to Hardwicke, 27 Mar. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 407–8.

66 Sherlock to Newcastle, 7 Sept. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 32719, fos. 113–14.

67 Johnson to Seeker, 5 Dec. 1757, L.P.L., MS 1123/II/III; Johnson to Seeker, 12 Nov. 1766, L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, XI, fo. 183.

68 In 1776, the 2nd earl of Hardwicke recalled that his father, ‘When asked what he thought of Mr Grenville's scheme for taxing America, said – They had not been used to taxes: told Abp. Seeker, when he proposed sending a Bishop, that the Americans left England to avoid Bishops.’ The diary and letters of his excellency Thomas Hutchinson, ed. Hutchinson, P. O. (2 vols., London, 18831886), II, 131Google Scholar. Likewise, on 10 August 1761 Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke that, if he resigned, he would ‘oppose any alteration, that may be proposed, of any part of the present Constitution, or receiv'd usage and practice, with regard either to Scotland, Ireland, or our Settlements in America’. Quoted by Namier, L. B., England in the age of the American revolution (2nd edn, London, 1961), p. 287Google Scholar.

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72 Walpole to Sherlock, 29 May 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fos. 60–9.

73 Sherlock to Doddridge, II May 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, XIII, fo. 42.

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78 Walpole to Sherlock, 29 May 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fo. 60.

79 Pelham to Newcastle, 2 July 1750, Hardwicke to Newcastle, 6 June 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fos. 256, 49.

80 Newcastle to Pelham, 23 June 1750, Newcastle to Walpole, 2 July 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fos. 158, 167–8.

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82 Walpole to Herring, 2 Jan. 1751, L.P.L., MS 1123/1/51.

83 L.P.L., S.P.G. Papers, X, fo. 183.

84 B.L., Add. MS 32721, fos. 60–9, 167–8.

85 B.L., Add. M S 32721, fo. 62V.

86 McSparran to Sherlock, 26 Mar. 1751, L.P.L., Fulham Papers, VIII, fo. 320.

87 Minutes of the dissenting deputies, 5 Apr., 5 May, 27 Sept. 1749, 14, 28 Mar., 30 May, 10 Oct. 1750, Guildhall Library, MS 3083/1, pp. 314, 315, 317, 324, 325, 326, 328.

88 Bollan to Willard, 25 Aug. 1750, Massachusetts State Archives, XX, 643–5. Bridenbaugh suggests that Bollan, an anglican, was dismissed as the colony's agent in 1762 because he was thought unsuitable to represent Massachusetts at a time of renewed controversy about bishops. [Mitre and sceptre, p. 218.] In the context of the argument advanced here it is perhaps significant that he was not dismissed earlier.

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103 13 Geo. II, c. 7. See Perry, T. W., Public opinion, propaganda and politics in eighteenth-century England. A study of the Jew Bill of 1753 (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), p. 15Google Scholar.

104 Parl. Hist., XV, 139–40 (Prowse, Thomas)Google Scholar.

105 Perry, Public opinion, propaganda and politics, chs. 5 and 6.

106 Herring to Newcastle, 30 Oct. 1753, B.L., Add. MS 32733, fo. 162; John Dobson to John Mordaunt, 20 Nov. 1753, Warwickshire R.O., CR 1368 Box 5/5/7, quoted in Colley, , In defiance of oligarchy, p. 89Google Scholar.

107 Ord to the earl of Carlisle, 17 July 1753, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 15th Report, Appendix, Par t VI, p. 207.

108 Perry, , Public opinion, propaganda and politics, pp. 146–7Google Scholar.

109 Halifax to Newcastle, 12 Nov. 1753, B.L., Add. MS 32733, fo. 237; Herring to Hardwicke, 8 Nov. 1753, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 125–6.

110 Parl. Hist., XV, 93, 99–103.

111 Parl. Hist., XV, 142–3.

112 Taylor, , ‘The bishops at Westminster’, pp. 137–63Google Scholar.

113 Bollan to Willard, 25 Aug.1750, Massachusetts State Archives, XX, 644; Seeker to Johnson, 4 Nov. 1760, L.P.L., MS 1123/11/213.

