Project Canterbury

The Lives of the Seven Bishops
Committed to the Tower in 1688

Enriched and Illustrated with Personal Letters, Now First Published, from the Bodleian Library.

By Agnes Strickland

London: Bell and Daldy, 1866.

Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely

Chapter I.

FRANCIS TURNER was more intimately connected with the Court than either of the seven prelates whose memorials are progressively unfolding in these pages. His mother, Margaret Windebanke, was the daughter of Sir Francis Windebanke, Secretary of State to Charles I. His father, Dr. Thomas Turner, successively Dean of Rochester and Canterbury, was chaplain to that unfortunate prince, whom he accompanied to Scotland and attended in many of his wanderings. Two of Francis Turner's maternal uncles were in the service of the king, who made the eldest Governor of Blechendon House. To the king's great surprise and mortification, Windebanke, surrendered this important stronghold to Cromwell, the lieutenant-general of the Parliament, with the great store of arms and ammunition it contained, conduct for which no reasonable excuse could be assigned. He was tried by a military commission, found guilty of treason and cowardice, and condemned to be shot. Notwithstanding the great interest of Sir Francis Windebanke, this sentence was executed, on which Lieutenant-Colonel Windebanke, his younger brother, threw up his commission, became a deadly foe to the royal cause, and finally attained great political power and influence in the cabinet and councils of William III.

Francis Turner was born at Canterbury, in the year 1636, just before the breaking out of the great rebellion, and was trained from infancy in principles of loyal affection to his Church and king. His father was, in consequence of his ardent attachment to both, ejected from all his preferments, so that the early days of Francis Turner were overshadowed with care and disciplined by adversity; the deprivation of income subjecting the family to the misery of stinted meals, and all the privations consequent on a reverse from ease, comfort, and luxury, to absolute want.

He received his education in the college of William of Wykeham, at Winchester. While there he formed a tender friendship with the celebrated Thomas Ken, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, a friendship that endured through life. They were united by a reciprocity of sentiment and pursuits as schoolboys--both were poets--both were studious, enthusiastic, and loyal--both distinguished themselves by their ardent love for learning--both were to become bishops, patriotic champions of the Church, and finally martyrs to their principles. Francis Turner, being one year older than Ken, was the first to leave Winchester for New College, Oxford, in the year 1655. He was soon followed by his beloved friend; their intimacy was increased by time and sympathy, and became a source of mutual happiness to both.

The degree of B.A. was taken by Francis Turner in the year 1659, of M.A. in IP63, of B.D. and D.D. in 1669. He had been previously admitted into holy orders at the Restoration, when the preferments of his father, Dr. Thomas Turner, were restored. The living of Thertield, in Hertfordshire, was presented to Francis Turner in the year 1663.

Dr. Isaac Brassine, writing June 31, 1667, to the father of Francis Turner, tells him "he sends his lately published book for a new year's gift, and shall commend it to the good care of your worthy son, Francis Turner, a person precious to us for his piety and learning beyond his years."

Therfield was formerly dependent on the royal abbey of Rumsey. The church was a noble structure, but had suffered much during the civil wars, and was almost in a state of ruin when Francis Turner was inducted into the rectory. At his own expense the youthful rector restored the choir and chancel, erected a groined roof over the chancel, and paved the floor with polished marble.

He was doubtless assisted in his work of restoration by the suggestions of his friend, Sir Christopher Wren, who was occasionally his guest. Eulogistic Latin verses were addressed to Francis Turner on his munificent improvements to his church, by Thomas Wright.

While resident at his beloved rectory, Francis Turner indulged his poetic feelings by writing lines "On the Prospect of the University of Cambridge, from the top of the hill near my house at Therfield."

"Hail, to those sacred mansions soaring high,
Methinks a glory near each chapel dwells;
Christ's colours streaming there of crimson dye!
Each offering like the balm of Gilead smells,
Which, mixed with odorous gums, all meaner scents dispels.

"Let thy good angels, Lord! the place frequent--
Send from thy treasures of celestial grace
Those gifts thy Holy Spirit oft has sent;
Send them, blest Father, on that chosen place,
Lift up thy light serene on those that seek thy face.

"Thou bad'st thy heavenly meteor take its stand
On thy travailing temple, in the way
Where Moses led them through the barren sand;
As thou wert in the meteor, so I pray,
Through yonder sacred roofs dart thine inspiring ray.

