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 III.

THE unthankful office of attending the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth on the scaffold, in conjunction with Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Dr. Tenison, and Dr. Gilbert Burnet, was assigned to Turner. Both Turner and Ken have been severely censured for urging the duke to express some signs of contrition for the bloodshed and misery of which his rash enterprise had been the cause; but he was perfectly callous to the sufferings of his devoted followers, and to everything but his own personal troubles. Instead of expressing the slightest penitence for his misconduct as a husband, ho gloried in his illicit attachment to Lady Henrietta Wentworth, for whom he had forsaken his ill-treated wife, while he lavished her wealth on his paramour. It was not, therefore, surprising that ministers of the gospel endeavoured to awaken the self-deluded man to a sense of his guilt, in order to prevent him from entering into eternity without praying for pardon and peace for the breach of God's commandments against adultery and homicide, for whoever incites rebellion is undoubtedly guilty of a breach of the sixth article of the Decalogue. It is possible that Francis Turner, who was of an ardent, impetuous nature, might allow his feelings to carry him too far; but he was no time-server, for he incurred the displeasure of his royal master, King James, by a very strong sermon against the errors of the Romish Church, which he preached on the 5th of November following.

Lady Russell writes to her spiritual adviser, Dr. Fitzwilliam:--"Lord Bedford expresses himself hugely obliged to the Bishop of Ely, your friend, to whom you justly give the title of good, if the character he very generally bears justly belongs to him."

Even Burnet, "that accuser of the brethren," as he has been shrewdly styled by an ecclesiastical writer of the period, speaks of this prelate in the following terms:--"Turner, Bishop of Ely; sincere and good-natured, but of too quick imagination and too defective judgment." This appears to have been pretty near the truth.

The following quaint letter was addressed to Turner soon after this by the Rev. Barnabas Oley:--


"I know not whether it be the greater incivility, to forbear congratulating your coming to settle at your London palace, where you will find store of great employments to waste those spirits which you have re-collected at your Bromley retirement, or to crowd in this (vain parenthesis of a letter of mine) amidst those throngs of businesses and addresses which will so press upon your lordship as to be troublesome, if they were not tokens of authority to your lordship, and joy at your felicity. But my lines shall be few only to tender my most humble duties of bounden thanks to your good lordship for all your signal favours bestowed upon my unworthy self, and to beg more; namely, your episcopal blessing when you read these rude lines, and your daily remembrance of me ia those prayers you make for miserable sinners. I beseech your lordship to present my most humble duties to your dear and venerable mother. Give me leave to insert my due respects to all your domestics that were servants to my good lord your holy predecessor. There is a disciple, Mrs. Clark, widow, a convert of my lord's, at Whitehall, that has been sore exercised in afflictions. I pray Mr. Ouldham or Mr. Binks to visit her. I do it sometimes by letters; but they be not powerful (as St. Paul's was), no more would my conference be if I was personally present. The Papists will not fail to assault her anew if they have the least notice that she be not assisted. I do know my duty, Lord make me fit to do it. I pray daily for your lordship, your order, your dear mother, and your little daughter, motherless, as to her immediate mother, but well provided for in the doubled cares of father and grandmother.

"To the Right Reverend Father in God, Francis, Lord Bishop of Ely, my much honoured lord, at Ely House, in Holborn, London. Humbly present this."

There are a great many more of Oley's quaint letters to his loved and venerated bishop, Francis Turner, among the Tanner Collection in the Bodleian library, but rather elaborate and prosy, though valuable specimens of the style of old-world clerical correspondence. The death of old Barnabas Oley, which occurred the year after Francis Turner's consecration to the bishopric of Ely, was deeply lamented in his parish, where he was succeeded by the lieve-reiid Thomas Jessop, a parson of the Trulliber class. It is impossible to refrain from smiling at the catalogue of his misdeeds and unclerical conduct which Mr. Charles Cesar, a gentleman in the next parish, placed before Bishop Turner, in reply to his inquiries as to the manner in which the said unworthy successor of Barnabas Oley performed his parochial duty.

"Great Gransden, May 31st, 1686.


