Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tenison, Thomas
TENISON, THOMAS (1636–1715), archbishop of Canterbury, was born, according to the parish register, on 29 Sept. 1636 at Cottenham, Cambridgeshire. His grandfather, John Tenison (d. 1644), divine, the son of Christopher Tenison by his wife Elizabeth, was a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1596 he was presented to the rectory of Downham in Cambridgeshire, which he resigned in 1640. He died in 1644, and was buried at Ely (Mullinger, Hist. of Cambridge, ii. 290). His son, John Tenison (d. 1671), rector of Mundesley, Norfolk, was the father of Thomas by his wife Mercy, eldest daughter of Thomas Dowsing of Cottenham.
From the free school at Norwich Thomas went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he was admitted scholar on 22 April 1653. He was matriculated 9 July 1653, graduated B.A. Lent term 1657, and afterwards ‘studied physick upon the discouragement of the times, but about 1659 he was ordained privately at Richmond by Dr. Duppa,’ bishop of Salisbury; ‘his letters of orders were not given out till after the Restoration, tho' at the time entered into a private book of the archbishop's’ (Le Neve). He took the M.A. degree in 1660 (incorporated at Oxford on 28 June 1664), B.D. 1667, D.D. 1680. He was ‘pre-elected’ to a Norwich fellowship at his college on 29 Feb. 1659, and was admitted on the death of one William Smith (Masters, History of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, p. 392) on 24 March 1662, becoming tutor also, and in 1665 university reader. In the same year he became vicar of St. Andrew the Great, Cambridge, where he gained much credit for his continued residence and ministrations during the plague, in consequence of which the parishioners gave him a handsome piece of plate. After being preacher at St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, he was presented in 1667 to the rectory of Holywell and Needingworth, Huntingdonshire, by the Earl of Manchester, whose chaplain, and whose son's tutor, he became. His first book, ‘The Creed of Mr. Hobbes examined,’ was published in 1670. In 1674 he was chosen ‘upper minister’ of St. Peter Mancroft. In 1678 he published ‘Baconiana’ and a ‘Discourse of Idolatry.’ The latter was ‘some part of it meditated and the whole revised in the castle of Kimbolton’ (preface), and directed chiefly against the church of Rome. Already a chaplain in ordinary to the king, he was presented to the rectory of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 8 Oct. 1680. From 1686 to 1692 he was also minister of St. James's, Piccadilly (Hennessy, Novum Repertorium. 1898, p. 250).
In the large parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields he came at once into prominence, and during the eleven years he was rector he made acquaintance with all the most eminent men of the day. Evelyn first heard him preach on 5 Nov. 1680, and in 1683 notes that he is ‘one of the most profitable preachers in the church of England, being also of a most holy conversation, very learned and ingenious. The pains he takes and care of his parish will, I fear, wear him out, which would be an inexpressible loss’ (Diary, 21 March 1683). He ministered to the notorious Edward Turberville [q. v.] on his deathbed on 18 Dec. 1681 (Throckmorton manuscripts, Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. App. iv. 174), to Sir Thomas Armstrong [q. v.] at Tyburn on 20 June 1684, and in 1685 to the Duke of Monmouth before his execution (details of the duke's statements to Tenison in Evelyn's Diary, 15 July 1685; see also Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. v. 93).
While still a parish priest Tenison won fame by his controversy with Andrew Pulton, then head of the jesuits settled in the Savoy. He published a large number of pamphlets, the most important of which are: ‘A True Account of a Conference held about Religion, September 29, 1687, between Andrew Pulton, a Jesuit, and Tho. Tenison, D.D., as also of that which led to it and followed after it’ (1687), and ‘Mr. Pulton considered in his Sincerity, Reasonings, and Authority’ (1687). He states that when his father was ejected from his living during the Commonwealth, ‘a Roman catholic got in.’ An acrimonious correspondence was long continued on both sides. Tenison's arguments are far from clear, but he appears to deny the ‘corporal presence.’ More or less connected with this controversy was his attack on the system of indulgences (in ‘A Defence of Dr. Tenison's sermon of Discretion in giving Alms,’ 1687), his ‘Discourse concerning a Guide in Matters of Faith,’ published anonymously in 1683, the ‘Difference betwixt the Protestant and Socinian Methods’ (1687), and, in the ‘Notes of the Church as laid down by Cardinal Bellarmin examined and confuted’ (1688), the tenth note on ‘Holiness of Life’ (manuscript note in Bodleian copy). Tenison was assisted in this controversy by Henry Wharton [q. v.], whose patron he remained during his life.