"Son of the Father, who the world didst frame,
And didst redeem the world with thine own blood,
And tak'st away our sin, O thou, the Lamb!
To that blest colony of thine be good;
Wash them from earth for heaven with thy rich purple flood!"

There is a very primitive letter, in the Rawlinson MSS., from the old Dean of Canterbury, Francis Turner's father, to his son Thomas, afterwards the Master of Corpus Christi, Oxford, announcing that their mother had sent half a dozen shirts between him and his brother, and was desirous of being certified that her maternal present had been safely received in Oxford.

Francis Turner was collated to the prebend of Sneating, in St. Paul's, in 1669. In the following year he was elected Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was greatly honoured and beloved.

He assisted in fostering the genius of Matthew Prior, whom he first brought into notice when an undergraduate at St. John's College. Prior had addressed in the first instance some very elegant lines to his accomplished master, entreating him to inspire an obscure and unfriended muse.

"So to the blest retreats she'll gladly go,
Where the saint's palm and muse's laurel grow;
Where, kindly, both in glad embrace shall twine,
And round your brows their mingled honours twine;
Both to the virtue due, which could excel
As much in writing, as in living well."

The high moral tone of Francis Turner's conduct, character, and works, had indeed won for him such universal respect in St. John's College, that this gratefully-turned sentence might be regarded as a well-merited tribute, rather than a compliment, for it was the truth.

Excessive study and a solitary life were inimical to his health, and he writes to his mother in the year 1674, confessing "that he had been ill from overburdening his mind and giving up bodily exercise; but was resolved to follow her advice, and bestow more time on his body to keep it in better plight; that he feels his solitary evenings, but labours daily to resign himself to the will of Him who hath promised that all things shall work for good to those who love Him."

The next thing our learned recluse did, was to relieve his dulness by falling in love, considering that his Heavenly Creator had not thought it good for man to be alone, even in Paradise.

There was a strong friendship between Francis Turner and the apostolical Peter Gunning, his predecessor in the see of Ely. To this worthy prelate he confided his desire of marrying Anna Horton, a most charming and exemplary young lady, maternally descended from the noble family of Ferrars, and fairly endowed with fortune.

He had now been fourteen years in holy orders, and being of a melancholy disposition, was weary of celibacy, especially after he had seen the fair Anna Horton, and became acquainted with her good qualities.

In the autumn of the year 1676, he announces the approaching change in his condition to his friend, Archbishop Sancroft, in the following quaint and original terms:--

"October 14, 1676.


"The deference my father enjoined his sons to have for you and your particular kindness, oblige me to acquaint you with a great concern of mine, and to desire your blessing and your prayers for me; for I am, to-morrow, with God's leave, to marry one Mrs. Horton, in the chapel at Ely House, and so receive the Church's benediction from the sacred hands of my lord bishop himself, my spiritual father, without whose participation, consent, and satisfaction, I have not done this thing; nor without the maturest consideration of all my own circumstances and of the person I am about to marry. My great inducements were, a thousand pounds' debt was contracted by my building in so many places, though scarce anybody knew of this but iny good lord of Ely (to whom I owed good part of it), and then my own natural and habitual melancholy was another more prevailing consideration. But nothing wrought in me more than the great security (if I may communicate it of one that is so near being my wife) of a person that, if the world be not extremely mistaken, is of good piety and good nature, as well as kindness; at least all men speak well of her. I refer you to Dr. Stillingfleet to assure you of this, for he is not unacquainted with her, though altogether ignorant of my affair till Thursday last, when he asked me, and I did not deny it, although I desire your leave till I declare it, as I will by the conveying her to Therfield, with your leave, within these four days.

"I did not intend to finish it so hastily, but some prudential reasons make it necessary."

The bridal of Francis Turner and Anna Horton took place, as specified by him, in St. Etheldreda's Chapel, on the 18th of October, the marriage service being solemnized by Bishop Gunning, and the wedded pair went to reside at Therfield Eectory.

Francis Turner resigned the mastership of St. John's College on his marriage, and gave himself up to the comforts of domesticity. The union was most felicitous, 'and for upwards of two years the young divine was in the enjoyment of perfect happiness; but in the beginning of the year 1678 he was bereaved of his young, lovely, and beloved wife. Mrs. Turner died in childbed, on the 28th of January, and her death was attributed to the unskilful treatment of the Quaker nurse or midwife by whom she was attended.

