Lancelot Blackburne,the Buccaneer Archbishop
An important item which I had overlooked posting on was the Declaration of Indulgence issued by James II before the Glorious Revolution and which was one of the causes of the overthrow of James and his replacement on the throne by William and Mary. In 1687 James issued a royal proclamation—first for Scotland on February 12 and then two months later for England, suspending the penal laws and granting freedom of worship both to those dissenters (Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers) who had separated themselves from the Church of England when the Prayer Book Liturgy and the Episcopacy was restored in 1660 as well as to Catholics who had suffered under a series of laws restricting their rights every since the time of the English Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Quaker, William Penn, was the one who initiated the appeal to James that resulted in the Declaration of Indulgence but its chief beneficaiars were the Kings co-religionists, the Catholics.
The High Church clergy, on the other hand, were opposed to relaxing the restrictions on non-Anglicans altogether but one of the curious elements of the Declaration of Indulgence is that many of the Anglican hierarchy and clergy of the Whig persuasion were very open to tolerance of the non-conformists (the Presbyterians and Congregationalists and, to a lesser extent, the Baptists), had reservations about the Quakers, and were dead set against relief to Catholics. Their intellectual liberalism broke down when it came to rights for Catholics. Part of this was the Enlightenment suspicion of Catholicism and its rejection of rationalism in favor of what was perceived to be medieval scholasticism, as well as Catholicism’s undemocratic form of Church governance, its mystical tradition, and its rather esoteric and arcane style of worship.
With the collapse of the Caroline Divines and their rich theological and mystical heritage as well as their appreciation for the aesthetics of worship, Anglicanism was fast sinking into theological vapidity and lifeless and unimaginative worship. By the end of the seventeenth century Holy Communion was celebrated with increasing infrequency and Morning Prayer with a Sermon was becoming the standard Sunday fare. And it wasn’t the sort of lovely Morning Prayer we see too rarely today with chant and choral anthems by a robed choir and maybe even a cope or two. It was a rather banal service mostly—if not entirely—read, centered at the Reader’s desk beneath the pulpit while the Holy Table (as the altar was then generally called) stood neglected and forgotten beneath its baize dust-cover. The sermon often lasted an hour or so and tended to be the reading of an overly-prepared text concentrating on a bland moral exhortation condemning the vices of the laboring classes (who generally did not come to church) and confirming the comfortable members of the establishment snuggled into their box-pews in their divine right to moral, political, and economic superiority. I am sure it would have left Saint Paul, and probably even Jesus, scratching his head and wondering what it was all about. This sort of dry-as-dust religion was not limited to England and its established Church however. All over Europe Established Churches were in the business of ecclesial suicide as they identified with their patrons among the politically and economically empowered. It was even true among the Court Lutheran Churches of the German princedoms but at least they had good music for their services.
One important Anglican divine of this period was John Sharp, Archbishop of York under William and Mary and later Queen Anne. Like most clergy he had opposed the Declaration of Indulgence and was imprisoned for doing so. He actually was chaplain to King James but as James was Catholic and Sharp Anglican, it was only a title and a salaried benefice. He also was one of the rare preachers of that day who brought passion into the pulpit. He was Lord High Almoner to Queen Anne and a close confidant of hers. He preached the coronation sermon when she ascended the Throne. He played a crucial role in the House of Lords in getting the Queen’s agenda through the Upper House, in some ways anticipating the role for Prime Minister that would evolve when Anne’s successors came to the Throne. He was also the Queen’s chief advisor in the appointment of Bishops for the Church of England and so stamped the Episcopal Bench with his own political and theological views for a generation to come.
One of the more interesting, in fact probably the most interesting, of the Anglican Bishops of this period is Lancelot Blackburne. Blackburne graduated from Christ Church Oxford and was ordained in 1681 by the Bishop of Oxford. He went off to the West Indies where he became the chaplain on a ship—a pirate ship. One would not think of pirates having chaplains but technically the ship was a privateer: a privately owned vessel whose captain had been issued a Letter of Marque by the Crown authorizing him to attack enemy (in the case French and Spanish) shipping. It seems that at this time Blackburne may actually have done espionage work for Charles II. Blackburne returned to England after four years an began his ascendancy in the Church. He was made Canon and later Dean of Exeter where he acquired the patronage of William Wake, later Archbishop of Canterbury. When upon the death of Queen Anne, George of Hanover succeeded to the English Throne, Blackburne was appointed a chaplain to the new monarch and journeyed to Hanover to escort the new King to England. In 1717 he was consecrated Bishop of Exeter. In 1724 he was named Archbishop of York, a position which also made him a Privy Counselor.
He was never much into the spiritual duties of being a Bishop, having no time for either confirmations or ordinations and ceasing to perform those functions completely a few years after succeeding to York. He was infamous for at one confirmation service in Saint Mary’s Church in Nottingham sending his servant out to bring him his pipe, tobacco, and a mug of ale. The rector threw Archbishop and servant both out of his church insisting that “no archbishop will make a tippling house of this church so long as I am the vicar.” Blackburne resided mostly in a fashionable house in London rather than in his See city. He reportedly married George to his long-time mistress, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, despite the fact that George had a wife still living in Germany. (He was married to his cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle but it was a loveless marriage—though producing two children—and both George and Sophia had taken lovers. Sophia was imprisoned for the remained of her life at Schloss Ahlden in Saxony.) Blackburne himself was not known for moral rectitude and one wit, referring to his time on a privateer wrote that his “behavior was seldom of a standard to be expected for an archbishop. In many respects his behavior was seldom of a standard to be expected of a pirate.” His contemporary, Horace Walpole, wrote: “…the jolly old Archbishop of York, who had the manners of a man of quality though he had been a buccaneer, and was a clergyman; but he retained nothing of his first profession except his seraglio.” (A seraglio is the part of a residence reserved for a harem.) Walpole elaborated on this in a letter to a friend:
He was perfectly a fine gentleman to the last, to eighty-four; his favourite author was Waller, whom he frequently quoted… I often dined with him, his mistress, Mrs. Conwys, sat at the head of the table, and Hayter, his natural son by another woman, and very like him, at the bottom, as chaplain: he was afterwards Bishop of London. I have heard, but do not affirm it, that Mrs. Blackbourne, before she died, complained of Mrs. Conwys being brought under the same roof. To his clergy he was, I have heard, very imperious. One story I recollect, which showed how much he was a man of this world: and which the Queen herself repeated to my father. On the King's last journey to Hanover, before Lady Yarmouth came over, the Archbishop being With her Majesty, said to her, "Madam, I have been with your minister Walpole, and he tells me that you are a wise woman, and do not mind your husband's having a mistress.
As Walpole claims, Thomas Hayter (1702-1762), Bishop of Norwich and later of London, was rumored to be Blackburn’s son by an adulterous union. He was buried not in his cathedral but in the Church of Saint Margaret, Westminster.
All in all, the 18th century was not a peak time for the Church of England. The rationalism of the Enlightenment led to a spiritual mediocrity that left the Church of England little more than a spiritual corpse.