Meanwhile Tenison engaged in political controversy. In ‘An Argument for Union,’ 1683, he urged the dissenters to ‘do as the ancient nonconformists did, who would not separate, tho' they feared to subscribe’ (p. 42); and a sermon against self-love, preached before the House of Commons, 1689, in which he attacked Louis XIV. During James II's reign he had preached before the king (Evelyn, Diary, 14 Feb. 1685), but he was early in the confidence of those who planned the invasion of William III (ib. 10 Aug. 1688). It was chiefly by his interest that the suspension of Dr. John Sharp [q. v.] for preaching against popery was removed (1688; Le Neve). He joined the seven bishops when they drew up the declaration which led to their imprisonment.
Tenison's activity in general philanthropic works also extended his reputation. Simon Patrick [q. v.], bishop of Ely, ‘blesses God for having placed so good a man in the post’ (Autobiography, p. 84). He erected for his parish, in Castle Street, Leicester Square, a library, on the design of Wren and after consultation with Evelyn. It was the first public library in London. The deed of settlement was dated 1695 (Sims, Handbook to British Museum Library, 1854, p. 395). He also endowed a school, which he located under the same roof as the library. In June 1861 the library, which included valuable manuscripts, was sold for the benefit of the school endowment for nearly 2,900l. This school was removed to a new building erected in Leicester Square in 1870, on the site of a house once tenanted by Hogarth. Tenison distributed large sums during times of public distress. Preaching a funeral sermon on the death of Nell Gwynne, whom he attended in her last illness, he represented her as a penitent. When this was subsequently made the ground of exposing him to the reproof of Queen Mary, she remarked that the good doctor no doubt had said nothing but what the facts authorised.
Tenison was presented by the new king and queen to the archdeaconry of London, 26 Oct. 1689, and in the same year he was one of the commission appointed to prepare the agenda for convocation. He became prominent for his ‘moderation towards dissenters’ (see his Discourse concerning the Ecclesiastical Commission open'd in the Jerusalem Chamber, October 10, 1689), having been already employed by Sancroft to consider a possible revision of the Book of Common Prayer. He had long considered the differences between the church and the more moderate dissenters to be easy of reconciliation (cf. his Argument for Union, e.g. pp. 4–5, where he comments on the impossibility of the presbyterians agreeing with ‘Arians, Socinians, Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy-men, Sensual Millenaries, Behmenists, Familists, Seekers, Antinomians, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Quakers, Muggletonians, Sweet Singers; these may associate in a caravan, but cannot join in the communion of a church’).
On 25 Nov. 1691, it is said on the direct suggestion of Queen Mary, he was nominated bishop of Lincoln. He was elected on 11 Dec., consecrated at Lambeth on 10 Jan. 1691–2. The writ of summons to the House of Lords is dated 25 Jan. 1692 (Hist. MSS. Comm., 14th Rep. App. vi. 53), and he took the oath and his seat the same day (Lords' Journals, xv. 56). He was offered the archbishopric of Dublin on the death of Francis Marsh [q. v.] in 1693, and then requested the king to secure the impropriations belonging to the forfeited estates to the parish churches; but, the estates being granted to the king's Dutch favourites, the design was not carried out. On the death of Tillotson he was made archbishop of Canterbury. White Kennet (Hist. of England, iii. 682) says that he had at Lincoln ‘restored a neglected large diocese to some discipline and good order,’ and that his elevation was ‘most universally approved by the ministry, and the clergy and the people,’ and Burnet endorses the approbation, though he says that Stillingfleet would have been more generally approved; but the appointment was far from popular among the high-church clergy. He was nominated 8 Dec. 1694, elected 15 Jan., confirmed 16 Jan., and enthroned 16 May 1695. Immediately after his appointment, he revived the jurisdiction of the archbishop's court, which had not been exercised, and, summoning Thomas Watson (d. 1717) [q. v.] before it on the charge of simoniacal practices, he deprived him of his see of St. David's in 1697. He attended Queen Mary on her deathbed, and preached her funeral sermon, which was severely censured by Ken. He made no answer to the attack, his relations with the queen being under the seal of confession (Whiston, Memoirs, 1757, p. 100); but he reproved the king for his adultery with Elizabeth Villiers, and, on his promise to break off the connection, preached the sermon ‘Concerning Holy Resolution’ before the king on 30 Dec. (published by his command, 1694). He is said also to have been the means of reconciling the Princess Anne to the king (Boyer, Hist. of Queen Anne, introd. p. 7).
