Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sharp, John (1645-1714)

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609181Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51 — Sharp, John (1645-1714)1897Gerald le Grys Norgate

SHARP, JOHN (1645–1714), archbishop of York, born at Bradford on 16 Feb. 1644–5, was the eldest son of Thomas Sharp, wet and dry salter, by Dorothy, eldest daughter of John Weddal of Widdington, Yorkshire. The family had long been settled in Bradfordale. Sharp's youngest brother, Sir Joshua (d. 1718), an eminent stationer, was sheriff of London in 1713 (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 354). His father, a puritan who enjoyed the favour of Fairfax, inculcated in him Calvinistic doctrines, but his mother, a strong royalist, instructed him in the liturgy. On 26 April 1660 he was admitted at Christ's College, Cambridge, and in the fourth year of his residence was made ‘scholar of the house.’ He attended the lectures of Thomas Burnet (1635?–1715) [q. v.] in natural philosophy, and gave much attention to chemistry and botany. In 1663 he graduated B.A., and began to study divinity. He also ‘kept to hard study of the Greek authors’ till 1667, when he ‘commenced master.’ Soon after, on the recommendation of Henry More (1614–1687) [q. v.], the Platonist, who had been pleased with his reading of the lessons in the college chapel, Sharp became domestic chaplain and tutor at Kensington House, in the family of Sir Heneage Finch [q. v.], then solicitor-general. He was ordained deacon and priest on 12 Aug. 1667 at St. Mary's, Westminster, by special faculty from Archbishop Sheldon. On 12 July 1669, together with other Cambridge men, he was incorporated at Oxford, on the occasion of the opening of the Sheldonian Theatre (Wood, Fasti, ii. 311). Sharp remained in Finch's house till his marriage in 1676. In 1673 he was appointed, on Finch's nomination, archdeacon of Berkshire. Through the same influence Sharp became in 1675 prebendary of Norwich and incumbent of St. Bartholomew's, Exchange, London. The latter post he resigned the same year for the rectory of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields. When Finch became lord keeper and lord chancellor, Sharp acted as his adviser in the bestowal of ecclesiastical patronage.

After his marriage Sharp lived for four years in Chancery Lane with William Rawlinson, who had married his wife's sister. He soon gained the reputation of being one of the best preachers of the day. In 1679 he was made lecturer at St. Lawrence Jewry, where the Friday sermons had been much frequented since Tillotson delivered them. In the same year he was created D.D. at Cambridge by proxy. In 1680 he delivered sermons at the Yorkshire feast and at the election of lord mayor of London. He now removed to Great Russell Street, where he remained till he became archbishop. On 8 July 1681, ‘at the intercession of the Duke of York and Lord Arlington,’ he was named dean of Norwich; he retained the rectory of St. Giles.

In 1674 he printed a sermon attacking the dissenters. Dodwell defended it, and Baxter replied to Dodwell. In 1683–4, in two ‘Discourses concerning Conscience,’ Sharp amplified his argument, and maintained the necessity of dissenters' communion with the church (cf. Bennet, Abridgment of the London Cases, Cambridge, 1700). Sharp's argument was employed in 1704 by a writer in favour of reunion with Rome, and a fresh controversy followed.

In 1685 Sharp drew up for the grand jury of London their address of congratulation on the accession of James II. On 20 April 1686 he became chaplain in ordinary to the king. But, provoked by the tampering of Roman catholics with his parishioners, he preached two sermons at St. Giles's on 2 and 9 May, which were held to reflect on the king. Sharp assured Burnet that nothing of the kind was intended, and, to refute the charge, went to court to show the notes he had used. He was not admitted, and on 14 June Compton, bishop of London, was ordered to suspend him. He refused, but in an interview at Doctors' Commons on the 18th instant privately advised Sharp to ‘forbear the pulpit’ for the present (Burnet, Hist. Own Time, iii. 100 et seq.; cf. Evelyn, Diary, pp. 255, 257). His appeals to Sunderland and Middleton for full reinstatement met with no response. On 1 July, by the advice of Jeffreys, he left London for Norwich; but when he returned to London in December his petition, revised by Jeffreys, was received, and in January 1687 he was reinstated.

