258 SOCIAL STATUS OF THE CLERGY IN THE April The Social Status of the Clergy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries THERE has already been much discussion of the passage in which Lord Macaulay some seventy years ago described the social position occupied by the clergy of the church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He wrote that when the church lost its old wealth and splendour at the Reformation, the sacerdotal office lost its attraction for the higher classes. During the century which followed the accession of Elizabeth scarce a single person of noble descent took Orders. At the close of the reign of Charles II two sons of peers were bishops ; four or five sons of peers were priests, and held valuable preferments ; but these rare exceptions did not take away the reproach which lay on the body. The clergy were regarded, on the whole, as a plebeian class ; and, indeed, for one who made the figure of a gentle- man, ten were mere menial servants. 1 It was of this passage that Mr. Gladstone wrote : Few portions of his brilliant work have achieved a more successful notoriety. It may perhaps be said to have been stereotyped in the common English mind. It is, in its general result, highly disparaging, and yet that genera- tion of clergy was, as we conceive, the most powerful and famous in the annals of the English Church. If we do not include yet earlier times, it is from want of record, rather than from fear of comparison. 2 Recent historians 3 of the church of England have concurred in Mr. Gladstone's estimate of the general character and ability of the clergy at this time ; but there is still room for an examina- tion of Macaulay's statement. If it were true, it would seriously affect the reputation of the cadet members of noble families at the Reformation period, and the gentry of the succeeding century, who are said to have ceased to aspire to Holy Orders because the emoluments had fallen in value. Equally it would redound to the credit of poorer men that they were content to serve for smaller stipends and in a less exalted sphere. It is, however, greatly exaggerated. The following is a list, admitting of extension, of some near relations of peers who entered Holy Orders during the seventeenth century : Richard Annesley, D.D. (d. 1701), dean of Exeter, 3rd Baron Altham, son of Arthur, earl of Anglesey. George Berkeley, M.A. (d. 1694), rector of Cranford, canon of West- minster, son of George, Baron Berkeley. Robert Booth, B.D. (1662-1730), dean of Bristol, &c., son of Robert, Baron Delamere. 1 History of England, ed. Firth, i. 318. 2 Review of Trevelyan, Life of Lord Macaulay in Quarterly Review, July 1876, p. 76. 3 Wakeman, History of the Church of England, p. 380.
Page:English Historical Review Volume 37.djvu/266
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