Stillingfleet, Edward (DNB00)
|←Stillingfleet, Benjamin||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
STILLINGFLEET, EDWARD (1635–1699), bishop of Worcester, born on 17 April 1635 at Cranborne, Dorset, was the seventh son of Samuel Stillingfleet (of the ancient family of Stillingfleet of Stillingfleet, Yorkshire) by Susanna, daughter of Edward Norris of Petworth. After early instruction from his parents he was sent to Cranborne grammar school, under Thomas Garden, and in 1648 to Ringwood, that he might procure one of the Lynne exhibitions. At Michaelmas 1649 he was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge, and obtained a scholarship there on the Earl of Salisbury's nomination on 8 Nov. Immediately after graduating B.A. he was elected to a fellowship on 31 March 1653. He proceeded M.A. in 1656, and was incorporated at Oxford on 17 June 1677. In 1654 he went to reside with Sir Roger Burgoyne at Wroxhall, Warwickshire, and then became tutor to Mr. Pierrepoint at Nottingham. During this period he was ordained by Ralph Brownrig [q. v.], deprived bishop of Exeter, and wrote his first book, ‘The Irenicum’ (1659; 2nd ed. 1662), suggesting a compromise between the church and the presbyterians. This work, from which its author in later years dissented, took a prominent place among the writings of the ‘Latitude-men’ of the time. It regards the form of church government as immaterial, and as left undecided by the Apostles; but the argument is directed against nonconformity, which is regarded as indefensible. It shows clear traces of the influence of Hobbes. Burnet says that ‘it took with many, but was cried out upon by others as an attempt against the church. Yet the argument was managed with so much learning and skill that none of either side ever undertook to answer it.’
In 1657 Stillingfleet received from Sir Robert Burgoyne the rectory of Sutton, and in 1659 he married Andrea, daughter of William Dobyns of Dumbleton (agreement dated 22 Feb. 1659, Stillingfleet MSS.) While at Sutton he wrote his ‘Origines Sacræ’ (1662), which would ‘have been deservedly esteemed a most complete performance for one of more than twice his age’ (Bentley's ‘Life’ in vol. i. of Stillingfleet's Works, 1710). This was an apologetic work on an historical basis, asserting the divine authority of the Scriptures. Bishop Robert Sanderson [q. v.] of Lincoln was greatly struck by it. When he saw Stillingfleet at a visitation he was astonished at his youth, and gave him a general license as preacher in his diocese on 16 Oct. 1662.
Similarly impressed by the learning of the ‘Origines,’ Bishop Humphrey Henchman [q. v.] requested the author to answer the jesuit account of the controversy between Laud and Fisher (Laud, Labyrinth). This he did in ‘A Rational Account of the Grounds of the Protestant Religion; being a Vindication of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury's “Relation of a Conference between him and John Fisher the Jesuit,” from the Pretended Answer of T. C.,’ London, 1664. This performance, of considerable acuteness and learning, gave him still wider fame, and shortly afterwards he was appointed preacher at the Rolls Chapel. In January 1665 he was appointed to the rectory of St. Andrew's, Holborn, which he held till 1689 (instituted 21 March 1665). He retained his preachership at the Rolls Chapel, and was also made reader of the Temple.
He now made the acquaintance of many eminent lawyers, and became the friend of Sir Matthew Hale and of Chief-justice Vaughan, whose funeral sermon he afterwards preached. On 9 Feb. 1667 he was collated to the prebend of Islington in St. Paul's Cathedral, which he exchanged for that of Newington on 11 Oct. 1672. On 21 April 1669 he became a ‘canon in the twelfth prebend’ in Canterbury Cathedral (Le Neve, Fasti, 1854, i. 61, ii. 402, 419); and he graduated B.D. at Cambridge in 1663, D.D. 1668. He soon became a popular London preacher. A petition to Bishop Henchman of London from the parishioners of St. Andrew's, Holborn (Stillingfleet MSS.), complains that he only ‘vouchsafes’ to preach, coming in late, when the reading of prayers is over. A sermon on the courageous text, ‘Fools make a mock of sin,’ preached before Charles II on 13 March 1667, was printed by the king's command. Having been made a royal chaplain (see Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667–8, p. 335), Stillingfleet was once asked by Charles why he always read his sermon when preaching before him and used no notes elsewhere. He told the king that ‘the awe of so noble an audience, where he saw nothing that was not greatly superior to him, but chiefly the seeing before him so great and wise a prince, made him afraid to trust himself.’ Stillingfleet in his turn asked Charles why he always read his speeches ‘when you can have none of the same reasons.’ The king replied, ‘I have asked them so often and for so much money that I am ashamed to look them in the face’ (Richardsoniana, p. 89).