In August 1688 Sharp was summoned before the ecclesiastical commission for refusing to read the declaration of indulgence. He argued that though obedience was due to the king in preference to the archbishop, yet that obedience went no further than things licita et honesta. After the Revolution he visited Jeffreys (who had befriended him in the Tower) and ‘freely expostulated with him upon his public actions, and particularly the affairs in the west.’

On 27 Jan. 1689 Sharp preached before the Prince of Orange, and three days later before the convention. On each occasion he prayed for King James, on the ground that the lords had not yet concurred in the abdication vote. The speaker of the House of Commons complained of the second sermon as an affront, and a hot debate took place; but, notwithstanding Evelyn's statement to the contrary (Diary, ii. 291), the preacher received the thanks of the house on 1 Feb. (Life of Sharp; Macaulay, ii. 639). Nor was the court displeased. Sharp preached before Queen Mary on the first Friday in Lent, and ‘was taken into no small favour.’ On 7 Sept. 1689 he was named dean of Canterbury, in succession to Tillotson, and was appointed a commissioner for reform of the liturgy and the ecclesiastical courts. In 1690 he was offered his choice of the sees vacated by the nonjurors, but declined to accept any of them during the life of the deprived prelates, among whom were personal friends. William III was ‘not a little disgusted’ by his refusal; but Tillotson, now primate, who was Sharp's lifelong friend, intervened and induced him to give a promise to accept the see of York when it should fall vacant. A fortnight later Archbishop Thomas Lamplugh [q. v.] died, and on 5 July 1691 Sharp was consecrated by Tillotson. On 5 Oct. he took the tests in the House of Lords. He held the archiepiscopal see longer than any of his predecessors since the Reformation. He made elaborate inquiries into its rights and revenues, and drew up a manuscript account in four folios, which he bequeathed to his successors. It included the lives and acts of the archbishops from Paulinus to Lamplugh. Le Neve and Willis benefited by his labours. In 1693 he visited and regulated the chapter of Southwell, which had fallen into some disorder. When, in 1711, a great part of York minster was burnt, he raised almost a third of the sum necessary for the repairs. In dealing with his clergy he was firm but considerate. He consistently refused to be influenced in the distribution of his patronage by political motives, and declined to interfere in the conduct of parliamentary elections, even when applied to by Lady Russell and the Duke of Leeds. He attended York minster thrice a week, and himself preached about once a fortnight. He would not allow in the pulpit ‘railing at dissenters,’ and approved useful rather than showy preaching. He discouraged in his diocese the societies ‘for the reformation of manners’ which began to spring up about 1697, thinking their methods of doubtful legality. He interested himself in the condition of the distressed Scottish episcopal clergy both under William and Anne. He was often applied to in cases of conscience, and made converts among both nonjurors and dissenters, including William Higden [q. v.] and Robert Nelson [q. v.], Bishop Bull's biographer. Baxter was intimate with him, and attended not only his sermons but his sacraments (Silvester, Life, p. 437).

