Johnson, James (1705-1774) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, JAMES (1705–1774), bishop of Worcester, was born in 1705 at Melford in Suffolk, of which parish his father, James Johnson, was rector. In 1719 he was elected a king's scholar of Westminster School, becoming in 1724 a student at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1728, M.A. 1731, B.D. and D.D. 1 June 1742. From 1733 to 1748 he was second master of Westminster School, and from 1743 to 1759 rector of Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire. In 1748 Johnson (through his old schoolfellow, the Duke of Newcastle) became a king's chaplain in ordinary, and accompanied George II to Hanover. During the same year he was nominated a canon residentiary of St. Paul's. He accompanied the king a second time to Hanover in 1752, and on his return to England it was in contemplation to appoint him preceptor to the Prince of Wales, but the opposition of the whigs was too violent to permit the arrangement to be carried out. He was elevated to the see of Gloucester on 18 Oct. 1752. Shortly afterwards Christopher Fawcett, the recorder of Newcastle, while dining with Lord Ravensworth at Durham, asserted that Johnson had on one occasion, in company with Stone and Murray, two old schoolfellows, drunk the health of the Pretender. This charge reached the ears of Henry Pelham, who summoned Fawcett to London and examined him on the subject in a cabinet council (15, 16, 17 Feb. 1754). Fawcett prevaricated, and the charge was shown to be false. The Duke of Bedford, and subsequently Lord Ravensworth, called the attention of the House of Lords to the matter; Johnson defended himself satisfactorily (22 Feb.), although, according to Horace Walpole, ‘with insolence.’ An eloquent speech was delivered in Johnson's behalf by the Bishop of St. Asaph (Dr. Hay-Drummond), himself an ‘old Westminster,’ and the debate terminated without a division.

In 1759 Johnson was translated to Worcester, and during his tenure of that see made considerable improvements and embellishments in Hartlebury Castle, the ancient country palace of the diocese, in addition to laying out the sum of 5,000l. on the episcopal residence in Worcester. To the ecclesiastical patronage of the see he added the rectory of Richard's Castle in the diocese of Hereford. He died at Bath on 28 Nov. 1774, in consequence of a fall from his horse, and was interred among his ancestors at Laycock in Wiltshire. A monument, designed by Nollekens, was shortly afterwards erected to his memory in Worcester Cathedral. Johnson's amiability was unvarying. His private wealth was large. He was very hospitable, and especially generous to his relatives. He published four sermons separately.

[Alumni Westmonast. p. 288; Oxford Graduates; Bubb Doddington's Diary, 22 March 1753; Green's Hist. of Worcester, ed. 1796, i. 216; Bishop Newton's Autob., in Works, ed. 1782, i. 101–2; Walpole's Memoirs of George II, i. 304; G. Butt's Funeral Sermon at Bath; Gent. Mag. 1774, p. 598; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. C. S.