Pepys, who had known Stillingfleet at Cambridge, says, when he heard him preach at Whitehall on 23 April 1665, that ‘he did make a most plain, honest, good, grave sermon, in the most unconcerned and easy, yet substantial manner that ever I heard in my life,’ and that when he was presented to St. Andrew's, Holborn, ‘the “bishops” of Canterbury, London, and another believed he is the ablest young man to preach the Gospel of any since the Apostles.’ In 1666, on the fast day for the fire, he notes that when Stilling- fleet preached before parliament there was no standing room.
Though now clearly in favour with the court, Stillingfleet remained on good terms with the nonconformists. He was a friend of Matthew Henry, attended the funeral of Fairclough (Wood, Life and Times, ed. A. Clark, iii. 23), and was requested by Charles II, as a moderate man, to argue with William Penn (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1668–9, p. 146). While he was still rector of Sutton he had given a home to one of the ejected ministers, and taken a large house, which he turned into a school, for another.
His literary and controversial activity was prodigious, and his books against the Socinians and Romanists were extremely popular. On 4 May 1677 he was made archdeacon of London, and on 16 Jan. 1678 dean of St. Paul's. He was also prolocutor of the lower house of the convocation of Canterbury. He was no less prolific as an antiquary than as a theologian. His treatise on the jurisdiction of the bishops in capital cases, published on the occasion of Danby's trial, was considered, says Burnet, to ‘put an end to the controversy in the opinion of all impartial men’ (Hist. of his own Time, 1753, ii. 93). Still more important was his elaborate work the ‘Origines Britannicæ,’ 1685, which was an acute historical investigation of the sources of British church history. His ‘Discourse of the True Antiquity of London’ (published after his death) shows him also an antiquary of wide learning. He was a great book collector, and formed a very large library of manuscripts and rare works.
At the time of the popish plot ‘a manuscript against’ him was examined by the committee of investigation (Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. ii. 68), and it was said that there was an attempt to entrap and murder him. ‘Thereupon on Sunday about forty persons for a guard waited on the doctor to church and home’ (ib. 14th Rep. App. iv. 108).
During the reign of James II he was in less prominence. Letters show that he was required at different times to attend on the king's ecclesiastical commissioners in the chapter-house of St. Paul's (Stillingfleet MSS.) He prepared an elaborate argument against the legality of the commission, which was published in 1689, as the second part of his ‘Ecclesiastical Cases,’ and reasons against the repeal of the Test Act (20 April 1689, Stillingfleet MSS.) At the Revolution he was at once taken into favour. Burnet recommended him to William of Orange as ‘the learnedst man of the age in all respects’ (Sidney, Diary). A letter from Hickes, dean of Worcester, announcing the death of William Thomas (1613–1689) [q. v.], the bishop, shows that it was already known that he would have the next preferment (26 June 1689, Stillingfleet MSS.) On 12 Oct. 1689 his election was confirmed in Bow Church (Wood, Life and Times, ed. A. Clark, iii. 312), and next day he was consecrated bishop of Worcester at Fulham. The temporalities were restored to him on 21 Oct. (Le Neve, Fasti, iii. 68; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1689, p. 297). He was at once put on the commission to consider the revision of the prayer-book and the possibility of comprehension.