With politics, when not affecting the church, Sharp rarely concerned himself. In April 1694 he took charge successfully, for Stillingfleet, of a bill dealing with small tithes. In 1692 he opposed the bill for annual parliaments as prejudicial to the prerogative. He was opposed to bills of attainder, and voted against that in the case of Sir John Fenwick (1645?–1697) [q. v.], notwithstanding an interview with the king at Kensington on 8 Dec. 1696. He signed the ‘association’ to protect William's life, but caused a definition of the word ‘revenging’ to be entered on the journals of the House of Lords. At the coronation of Anne, on 23 April 1702, Sharp delivered a short and impressive discourse (Strickland, Queens of England, viii. 150). According to the Duchess of Marlborough, he was selected as ‘being a warm and zealous man for the church, and reckoned a tory’ (Account of her Conduct, p. 134). He was appointed the queen's almoner, and was sworn of the privy council. He was also appointed a commissioner for the Scottish union, but took no part in the proceedings. Under Anne, Sharp occupied a very important position, which he never abused. In the words of his biographer, ‘in church matters he was her principal guide, in matters of state her confident’ (sic). In one of their numerous private conferences (December 1706), Sharp noted in his diary that Anne said ‘I should be her confessor, and she would be mine.’ Although they were in general agreement, the archbishop occasionally gave votes against the queen's wishes. As her ecclesiastical adviser, he induced her to give back the revenues of the Savoy chapel, supported the bounty scheme and its extension to the Irish church, and acted as mediator in the disputes between the two houses of convocation. He was active in advocating the interests of foreign protestants at the time of the negotiations for peace. He gave a hospitable reception to the Armenian bishops, who came over in 1706 to raise money for printing bibles in their language; and to Arsenius, bishop of Thebaïs, who came from Egypt in 1713 (Lit. Anecd. viii. 250). From 1710 onwards he carried on a correspondence with Jablonski, chaplain to Frederick I of Prussia, with the object of solving the disputes there between Lutherans and Calvinists by means of the introduction of the English liturgy. The death of the king of Prussia put an end to the negotiations. The correspondence, collected by Thomas Sharp, son of the archbishop, and translated into French by J. T. Muysson, minister of the French protestant chapel at St. James's, was published in 1757 for presentation to Frederick the Great (see Relation des mesures … pour introduire la Liturgie Anglicane dans le Roiaume de Prusse et dans l'Electorat de Hanovre. Eclaircie par des lettres et autres Pièces originales,’ &c., with preface by Granville Sharp [q. v.] in Append. III. to Life of Archbishop Sharp).

Sharp procured the promotion of Beveridge, Potter, Prideaux, and Bull. Swift credited him and the Duchess of Somerset with helping to prevent his obtaining the see of Hereford, but hints that he regretted his action (vide ‘The Author upon himself’ in Swift's Works, ed. Scott, 2nd edit. xii. 315–18; cf. Schutz to Robethon, February 1714, in Macpherson's Original Papers, ii. 562; Strickland, Queens of England, viii. 483; and art. Seymour, Charles, sixth Duke of Somerset). The cause of offence was supposed to be Sharp's dislike of the ‘Tale of a Tub.’ It has been plausibly argued that Swift borrowed the plan of his satire from Sharp's own ‘Refutation of a Popish Argument handed about in Manuscript in 1686’ (see letter by ‘Indagator’ [Charles Clarke] in Gent. Mag. 1814, ii. 20–22).

On 10 May 1713 Sharp had his last interview with Anne, and obtained from her a promise to nominate as his successor at York Sir William Dawes, bishop of Chester. In December he fell ill, and on the 9th made the last entry in his diary, in which he had written weekly from 1691 till 1702 and daily since. He died at Bath on 2 Feb. 1714. He was buried in St. Mary's Chapel, York minster, where an elaborate Latin inscription was placed on his monument by Smalridge, bishop of Bristol. The epitaph is given in Willis's ‘Survey of Cathedrals’ (i. 60–3), and, with translation, in Wilford's ‘Memorials of Eminent Persons’ (Appendix).

Sharp was married, by Tillotson, at Clerkenwell in 1676 to Elizabeth Palmer of Winthorp, Lincolnshire. Of his fourteen children, only four survived him. Of these, John Sharp (1678–1727) of Grafton Park represented Ripon from 1701 to 1714; he was a commissioner of trade from 15 Sept. 1713 to September 1714 (Haydn), and died on 9 March 1726–7; in Wicken church, Northamptonshire, there is a monument to him and his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Charles Hosier of Wicken Park. Thomas (1693–1758), the youngest son and biographer of the archbishop, is separately noticed.