"In obedience to your command, I have made some inquiry how Mr. Thomas Jessop performs his duty in his own parish. But it is a hard task to give your lordship a particular account whether he curtails and mangles the divine service in his own church, or reads it as he ought to do. For, my lord, there is not one in his parish but goes to plough and cart, and those, too, so ignorant, being bred and taught by his doctrine and example four-and-thirty years, that there are few or none can read the psalms alternatively, or make the responses as the Church enjoins us. And good Mr. Oley hath taught us in Great Gransden that it is our duty to keep our own parish church, and for that reason I have not employed any but those of his own parish to watch him; and this is all I can find by them. That before Mr. Oley died he (Jessop) never wore the surplice but upon communion days, and that was but twice a year, Christmas and Easter days; and now since my complaint of him he doth wear it every Sunday, and also upon Whitsunday he had a small communion. And Saturday last, May 29th, his bells chimed in by nine o'clock in the morning, because he was to go to Potton Market, which he does every Saturday, and hath always one chamber there, where the country people borrow money of him from 5l. to 100l., where he gets money also by writing of bonds for himself and others. And he keeps this custom in his parish. For the dead--if their friends pay him ten shillings he will preach a funeral sermon. If ten groats, the corpse shall come into the middle alley of the church while evening prayer, or only the psalms and lesson appointed be read. But if they will not pay him 3s. id., then he will only meet the corpse at the grave, and make a quick dispatch for the common fee for burial. But I cannot hear that he ever met the corpse at the church gate, reading those places of scripture as the Church commands, or ever wore the surplice at burial of the dead before my last complaint to your lordship. I am glad, my lord, that my complaint has made him more mindful of his duty than formerly, but I doubt it is more formidine poenae, than virtutis amore. However your lordship deals with him in his lifetime, it is very probable that your lordship may present a more deserving clerk at his death, for he is sixty-four years old; and upon this account I humbly presume to make a motion to your lordship, which, if I could be so happy to obtain, in getting a conditional promise from your good lordship, that if Mr. Jessop should die when you are Bishop of Ely, that your lordship would please to present Mr. Willis Atkins, our deserving vicar of Great Gransden, to be rector of Little Gransden, which would cause him to leave his fellowship at Clare Hall College, and live constantly amongst us; which would be a great obligation not only to me, but to my neighbours in both parishes, and to Sir John Hewett, your kinsman, for Sir John and Mr. Atkins began their acquaintance at Clare Hall, both of them eating their commons at table there. And truly, my lord, it will be esteemed a civil respect to the memory of our dear friend, the Reverend Mr. Oley, for I am sure it was his great desire that his successor might reside constantly in our parish, and if he could have had any assurance of this from Clare Hall College, he had given fifty pounds yearly augmentation to our vicarage for ever; but now, my lord, Gransden has lost the benefit of Mr. Oley's good intention, and the college will not make any augmentation to our vicar, though they have the rectory and a lordship too in our parish. But if your lordship will be so merciful and charitable to make this conditional promise aforesaid, to our large parish with a small vicarage of 30l, it will revive our drooping spirits, and make us all pray most heartily for the prosperity and long life of your lordship; and then Mr. Oley's large vicarage house may be made use of, and do more charitable good deeds, which now is likely to stand empty and cost our vicar some charge to repair it.

"Mr. Saywell, the rector of Willingam, hath borrowed Mr. Atkins' pulpit for next Sunday, and we do all expect a funeral sermon for our late reverend vicar. Mr. Atkins hath persuaded S. Wright, a Bachelor of Arts, an ingenious man, to be our schoolmaster in Gransden, if Mr. Thursby will encourage him with a yearly allowance, which is warranted by Mr. Oley's last will; and I am very confident it was Mr. Oley's design, when he built the brick school-house chiefly at his own charge. Good my lord persuade Mr. Thursby to do this great piece of charity to poor Gransden.

"I am,

"My lord,

"Your lordship's most humble and faithful servant,


"Them to the. Right Honourable Francis, Lord Bishop of Ely, at Ely House, near St. Andrew's Church, in Holborn, London--Present."

A still more amusing description of Parson Jessop's manner of performing his duties is given by Mr. Cesar a few months later; an account difficult to read without laughing, though doubtless it was a matter of grievous vexation to all the parishioners of Little Gransden, and their learned bishop, Dr. Francis Turner.