Mrs. Turner was only in the twenty-eighth year of her age, and inexpressibly dear to her husband. He buried her in the chancel of Therfield Church, and composed and preached her funeral sermon. The fair tomb he erected to her memory is a touching memorial of his love and grief. The elegiac Latin verses with which it is inscribed are his own composition, commemorating her virtues and singular endowments, and "entreating the tears of the reader for his bereavement and sorrow at the loss of this honoured and holy matron."

It is impossible for anything to be more loving and reverential, than the following touching letter, which was addressed to him by his wife's mother, about seven weeks after their mutual bereavement:--

"March 28.


"I hope these may now find you safe and well at London. My inquiries must ever pursue you, for I cannot satisfy myself, nor may, without apparent ingratitude, forbear continually to renew my thanks, which become every day more and more due, for your multiplied favours. The abundant kindness in your last letter, as an addition to all the former, constantly followed by real endeavours to oblige us all, justly claims more acknowledgments than can possibly here be inserted.

"I were unworthy the name of a Christian, or, indeed, of a human creature, if my concern were other than what it is for your happiness. That I have borne a great part with you in this affliction is really true, and might that have been any ease to yours I should with more cheerfulness have undergone it; for my daily infirmities remind me it will not be long before I may hope to meet this my dear child, who is but gone before me, and then we need never more fear parting; but that you may live happily many years upon earth, not only I, but all are concerned to pray. The God of Heaven bless and prosper all your undertakings for His glory, and the good of His church and kingdom.

"I was troubled to hear of your disappointment in the dream of your resting-vault, but there is a Providence in everything, and by the ordering of this affair you have not only approved the greatness of your love to the deceased, but also given, I think, an unparalleled example of the conquest over yourself, in composing and delivering her funeral sermon, the copy of which, if you please to intrust me with, it is most just I should observe your injunction, which I here faithfully promise, and whilst 1 live shall never part with it.

"I am mighty well satisfied to hear our dear little girl continues in a healthful and thriving condition, and beseech God Almighty to bless her and give you much comfort of her

"My sons at Oxford shall be ready to attend you when or wherever you please to command them. I am sure they can never be in better and more de-sirable company. There shall be care had of your horse to be ready against the time you speak of sending; but the men say it is not safe to take him from grass into the stable till about ten days before his journey, because they are fearful of his feet, though now he runs they appear well.

"It is time now to put an end to this scrawl and your trouble, for which I beg your pardon, and shall add no more, but that I am,

"Dear sir,

"Your most unfeignedly affectionate "Mother and servant,


"I must not omit my dearest service to my honoured good sister. My husband, and daughter Davy, and all here, speak abundance of love and service to you, of which they beg your acceptance.

"For the Reverend and Worthy Dr. Turner, at his house in Amen Corner, at the end of Paternoster How, London. These."

The fondly loved and early lost wife of Francis Turner left one infant girl, named Margaret, on whom the desolate widower lavished the unbounded affection of his heart. Francis Turner never married again.

He ceased not, however, to cultivate his poetic talents. His 'Hymn before Sleep' is worthy of becoming better known than it is, for the sweet spirit of devotion that pervades it. It is too long for insertion, but the following verses may serve as a specimen:--


"Our day's labour at an end.
Now 'tis time to take some ease,
Sleep, our nature's gentle friend,
Waits our weary limbs to seize.

"Minds, in tempests all the day
Racked with cares, and overprest;
Drenched in deep oblivion, they
All the night lie charmed to rest.

"'Tis the God of Nature's will
To bestow this sweet repose--
This soft medicine to distil--
Balm of human pains and woes.

"Tired with labours of the day,
Though our bodies sleep controls,
Hearts awake, to Christ shall pray,
Rest and centre of our souls."

These words are more musical sung than recited. Try them to the melody of the New Year's Hymn--

"Whilst with ceaseless course the sun."

As the son of the loyal Dean of Canterbury, Francis Turner was well known to the king and the Duke of York, and at the recommendation of Sancroft he was appointed chaplain to his Royal Highness, for although the duke had unhappily joined the communion of the Church of Borne, he always kept a chaplain of the Church of England in his household; not only because it was an indispensable matter of royal etiquette that he, the heir-presumptive to the crown, should do so, but for the sake of the Protestant portion of his establishment, and the ladies of the Church of England in the service of the duchess and the Princess Anne.