Stillingfleet was an active and energetic bishop. His charges (1690, 1693, and 1696) were elaborate investigations of the duties and rights of the parochial clergy, and were published in the first part of his ‘Ecclesiastical Cases,’ 1695. He was a frequent speaker in the House of Lords. He continued his literary labours, his collection of books, and his correspondence with learned men. An interesting letter from Sir William Trumbull [q. v.] shows him keenly interested in the ‘wretched state of the Grecian and Armenian churches’ (10 June 1688, Stillingfleet MSS.) On the death of Tillotson the queen strongly urged his appointment to the archbishopric; but he was already in bad health, and does not appear to have been offered the primacy. It is said that when Tenison, the new archbishop, called upon him he wittily alluded to this by remaining seated, and saying ‘I am too old to rise.’ He became, however, the constant adviser of Tenison, and, when he was no longer able to attend parliament, was consulted by the bishops on all points of importance (many letters in Stillingfleet MSS.)
Despite his infirmity he engaged in a controversy with Locke on the doctrine of the Trinity, which he believed was impugned by some passages in the ‘Essay on the Human Understanding.’ He published three pamphlets on the subject (1696–7), each of which was answered by Locke. He drew up also an elaborate paper of advice to the bishops in case the king should demand new measures for the suppression of the papists, showing that the existing laws were sufficient (Stillingfleet MSS., undated). The last years of his life were occupied in the revision and publication of sermons, and in the revision of the ‘Origines Sacræ,’ which he did not live to complete. He also reformed the procedure of his consistory court, and took an active part himself in its work. His second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nicholas Pedley, died early in 1697 (letter from the Duchess of Lauderdale, dated Ham, 20 Feb. 1697, in Stillingfleet MSS.), and from that time his health rapidly failed. He had a dangerous fit at Hartlebury early in 1698 (ib., letter from Dr. Stanley, dean of St. Paul's), and died at his house in Park Street, Westminster, on 27 March 1699. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral, and his epitaph is from the pen of his chaplain, Richard Bentley. By his first wife he had one son, Edward (father of Benjamin Stillingfleet [q. v.]), and two daughters; by his second, seven children, of whom James became dean of Worcester and rector of Hartlebury.
His valuable library was offered for sale. The historical manuscripts were bought by Robert Harley (afterwards Earl of Oxford), and the books, after lengthy negotiations, by Narcissus Marsh [q. v.], archbishop of Armagh, in 1704 (it is stated that there were over two thousand folios). ‘He is supposed to have paid over 6,000l. for the books and manuscripts, in the collection of which all over the learned world he spared no cost, … and the choiceness of the collection and fewness of common books appears very remarkable and hard to be equalled’ (ib.)
No bishop of his day was more prominent or more famous than Stillingfleet; but the reputation which his remarkable industry, wide knowledge, and popular gifts gave him among contemporaries was not enduring. Although the publication of his complete works did not enhance his fame (cf. Hearne, Diaries, ed. Doble, ii. 373, iii. 251), his power as a writer and the accuracy of his historical and antiquarian knowledge are unquestionable.
His works were published in 1710 in six volumes, with a ‘Life’ by Richard Bentley, who had been his chaplain. The most important have been mentioned above. To these may be added his ‘Miscellaneous Discourses on Several Occasions,’ published by his son in 1735, which show him in his most practical aspect.
He was a handsome man, of a high colour and bright vigorous expression. He was nicknamed ‘the beauty of holiness.’ Portraits of him are numerous. Among the best are a half-length and a beautiful miniature in the possession of the Stillingfleet family. Engravings exist by R. White and Blooteling, fine copies commanding a high price (Evans, Cat. No. 9995).[MSS. in possession of Mrs. Stillingfleet, of Grafton Lodge, Hereford; Bentley's Life; Burnet's own Time; Bentley's Corresp.; Baker's St. John's Coll., Cambridge, ii. 698–703, ed. Mayor; cf. Notes and Queries, 9th ser. ii. 223.]