Mr. Cesar appears to consider Parson Jessop's conduct on the 5th of November peculiarly atrocious; though possibly his employing himself in leeching his poor neighbour's inflamed eyes was a much more charitable occupation than anathematising Christians of a different creed for the abortive plot of a party of fanatic lunatics in the reign of King James I. Be this as it may, Cesar's commentaries are too racy to be omitted.

"Great Gransden, Nov. 18, 1686.


Having had the honour and encouragement to receive two kind letters from your lordship, I am bold to trouble you with a third concerning my near neighbour, Mr. Thomas Jessop, rector of Little Gransden, in Cambridgeshire, in your lordship's diocese and jurisdiction. My lord, since the death of our late reverend vicar, we are very sensible of that great and inestimable loss of Mr. Barnabas Oley, for now we have no settled vicar to live with us; we never have the happiness to see a clergyman but on Sundays; none to visit our sick and bury our dead; no public prayers on fasting days or holidays, which makes us desirous to walk to Little Gransden church for the benefit of public prayers; and we should be most heartily glad if we had a reverend, learned, and orthodox clergyman there; but our case is not so happy. For upon Friday, the fifth of this November, I designed to go thither, and did order my servants to give me notice when it began to chime at that church; but hearing nothing till my clock struck eleven, I went immediately, and found all the doors of that church and chancel shut. I went then to a farmer's house near the churchyard, and inquired. They told me that the second peal was rung about nine o'clock, but no bells stirred since. Then I sent to Mr. Jessop, to know if he intended a sermon, homily, or prayers, appointed for the Gunpowder Treason. His answer was, 'that he had been hindered by a patient that wanted eye-sight,' and Mr. Jessop was then setting of horse-leeches to the man's ears, but he promised to hasten to church. And I do verily believe that it was past noon before we began morning prayer, and then he hurried it over, loud and fast, more like a schoolboy than a grave divine, without sermon or homily. Yet it wanted but six minutes of one o'clock when I came home to dinner. A festival turned into a fast-day. In the prayers for the royal family, he named King Charles, but presently said King James; and for the Princess Anne of Denmark, he said, Anne, the Princess of Denmark. My lord, I humbly beg your pardon for this trouble from

"Your most faithful, humble servant,


"These to the Right Honourable Francis, Lord Bishop of Ely, at Ely House, in Holborn, London. Present"

How the parishioners of Little Gransden settled matters with their droll vicar, no existing evidence appears.

Turner was much troubled with two of his maternal uncles, sons of Mr. Secretary Windebanke, who appears to have had a very numerous progeny, two of whom were unprovided, and in great poverty.

Christopher and Francis Windebanke were constant beggars to their nephew, the Bishop of Ely. They were residing in France, and appear to Lave become Roman Catholics, but that did not prevent the bishop from ministering to the necessities of his sick and suffering kinsmen. Francis Windebanke says, in one of his letters, "We are both full of acknowledgments for your lordship's charity to us. This is the more obliging, as it proceeds from your generous heart, and without any solicitation on our side, and we cannot but bless God with all our souls, who moves your good nature to succour your poor distressed uncles, whom all other assistance fails."

Francis Windebanke writes again in March, 1686, acknowledging further charity from the bishop, and complaining of the unkindness of their prosperous brother, Dr. Windebanke, one of the court physicians, in misrepresenting matters to him, lest he, too, should have to render his aid.

"Your lordship's continual favours and charity to my brother, as well as to myself, oblige me to perpetual acknowledgments, and most humble thanks for your last of the 15th of February, which has been infinitely welcome, and the more, because it was less expected, it being beyond expectation, that, so soon after your great charity of ten pounds, by Mr. Hill, you should please to augment the sum by this last supply. There is none but your generous heart, so full of piety and goodness, that could invent so many ways to exercise your liberality towards your poor old uncle, who owes you the preservation of his life, by the subsistence you please to furnish him. I dare promise that he employs every moment of it in Legging of Almighty God to reward as bountifully so many good works, and in this duty be certain I shall ever join with him. I have given him your lordship's letters, that lie may consult his friends about the performance of the good advice you give, to make his design succeed, and I shall give you an account of that by the post, which may, perhaps, come sooner to your hands than this, that I intend to send by Mr. Hill; and henceforward I shall make use of Sir William Trumbull's packet to send to your lordship, and beseech you to convey yours to me by the same way, for he is extraordinary civil to my brother, and has sent me a compliment, that he will come to see me, with his lady; and I doubt not, he will be careful to send me your letters. The gentleman to whom you addressed this last packet, made me pay 36 sols for it, and I believe the other way will be cost free.

