Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sherlock, Thomas
SHERLOCK, THOMAS (1678–1761), bishop of London, eldest son of Dr. William Sherlock (1640–1707) [q. v.], dean of St. Paul's, was born in 1678. He was sent to school at Eton, where Lord Townshend, Henry Pelham, and Robert Walpole were among his friends, and he was athletic as well as studious (cf. Pope, Dunciad ‘the plunging prelate,’ supposed to refer to his powers as a swimmer; so Warton's note, ed. 1797, on authority of Walpole). He entered St. Catharine's College (then Hall), Cambridge, in 1693, graduated B.A. in 1697, M.A. in 1701, and D.D. in 1714. He was two years junior to Hoadly in the same college, and it is said that their long rivalry began at Cambridge. Sherlock was elected fellow of his college on 12 Aug. 1698, and was ordained in 1701 by Bishop Patrick. On 28 Nov. 1704 he was appointed master of the Temple, on his father's resignation of the office (see Hearne, Diary, ed. Doble, i. 79, 359). He was extraordinarily popular in this post, which he held till 1753. His reputation as a preacher dated from this appointment. His voice was gruff rather than melodious, but he spoke ‘with such strength and vehemence, that he never failed to take possession of his whole audience and secure their attention’ (Dr. Nicholls in his Funeral Sermon). In 1707 he married Miss Judith Fontaine, ‘a lady of good family in Yorkshire,’ who is described as ‘a truly respectable woman’ (Cumberland, Memoirs, i. 180). In 1711 he was made chaplain to Queen Anne (Hearne, Diary, iii. 111), in 1713 prebendary of St. Paul's (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 450). On the election of Sir William Dawes to the archbishopric of York in 1714, Sherlock was unanimously elected master of St. Catharine's Hall. He then took the degree of D.D., ‘commencing’ on Monday, 5 July, in a disputation with Waterland (Thoresby, Diary; cf. Wordsworth, University Life in the Eighteenth Century, p. 260). In the same year he became vice-chancellor of his university. He devoted himself at once to arranging the university archives, and embodied the results in a manuscript volume. He also vindicated the rights of the university against Bentley (then archdeacon of Ely), who nicknamed him ‘Alberoni.’ He was supposed to have connived at Jacobitism in Cambridge, but was probably no more than a ‘Hanoverian Tory;’ and it was during his year of office that George I presented to the university the library of Bishop Moore. He presented a ‘loyal address to George I on the anticipated invasion of James Stewart,’ and is said to have preached a sermon at the Temple on the Sunday after the battle of Preston strongly in favour of the Hanoverian line, which the benchers said should have been delivered the Sunday before (cf. Noble, Contin. of Granger, i. 91). In the next year (7 June 1716) he preached before the House of Commons at the thanksgiving, asserting the unrighteousness of resistance to constituted authority. In November 1715 he obtained, through Townshend's influence, the deanery of Chichester (Le Neve, Fasti, i. 258), where he rebuilt the dean's house. On 10 July 1719 he was installed as canon of Norwich, a stall which had been annexed by Queen Anne to the mastership of St. Catharine's Hall, but which he was unable to obtain possession of without litigation, as he was already a prebendary of St. Paul's. In the same year he resigned the mastership of St. Catharine's Hall.
Before this he had become engaged in the famous Bangorian controversy. He was chairman of the committee appointed in 1717 by the lower house of the convocation of Canterbury to report on Hoadly's ‘Nature of the Kingdom or Church of Christ,’ but the convocation was dissolved before the report was presented to the upper house. He then published ‘Remarks on the Bishop of Bangor's Treatment of the Clergy and Convocation’ (London, 1717, anonymous), as well as ‘Some Considerations’ (same year), and several pamphlets. In 1718 he published a ‘Vindication of the Corporation and Test Acts,’ also against Hoadly, which is said to have lost him the king's favour; and he was struck off the list of royal chaplains. He is stated in his later years to have regretted the part he took in the controversy, and to have refused to allow the pamphlets he wrote to be reprinted. Bishop Newton (Autobiography, p. 130) strongly denies this, on the evidence of those who lived with him during the last years of his life.
