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 II.

AFTER a pleasant sojourn in Scotland, Francis Turner, on the Duke of York's recal to England, returned with him to London, and took up his abode in his prebendal house at Amen Corner.

He was appointed Dean of Windsor and Lord Almoner to King Charles early in 1683, and on the 3rd of July the same year, he writes in the following grateful strain to Sancroft, who had recommended him to the king for the vacant see of Rochester.

"My heart is so full that I shall go down to the Oxford entertainments with too great a load upon it, unless, with your grace's permission, I may ease it to you. My lord, let me state my case to you thus in short. I have eaten your bread these eighteen years at Therfield, for that living, in equity, was yours. When you left a deanery and a living it was your condescending goodness to make it mine.

"Though I owed my place in St. Paul's to the king and the duke's favour, yet the kindness with which your grace managed that business for me with my lord of London, and your treating me ever since with that high rate of obligingness, particularly in this affair of Windsor, has made me think thanks, rather than be troublesome with so many express acknowledgments. And on last Sunday morning your grace did so perfectly surprise me with another heap of favours, that I have scarcely yet recovered my amazement, so as to go along with my discourse on the subject. I had rather go to my knees, and beseech Almighty God to make me and keep me humble, and able in some measure to serve the Church, and your grace.

"I will say no more, but only repeat one passage in a letter, which I did presume to write to your grace upon your promotion, that if the good old Dean of Canterbury, who is now in Heaven, were as your grace is now, at Lambeth, I could not pay him truer duty and service than I was resolved to pay your I grace; wherein I did but fulfil the will of the dead, for he directed me to do so, and to be ever advised by you, as he commanded my two younger brothers in his written will, leaving an estate between them, that if any unhappy difference fell out between them, they should not offer to go to law, but should be determined by his most honoured friend Dr. Sancroft, [then] Dean of St. Paul's.

"My lord, I think fit to acquaint your grace that two persons of note in the duke's family have, within these two days, sifted me at such a rate as (though I sent them away no wiser than they came), I am apt to suspect that my master, in the overflowings of his affections, may have given out some intimation of this business, of which his Highness and your grace discoursed in his closet.

"I think that you may please to consider whether my lord of Clarendon should not be told something of it by your grace, rather than it should come to his knowledge by some other way; besides, he may prepare his noble brother to be directed in it by your grace.

"I shall only add, that if your grace persists in your favourable opinion that I am capable of serving you at Rochester, I shall be very well contented if St. Paul's may be left for my winter quarters in case my way to Westminster should be obstructed. But to make room for the most worthy Dr. Beveridge, and for my own sake too, I cannot but wish the design of my succeeding at Westminster may not fail."

A delay of two months occurred before the day of Francis Turner's consecration to the bishopric of Rochester was appointed. The appointment caused general satisfaction; but it was hailed with peculiar joy by his venerable friend, Peter Gunning, Bishop of Ely, who wrote to congratulate him on his accession to the hierarchy, in the following affectionate terms:--

"Sept. 3, 1683.


"I have longed for this day now these many weeks since, and hearing of it weekly from Mr. Everard, and yet still the hope deferred was almost the only personal sickness I have felt, so that you may believe that my health and business will not only permit me, but be promoted by this slow journey to you, to be a glad witness of your promotion. Your election, my good lord elect, seems everywhere, to all your friends and enemies, if there be any such, so welcome, and such good tidings, that it is easily believed to have been (as the word of the canonists is) "electu per spiritu sanctu." You are no less welcome, I assure you, to the Church than to the Court. God be blessed, that He hath put it into the heart of the king and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"My feeble hands, such as are the hands of a poor man, full of infirmities, I have lift up unto God for you, that He would bless, direct, and prosper you in your procedure, and by all degrees of ecclesiastical honour and spiritual joy, till you come into that everlasting.

"Surely, therefore, if God bless and keep me in my journey, you shall most readily have not only protensur manur, but also the friendly embraces of my arms. I hope to be in London on Thursday night, the 13th of this instant, in order to the 16th.

"My humble and hearty service to your good mother. I rejoice in her joy, and comfort now of her old age. God bless your young daughter. One St. Peter had no more that was read of after his apostolate.

"I thank you for my venison, which we intend here to spend on Sunday next, the day of our thanksgiving.

"God be ever most gracious to you, my dear brother, and bring us together to partake eternally in the joys of the Kingdom of Heaven; and, in order thereunto, make us, in our united stations, serviceable unto His Church, with acceptable services to our great master, in whom I rest.