"I am glad your lordship has inquired into my Spanish (?) sister's debts, and that you have discovered by her son that they are not so formidable as my broth er, the doctor, did heretofore report to you; which, I confess I never believed, but saw, as plainly as I do now, that it was a mere fiction of his to hinder my poor brother Christopher's return, for fear of being burthened with him there; which appears visibly by what your lordship writes, that her son assures that whatsoever debts she has, they are to such persons as will never require them of her husband; but I never showed the doctor's letter to my brother here, for fear of increasing his affliction."

This letter, from Francis Windebanke, is quickly succeeded by the following from Christopher.

"Paris, May 14, 1687.


"A month at the least, after the date of your lordship's letter of the 7th of March, it was given me by a very honest gentleman, Mr. Cresset, governor to the Lord Hinchingbrook, with the enclosed succour, bearing date the 26th February; for both which I must always acknowledge myself extremely obliged to your lordship. It is a charity towards a poor relation, unfortunate and undone, not otherwise by his own means, than by his offence against Almighty God. Indeed, I did want that assistance very much, as it came very seasonably, and I render your lordship my most hearty thanks for it, and the more because I receive none from anybody but yourself. My Lady Hales is in good health, and accompanies her true affections, with my sister's and mine, to your lordship, my most dear sister, and all the rest of our relations. Mademoiselle de Coursillon hath left the convent long since, but not her correspondence with nor her kindness to my sister, who she writes very often to, and sends her, for me, a bottle of wine sometimes, or some such little testimony of her kindness, though I never had the honour to see her; but whenever she desired it, I have been very diligent in going on her errands to Mr. Temple and others. I deferred giving your lordship this trouble till the arrival of Mr. Hill, in hopes, as your lordship mentioned in yours, he would have brought a letter from your lordship for my sister, that our answers might have returned together. We condole the loss of my Lady Rochester, whose sickness we find hindered your lordship from giving my sister that satisfaction, which to her, is the greatest imaginable. We are both very much joyed that my most dear sister, your lordship's mother, is so vigorous and in so perfect health. That God Almighty will be pleased to continue it to her, to your lordship, and the pretty lady, your lordship's daughter, with all the rest of our relations and friends, is the daily prayer of,

"My most dear lord,

"Your lordship's most affectionate "Humble servant,


There was no end of these family begging letters. Neither Colonel Windebanke, nor the court physician, Dr. Windebanke, would be troubled with them, or do anything to assist their unprosperous brothers and sisters, so the dead weight of those insatiable beggars fell entirely on the bishop. Even after his deprivation, his uncles Christopher and Francis Windebanke continued to importune him with their begging letters, and to acknowledge his charitable benefactions in reply.

His widowed mother and motherless daughter continued to reside with Francis Turner at the palace at Ely as long as it continued to be his home.

The following interesting particulars of both are thus communicated to the bishop, during his absence in London, by a female relation who was staying at the palace at Ely with Mrs. Turner. It must be remembered that "Poor Miss," as she calls Margaret Turner, could not have been older than nine years at the time when worthy Mrs. Grigg appears so apprehensive that her good manners should be marred by her three boisterous cousins.


"Had not Mr. Archdeacon and Mr. Roper been exact in giving your lordship an account of all that could have justified my taking the liberty to write, I should not have permitted myself to have been silent; though I confess it would have pained me to disturb your lordship's peace with the ill news of Mrs. Turner's indisposition, whose heart bears up bravely under what creates fears in all about her, who must needs be sensible how great a loss it will be when God re-demands her. The hopes she has of seeing your lordship next Monday revives her, and indeed all at Ely House. Poor Miss has a great cold, but it no ways disturbs her play. I tell her she has discarded all discipline but what comes from Martin; and that she had spent her time better in educating her dear lord's ducks, than she has done these two months under the government of her three cousins, who are pretty children, but most unsuitable companions for a brisk virgin whose wit and growth make it high time to guard her from ill impressions. Her tender-hearted grandmother is so sensible of the injury her late diversions have done her, that I dare say she will choose to have her darling at Richmond next year if the same sparks return to Holborn, where I own I have done penance, finding it impossible to signify anything to a child I sincerely wish as well to as to my own soul, and for her sake long to be gone."