In 1724 he entered on controversy with the deists in six sermons, published as ‘The Use and Intent of Prophecy’ (1725), which ran through many editions. On the death of George I he came once more into favour at court, and on 4 Feb. 1727–8 he was consecrated bishop of Bangor. He was a familiar friend of Lord Hervey (cf. Hervey, Memoirs, passim) as well as of Walpole, and Queen Caroline was his constant patroness. He was also almoner to the Prince of Wales. In 1729 he published anonymously his most famous book, ‘The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus.’ A sequel, which was attributed to him, came out in 1749, and in the same year a new edition of the work on prophecy, with important revision (see Gent. Mag. iii. 175).
In the meantime Sherlock had become a prominent figure in politics, his knowledge of law being of much assistance to him in the House of Lords. He generally supported the ministry of Walpole and the power of the crown, opposing the pension bill and supporting the quakers' tithe bill (against Bishop Gibson of London), on which he wrote the ‘Country Parson's Plea’ (Hervey, Memoirs, ii. 88). In 1734 he was translated to Salisbury (royal assent 21 Oct., confirmation 8 Nov.), and he retired to his diocese by the advice of Queen Caroline (cf. Hervey, Memoirs, ii. 106, 108). He defended Walpole in 1741, when the Prince of Wales's party were attacking him and his advice to prorogue parliament (Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iv. 336, 449). He was offered the see of York in 1743 (Walpole to Mann, Letters of Walpole, i. 237), and in the same year became lord almoner (Jones, Fasti Eccl. Sarisberiensis, p. 118). In 1747 he appears to have refused the archbishopric of Canterbury on the ground of ill-health. Walpole had long opposed its offer to him (Hervey, Memoirs; Walpole, Letters). But in 1748 he succeeded Gibson as bishop of London (nomination 12 Oct., confirmed 1 Dec.). In the next year he was violently attacked by Dr. Middleton on the subject of his book on prophecy (cf. Walpole, Letters, ii. 217), and was engaged in a controversy concerning the patronage of St. George's, Hanover Square, with the archbishop of Canterbury.
After the earthquakes of 1750 Sherlock published a ‘Pastoral Letter,’ of which ‘ten thousand were sold in two days and fifty thousand have been subscribed for since the first two editions’ (Walpole, ii. 201). A tract on the ‘Observance of Good Friday’ also had a large sale. In 1751 he opposed the restrictions on the regent's power (ib. ii. 251). In 1753 an attack of paralysis affected his limbs and his speech, but he continued to write, publishing a charge in 1759 and four volumes of his sermons in 1758, a fifth volume appearing after his death. He lived till 1761 ‘in the last stage of bodily decay’ (Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, i. 180); but ‘he never parted with the administration of things out of his own hands, but required an exact account of everything that was transacted’ (Selections from Gent. Mag. iv. 13, from the Funeral Sermon by Dr. Nicholls).
He died childless on 18 July 1761, and was buried in the parish churchyard of Fulham. He left large benefactions to religious societies, and his library, with 7,000l. for binding, to the university of Cambridge. An anonymous portrait of Sherlock belongs to St. Catharine's College, Cambridge (cf. Cat. of Second Loan Exhibition, No. 238). A portrait by Vanloo, painted in 1740, was engraved by McArdell, Ravenet, and others (cf. Bromley, Portraits, p. 356).An ambitious and popular man, Sherlock was an industrious and efficient bishop. He cultivated kindly relations with the dissenters (cf. letter to Doddridge in Gent. Mag. 1815, ii. 483), and was in favour of comprehension (see Abbey and Overton, English Church in the Eighteenth Century, ed. 1887, pp. 178–9; but cf. Wesley's ‘Life of Fletcher of Madeley,’ Works, xi. 290). He pleaded after the '45 for justice to the Scots episcopalian clergy. His works were ‘not less esteemed among catholics than among protestants,’ and several were translated into French. [Besides the authorities referred to in the text, see the Funeral Sermon, by Dr. Nicholls, master of the Temple, and Memoir by J. S. Hughes, B.D., in Divines of the Church of England Series, vol. i.; Godwin's Catalogue of the Bishops of England (manuscript notes in the Bodleian copy); Watt's Biblioteca Britannica, Suppl. p. 234.]