WORDSWORTH, CHRISTOPHER (1807−1885), bishop of Lincoln, born at Lambeth on 30 Oct. 1807, was third and youngest son of Christopher Wordsworth (1774−1846) [q. v.], master of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1820, and his wife Priscilla, daughter of Charles Lloyd of Bingley Hall, Birmingham. John, the scholar, and Charles [q. v.], bishop of St. Andrews, were his elder brothers. The three were brought up at Bocking, Essex, of which their father was rector and dean from 1808, and at Sundridge, Kent, where they were from 1816 friends and neighbours of Henry Edward Manning [q. v.] In 1815 they lost their mother, and in 1820 Christopher entered as a commoner at Winchester, where he distinguished himself both as a scholar and as an athlete, and was known as ‘the great Christopher’. In 1825 he left Winchester, and in 1826 entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his list of college and university prizes and honours was almost unique. In 1830 he graduated as senior classic and fourteenth senior optime, winning also the first chancellor's medal for classical studies; and in the same year he was elected fellow of Trinity, and became shortly afterwards assistant college-tutor. In 1832−3 he travelled in Greece, and was the first Englishman presented to King Otho. He was a keen observer: e.g. his conjecture as to the site of Dodona was confirmed in 1878 by Carapanos. His ‘Athens and Attica’ and ‘Greece’ are still books of authority. In 1833 he was ordained deacon, and in 1835 priest. In 1836 he was chosen public orator at Cambridge, and in the same year became headmaster of Harrow. In 1838 he married Susanna Hatley Frere, daughter of George Frere, a solicitor (afterwards of Twyford House), a marriage which proved the greatest happiness of his life. His position at Harrow was difficult. Discipline had been lax there, and, although he improved the religious tone and was instrumental in building a school chapel, the numbers decreased greatly under his headmastership; he suffered pecuniary loss, and his health began to fail. In 1844 he was appointed, through Sir Robert Peel, canon of Westminster. He was one of the chief founders of the Westminster spiritual aid fund and of St. John's House, an institution for training nurses; and he won reputation as a preacher at the abbey. In 1850 he accepted the country living of Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Westminster. The income of the living was more than swallowed up by the expenses; but Wordsworth's experience of nearly twenty years as a parish priest stood him in good stead when he became a bishop. In 1852 he was elected proctor in convocation for the chapter of Westminster, and for seventeen years was a prominent figure in the lower house of convocation. In 1865 he became archdeacon of Westminster, and finally, in November 1868, after considerable hesitation, he accepted, on the nomination of Disraeli, the bishopric of Lincoln. He was consecrated in February 1869. In the same year he revived the office of (so-called) suffragan bishops, consecrating Henry Mackenzie [q. v.] bishop-suffragan of Nottingham on 2 Feb. 1870, and in 1871 the diocesan synod. Only one synod, however, was held; but at that synod the establishment of a diocesan conference of clergy and laity was arranged, which has been held annually ever since. In 1871, after the Purchas judgment, he revived the use of the cope in Lincoln Cathedral. He also held that a distinctive dress of the celebrant in holy communion was permissible under the ‘ornaments rubric,’ but not compulsory.
One of Wordsworth's marked characteristics was his moral courage in dealing with burning questions. The diocese of Lincoln is a stronghold of Wesleyanism, and in 1873 he issued ‘A Pastoral to the Wesleyan Methodists in the Diocese of Lincoln,’ inviting them to return to their mother church on the principles of their founder. A vehement controversy followed, the heat of which was not allayed when shortly afterwards he declined to use his influence with the vicar of Owston to allow the title of ‘Reverend’ to be applied to a Wesleyan minister on a tombstone in the churchyard. His decision was upheld in the court of arches, but overruled in the privy council.
In 1873−5 occurred ‘the Great Coates case,’ on his refusing to institute a clergyman who had purchased the life interest in an advowson, which the bishop held to be practically the purchase of a next presentation. The courts, however, held that it was of the nature of the purchase of an advowson. The bishop had to pay heavy costs and damages; but the laity of the diocese subscribed the sum (1,000l.), which he devoted to repairing Bishop Alnwick's tower.