"Your most faithful, affectionate servant, "Friend, and brother,


This most interesting letter of the aged prelate concludes with a postscript, relating to the recent destructive fire in Ely, which, though of more personal connection with the biography of its future bishop, Francis Turner, is well worthy of record as a contemporary document of that event, and indicative of the pious feelings of his venerable friend and correspondent, who communicates the following particulars:--ยป

"By a high wind leaping from one street to another at a quarter of a mile distant, our fire at Ely, so dangerous in more places than one, yet through God's great mercy, was seasonably stopped after some fifteen houses, such as they were, were burned; God very graciously staying His rough wind, and turning it towards the fields, outwardly, not upon the town or churches, which otherwise had been in great danger.

"Indorsed.--To the Right Reverend Dr. Francis Turner, Lord Elect Bishop of Rochester.--These."

The consecration of. Francis Turner as Bishop of Rochester duly took place, but, in consequence of his office of Lord Almoner to the king, he was much oftener at Court than would otherwise have been the case. He writes to Sancroft from Windsor, in July, 1684, about the Bishop of Lichfield, whom the primate had suspended for misconduct, notwithstanding the avowed patronage of the Duchess of Cleveland, whose son, the Duke of Southampton, had married his niece.

The duchess therefore, as a mother, of course would endeavour to misrepresent the matter to the king. Sancroft had requested Turner to explain the real state of the case to Charles.

"I thought it of importance enough to trouble your grace," writes Turner," with a short account how I performed your commands in the Bishop of Lichfield's affair. I discoursed it largely with the duke, and it was his opinion that I should wait upon him to his Majesty to tell the story. Accordingly, his Royal Highness beckoned me in the drawing-room, and the king, whose hand the Bishop of Bristol (Lake) and I had lately kissed, demanded of me, pleasantly, ' What news of the reverend father?' I did in few words acquaint his Majesty with the case, and he well approved what had been done, and spake of the man with the utmost contempt. All this was aloud and openly in the circle.

"Then followed a great deal of raillery upon the sordidness and refractoriness of the unhappy man. Your grace has nothing more to secure in this business, except matters of form at the Commons, unless the cause be removed into Westminster Hall, where I am told the delinquent places all his hope of success, which he is not likely to get at Whitehall or London.

"The Lord Keeper assures me that he has spoken to the king extremely home in this business, and his Majesty declares he will do nothing to the prejudice of the Church and its discipline."

Sancroft carried his point triumphantly in respect to the suspension of the simoniacal bishop.

Turner, in his next letter to Sancroft, mentions a persona] request the Princess Anne had preferred in behalf of her chaplain; "the first she had made for anything of the kind, and this entirely her own, and by no means to be represented as a suit of the duke her father."

On the death of his loved and venerated friend, Peter Gunning, Francis Turner was translated to Ely, where he was most affectionately received; and went to reside with his widowed mother and promising child Margaret, who was the sole joy and comfort of his widowed heart

The death of Charles II. occurred soon after his consecration to the see of Ely. Francis Turner was appointed to preach the coronation sermon at the inauguration of his old master and royal friend James II.

Soon after his arrival at the episcopal palace of Ely, a series of curious and deeply interesting letters were addressed to him by a poor Quaker, who had been incarcerated for more than five years in the jail of that town. The name of this unfortunate person who had been cruelly torn from his wife and family, and prevented from exercising his harmless trade for their maintenance, was Samuel Cater; he was apparently a man of good education, and of infinitely less formality than persons of his community generally were at that period, since he scruples not to address the bishop by his title, and speaks of the king and other dignitaries by theirs; which renders them documents of great interest, especially as it is perfectly original matter never before published.

This is the opening of Samuel Cater's first letter:--


"Friend, whereas it is come to pass that thou art come to this great place to be bishop of this diocese of Ely; whereby, as I understand, thou hast great power in this country, either to keep in prison or to set at liberty such as are cast in and committed upon such cases as relate to matter of conscience or conscientious scruples relating to the worship of God. However, of this I am satisfied, through long experience, that which way thou dost incline, either to show favour and gentleness towards them that dissent from your way of worship in this country, or desire to have the laws severely put in execution, that way I find them that are the more inferior officers under thee will and do observe to carry themselves towards us who are in their hands; therefore I thought it expedient to lay before thee my condition, who am in present sufferings at this time in this prison in Ely, and for no other cause than conscience."