In her postscript, Mrs. Grigg observes:--"The Papists loudly proclaim my lord of Ely a seditious preacher. God Almighty protect his lordship and all that are like him."

During his prosperity Turner exercised unbounded charity in almsgiving, and rendered liberal and effective service to the French refugees. He established a church and ministry for them at Thorney Abbey, enabling them to exercise their own worship without conforming to the liturgy of the Church of England. Notwithstanding this great liberality, the report was circulated that he intended to force conformity to the Church of England upon them. "No," replied the bishop, "I never mean to thrust our prayers upon them, or our orders on their ministers, against their wills."

He had visited their settlement at Thorney Abbey, and conferred with Monsieur Le Pla, their leading man in that district, about the appointment of a learned minister from among themselves, who would not oppose the Church of England, especially as many of them had, since' their arrival in England, received ordination at their own solicitation, from the Bishop of London and himself.

"M. Le Pla," writes Turner to a clergyman in his diocese, near Thorney Abbey, "assured me I should be very well satisfied in the person, which surprised me the more to hear of one fixed there almost a year before I had the least account of him, and at last to see him in a grey coat."

On the whole, Turner, notwithstanding his mildness and apostolic conciliation, found this foreign importation of Lutheran and Calvinistic sectarians a queer and somewhat troublesome charge in his diocese, especially as stormy times for the Church were at hand. After mentioning the sensible behaviour of the French ministers recently ordained by himself^ Turner says, "They have voluntarily proceeded to officiate to congregations where the Common Prayer Book had never been so much as heard of; but he will not importune, nor so much as invite the French minister, to whom he had just been introduced at Thorney Abbey, to follow their worthy example. They," continues he, "understand our Church and themselves. Since this gentleman is unwilling, I shall not be forward to press him, nor easy to admit him to orders, since he is so indifferent. But, as they never consulted me before they settled him, so I hope they will give themselves and me no further trouble in the matter. They have a man in whom they are satisfied, and, whether I am or not, they reck not, and, I suppose, will not much concern themselves, as long as I am no way uneasy to them, which, if I could, yet I would not be."

Though Francis Turner owed nearly all his preferments to the generous friendship of his royal master, King James, when Duke of York, to whom he was personally attached, he steadily opposed the unconstitutional proceedings of that monarch after the suppression of Monmouth's rebellion. Nevertheless, James, presuming on their former intimacy, made some attempts to tamper with him after he and the other six bishops were released from the Tower, before their trial.

Turner was, however, firm and uncompromising, and no less earnest in his resistance than Sancroft and the others; yet, when the king was driven from the realm, he deeply regretted that matters had been pushed so far. He testified the greatest concern for his calamities, and was deeply moved on reading the letter the fugitive monarch left on the table at Rochester, stating the reasons which impelled him to leave England.

From that moment Francis Turner laboured to effect a counter-revolution. There was great diversity of feeling among the hierarchy on that point. Turner thus expresses himself in a confidential letter to Sancroft, January 11, 1689:--

"We came home from Lambeth four bishops in my coach, and we could not but deplore our case that we should disagree in anything, and such a thing as the world must needs observe. But their observing this, and insulting thereupon, makes it necessary for us in our own vindication to find out something on which we can agree." He goes on to tell the archbishop that there is to be a meeting that afternoon at Ely House of the most considerable clergymen, to deliberate what was to be done at that crisis, and to listen to Dr. Burnet's arguments on the forfeiture. "I enclose to your grace," he says in conclusion, "another paper which ought to be kept very private, but may be published one day, to show that we have not been wanting faithfully to serve a hard master in his extremity." He proved the sincerity of his professions at the expense of his fortunes, by refusing to transfer his allegiance to William.