Macky in 1702 described Sharp as ‘a black man, one of the greatest ornaments of the Church of England.’ All authorities agree in praising him as a preacher and divine. His tastes were liberal. ‘He loved poetry all his life,’ writes his son; and Onslow, in a note to Burnet, says that he was wont to say that the Bible and Shakespeare made him archbishop of York (Hist. of his own Time, iii. 100). He is also said to have ‘admitted and admired the new philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton, of which he used frequently to discourse.’ His hobby was the collection of coins. These he left to his friend Ralph Thoresby [q. v.], together with a manuscript treatise, ‘Observations on the Coinage of England.’ This is said to have been of great use to Thoresby and succeeding writers, such as Stephen Martin Leake [q. v.] The manuscript, purchased by Gough in 1764 at the sale of Thoresby's museum, was printed in Nichols's ‘Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica’ (vol. vi.; cf. Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 97). Part of it also appeared in Ives's ‘Select Papers’ (1773).

As a controversialist Sharp was strenuous, but candid and urbane. Several of his sermons appeared in his lifetime. ‘Fifteen Sermons on several Occasions’ reached a seventh edition in 1738. Some sermons were contained in ‘Protestant Writers’ (vol. ix. 1762), ‘Family Lectures’ (vol. ii. 1791), Cochrane's ‘Protestant Manual’ (1839), Brogden's ‘Illustrations of the Liturgy’ (iii. 1842). Felton, in his ‘Dissertations upon reading the Classics,’ held them up as models of style. Evelyn, who heard him preach at the Temple in April 1696, notes that ‘his prayer before the sermon was one of the most excellently composed I ever heard’ (Diary, ii. 341). As compared with Tillotson, Burnet found him wanting in knowledge of the world. Of his general theological position Macaulay wrote that he was ‘the highest churchman that had been zealous for comprehension and the lowest that felt a scruple about succeeding a deprived prelate’ (Hist. iv. 43). The first collective edition of his works was published in seven volumes in 1754. An edition in five volumes appeared at Oxford in 1829.

A portrait, engraved by Scriven, representing Sharp in his robes, is prefixed to vol. i. of his ‘Life.’ Three others, engraved by E. Cooper, White (1691, prefixed to ‘Sermons,’ 1709), and F. Kyte, are mentioned in Bromley's ‘Catalogue.’

[The Life of John Sharp, with three appendices containing ‘select, original, and copies of original papers,’ was written by his son Thomas Sharp, archdeacon of Northumberland. It remained in manuscript until 1825, when it appeared in two volumes edited by Thomas Newcome, rector of Shenley and vicar of Tottenham, who obtained access to it through his friendship with a great-granddaughter of the archbishop. The third appendix, added by the editor, contains letters of Granville Sharp. The Life, founded chiefly on the archbishop's shorthand diary, is supplemented by other contemporary sources, of which a detailed list copied from Cole (Addit. MS. 5880, f. 75) is given in the editor's appendix. The chief are Birch's Life of Tillotson; Whiston's Memoirs of himself and of Dr. Clarke, and his Historical Preface to Primitive Christianity Revived. The compiler of the article in the Biographia Britannica, 1760, had the help of Archdeacon Sharp. The article in Chalmers's Biogr. Dict. is founded also on Le Neve's Protestant Bishops, 1720, and Todd's Deans of Canterbury. Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis, ed. Whitaker, p. 37, gives the Sharp pedigree. Macaulay makes much use of the Life of Sharp. For a full statement of his theological position, see Abbey's English Church and its Bishops in the Eighteenth Century, i. 103–5; see too Carus's Life of Simeon, 1848, p. 20; Nelson's Bull, 1714, p. 279; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xii. 345.]

G. Le G. N.