114 Herring to Hardwicke, 21 Oct. 1751, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 50–1. Herring did make some private efforts to persuade the ministry to do something for the colonial Church. Herring to Hardwicke, 7 Apr. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 409–12; Herring to Hardwicke, 6 Nov. 1750, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 30–1.

115 Green, , Sermon before the S.P.G., p. 24Google Scholar. For Herring's role in the Corpus Christi mastership election of 1750, see Herring to Heaton et al., 16 June 1750, Literary illustrations, ed. Nichols, , VI, 794Google Scholar.

116 E.g. Seeker to Johnson, 27 Sept. 1758, Seeker to William Smith, 12 Oct. 1760, L.P.L., MS 1123/11/121, 207. There is no evidence to suggest that Seeker expressed this opinion of Sherlock's proposals in 1750.

117 Herring to Hardwicke, 26 May 1750, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 11–12.

118 Herring warned that the clergy would not relish being told ‘by an Assembly of Dissenters, That Episcopacy is contrary to the Liberties of a Protestant Country’. Herring to Hardwicke, 26 Nov. 1749, B.L., Add. MS 35598, fos. 436–7.

119 Gilbert to Newcastle, I4 june 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fo. 109. Sherlock himself appears to have been inconsistent in raising the American episcopate question at the S.P.G., for he had earlier criticized Bishop Maddox for a similar action, presumably in 1745. Hardwicke to Newcastle, 6 June 1750, B.L., Add. MS 32721, fo. 49.

120 Seeker, , Works, VI, 503–5Google Scholar.

121 26 Hen. VIII, c. 14. This act, however, made no provision for the maintenance of suffragans, besides allowing them to hold two benefices with cure of souls.

122 Seeker, , Works, VI, 504Google Scholar; Herring to Hardwicke, 24 Nov. 1750, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 38–9.

123 ‘Ld Bp of London's Quaeries concerning the exercise of Eccl: Jurisdn. in yePlantations’, n.d., B.L., Add. MS 35908, fos. 95–6.

124 Quoted in Sykes, , Sheldon to Seeker, p. 203Google Scholar.

125 Benson to Berkeley, 7 Feb. 1738, B.L., Add. MS 39311, fo. 39.

126 Seeker, , ‘Oratio quam coram synodo provinciae Cantuariensis anno 1761 convocata habendam scripserat, sed morbo praepeditus non habuit, archiepiscopus’, in Works, V, 508–25Google Scholar.

127 Martin Benson, ‘Charge delivd to ye Clergy of ye Archdeaconry 6f Berks, at ye Primary Visitatn… 1722’, B.L., Add. MS 39313, fo. 83.

128 Hurd to Warburton, n.d., Warburton to Hurd, 14 Oct. 1760, Letters from a late eminent prelate to one of his friends (2nd edn, London, 1809), pp. 309–13Google Scholar.

129 Sherlock to Newcastle, 4 Sept. 1743, B.L., Add. MS 32701, fo. 96; Potter, John, ‘A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Oxford, in July 1725’, in The theological works of Dr John Potter late lord archbishop of Canterbury (3 vols., Oxford, 1753), I, 416Google Scholar.

130 Herring to Hardwicke, 10 Oct. 1754, B.L., Add. MS 35599, fos. 217–18.

131 Thomas Herring to William Herring, 5 Jan. 1755, Nottingham University Library, Portland MSS, PWV/121/114. For Warner's earlier efforts, see A scheme of a fund for the better maintenance of the willows and children of the clergy (London, 1752)Google Scholar; idem, The ecclesiastical history of England, to the eighteenth century (2 vols., London, 1756–7), II, 661–5.

132 See Brent, Richard, Liberal anglican politics. Whiggery, religion and reform 1830–41 (Oxford, 1987)Google Scholar, intro.