On the arrival of the Princess of Orange, Turner told her uncle, the Earl of Clarendon, "that he and some others of the bishops who disapproved the change intended to go out of town, that they might be found at their stations."

Dr. Lloyd, Bishop of St. Asaph, visited him before he left Hatton Garden, to learn all he could, and do his best to influence him to the cause of the new king and queen. Dr. Francis Turner replied, "that he would never take an oath to any monarch during the life of James II." When St. Asaph urged the question of what he would do if King James were dead? "It is possible," replied Francis Turner, "I might take the oath to his successor." Evidently meaning to his son.

"On the last day of 1689 the Bishop of Ely was with me," says Henry Lord Clarendon, "and told me that a few days since the Bishops of London and St. Asaph had been with my lord of Canterbury, pressing to know what he and the rest could do to prevent himself and the others being deprived. Could they make no steps towards the government?"

To which Ely and Norwich replied, "We can do nothing. If the king thinks fit, for his own sake "(here he evidently meant King James), "that we should not be deprived, he must make it his business to devise expedients. We cannot vary from what we have done."

In the meantime the juring bishops frequently met their nonjuring brethren at Lord Clarendon's hospitable board, and discussed the state of public affairs. Dr. Tenison owned one day that there had been irregularities in the settlement of the government; that it were to be wished it had been otherwise, but we were now to make the best of it for fear of worse. The Bishop of St. Asaph said "it was known while things were in debate he had voted against abdication and for a regency, but now things being as they are, and the Prince of Orange crowned king, he looked upon acquisition to be just right" Upon which Clarendon interposed with great heat, saying, "If you preach such doctrine it must not be to me." Words getting high the Bishop of Ely interposed, and made them change the subject.

In order to preserve his aged mother and his beloved child from the excitement and danger to which a continued residence at his episcopal palace at Ely might possibly expose them, Turner removed these helpless but precious objects of his tender affection from that beloved abode to a less distinguished residence till the revolutionary crisis should be over.

Margaret, then just turned of eleven, was permitted to accept an invitation from friends of her father, Dr. and Mrs. Blomer, to stay with them at Bexley, in Kent. The following pretty, unaffected letter, addressed by her to her grandmother, will doubtless be read with pleasure.

April 15th, 1689.


"I hope you will pardon my not writing sooner. It is a duty I confess should have been paid long since, but my being unable to express myself so well as I wish, makes me slow in writing letters; but I beg you, dear grandmother, to believe tbat I will endeavour so to improve my understanding, that you may with more pleasure receive the acknowledgments I am sure are due to you from me. I hope this fine sunshine will last, that so we may reasonably hope to see you and my dear father speedily.

"I beg both your blessings and your prayers that I may not fail to live as becomes a Christian, and

"Your most obedient granddaughter,


"Dr. Blomer and Mrs. Blomer present you their service; they are very kind to me, and I cannot forbear saying that Bexley is a sweet quiet place.

"Indorsed.--For Miss Turners most dear Grandmother--These."

Turner was heard occasionally to express passionate regret that he and his six episcopal coadjutors had carried their resistance to King James so far, and had not entered into recognisances for each other, instead of provoking that misguided prince to send them to the Tower.

Notwithstanding his uneasiness at the state of ecclesiastical affairs and his personal insecurity at this unsettled period, we find Turner continued to add to his already large library; for a literary friend, J. Moord, whom he had commissioned to purchase books for him at an auction, gives the following account of the successful manner in which he had executed a commission for him.

"The other day I was at the auction-house, where I found 'Lilius' and 'Gyraldus,' and bought for you, the first at 30s. and the other at 13s. 6d., both very reasonable rates, and the 'Lilius' fairly bound and gilt on the back, in two volumes, the other fair, but not so well bound, and have given order that they shall be sent to Oxford on Thursday next."

Then follows a very interesting notice of the death of Viscount Dundee, with particulars not generally known. "Dundee, as we have the story, died bravely. He charged through Mackay's troops, and through them back again, in which last charge he received a mortal wound by a bullet in his thigh; this he concealed, and commanded the next officer to pursue the victory, while he went a little aside; but as soon as he was out of sight he lay down in a cloak he had commanded his man to spread, and died in less than half a quarter of an hour, charging him to conceal his death till the day was over and the victory complete."

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