On 15 Aug. 1709, when George Sacheverell, whom he claimed as a relative, was high sheriff of Derbyshire, Sacheverell preached the assize sermon at Derby on the ‘communication of sin,’ from 1 Tim. v. 22. This was published (4to, 1709) with a dedication to the high sheriff and the grand jury. On 5 Nov. following Sacheverell preached at St. Paul's before the lord mayor, Sir Samuel Garrard [q. v.], and aldermen on ‘the perils of false brethren in church and state,’ from 2 Cor. xi. 26, this sermon, with some additions and alterations, being virtually identical with one preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, from the same text on 23 Dec. 1705. The Oxford sermon had excited Hearne's admiration by the boldness with which the preacher exposed the danger of the church from ‘the fanatics and other false brethren,’ in spite of the resolution passed the same month by both houses of parliament that the church was ‘in a flourishing condition,’ and that whoever seditiously insinuated the contrary should be proceeded against as ‘an enemy to the queen, the church, and the kingdom.’ Both the assize and the St. Paul's sermons are extremely violent in language. In the latter especially (November 1709), Sacheverell spoke strongly in favour of the doctrine of non-resistance, declared that the church was in danger from toleration, occasional conformity, and schism, openly attacked the bishop of Salisbury [see Burnet, Gilbert], and pointed at the whig ministers as the false friends and real enemies of the church, calling such, as he described them to be, ‘wiley Volpones’ (p. 22), in obvious reference to the nickname of the lord treasurer, Sidney Godolphin, first earl of Godolphin [q. v.] The proposal that the St. Paul's sermon should be printed was rejected by the court of aldermen, but it was nevertheless published (4to, 1709) with a dedication to the lord mayor, who, in spite of his subsequent denial, was generally believed to have encouraged its publication, and was declared by Sacheverell to have done so. On 13 Dec. John Dolben (1662–1710) [q. v.] called the attention of the House of Commons to both sermons, and they were declared by the house to be ‘malicious, scandalous, and seditious libels, highly reflecting upon Her Majesty and her government, the late happy revolution, and the protestant succession.’ The next day Sacheverell and the printer of the sermons, Henry Clements, appeared at the bar of the house, and Sacheverell owned the sermons. Clements was let go, but the house ordered that Sacheverell should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanours, and he was committed to the custody of the sergeant-at-arms. A resolution passed the same day in favour of his rival, the whig divine, Benjamin Hoadly (1676–1761) [q. v.], was pointed at him. His petition on the 17th to be admitted to bail was refused on the 22nd by 114 votes to 79. The articles of impeachment were agreed to in spite of the vigorous opposition of Harley, afterwards first earl of Oxford [q. v.], and William Bromley (1664–1732) [q. v.] by 232 to 131, objection being taken to the St. Paul's sermon and the dedication of the assize sermon only. Some of the leading whigs, and specially Lord Somers, the president of the council, disapproved of the impeachment, but it was urged on his fellow ministers by Lord Sunderland, and heartily approved by Godolphin, who was irritated at the insult to himself (Swift, Works, iii. 180). Sacheverell, having been transferred to the custody of the officer of the House of Lords, was, on 14 Jan. 1710, admitted to bail by the lords, himself in 6,000l. and two sureties, Dr. William Lancaster [q. v.], vice-chancellor of Oxford, and Dr. Richard Bowes of All Souls' College, vicar of New Romney, Kent, in 3,000l. each. On the 25th he sent in a bold and resolute answer to the articles.
Meanwhile the feeling of the country was strongly on Sacheverell's side, and it is said that forty thousand copies of the St. Paul's sermon were circulated. The case was made a trial of strength between the two parties, and the whigs gave special importance to it by ordering that it should be heard in Westminster Hall. The consequent delay gave time for the public excitement to reach the highest pitch. Prayers were desired for the doctor in many London churches; he was lauded in sermons, and the royal chaplains openly encouraged and praised him. When, on 27 Feb., the day on which the trial began, he drove from his lodgings in the Temple to Westminster, his coach was followed by six others, and was surrounded by a vast multitude shouting wishes for his long life and safe deliverance. Among the managers of the impeachment were Sir James Montagu [q. v.], the attorney-general, Robert (afterwards Sir Robert) Eyre [q. v.], the solicitor-general, Sir Thomas Parker [q. v.], and Sir Joseph Jekyll [q. v.], while Sacheverell's counsel were Sir Simon Harcourt [q. v.], Constantine Phipps, and three others. The queen, who went occasionally in a kind of private manner to hear the proceedings, was greeted by the crowd with shouts of ‘God bless your majesty and the church. We hope your majesty is for Dr. Sacheverell.’ Riots were raised on the 28th, meeting-houses were attacked, the houses of several