He was from time to time given political duties, and was thoroughly trusted by William III. In 1696 his action in voting for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick (1645?–1697) [q. v.] was much commented on. He was placed at the head of the new ecclesiastical commission appointed in 1700. He ministered to the king on his deathbed.
On 23 April 1702 he crowned Queen Anne in Westminster Abbey. From the beginning of the new reign his favour was at an end. He voted against the occasional conformity bill, corresponded with the Electress Sophia, urging her to come to England, and was regarded as a leading advocate of the Hanoverian succession. His negotiations with Frederick of Prussia (1706, 1709, and 1711) as to a project of introducing episcopacy into Prussia (see correspondence in Life of Archbishop Sharp, i. 410–49) aroused much unfavourable comment, as did his apparent favour to Whiston (Hearne, Diary, ed. Doble, ii. 252). His visitation of All Souls' College was not popular in Oxford (ib.), and he was severely criticised as of a ‘mean spirit’ (ib. iii. 350).
It was attributed to Anne's disfavour more than to his sufferings from the gout that he was replaced as president of the convocation of Canterbury by a commission (Burnet, History of his own Times, vol. ii.; see also His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury's Circular Letter to the Bishops of his Province, 1707, for his relations to convocation, and An Account of Proceedings in Convocation in a Cause of Contumacy, 1707). During the last years of the reign he never appeared at court, but he took active measures to secure the succession of George I, was the first of the justices appointed to serve at his arrival in England, and was very favourably received by that king, whom he crowned on 20 Oct. 1714. His last public act was the issue of a ‘Declaration [signed also by thirteen of the bishops] testifying their abhorrence of the Rebellion’ (London, 1715), in which the danger to the church which would ensue from the accession of a popish prince was pointed out.
He died without issue at Lambeth on 14 Dec. 1715, and was buried in the chancel of Lambeth parish church. In 1667 he married Anne (1633–1714), daughter of of Richard Love [q. v.], master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and dean of Ely.
Probably his most important work as archbishop was the support he gave to the religious societies, especially the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, of which he was the ardent and continued benefactor, and to a considerable extent the founder. He was also urgent in declaring the need of bishops in the American colonies, and generous in support of the scheme suggested for founding an episcopate (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep. App. x. 2). He took great interest in the societies for the reformation of manners (1692), and issued a circular letter urging the clergy to support them. His character, in spite of the strong political opposition he aroused, has never been very unfavourably judged. James II spoke of him as ‘that dull man,’ and the epithet stuck. Swift spoke of him as ‘a very dull man who had a horror of anything like levity in the clergy, especially of whist’ (Works, x. 231). Calamy said that he ‘was even more honoured and respected by the dissenters than by many of the established church’ (Life, ii. 334). Evelyn, who was his intimate friend, wrote, ‘I never knew a man of more universal and generous spirit, with so much modesty, prudence, and piety’ (Diary, 19 July 1691). By high tories he was considered, apparently without much reason, too much of a partisan, and his constant essays in controversy were not regarded as universally successful. A witticism attributed to Swift summed up his character in this regard: ‘he was hot and heavy, like a tailor's goose.’ Swift's acrimony was probably due to Tenison's opposition to his appointment as chaplain to Lord Wharton and to his success in hindering his nomination to the bishopric of Waterford (Forster, Life of Swift).
Tenison's will (printed, London, 1716) contains a large number of charitable bequests. A portrait is at Lambeth, and an engraving by Vertue is prefixed to his ‘Memoirs.’[Memoirs of the Life of Archbishop Tenison; C. M. Tenison's Tenisoniana in Misc. Geneal. et Herald. 3rd ser. vol. ii.; private information; Evelyn's Diary; Abbey's English Church and its Bishops, 1700–1800; Burnet's History of his own Times; and the authorities quoted in the text.]