Turner was in attendance during the duke's exile in Scotland, and found himself treated not only with liberality, but very great kindness and even confidence; moreover, his Royal Highness promised of his own accord to use his influence with the king his brother, that Turner might have the appointment of Dean of Windsor and Royal Almoner on the decease of the present incumbent of those offices, who was not either aged or ill at that time. "Yet," writes Turner to Sancroft, "I perceive by his Highness, who must be allowed the character of the best master, that he presses the business on farther to the secretary than I wished during the Dean of Windsor's good health, which I pray God to increase, and beseech your grace to believe. As I do not set my heart or thoughts upon this thing, so I would rather go without it (though my name be up) than push for it indecently. But having this occasion to touch upon the affair, I will presume to acquaint your grace that I now better understand what I may expect from my lord Bishop of London than I did when I took my leave of your grace; for I have received by my brother (his lordship's chaplain) a very obliging message, ' that, though considering what Dr.------expected from him, he could not think it proper for him to be active for anybody else, yet he would be perfectly indifferent, and would be very well satisfied if your grace would fix it for me, and that he is very sorry he could not appear for me actively.'

"I think fit to inform your grace of this, as it would have troubled me if your grace and my lord of London had but seemed to differ in a business where I was concerned.

"My lord, for want of other company I have more discourse with the duke than otherwise should come to my share, and upon all occasions I find he places his hopes altogether upon the episcopal party, and mainly upon the bishops themselves, your grace especially; wishing and desiring that your grace will take all opportunity of encouraging the king (that was the duke's own word) to be steady in well chosen resolutions, and laying before his Majesty how fatal a thing it would be now to trace back again the ground he has gained, and how mighty safe to stick by his old friends and the laws.

"I send this by the black box, which cannot miscarry." What a wonderful box that must have been! "I have nothing," continues Turner, "to entertain your grace withal from hence, unless it be this, that our John a Leyden party grows not more numerous to appearance, but more extravagantly wild in their notions, and divided into many hopeful schisms among themselves. On the other side our Common Prayer Books do sell, the booksellers tell me, in great numbers in Edinburgh." And this in spite of Mrs. Anderson the king's printer's widow's patent mono-olising the printing and selling of all Bibles and Prayer Books, and the shameful types and absurd errors of the press which pervaded all those printed in her office.

If the Duke of York did no other good in Scotland, he at least put an end to this dreadful abuse of the royal privilege, and threw open the Bible and Prayer Book monopoly to the people of Scotland. No doubt his learned and zealous episcopal chaplain, Dr. Francis Turner, was an active instrument in this admirable work.

The Duke of York instructed Turner to write to Sancroft in behalf of Mr. Gordon, a missionary chaplain of the Church of England, who had been working very hard, in the then English colony of New York, for the propagation of the Gospel.

"I give your grace this trouble," writes Turner, from Edinburgh to Sancroft, August 19th, 1681, "by the duke's command, in favour of this bearer, Mr. Gordon, a clergyman born in this country, but one who has served his Royal Highness several years at his plantation of New York, for which the duke, like a gracious master, thinks he owes him some kindness; but besides this public service, he is now in hard circumstances, for when he was very young he was so ill advised as to give a bond to my Lord Privy Seal that he would resign a small living, which his lordship conferred upon him, if his resignation were demanded. Now, upon my lord's entering into the faction against the duke, this bond is threatened to be sued."

To what paltry exercises of spite did the party against the brave royal admiral descend, that even a hard-working missionary clergyman of the English Church was marked out for ruin by that mean-souled faction, because his services had been acknowledged and appreciated by the duke, although he was unhappily of a different communion.

Gordon was not, however, devoid of friends. "The good Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese the living is," continues Turner, "encourages him, as he assures me, to stand the trial whether such a bond be valid or not, and some great men are forward enough to stand by him. His Highness gives me order to make it his request to your grace that you will confer some employment upon him, or procure him some from the king, for his support and maintenance."

Lucky Mr. Gordon! The unprovoked and most unkind persecution of my Lord Privy Seal, seeking to deprive him of his poor incumbency, was the means of interesting the most illustrious patrons in his behalf, who had both the power and the will to endow him with ecclesiastical preferments of which he had never before ventured to dream.

Project Canterbury