It is certain that Turner extended some kindness to the poor prisoner, from the testimony of the following letter which is here given:--

"Right Reverend Father in God! My most Reverenced Lord of Ely! Right Honourable and most Honoured Lord High Almoner to the King! I did think that the proper duty of the season (betwixt my last letter and this) was prayer to God, to assist you with His Holy Spirit of grace and wisdom in the concerns wherein your lordship was engaged upon the great change that the God unchangeable had made (in the face of the earth under us and the sky above us), yet with the least change of the estate of the poor of England that probably could be expected or hoped for. Blessed be the Lord our God who has the hearts of kings at his command; and blessed be our sovereign lord the king for his contributing so cheerfully to the same by a gracious wise compliance. We did read in the prints how happily the solemnities of the king and coronation did proceed; and I read in your printed sermon (conveyed unto me by my Lord Hewett's servant this week) an excellent composure of pious and religious eloquence and prudence. In this you were concerned as sole and chief, though in the former as a star in a constellation of heavenly lights. The reading of that makes me afraid to send anything penned by myself to the sight of your lordship, and to the censure of your lordship's judgment. But yet I hope the maturity of your lordship's wisdom will be ready both to pardon the follies of youth and the dotages of a decayed old age. And in a good degree of confident assurance of this, I present unto your lordship my humblest thanks for all your former favours bestowed upon me innumerate, and my joyful congratulation at the happy dispatch of al] your parts in both the parts of the coronation solemnity--I mean what concerned both the regal magnificence and the religious prudence required to make it excellent.

"I know not what I need to insert but a tender of most humble duty to your lordship's reverend mother and her dear grandchild. I will pray for no cause nor thing then but for my conscience towards God, for through the help and assistance of His grace I have so carried myself in my conversation amongst my neighbours and countrymen, as that I can with a good conscience say, what hath any man against me, except it be for the law of my God and for my obedience unto Jesus Christ, as I believe I ought to obey him; for which cause, about five years and four months since, I was summoned by the bailiff to appear at the quarter sessions; and when I was there I was asked whether I would take the oath of allegiance; but I being conscientious of an oath, told them that for conscience' sake I dare not swear at all; for Christ Jesus, whom I desire to obey, commands us not to swear at all, Matthew the 5th chapter, verse the 34th; also, James the 5th chapter, verse the 12th; upon which the jailor was commanded to take me away and to keep me close prisoner, which command he observed with great severity.

"After which, through the instigation of some whom it would have become better to have manifested a more Christian spirit, he stirred up the bishop against me, so that while I was kept a close prisoner upon the other commitment as before, the writ (capias capiendo) was brought against me and delivered into the jailor's hands; upon the which I was kept about three years so close that I might not go home to my family but twice all that time. Once I had leave from the bishop to see my wife when she was like to die, and another time upon the like occasion by the leave of another; but after these three years' close confinement the late bishop grew more gentle towards me, and either by his order, or his permission, I had liberty to go home some day every week to take care of my family, and to go to my market to buy firkins of butter for the cheesemongers in London, by whom I am employed as a factor for several of them, as it is well known to the country; which liberty continued until near the time of thy coming to town, and then Robert Maw of Littleport threatened the jailor, as he saith, that if he did not keep me a close prisoner he would complain to the see. I was then called in, and have been kept ever since from going to my market, or to my harvest, or into country to take up moneys upon returns, which is a great hindrance to me in my business, and a wrong to them I am employed for.

"Now it is upon me to lay this my suffering condition before thee, not knowing whether thou mayest know whether there be such a one now in bonds; or if thou hast heard of it, it may be from some that may endeavour to render things at the worst, which is not well for any so to do, let them pretend what they will, for love worketh no ill to his neighbour, but it is said, Romans the 13th chapter and verse the 10th, 'love is the fulfilling of the law.' And now, having laid this my suffering condition before thee, I shall leave it to thy consideration, hoping that a spirit of moderation and tenderness towards them that are in suffering may appear in thee, that I may receive some ease by thee from the straitness of my bonds, which if I do, I shall take it kindly at thy hands; and I do believe thou wilt never have cause to repent thee, for Christ saith ' blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.' "From him that truly desires the good of all men.


"Ely prison, the 5th day of the seventh month, commonly called September, 1685.*

"For the Bishop, at his Palace in Ely. These."

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